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James Dodson


[from The Original Covenanter, Vol. II, No. 15, September 1880, pp. 449-457.]


May 13th, 1880, 10 o’clock A.M.

The Reformed Presbytery met, agreeably to adjournment, at the call of the Moderator, and was constituted by prayer. The members present were Messrs. John M’Auley and David Steele, ministers; with Messrs. David A. Renfrew, James Campbell, Robert Clyde, and John J. Miller, ruling elders. Rev. J. F. Fulton by letter assigned reasons of absence, which were sustained. Mr. Robert Alexander, ruling elder, being present, was invited to sit as consultative member. He took a seat accordingly.

Mr. M’Auley was continued Moderator, and Mr. James Campbell chosen Clerk.

The Minutes of last meeting not being yet forthcoming, other business was taken up. Papers were called for, and the following were laid on the table: A petition from members in Pittsburgh, asking for an investigation of matters among them, and marked No. 1; Mr. M’Auley asked to be released from the pastoral charge of North Union congregation because of failing health and strength, marked No. 2; a paper from said congregation concurring with the request and sympathizing with the pastor, expressing sorrow that he is not able to attend to the duties of his station over them as pastor, No. 3; report in full of the committee on publishing a revised edition of “A Short Vindication of our Covenanted Reformation,” No. 4.

Papers Nos. 2 and 3 were taken up, and Mr. M’Auley’s petition was granted, with expressions of regret and sympathy by members of the court. The pastoral relation was dissolved between him and the congregation of North Union, and this would be made known to his brethren by Elder Renfrew.

Mr. Charles Clyde, student of theology, was called upon to exhibit specimens of proficiency before the Presbytery. He translated portions in Livy and in the New Testament. It was then stated by his teacher, that the young man had read in Caesar’s Commentaries, Sallust’s History of Cataline’s Conspiracy, Virgil’s Æneid and Xenophon’s Anabasis. He then read an essay on the Creation of Man. All these specimens were judged highly creditable to the student and very satisfactory to the court. D. Steele was thereupon authorized to continue instructor to the student, and J. Campbell, R. Clyde and R. Alexander were appointed Superintendents.

Adjourned with prayer, to meet at No. 1632 Fitzwater street, at 2½ P.M.


Presbytery met and opened by prayer. Members all present. The Minutes of last Fall, now on hand, were read and approved No. 4 was taken up as part of unfinished business. The committee reported, That having received encouragement by subscriptions, the revised edition was published and subscribers were supplied with copies in proportion to the amount severally subscribed; and in compliance with Presbytery’s recommendation of last year, 50 copies each have been taken by four congregations, and thus the work has been accomplished and the account closed. Respectfully submitted by the Committee. The report was approved and the committee discharged.

The Moderator inquired if the days of annual Thanksgiving and Fasting appointed by the Presbytery had been duly observed, and the answers were satisfactory.

The Commission appointed last year made a report, which was approved, and the commission discharged.

Paper No. 1 was taken up, and after lengthened discussion the following action was taken:

Whereas, according to Presbyterian order each court is competent to the transaction of all business coming regularly before it within the limits of its own jurisdiction; and whereas, the petitioners say to this Presbytery, “There are matters among us that require an investigation,” therefore,

Resolved, That, inasmuch as there is in the petition no reference to Sessional action, nor specification of matters which the petitioners deem requiring investigation, those brethren be directed to bring their matters before their Session, as this court cannot orderly interfere with the proper business of the inferior judicatory.

A Commission was appointed to attend to any matters coming regularly before them till next meeting of Presbytery, to consist of M’Auley, Steele, Renfrew and Campbell. Steele and Clyde were appointed on the Signs of the Times, to report at the next meeting of this court.

The committee on Covenant Renovation brought in their final report. The documents were read, article by article, and the members examined its provisions, scrutinizing phraseology and single words. Several amendments were made, and the whole report unanimously adopted in overture.

Resolved, That when Presbytery adjourns, it be to meet in Philadelphia on the first Wednesday of next October, at 10 o’clock a.m.

Resolved, That the Overture be printed and copies sent to all under the care of Presbytery, with instruction to examine it and send their animadversions in writing to D. Steele, 1632 Fitzwater street, Philadelphia, Pa., on or before the first of October next.

