ON STEADFAST ADHERENCE
DISTINCTIVE DOCTRINES OF THE CHURCH:
PREACHED ON MONDAY, DEC. 3D, 1832, AFTER THE
DISPENSATION OF THE LORD’S SUPPER, IN
WESTERLO-ST. CHURCH, ALBANY.
“Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.”—PHIL. 3.16.
BY REV. SAMUEL M. WILLSON,
PASTOR OF THE REF. PRESBYTERIAN CONGREGATION IN CRAFTSBURY, VT.
Printed at the Office of the Albany Quarterly.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth.”—3 John 4.
MEN usually take the most pleasure in that which they have been instrumental in forming. When a person has planned and executed some curious and intricate piece of workmanship, he contemplates it with satisfaction. He not only takes delight in viewing the effort of mind necessary to devise the model, but also the skill of his hands, in framing that which, his mind has contrived. All the principles of the mind are sanctified by the Spirit of God, and they are all rendered subservient to some important purpose in the economy of grace. Thus while an individual will take a deep interest in all the concerns of the church of God, he will take a deeper interest in that part of it, with which he is more immediately connected. The minister of Christ is always gratified by the consideration, that pure and undefiled religion, in its benign and heavenly influence, is spreading among the nations of the world. But his pleasure will be of a more ecstatic character when he is sensible, that it is exerting a holy influence upon the hearts and lives of those committed to his own peculiar inspection. For he knows that his own glory, to all eternity, will be heightened by the success, which has crowned his efforts in winning souls to the Saviour. For those whom he has been instrumental in saving, will be his crown of joy and rejoicing in heaven. “They that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.” God employs the instrumentality of men in the accomplishment of his purposes of mercy: for “the treasure” of gospel truth “is committed to earthen vessels.” While success in building up the church of God, is to be ascribed to the energy of the Holy Spirit, yet this work is effected through the agency of God’s servants; for those who labor in the vineyard of the Lord, are “co-workers” with him in fulfilling his designs of goodness.
Hence the apostle affirms in our text, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth.” In discussing these words we shall attend to “the truth” as conveying a knowledge of the Gospel. (1.) The duty of walking in the truth. (2.) The joy of the Christian, when the church walks in the truth of the Gospel. (3.) Make a brief application.
1. The truth as conveying a knowledge of the Gospel. The whole doctrine of the Scriptures, both of the Old and of the New Testament. The Bible is a revelation from the God of truth. 2 Tim. 3.16,17. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Heb. 1.1,2. “God, who at sundry times, and in diverse manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” 2 Pet. 1.21. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
Thus it is plain that the whole doctrine of the Scriptures is the very truth itself, and nothing but the truth. It comes from God as its author, who is “the true God.” All his communications must therefore be like himself. God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. They not only come from God the Father as their source, but they are also given by the Lord Jesus Christ as the Prophet of the church. And as he is the faithful and true witness, what he reveals in this system of gospel truth, must be like himself, the “truth.” For the whole revelation is designed to make him known. Every ray of divine light which issues from the pages of inspiration, directs the eye of faith to “the Son of righteousness, that has arisen with healing in his wings.” The Scriptures are necessarily a system of truth, because they are inspired by the Holy Ghost, both as it respects the idea suggested to the mind of the writer and as it regards the word by which that idea is communicated to the reader, or the hearer. This is what has been called the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. It was needful that they should be thus inspired. Men may be agreed in their views of the same subject, and yet they will not employ the same words in imparting these views to the minds of others. Had not the Spirit inspired the word as well as the thought, there would, at least, be some danger that the writer might select an improper word in which to clothe the thought. Were not the inspiration of the doctrines of gospel truth plenary, there might be a possibility that they would contain a mixture of truth and error. Again, we believe this kind of inspiration is necessary from the very constitution of the human mind. All, who believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures by the Spirit of God, admit that he made known to the mind of the writer the doctrines which he was to exhibit. But the question is, how was this communication made to the mind? I believe myself that words were employed by the Spirit, as the signs of thought,—I know that we, usually, in our meditations, carry on a train of thought, through the medium of words. And I am not convinced that we ever do it in any other way. Let any person make the experiment, and I believe he will come to the conclusion, that it is a difficult matter to think without the use of words as the signs of thought, if it be at all possible. If it be a fact then that the Holy Ghost inspired this system of gospel truth, in matter and in form, in thought and in expression, it must be the truth, and nothing but the truth. And he that receives it sets to his seal that God is true.
We have said the whole doctrine of the Scriptures. By this phraseology we convey that idea that the Old Testament is of equal authority with the New. It is too common an opinion that the Old Testament is little more than a dead letter. This however is a mistake, “all Scripture is profitable.” The Old Testament contains the moral law. This law is of perpetual obligation. It is applicable in all nations, and in all circumstances. It binds men in all ranks to the performance of duty. Its precepts and penalties were illustrated and explained in the Jewish code. And although some things were peculiar to that people, yet there is nothing connected with their history, or with their jurisprudence, from which important information may not be derived. And happy would it be for the world, were the sublime principles of morality which it inculcates, more universally understood and applied as the rule of conduct, both by individuals and communities. Indeed the New Testament does nothing more than carry up the mighty superstructure, the building of mercy, whose firm foundations are laid in the Old Testament. The Scriptures therefore being the word of God, revealed by the Son, through the Spirit, are gospel truth. They are the only supreme rule of faith and practice in all the relations of human life.
