[from The Original Covenanter, vol. II., no. 11, September 1879, pp. 324-330.]
The Confession of Faith says, chapter 20, “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to his word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience, and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.”
The Synod brings her own conscience and the consciences of all who swear the New Covenant into a snare, and entangles herself and others with the yoke of bondage, when she, instead of saying, and we will pursue this object—the object of her covenant, in all things commanded in the law of God; thus profanely pledging herself to do the things not forbidden, instead of the things or duties commanded or required in the law. The larger catechism says, “the law requires the utmost perfection of every duty and forbids the least degree of every sin.” Then there is such a thing as duties required, but not such thing as duties not required, for the law requires the utmost perfection of every duty; and so, there is such a thing as sins forbidden, but not such a thing as sins not forbidden, for the law forbids the least degree of every sin. Then there is no such thing as sins not forbidden; for the law forbids the least degree of every sin, and there is no such thing as duties not forbidden, for all duties are required, not forbidden; the law requires the utmost perfection of every duty. Then because the law requires the utmost perfection of every duty, whatsoever the law does not require is not duty, and if it is not duty, then it is sin. All the things required are duties, but all the things not required are sins. All the things forbidden are sins and all the things not forbidden are also sins. The things not forbidden are sins because they are not required; for the law requires the utmost perfection of every duty, and therefore what the law does not require cannot be duty, and therefore is sin. When Synod pledges herself to pursue this object in all things not forbidden in the law, she is just solemnly or rather profanely, pledging herself to commit sin. She also substitutes a profane pledge for a solemn oath. And when she says, “and to pursue this object in all things not forbidden in the law of God,” she cannot mean, we will pursue this object in performing all those duties not forbidden in the law of God. The law of God never forbids the performance of duties, but the commission of sins. Then she must mean, we will pursue this object in all things—in all sins—not forbidden in the law of God. But the law forbids the least degree of every sin.
Again, The law says, “ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it. Deut. 4:2. “What things soever I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” Deut. 12:32; 27:26. Rev. 22:18, 19. Now, because God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, that are in anything contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship, therefore no person or society can, by oath or pledge, impose on their own conscience, or that of others, an obligation to pursue any object in all things not forbidden in the law of God; because this would stand in the way of taking upon us a solemn covenant engagement, “to endeavour, by the grace of God, to preserve the true reformed religion in doctrine, worship, discipline and government, according to the word of God”—or in all things commanded in his word—not in all things not forbidden in his word. God obliges the consciences of his people not by the things not forbidden, but by the things commanded in his word. Those who are obliged by the things not forbidden are yet in bondage—have not yet been “left free from the doctrines and commandments of men, that are, in anything, contrary to the word or beside it.” Men are the lords of their conscience—not the Almighty; but those who are obliged by the law of God are free indeed; they have true Christian liberty, and liberty of conscience; because God and not man is Lord of their conscience. Such are free because they know the truth, and the truth makes them free, they are free because the Son makes them free, and then they are free indeed. But those who believe the doctrines of men, and obey their commandments out of conscience are all slaves, they are taken captive by Satan at his will. They have no Christian liberty or liberty of conscience. Such have never been free from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, or the curse of the moral law; they are not delivered from this present evil world, from bondage to Satan, or the dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, or everlasting damnation. True Christian liberty and liberty of conscience always go together, they can never be separated. Take away Christian liberty, and liberty of conscience has no foundation on which to stand. Take away freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law, &c., and who then can have a conscience void of offence both toward God and man? Who then can have a heart sprinkled from an evil conscience? Who then can have a conscience purged from dead works to serve the living God? Or who can hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience? How then can the conscience of the Synod be left free from the doctrines and commandments of men, when she “takes herself sacredly bound to regulate all her civil relations, &c., not by the law of the Lord, but by her allegiance and loyalty to the Lord; and when she pledges herself to promote the interests of public order… in all things not forbidden in the law of God? Seeing that there is no such thing as either sins or duties not forbidden in the law of God, because the law forbids the least degree of every sin, and it requires the utmost perfection of every duty; then every duty and every degree of perfection of it is required—not forbidden. Sins are forbidden, not required, and duties are required not forbidden. No sins are required, no duties are either forbidden or not forbidden. A conscience under the influence of the doctrines and commandments of men cannot be free, it is carnal, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. All error in doctrine and immorality in practice destroys Christian liberty, and defiles the conscience; when it destroys the former it also destroys the latter; and uniting with voluntary associations, and carnal professors destroys both the former and the latter. And thus the Synod has lost all true Christian liberty and liberty of conscience, while uniting with voluntary associations in which almost all the sects, the heresies, and the immoralities are represented, and an ungodly world also. Here is the place where the members of Synod and the Synod heard “the doctrines and commandments of men, that are in anything contrary to his word or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.” And