The Minutes were read and approved. The Court then adjourned to meet as above. Closed with prayer.

JOHN M’AULEY, Moderator.



The Overture on covenanting adopted by the Reformed Presbytery in May last, has now been in the hands of our people for some months for their examination. Those who framed the Overture lay no claim to perfection, either for themselves or their work; they know, however, that “it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” They know, also, that to find fault is much easier than to frame a document. Friendly criticism is invited from all quarters, so that the Overture may be as explicit in statement and unambiguous in language as possible.

It is incumbent on those who find anything objectionable in matter or manner, to furnish in writing words or phrases which they think ought either to be expunged or supplied. In this way only may the cause be aided.

Our readers will understand that the Overture respects the fundamental principles and practice of the church, and is of the essential nature of constitutional or organic law—a permanent document.

It will be noticed in the formal Engagement or Bond that no “local peculiarities” are introduced: no terms or phrases of political aspect—no Americanising or even Scoticizing of the language. Past and large experience suggested the necessity of setting a guard here. Some of us can still remember the advantage taken in April, 1833, by a zealous N. Light minister from the phrase, “in so far as,” occurring in the fourth Term, to “darken counsel” in the very act of explaining the abstract of our profession. By good words and fair speeches the pastor was too successful in shaking the confidence of many in the distinctive practice of their profession. The preacher on the Saturday preceding the dispensation of the Lord’s supper publicly declared, “He never knew, and believed he never would be able to know, the import of the phrase, ‘in so far as.’ At the time when the Testimony and Terms of Communion were framed in this country, American institutions were then in the infancy. Besides, the men who composed those documents were foreigners, and as such would not be supposed thoroughly to understand the structure of the American government, being so different from that under which they had been brought up. Moreover, many and great changes had already taken place in the institutions of this country; and he thought and hoped the time was not distant when our church would have but one term of communion.[1] Look at the Methodist church,” said the preacher, (as the brilliant theme photographed the figure on the fervid negative of his imagination,) “no star shines in Christ’s hand with such lustre in the whole ecclesiastical heavens!” This is but a sample of much that was said, and nearly in the speaker’s words. Of course he was fully ready for the change of position with the minority of August 7th in that year; and some are deceived by this minority till the present day by the assertion that they have neither disowned nor reviled the British Covenants, as was done at Pittsburgh in 1871. But a practical disregard of them since 1833 is more ensnaring to the ignorant, indolent and credulous than an open and avowed rejection of them.

The Dervock and Pittsburgh bonds should be carefully compared, and contrasted with the Original Deeds, with the Auchensaugh Engagement, and with each other. It is to be regretted that few can have access to the record of the Auchensaugh transaction, copies are so rarely to be found. The republishing of this and some other documents has been matter of concern to the Reformed Presbytery all along since its erection, but hitherto kept in abeyance by matters which appeared of more pressing importance.

We have often heard the boastful assertion, that the Pittsburgh bond “is in advance of our father’s covenants.” Where is the testimony against “black Prelacy”?—the Papal dogmas of Immaculate Conception of Infallibility? And although the former existed prior to the Dervock, and both anterior to the Pittsburgh transaction, there is no reference to either. Would it be too severe censure of these boastful church guides—“Her watchmen are blind”? Surely this is equivalent to “boasting of a false gift.”