2. The present truth. The old divines make a distinction between the whole system revealed in the word of God, and that truth which they denominate the present truth. In this distinction there is a peculiar fitness. They intend thereby to express the duty of the church of Christ, which is the pillar and ground of truth. While they inculcate the propriety of the church’s contending earnestly for the whole faith once delivered to the saints, they likewise impress upon her the necessity of directing her efforts to the maintenance of that part of gospel truth which may be impugned by prevailing heresy. Every error is an attack upon some truth. Its advocate employs his energies, either to conceal the truth which he opposes, or to substitute his own pernicious sentiment in the place of that of the system which he hates. Every age in the history of God’s redeemed society, bears ample testimony to the propriety of this distinction. Every age has some peculiar feature which distinguishes it, from those which have preceded it. In whatever age of the church the Christian may have lived, it was his duty to become intimately acquainted with the prevailing principles around him, and when he saw the enemy coming in like a flood, to call upon the Spirit of the Lord to lift up a standard against him. The believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is a soldier of the cross. He has an inheritance which excels in beauty. When he sees the enemies of the Redeemer attempting to make encroachments upon his patrimony, he will gird on his armor, and he will put forth the might with which he has been endowed by the Spirit, for its defence. This procedure is analogous to that which occurs in natural things. While the vigilant soldier casts his eye around every part of the fortification by which he is protected, he will, almost instinctively, turn his attention to that position in the walls which is threatened by the approaching foe. Thus, too, acts the christian soldier. He rejoices in the strongholds of Zion. He holds himself in readiness to repair to his post, clad in the whole armor of righteousness. He is equally prepared to meet the assault, whether it is made by the enemy without, or by the traitor within.
The church in maintaining the present truth, must go forward until her testimony is accomplished. If it be a fact, as has already been stated, that every age in the church, has its present truth, which she is bound to defend at all hazards, the inquiry presses itself upon the mind of every lover of Zion’s prosperity: what is the present truth of the day in which I live? Every man, that forms a correct estimate of what is called religious opinion, must, we think, confess that there have been few times in which unsound principles have been more prevalent than in our own day, and in our own country. If this be not so, why is it that the church’s peace is so much disturbed? Why is it that there is such a want of confidence among the watchmen upon the walls of Zion? There is no disguising the fact: shut your eyes upon it, ever so closely, still the unpleasant reflection recurs, the church is very far indeed from the condition in which she should be.
The all-important present truth, however, undoubtedly, is that men, in every relation of human life, are bound to acknowledge the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, in all the relations, they are bound to yield a conscientious obedience to the demands of his law, recorded in the Bible. All the nations of the earth have rejected the claims of the Mediator; they are in undisguised rebellion against his throne. They have refused to kiss the Son of God. They know him not. They disregard his government. They decree iniquity by a law. They have forgotten him. With them God can have no fellowship. With them all he is now pleading the quarrel of his covenant. He will ere long avenge upon them the insult offered to his Son, in whom he is well pleased. The present dispensations of God’s providence make it manifest that he is angry with the nations. The thrones of despotism, in the old world are even now shaking to their fall. In the agitations of society, the tyrants there begin to feel their danger. Even in our own country the tokens of the Almighty’s wrath are abroad, for the dishonor done to Messiah. If there be any confidence in prophetic declaration, the day is not far distant, when God by his judgments, will write upon all the nations of the world, in characters not to be mistaken, that his denunciations against sin should be feared: especially that one, which declares, that “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” [Psalm 9.17.]
The present duty of the church is to present the claims of the Lord’s anointed, and call upon men to yield a willing subjection to the Prince of Peace. She should tell them, that because “Christ has humbled himself, and became obedient to the death of the cross, that therefore, God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name, which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2.8-11. She should point them to that period, when the inhabitants of heaven and the redeemed on earth, shall sing in triumph, “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Rev. 2.15. When they shall be exceeding glad, and say, “Alleluia; for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.” Rev. 19.6.
3. The creeds and confessions of the church, which are founded upon the word of God. We shall not stay to prove that the standards of the church are agreeable to the holy scriptures. We shall here assume this position as granted; and in doing this we do not fear contradiction, especially from them, who have sworn these standards in truth and righteousness. Nor do we design to insinuate that while they give a fair expression of the mind of the Holy Ghost, revealed in the Bible, they are to be considered as the supreme rule, in cases where diversity of opinion exists. But we do affirm that when a person has bound his soul by the oath of God, in the expression of his belief in the truth of these formularies of the church, he is as much bound to walk in them as he is in the word of God, which is truly exhibited in them; for it is a good rule, that whatsoever is legitimately deduced from holy writ, has as much force as express declaration.
It is all-important that the church should have terms, upon the foundation of which her members associate for the purpose of enjoying communion with each other, for while the truth of the word of God, expressed in her standards, is the medium of fellowship in the church, it is equally true, that through the same medium the individual believes, and the church collectively enjoy fellowship with the Father of our spirits. This, doubtless, was the mind of the Holy Ghost, when he inspired John to say, “that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1.3.
Every association among men, has its terms upon which its members agree to transact their respective business; these terms are express or implied: indeed it enters into the very nature of all society. No community can exist without it; there must be some common tie, by which every individual is bound. This enters into the very constitution of membership in all associations whatever. Shall men be allowed the right to frame the terms of their societies, which are organized for the transaction of secular business? And shall this right be denied to the church of God? Is it more important to prepare men, in this manner, to act with propriety in the affairs of this world, than to prepare them for eternity? Are the things of time more valuable than those of the invisible and eternal world? The reason of opposition to the creeds and confessions of the church is obvious. The individual who raises his voice against them, assumes the ground that he is himself better acquainted with what the scripture teaches, than all those that have gone before—that he is more wise than the whole church, in all preceding ages—that his own judgment is a safer guide, than the wisdom of the church concentrated in her standards. Such assumptions surely do not exhibit the person who makes them, as one of a meek and lowly mind. In this attitude he certainly does not appear very remarkable for the grace of humility. Nor is he more eminent for his soundness in the faith of the gospel, than for his lowliness of mind, and humility. For it has rarely, if ever, occurred, that a man who understands the word of God, and who cordially embraces it, is found using his efforts against creeds and confessions of faith. The very reverse is, probably, without a single exception, the fact. Men who are erroneous in principle, have found the truth of the gospel so clearly stated by the church in her formularies, that they cannot stand the test, to which they are thus subjected. And hence it is that their puny arm is raised for the demolition of these noble systems of doctrine which are the glory and the defence of the household of faith. The ground of attack has usually been, that the Bible is the only term of ecclesiastical communion. If this be correct, how does it happen that men differ so widely in their expositions of the sacred volume? All who profess themselves Christians, declare their belief in the Bible. But do they in reality believe what it inculcates? We fearlessly assert, they do not. The system of the grace of God which has been revealed by the Prophet of the church, is harmonious in all its parts. Truth is one. Not a solitary declaration can be found, which contradicts any other declaration. Apply these statements to the subject before us. One man affirms that Jesus Christ is a mere man, or at most a superangelic being. Another affirms that he is a divine person equal in power and glory, with God the Father, God over all and blessed forever. One man affirms that God has not elected a certain definite number of men to salvation. Another affirms that God has elected, from among men all that shall be saved, that he has chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before him in love. One man affirms that the whole human family will be saved, that not one will be lost. Another affirms that the finally impenitent and unbelieving shall be cast out into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and wailing, gnashing of teeth, where their worm dieth not, and where their fire is not quenched, and where the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever. One man affirms that Christ has died for all mankind, that he has made an atonement for sin in the abstract. Another affirms that he has died for the elect only, and in his death has made an atonement for their sins, having as the good shepherd, given his life for the sheep. One man affirms that Christ has not purchased temporal blessings for his people, that all their earthly enjoyments are made sure in the covenant of works. Another affirms that Christ has purchased temporal blessings for his people, and that all their earthly blessings come to them through the channel of the covenant of peace. One man affirms that the authority of the Lord Jesus as Mediator is limited to his church, and that as Mediator, he has no authority over the nations of the earth. Another affirms that as Mediator he is the Prince of the kings of the earth—that he is Lord of all to the glory of God the Father. One man affirms that the government of the church is Episcopal. Another affirms that it is Independency. Another that it is Presbyterian. But why enumerate the conflicting opinions? To this enumeration there is no end; for there is scarcely a principle in the whole system of divine grace about which men do not differ. And what is remarkable, all these opinions, by their advocates, are said to be taught in the bible. Is this possible? Impossible. It would be an impeachment of the wisdom of him who is its author. Hence we believe the conclusion is irresistible, all that profess to believe the bible, do not really believe it.