the Confession of Faith tells us, chap. 20th, that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience is to betray true liberty of conscience. Yes, just as Judas betrayed his Master; and to require an implicit faith and an absolute and blind obedience to such doctrines and obeys the commandments—esteems the things not forbidden and not written, more than the things commanded and the things written in the word. And thus while mingling with the heathen, the men of the world and carnal professors, she has learned to “walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air—the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” While mingling with such, she has learned to walk in the flesh, and not in the spirit; she has become debtor to the flesh to live after the flesh, and it is said “if ye live after the flesh ye shall die, but if ye, through the spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live.” Rom. 8:13. But is it not manifest that the Synod is already dead? spiritually dead. Yes, verily; she has long been dead; the moment she began to live after the flesh, and to walk after the flesh, that moment she began to die, and without repentance and reformation she must, ere long, become “twice dead, plucked up by the roots.” And so soon as she began to live after the flesh and to walk after the flesh, she began to walk according to the course of this world—became worldly minded—“greedy of filthy lucre,” inflamed with the love of riches and the love of money, which is the root of all evil. And all worldly minded sects, like the Romish church, are, by this morbid desire for money, led to form, devise, project or contrive schemes to collect money off their own people and others. Yes, they are not ashamed to contrive or form schemes.—“He forms the well concerted scheme of mischief.” The word scheme does not belong to the Bible vocabulary. God ordains or appoints ordinances to accomplish his purposes; worldly minded sects invent or contrive schemes to accomplish their carnal purposes. “The throne of iniquity is not ashamed to frame mischief by a law.” Those who are spiritually minded “receive, observe, and keep pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances as God has appointed in his word.” It was her carnality that led the Synod to pledge herself cheerfully to support what is, in her opinion, for the good of the commonwealth in which she dwells, and to pursue this object in all things not forbidden in the law. If the Synod had been led by the Spirit, or had been walking after the Spirit, she would not have objected to swear to support whatever would be for the good of the commonwealth in all things commanded in the law. But she being carnal, knew that it would not do to be led by the Spirit, or had been walking after the Spirit. First, because she then would not walk with the men of the world in voluntary associations, such as Temperance and National Reform associations, Evangelical and Pan-Presbyterian alliances, and Young Men’s Christian Associations. She well knew that it would not do to walk after the Spirit, or according to what is commanded in the word; for then she would not maintain Christian friendship with pious men of every name, and think and act as one with all such; neither could she go forth by the footsteps of the flock, and at the same time turn aside by the flocks of the companions. She could not, as faithful Covenanters do, become followers of God as dear children, and followers of those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises, and at the same time follow a multitude to do evil. Indeed, it is not Christian liberty and liberty of conscience that she is seeking after. No. These would identify her with faithful Covenanters, from 1638 until 1649—with such men as Henderson, Rutherford and Gillespy. No; this is not the kind of fellowship she is wanting, longing after. She longs to be so identified with pious men of every name, that she may feel and act as one with them, not only with the so-called evangelical, but with the liberal; not only with the so-called orthodox, but with the heterodox; but especially with the latter.
When we say the Synod is dead, spiritually dead, we do not mean that all her people are so; but we mean that the Synod as an organic body is dead. And when we say she is dead, we mean just what we say. We mean that both, as to her faith and practice, she is dead as a witnessing body. Both the testimony and the law have lost their power on her conscience and life; the doctrines and commandments of men have defiled her conscience, so that it no longer remonstrates against her error in doctrine and immorality in practice; so that it ceases to rebuke her for associating with incendiaries, malignants, and evil instruments, and all such as hinder the reformation of religion, and she unites with them in doing so. When she pledges herself to pursue the civil part of her covenant in all things not forbidden in the law, she virtually pledges herself to pursue this matter in all things not commanded in the word; in some way beside the word or independent of it, so that she may not offend the men of the world or the liberal and heterodox professors, with whom she pledged herself to cooperate in voluntary associations. She well knew that such would not cooperate with her on covenanted principles, that they would not act and think as one with her, and then she agrees to think and act as one with them. She agrees to compromise by way of making all concessions and requiring none. She agrees to maintain Christian friendship with pious men of every name, asking no concessions of any kind—unconditionally. That the Synod and all her confederates may have liberty of conscience, she and they must first have Christian liberty—they must all first have freedom from the guilt of sin; the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law, &c. And they must all be left free from the doctrines and commandments of men, that are in anything contrary to his word or beside it in matters of faith or worship. Finally, to have liberty of conscience, the Synod and her confederates must hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience, and this mystery can be found only in the Holy Scriptures, by those who have saving faith and by those led by the Holy Spirit. This mystery is never found by those who are not “left free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to the word or beside it in matters of faith or worship.” This mystery can never be found by those who associate with malignants and those of a different religion, and those who refuse to lift up a faithful testimony against such, and separate from them. God says to his people in reference to such “evil communications,” “Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 2 Cor. 6:17, 18.