In the minds of some a question may arise whether, in our circumstances it is our duty to engage in covenant-renovation? or whether the attempt does not imply that the obligation of our fathers’ public federal deeds has ceased? or that we are unduly influenced by the recent examples of former brethren? To such questions, which involve objections not altogether imaginary nor irrelevant, it may be replied, That circumstanced as we are—surrounded by opposing confederacies of unscriptural and Anti-christian character; gins and snares spread all along by the King’s highway; subjected as we are to flattery and reproach,—we need all divinely appointed appliances for stability and security. The second objection is not new. We heard in 1853 a minister before the Irish Synod ignorantly advance the same. It is equally available against the “often” celebration of the Lord’s supper. Nor are we unduly influenced, while it may be truly conceded that we are not insensible to the corrupting effects of seductive examples recently exhibited by others. To those, however, who may have access to the Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery, it will appear that soon after the organization of the court, the renovation of our covenants was among the matters of serious deliberation; and the ministers were directed in their pulpits to instruct the people in the nature of this ordinance, as a necessary preparation for its intelligent and profitable observance. Numbers have been long in their graves who then earnestly desired and anxiously longed for that privilege. Among these was the senior minister, Mr. Robert Lusk, of precious memory, by whose death the Presbytery was dissolved, and the remnant thereby greatly enfeebled for a period of eight years. The degeneracy of professing Covenanters was so great and obvious in 1840, and “schism in the body” so palpable, that separation became imperative; and now that the schism has been seething and fermenting ever since, so that terms of communion are practically disregarded by most professing Covenanters—“every man doing that which is right in his own eyes,” as though there were no King in Israel: surely it is time, high time, for us to unfurl and display—not “our banner,” but Christ’s (Is. xl. 4), which he has given to be displayed because of the truth—“the present truth”; publicly to renew our oath of Allegiance to Zion’s King, when the loyalty of so many has become questionable, and to reinscribe on the pillar of truth the almost obliterated principles and order of our Covenanted Reformation. In this humble enterprise we shall not be ashamed, but rather rejoice to be associated with faithful and laborious [John] Howie of Lochgoin, or even “Old Mortality.” 1 Cor. iv:13.

That the public renewal of our vows to God and to each other is both dutiful and seasonable may appear to all serious Covenanters from such considerations as the following. The people of God under the former dispensation, beside all their ordinary acts of social worship and annual festivals, appear to have publicly and unitedly entered into his covenant. Under the ministry of Moses they did so at Sinai; and when that generation had mostly gone the way of all the earth, he called upon the next generation just before his death to engage in the same solemn transaction in the plains of Moab. (Deut. xix:1.) In like manner acted the successor Moses. (Joshua xxiv:25.) Thus it is apparent that by divine direction each generation came formally under the bond of God’s covenant. Afterwards also, during the reign of pious kings of Judah, this ordinance was resorted to as an eminent means of reformation. The same expedient was employed by the captives on returning to their own land from Babylon. (Neh. ix:38.)

Moreover, the manifold and undeniable defections from Scriptural truth in our time, and the manifest decline of practical piety among Christian professors in general, which thoughtful and serious people lament, and more especially the prevailing ignorance and consequent apathy observable among such as are the lineal descendants of the British reformers—this low state of religion loudly calls for a general revival. And what means so proper and seasonable as covenanting? Few indeed of those among a despised remnant are tempted by the “deceitfulness of riches,” for we are “an afflicted and poor people”—(Oh, that we may be of those who trust in the name of the Lord!)—but the cares of the world too often choke the word and cause our souls to cleave to the dust. We may truly adopt the language of the Belfast Covenanter, December 1830, (Prospectus,)—“Covenanters in this country have been hitherto little known, and the principles which they hold have been exposed to unmeasured misrepresentation. Amid difficulties unknown to others, the adherents of the Scottish Covenanted Reformation have frequently borne reproach in silence, resting on the goodness of their cause, and convinced that the truth, being mighty, shall ultimately prevail”—when its power is shown in practice.

When in answer to earnest pleadings at the mercy-seat the Spirit shall be poured out from on high, the people shall then urge our Ezras, saying, “Arise, for this matter belongeth unto you; we also will be with you; be of good courage and do it.” Then shall our Nehemiahs cordially respond, saying, “Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten. Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste … let us build up the walls of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.” Although “the nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord,” yet if each head of a family “repair a piece of the wall over against his house,” we may hope that the “wall will be finished and the breaches stopped.” And “when all our enemies hear thereof, and all the heathen that are round about us see these things, they will be much cast down in their own eyes; for they will perceive that this work was wrought of our God.” This will also be the most effectual means of “putting to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” as well as the most effective answer to the “cruel mockings” of the Ishmaelites, Sanballats, Tobiahs and Gathmus of this degenerate age.


[1] This minister, even at that date, was far in advance of Mr. John M’Donal of Glasgow (Scotland), who would still wish to have “three terms”—limits to latitudinarianism, which the late Dr. S. B. Wylie indignantly styled “injudicious ligaments.”