The church in her creeds and confessions, has gone upon the principles, that the system of gospel truth is one. She has, in her standards, expressed her understanding of this system. The history of these articles is this. As Christianity spread in the world, men of corrupt minds entered the church, for the purpose of making gain by the profession of godliness. [1 Tim. 6.5.] When such men presented themselves for admission into the communion of the church, they would profess their belief in the scriptures. The church, aware that such individuals in her communion, were an injury rather than a blessing, brought them not only to the scriptures, but also to her exposition of them, in order to detect their erroneous opinions. Heresies early began to prevail. Wherever this happened, the church embodied among her doctrines, the truth extracted from the word of God, against which these heresies were directed. Thus, from age to age, there have been additions made to the terms of the church’s fellowship, until they have attained their present size. Thus we see, in what manner God brings good out of evil. Error in doctrine, is an evil thing, yet it has been made the occasion of great good. [1 Cor. 11.19.] It has been made the means of making the study of the doctrines of the gospel more easy than it would have been, had not errors prevailed, which rendered it indispensable to collect and explain these doctrines. Indeed the doctrines of the gospel embodied in the standards of the church, are the result of severe conflict with the enemy. They are all so much ground gained, as the reward of victory. They have not only been the subject of contest, but the most precious of them have been sealed by the blood of men of whom the world was not worthy. [Heb. 11.37,38.]
But it may here be demanded, why have not creeds and confessions kept the church undefiled from error? We reply it has done so comparatively; for it is not difficult to see, that had not the church acted on this plan, it would have been in a much worse condition than it is. Had she not proceeded on this principle, she would have been overgrown with every noxious bramble. In this there is no fancy. Examine those communities where little attention has been given to their standards, and conviction must be carried to every mind of the truth of the position which we are endeavouring to illustrate. In many of these communities professing to be christian, can be found maintained by their members, nearly every heresy which has been known in the whole period of the church’s history. But has this state of things been produced by their creeds and confessions? Far from it. Men, in whose hands the management of these concerns has been lodged, have proved unfaithful to the trust reposed in them. They have been unfaithful in not requiring of all applicants for admission among them, a knowledge of, and a belief in their standards. They have been unfaithful also, in not executing discipline upon persons who have violated their plighted faith, by embracing and propagating opinions contrary to their known and acknowledged, and received doctrines. There can be little doubt but this condition of the church has induced individuals of limited information, to discard creeds and confessions entirely. It is probable they have thought that these evils which they perceived, were chargeable upon the compilations of doctrine, which the church has made. Would the church by her judicatories, only make an honest application of her laws and institutions, these disorders would soon be cured. Many of the denominations of professing Christians do now perceive the mistaken policy which they have pursued; and they are beginning to retrace the steps by which they have departed from their former standing. And we trust that the day is not distant, when they will yield obedience to the injunction of the apostle, wherein he commands the church, “to hold fast the form of sound words;” when they will be influenced by the declaration of another inspired writer, who says, “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” [2 Tim. 1.13; Jude 3.]
4. Christ, who is the truth. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17.3. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” 14.6. “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” 1 John 5.20. The Lord Jesus Christ is the sum and the substance of divine revelation. He is called the Word of God, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1.1. In reference to this name given to Christ, the bible is called the word of God; the same name being applied both to him and to it. This arises from the relation between Christ and the scriptures. The apostle says, “The word of God is quick, and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb. 4.12. The affirmation of the inspired apostle, is applicable to the written word, because it is the word of Christ, and it is only applicable to it on this account: being the word of Christ it possesses an omnipotent energy. When brought home upon the soul by the power of the Holy Ghost, it is emphatically a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. This declaration of the apostle referring primarily to the essential Word, is also descriptive of the efficacy of his written word, when employed by the Spirit in the regeneration, and in the sanctification of the sinner. The scripture in all its parts directs the mind to Christ; it is the means used by the Holy Spirit in conversion, for God’s people are begotten by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever; it is the means employed in their sanctification, they desire the sincere milk of the word that they may grow thereby; it is the means of their engrafting into Christ. The apostle says, “as ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” Col. 2.6. When an individual, by faith, receives and embraces the promises of the gospel, he thereby receives Christ Jesus, for all the promises are in him, yea, and amen to the glory of God the Father; Christ is the truth because he and the Father are one. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person. In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge. He is the truth, inasmuch as he is the only medium of communication, between the true God and men. For their prayers are indited within them by his Spirit; these petitions, thus presented to the throne of God’s grace are accepted through his intercession. “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous.” John 2.1. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us.” Heb. 7.25. He is the truth of all the objects of his everlasting love. In consequence of his truth and faithfulness pledged in them, all his redeemed children shall be conducted safely to the enjoyment of the inheritance of the saints in light; their bark [boat], indeed, may be tossed upon life’s tempestuous ocean, but it shall never be wrecked. The storms may rage and the billows may roll, but the Great Redeemer presides over the agitated floods, and he will guide them securely to their desired haven. He enables them, amidst all their perils, to sing with triumphant exultation, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, and though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” Psalm 46.1-3. “They by faith in their own Mediator, rejoice, that the Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.” Psalm 93.4.
2. What it is to walk in the truth of the gospel. 1. The truth of the gospel must be understood, before a person can walk in it. No man can walk in a way of which he is ignorant. Men employ themselves with great industry for years, to be prepared for their several mechanical pursuits. And after they have become acquainted with the theory of their trades, they find much difficulty in the application of their knowledge. Much time is spent by men in qualifying themselves for the professions which they have selected. And when they have entered upon the discharge of their official duties, they discover that they have still additions to make to their former stores of information ere they can appear with honor to themselves, in the stations which they occupy.
These observations may, with equal propriety, be applied to the subject before us. Men in their natural condition, are in utter ignorance of the truth of the gospel; “having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” Eph. 5.18. Although the light of the gospel may shine around them in all its splendor, and in all its genial influence, yet they do not perceive it. This is because they are not in possession of the organ of vision by which this light is discerned. For “the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” John 1.5. The apostle declares on this subject, “but if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine in them.” 2 Cor. 3.4. We admit, that a person unaided by any supernatural influence, may, by the exercise of his natural powers of mind, become acquainted with many things revealed in the system of gospel truth. But this knowledge is not practical in its results on the mind. Attained in this method it does not sanctify. It is only theoretical. It is not superior to the knowledge of devils. For they “believe and tremble.” [Jas. 2.19.]
To understand gospel truth in the sense in which we now use it, there is an indispensable necessity for the agency of the Holy Spirit. For “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Cor. 2.14. There is provision made, in the economy of God’s covenant, for the illumination of the Spirit. He does enlighten the objects of God’s everlasting love in the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. In the preaching of the gospel, the Holy Ghost comes with irresistible power upon the souls of God’s elect. The scales of ignorance fall from their eyes. The clouds of darkness flee away. So they who were some time darkness are made light in the Lord. The candle of the Lord shines brightly upon their path. In that light of his they clearly see light. But in consequence of the untenderness of their walk they are often left to walk in darkness. When in this condition they go without the light of the sun, the Comforter in his infinite kindness returns to them. Then, in the language of the psalmist, they pray, “O send forth thy light and thy truth, and let them be guides to me, and bring [me] to thy high and holy hill, even where thy dwellings be.” The instruction, which the Spirit imparts, is given according to covenant stipulation. Christ promised to his disciples that he would not leave them comfortless. The Spirit of Christ comes as the Comforter. And he acts in the character of Comforter, by imparting to his people an understanding of the gospel. For Christ himself says for the encouragement of his church in all her tribulations, and persecutions, “but when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” John 15.26. He says again, “and I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” John 14.16,17. When the Christian feels his ignorance of what may be his duty in any circumstance, he is taught to be glad and rejoice in the Holy Ghost. He receives consolation from his once dead, but now arisen and glorified Saviour. By faith he hears him say from his exalted throne, “but the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you,” verse 26. Thus while the Christian digs in the mine of divine truth, his labor shall not be in vain in the Lord. Exerting his own powers, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit of promise, his efforts will be successful. The Spirit will guide him in his investigations. The entrance of his word giveth light. “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” [Psalm 19.7.]
2. There is contained in the church’s walking in the truth of the gospel, that she loves it above all price. “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” Psalm 119.97. “Great peace have they which love thy law; and nothing shall offend them,” verse 165. “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honey comb.” Psalm 19.10. These expressions are used, primarily, with respect to the divine law. And they are also expressive of the estimation, in which the whole of God’s revealed truth is held by the soul savingly enlightened by the Spirit to perceive its excellency. The sanctified soul loves it, because it reflects the image of its heavenly author. For the glory of God is reflected in this glass. “For we all, (says the apostle) with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor. 3.18. There is an exceeding great beauty in the divine character. This beauty is revealed in gospel truth. The mind of him who has a spiritual discernment of this system, contemplates with great delight the divine image impressed thereon. This love will be increased, in proportion as his acquaintance with it, is enlarged and extended. This love will be called forth, in a living flame, by the consideration that the great Jehovah, whose infinite perfections are displayed in gospel truth, is a God in covenant with his people. Thus while God is loved from a view of what he is in himself, he will be loved also for the constitution of this covenant relation. The head of this covenant is the Lord Jesus Christ. It was made in eternity with him; and in him with all those, who, in time, are brought from darkness into God’s marvelous light. Hence, Christians love the truth of the gospel, because by its instrumentality, life and immortality are brought to light. The Holy Spirit savingly teaches sinners to understand their own character. He causes them to behold their exposure to the Almighty’s wrath, in time and to eternity. He convinces them of their utter inability to escape the divine vengeance. Under these convictions wrought in them by the Spirit, they ascertain, that the redemption of the soul being precious, could not be effected by man for his brother. [Psalm 49.7,8.] No angel in heaven could pay a sufficient ransom for him. They recognize the sword of divine justice suspended over their guilty heads. Amidst the alarms excited by such contemplations, the gospel with its blessed provisions, unfolds to them the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world. They see him wounded for their transgressions, and bruised for their iniquities, the chastisement of their peace being upon him, that by his stripes they might be healed. [Isa. 53.5.] They behold him opening his own bosom to the stroke of the avenging sword, that the punishment might be averted from them. They behold him bleeding and dying on the accursed tree, overwhelmed with the floods of divine wrath. They hear him, while he bows his head on the cross exclaim, it is finished. Will they not love him who has done such great things for them? Will they not love the gospel message, which proclaims, through the death of the Lord’s Anointed, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to men? Most assuredly they will. They can, and they do say, “we love him because he first loved us.” [1 John 4.19.] For they remember that their father was an Amorite, and their mother an Hittite. They look to the rock whence they were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence they were digged, and they exclaim with fervor of affection to the Redeemer, “whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee, my flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.”
3. The truth is embraced by every person who walks in it. In our remarks on this particular, we include both the truth of the gospel, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both its Author, and also its sum and its substance. We have remarked in a previous part of this discussion, that the written word derives its efficacy from its being the word of Christ. He and it—Christ and the word, are intimately connected. The word of God, therefore is the immediate object of that faith which is of God’s operation. And through the truth, the soul is brought to the contemplation of the Saviour whom it reveals. “He that hath received his testimony, hath set to his seal that God is true.” John 3.33. For it belongs peculiarly to divine revelation, to exhibit the Redeemer. The works of creation indeed reflect the glory of the Godhead. But it is only by the light which shines from the pages of inspiration, that God is perceived as reconciling men unto himself through the blood of the cross. Thus while men embrace the truth of God’s word, they thereby receive the Lord Jesus into their souls as the hope of glory. And when they receive by faith the Son of God, they likewise receive the truth which he has revealed. For they take him in all his offices. Being made sensible of their guilt, and of the sentence of condemnation resting upon them, they embrace the offers of peace and reconciliation with God. They joyfully bow in submission to his righteous scepter. They also receive him as the Teacher sent from God. All this they do by the instrumentality of gospel truth. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom. 10.13-17. At the same time that the Holy Spirit enlightens them in the knowledge of these blessed truths, and makes them to love his instructions with a pure heart fervently, he likewise gives them a power to receive them. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” John 1.12.
They who love the truth, will necessarily embrace it. It is not in the nature of things they should do otherwise. They embrace it because they love it. They know to what they are exposed. They know, that by embracing the truth they will be rescued. They behold the glories of the eternal world bursting upon their enraptured vision, and sensible that they can attain to their possession, only in this reception, they lay hold of the hope set before them, which hope they have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast. And having received the truth, they cling to it with a tenacity, which resists every effort by which it might be wrested from them. They are made strong in the Lord, and the power of his might. Receiving the truth in its love, there is an energy imparted to their spiritual constitution, which puts to defiance every species of opposition. For faith is the Christian’s victory by which he overcometh the world. [1 John 5.4.] By this gracious act the believer lays under requisition the power of the Godhead for his protection. As the apostle asserts, “whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” 2 Pet. 1.4.
4. By the requisitions of the gospel system the whole deportment will be regulated by them who walk in the truth. It has been given as a rule of life. Its demands are exceeding broad. They extend to the thoughts and intents of the heart, to the words of the mouth, and to the actions of the life. The word of God gives instruction for the regulation of man’s conduct in the several relations of life, whether considered as an individual, a member of the church of God, or of civil society. It presents its claims upon man prescribing the duties required of him to his Maker, the duties which he owes to himself, and the duties which he owes to his fellow men. It teaches to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. [Mic. 6.8.]
When an individual embraces this system, it is with the intention to employ it as the rule of his conduct. He does this under the conviction that this is proper. In the light of God’s word he becomes acquainted with the situation of the person whose deportment is regulated by the dictates of his own mind. He learns the inextricable difficulties in which a man is involved, who walks after the imaginations of his own heart. The light of nature has been much extolled. But what has it done for our race? Let the condition of the nations, whose actions have been guided by its rays, give the answer. Even with respect to the concerns of this world, what have they been? What are they now? In their lives they are unholy. In their conduct they are impure. In their practices they are abominable. God is not in all their thoughts. Darkness has covered the earth and gross darkness the people. Where there is no vision there the people perish. [Prov. 29.18.] An impenetrable veil rests upon all the prospects of futurity.
In confirmation of this, by the lights of history, consider the state of Greece and Rome in the times of their greatest prosperity. Their true character may be ascertained with more accuracy from a survey of their thousands of gods, than from any labored description. The character of the best of their deities, was most infamous. This being the case, what must have been the morality and virtue of their votaries? What is the condition of the nations now, who are without the influences which the christian religion exercises upon human society. It is most deplorable indeed. The most atrocious rites are performed, and that too, under all the sanctions of their pretended religion. These are the effects produced upon the conduct of men, and of nations, who are governed merely by the boasted light of nature. Verily it is darkness tangible. Its light only points the steps of the wayworn traveler to the realms of the blackness of darkness forever. From it, the individual, who has come to the light which emanates from the Son of Righteousness, turns away his sight and eyes. “We have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1.19. He does the truth. He walks in the truth. It is his habit to regulate his conversation by its requisitions. This is involved in the phrase to walk. A single act cannot be denominated a walk. This is its import in common acceptation. This acceptation is sanctioned by scripture authority. “And Enoch walked with God, and he was not; for God took him.” Gen. 6.24. The Holy Spirit refers this to Enoch’s life of faith. “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” Heb. 11.5. “Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” Gen. 6.9.
Let it not be supposed that individual man only should walk in the truth. It should be applied in all the relations of life, for this purpose God has revealed it; he reproves Israel because they cast off the thing that was good, because they did not walk in truth, they were frequently carried into captivity; he made them fall before their enemies; when they rejected him, who was the truth, their land was made a desolation: and for eighteen centuries they have been a monument of God’s wrath against the sin of national disobedience. It becomes all nations to take warning by this example. It is predicted that nations shall walk in the truth; “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it; and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it.” Rev. 21.24. It must be their duty to walk in the truth now. How absurd is it, either for individuals or communities, to reject the light of divine truth, and walk by the rays of nature’s light? How glorious will the time be, when all the inhabitants of the world shall learn righteousness, and walk no more after the imaginations of their evil hearts. Why this walk of the church imparts joy:
1. It is the way of safety. When an individual walks in a plain and open path, he walks securely; and especially if that way be elevated. From his eminence, he can examine his course and take those precautions which are necessary to avoid the dangers which are around him. While the church of God walks in the way of truth, she is safe; she is elevated far above all her foes: in the way of truth she enjoys a high and commanding stand; within her strongholds she may put all the efforts of her adversaries to defiance; for her place of defence is the munition of rocks; Salvation hath God appointed for walls and bulwarks; she is exhorted by the Holy One of Israel to walk about Zion, and go round about, mark her bulwarks, consider her palaces, and tell her high towers. [Psalm 48.13.] The way of truth is a safe way, because God himself dwells in the church by his truth. Hence the Psalmist says “God in the midst of her doth dwell, nothing shall remove her, God shall help her and that right early.” [Psalm 46.5.] God himself hath prepared this way; in it he places his church by the Holy Spirit; and for his own name’s sake he makes them walk therein. In walking in this way they follow the cloud of witnesses who have gone before them: and in following the footsteps of the flock there is safety. [Hebrews 12.1. Song 1.8.]
The angel of the Lord encamps round about all that fear him. The armies of the living God encompass them who travel in this way, “Behold his bed, which is Solomon’s; threescore valiant men are about, of the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh, because of fear in the night.” Song. 3.7,8. The angels are employed in protecting the church, while she walks in the truth. “God’s chariots twenty-thousand, are thousands of angels strong; in’s holy place God is, as in mount Sinai them among.”
Directed too, by the Spirit of God, they are in security; he conducts them in the way they should go. Hence the prophet says “then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.” Isa. 58.8. The safety of the church is very beautifully described by the same inspired prophet, in another portion of his prediction, “And a high way shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion, with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: and they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Isa. 35.8-10.
2. This walk of the church imparts joy, because it is the way of peace, “Great peace have they which love thy law; and nothing shall offend them.” Psalm 119.165. “Her (Wisdom’s) ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” Prov. 3.17. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14.27. That this peace may be enjoyed by the church, David prays, “Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my friends and companions’ sakes, I will now say, peace be within thee.” Psalm 122.6,8.
Various have been the schemes which men have devised to obtain peace in the church, but they have generally proved abortive; the church never can be in peace unless her children walk in the truth. Other expedients have been tried and they have been unsuccessful. This is apparent from the present distracted condition of the christian community; there is not any department of the household of faith, which is exempt from commotion. Why is this want of peace? The members of these communities do not walk in the truth. The principles known by the name of Hopkinism [Hopkinsianism] are exerting their blighting influence upon many parts of the church under the care of the General Assembly in the United States. Where these principles have prevailed, and the measures by which they are most efficiently propagated, have obtained the ascendancy, there personal godliness has declined. The time was, in that church, when this heresy was considered as harmless; many beheld its spread with apathy. That feeling, however, has passed away; in that church the best of her sons are manifesting a noble zeal to prevent its further encroachment; they see its evil, and they have arisen to check its desolating current; hence the absence of harmony in some of their ecclesiastical judicatories. If these men, who are exerting themselves in this good work, should continue their efforts, peace need not be expected until their church is purified from this leaven.
Our own church has not escaped the general agitation of the eventful times in which our lot has fallen. Some persons have found their way into the Reformed Presbyterian church, who appear to be unwilling to bear the cross which has always been the portion of those who have borne a faithful testimony against the evils which exist in the corrupt constitutions of church, and state. We were once a united and happy people; our members walked in the truth; we enjoyed peace in all our borders; our streets were free from complaints; like ancient Israel, we desired to dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations. [Num. 23.9.] It was our practice to stand aloof from the contaminations which have brought down the judgments of heaven upon our guilty world: but this peaceful condition has been recently interrupted. Novel doctrines, and disorganizing measures have been introduced among us, and that too, by men from whom better things ought to have been expected; attempts have been made to change some of the peculiar and distinctive features of our section of Zion. The church is still in the wilderness; she must prophesy yet a little longer; she cannot take part in the strifes of the political parties of the day. Her members are not prepared to barter the principles which they have received from Christ through Cargill, and Cameron, and Renwick, for the offices and emoluments which can be obtained only by swearing sinful oaths. Does this faction which has lately sprung up in our church inculcate such a barter? Let the publications which they have recently issued from the press, answer the interrogation. Let the new light which they have poured upon every part of our community, respond to the question. We are aware they make high pretensions that they have not changed their principles, but let them no longer insult the understanding of the people of our communion, by such pretensions. Let them no longer insult the understanding of the christian community around us: they are perfectly understood, both in the church and out of it; let them no longer deceive themselves.
The principles and practices of this faction, being contrary to the known laws, usages, and constitution of the church, have banished the peace and the harmony, which formerly prevailed in our prosperous communion. They are justly chargeable with all the heart-burnings, with all the destruction of private personal friendship, and with all the pernicious consequences which flow from such a state of things. Should these lines be read by any of this party, we say to them, we beseech you, cease to pour upon the church your unhallowed pamphlets. If you are weary of our principles, leave us. Permit us, without distraction, to walk in the truth as we have formerly done. For “how can two walk together except they be agreed.” The peace of the church can only be promoted by maintaining its purity. Peace on any other principle is in its nature utterly deceptive.
3. This walk of the church in the truth imparts joy, because it will eventually bless the world. All the blessings possessed by the world are fairly referable to the system of truth committed to the church of God. In proportion as a knowledge of this system is circulated among the kingdoms, will their prosperity be multiplied. Show me the nation where the principles of divine truth are the most generally embraced by the great mass of the people, and there I will show you a nation enjoying the greatest amount of human happiness. This is the sole reason that the nations of Christendom participate so largely in the blessings of life. It is not because they enjoy a more salubrious climate; it is not because they possess a more fertile soil; it is not because they have a greater abundance of the rich productions of nature; it is neither any, nor all these causes co-operating, which have placed these nations on the high eminence which many of them have attained. For, in all these respects, they are very far surpassed by many portions of the earth, upon which the light of divine revelation has never shed its cheering influence. There are heathen lands, whose inhabitants have never experienced the rigors of high northern latitudes, whose inhabitants know nothing of the burning heat of the torrid zone; their soil teems with abundance. The products of nature are lavished upon them with an amazing exuberance. In fine, they are in possession of every blessing which a general sun, luxuriant seasons, and a healthful atmosphere can dispense. With all these natural advantages they are still, in the language of inspiration, places “full of the habitations of horrid cruelty.” Upon them the sun of righteousness has never arisen. Hence their degraded condition as men—hence their wretched state as immortal beings.
The church of God, walking in the truth, is the light of the world; for her Redeemer “is the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” She is the salt of the earth. Where the church of God is organized, and walks in the truth, she exerts her influence upon society. Where her truth is faithfully exhibited her power is felt, in the production of godliness in the lives of her own members. It is felt too, in the restraints which she imposes upon the licentiousness of corrupt men. Were her power removed, and her restraints withdrawn, no heart can conceive, or tongue utter the deplorable condition to which all would be reduced. She is like dew among the nations. The more carefully the church walks in the truth, the more she will behold with sympathy the perishing condition of the heathen; the more closely she adheres to the truth, the more will she mourn over the desolations which sin has wrought among our race. Concealing the truths and keeping back the claims of the divine law will never reform the world. This experiment has been made sufficiently long to convince the most skeptical; instead of reforming the world in this method, the more it is pursued the worse men will become; it not only harms the men of the world, but it also injures the church. The church must not shun to declare the whole counsel of God, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. [Acts 20.27. Ezek. 2.5.] In the church is exhibited the only system of moral order. The law of the Lord must be exhibited, and men must be called upon to obey it. “And many people shall go and say, come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Isa. 2.3. The church’s testimony is the great, efficient means appointed by her glorious Head for filling the world with his glory. “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Rev. 12.10,11.
We have said this walk of the church in the truth will eventually bless the world. She has received the command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. This command she will obey; the nations shall be evangelized; the truth will be made known in all the earth, and it will be embraced by all kindreds, and people, and tongues, under the whole heavens. When this takes place, will not the earth be blessed indeed? Truly it will be a blessed time. The truth of God spread abroad throughout the kingdoms, and applied by the irresistible agency of the Holy Spirit, will make the earth to rejoice and blossom as the rose,—to become as the garden of God, for, “he maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.” Psalm 46.9. This blessed period is described by the prophet. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lions shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play upon the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s-den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Isa. 11.6-9. Looking forward to these times the sweet singer of Israel calls upon all nations to praise him who reigns in mount Zion, and before his ancients gloriously unto the ends of the earth. “His name shall endure forever; his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name forever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and amen.” Psalm 72.17-19.
4. This walk of the church in the truth imparts joy, because by it God is glorified. All things were designed by their author to make known God’s glory. For his pleasure, they are and were created. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handy-work.” “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.” But while the works of creation manifest the glory of the Lord, it is in the system of truth, in which the church walks, that his perfections are the most conspicuously displayed. Divine truth reflects his image most brightly. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” When the church under the sanctification of the Spirit is changed into his image, which is reflected from the glass of his word, God is thereby glorified. “Herein (says Christ) is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” The church has been established in the world for the express purpose of exhibiting the glory of the Lord, and this she can only do, as she walks in the truth, which he has committed to her, as a sacred deposit. Error in principle lies at the foundation of all vicious practice. Between principle and practice, there is an inseparable connection. Let an individual embrace principles that are contrary to God’s revealed truth, and he will inevitably become immoral in his life; for it is a misnomer to call anything a principle which produces no effect upon the external conversation. The whole history of man demonstrates the truth of this statement. The infidel has never been considered a man of godliness; indeed, his character has been the very reverse in every age and in every country. Does the Socinian walk with God? Is he careful in his obedience to him who is the Governor of the nations? Let those who are the most intimate with his private conversation answer the inquiries. It is impossible, in the nature of things, that they should obey him; because their principles lead them to consider him as a human being. Influenced by such views of his character, how can they confess him “Lord of all to the glory of God the Father.” [Phil. 2.11.] The effect, which principle produces upon practice, is not restricted to those principles that are of the more gross kind. Every deviation from the truth of God is deleterious in its consequences. Every error detracts from the glory of Jehovah; because the Holy Spirit sanctifies the church by the truth. In every instance in which a person departs from truth, there will be a correspondent decay in vital holiness, that is, if there be a principle of godliness in the person who departs for a time which we admit there may be, I presume, however it often happens, that a person becomes irregular in his habits and then as a palliation [disguise] for his conduct, he takes the ground that the law of God, is too perfect a law, ever to be applied to such sinful beings as men are. Sometimes they proceed a step farther and affirm that the Lawgiver never intended it should be applied. We would fondly hope there are few who entertain such sentiments respecting God’s law. Yet the writer of these pages once had the opportunity of hearing these sentiments warmly advocated; I have frequently thought there was an intimate connection between this sentiment, and the one of which we have lately heard so much, viz. human society is imperfect;—perfection is not to be expected in this world;—we must take things as we find them:—no institution should be rejected for its imperfection. We had supposed that God had commanded his creatures to be holy as he is holy—to be perfect as he is perfect. All attempts to weaken the power of the divine law, are derogatory to the Lawgiver: they are an insult offered to the majesty of heaven and earth.
The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Through her the manifold wisdom of God is made known; She is set for the defence of the gospel. Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord. She should, therefore, act upon the declaration of David when he says, “I will endure no wicked thing before my eyes.” When the system of truth, in which the church walks, shall become known and embraced by all nations, then God will be glorified. For this glorious time the church prays; for this she puts forth her energy. These efforts will be crowned with success, for all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God; then shall the church of God rejoice; then shall earth and heaven join in the joyful acclamation, “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to men.” [Luke 2.14.]
IV. Briefly apply the subject.
1. Study to become acquainted with the truth. “This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.” See that ye are as scribes, well instructed in the mystery of the kingdom. Read with diligence and with attention the sacred oracles. “Search the scriptures for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” Dig deeply into the mine of divine truth, and your labor shall not be in vain in the Lord; compare scripture with scripture. In doing this, employ as helps those systems which have been compiled by the united wisdom of the church. Examine the passages of scripture which are cited to prove the statements made in these systems. the more this course is pursued, the more will it be perceived, that the standards of the church are agreeable unto and founded upon the word of God. In all this examination be influenced by an humble and teachable disposition. Many persons (we have reason to fear) come to the sacred oracles with their theory already formed. And they only read the bible to discover something which may favor their preconceived views. A person in this method, is not very likely to ascertain the mind of the Spirit expressed in his word. The humble inquirer after truth, should receive his opinions from the word of God; in order that this may be the case, dependence must be placed upon the teaching of the Spirit; for the Spirit searches the deep things of God, and he brings to the view of God’s people whatsoever Christ has commanded them. All who by faith rely upon him, will be made to know the truth, and by the truth they shall be made free. This examination, in reliance upon the Spirit, must always be undertaken in prayer for God’s blessing upon these efforts. Directed by such considerations the Christian will say in the language of David, “O send forth thy light, and thy truth, and let them be guides to me, and bring me to thy high and holy hill, where thy dwellings be.” [Psalm 43.3.] Let the Christian depend upon the promise of the faithful and true Witness, which declares, “thy children shall all be taught of thee;” and again, “what ye know not now, ye shall know hereafter.” [Isa. 54.13. John 13.7.]
2. Endeavor to have the whole man imbued with the truth of God’s word. Be careful that the whole soul be transformed into its blessed image. The grace of God has its seat in the heart; but its influence is not confined there; it manifests its power in the life and conversation. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” [Luke 6.45.] “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” [Rom. 10.10.] Christ commands his disciples to “let their light shine before men, that others seeing their good works may glorify their Father who is in heaven.” [Matt. 5.16.] Let this command be obeyed; the life of the person who walks with God, is a standing testimony of the truth of our holy religion. By it he puts to silence the foolish talking of ignorant men. It has always been the lot of the church in our sinful world, to be the object of scorn and derision to the ungodly; she has been reproached and slandered, like her Divine Lord in the days of his flesh; let the Christian, however, walk in the truth and thus turn aside the hard reports which the wicked may have heaped upon him; let him keep a conscience void of offence towards God, and towards men. The more closely he walks in the truth, the more will the rage and persecution of the wicked without, and false brethren within, be increased; for the consolation of all such, the Holy Spirit inspired Peter, to say, “beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you; on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.” [1 Peter 4.12-14.]
3. Let the church commend herself, and the truth in which she walks, to the care and protection of the Lord of hosts. No power, less than omnipotent, can preserve her and make the cause which she has espoused prevail. But he can, and he will make the nations under her feet to bow; “For he must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet.” The church will triumph over all the combined opposition of earth and of hell. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and will he not make it good? Let it not be concealed; the times in which we live are the most portentous that have ever passed over our world; the love of many has waxed cold, and iniquity much abounds. The church has always suffered, but she is now entering a period of trial, compared with which, her former afflictions were but as the drop of a bucket; Satan has come down, having great wrath, because he knows his time is short. This is the season which will try the faith and patience of the saints. If we are coming near the time when he, who has so long ruled the nations, is to be bound a thousand years, let us not suppose that this will be accomplished without much tribulation. Men are deceived who flatter themselves that the church will attain her latter day glory by the instrumentality of the benevolent institutions of the day. Many of these institutions answer a valuable purpose, but they never will reform the evils which exist in the world. How much has been effected by all the efforts that have been employed of late years? How much have they improved the condition of men? The means which men enjoy, and which they misimprove render them inexcusable; they justify the Almighty in the execution of his judgments. Reformations have generally been produced by the judgments of God poured out upon the wicked. And if we have not entirely misunderstood the language of prophecy, Zion is to be established in her earthly glory, by the effusion of the vials of Jehovah’s indignation upon rebellious nations. [Rev. 15.7–16.21.] If this be so, and that it is, every intelligent reader of prophecy admits, is it not proper that the church should commit herself and her cause, to the protection of him, “who maketh all things work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called according to his purpose.” [Rom. 8.28.] Let the church by faith rely upon the promises which God has revealed for their encouragement. “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth, even forever. For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous; lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity. Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts. As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity, but peace shall be upon Israel.” Amen. [Psalm 125.]
Libel, sustained at the Fall Synod, November, 1832.
Whereas every minister and every ruling elder is bound by his ordination vows to abstain from all divisive courses;
And whereas he binds himself not to despise the judicatories of the Lord’s house;
And whereas he binds himself not to teach any doctrine contrary to the standards of the church;
And whereas he binds himself not to abandon the testimony which the church has emitted in defence of truth and in opposition to error;
And whereas he binds himself not to speak evil either of the courts of Christ or any of their members calumniously;
And whereas he that breaks his most solemn obligation by doing those things which he has bound himself not to do, is guilty of heinous sins and scandals contrary to the word of God and to the profession of this church founded thereon, repugnant to the christian character and injurious to the religion of the Lord Jesus;
Yet true it is that you Samuel W. Crawford, John N. M’Leod, Gilbert M’Master, John M’Master, Samuel B. Wylie, and William Wilson, ministers, Samuel Bell, David Clark, Thomas Cummings, William Cunningham, and Charles M’Clew, ruling elders, are charged by fama clamosa, with these matters of scandal above mentioned.
Insofar as you the said individuals above named have published to the world the condemned part of the original draft of a Pastoral Address and notes appended thereunto, thereby being guilty,
1. Of following divisive courses. See Original Draft of a Pastoral Address page 4th. “By a unanimous resolution of the minority subsequently passed, the entire address as originally reported was ordered to be published with such notes and illustrations as might be required; and it now appears on their own responsibility.” Contrary to Confession Faith chap. 31, sec. 3, “which decrees and determinations,” &c. Testimony chap. 20, error 2. “That it is not sinful to promote and maintain schisms destructive to the unity of the christian church.” Quest. 9, put to ministers and ruling elders at their ordination, “Do you promise subjection to the judicatories of this church in the Lord and engage to follow no divisive courses from the doctrine and order which the church has solemnly recognized and adopted.” Rom. 16.17, “Now I beseech you brethren.” Eph. 4.3, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit.”
2. Contempt of the authority of Synod. See as above pp. 4,13. “Let us also warn you dear brethren of your danger from the insinuations and foul misrepresentations of the prejudiced, pestilent, designing and ambitious:” again, “You are therefore dear brethren warranted to consider those who may thus try to distract your consciences and your peace on these topics by the introduction of novel doctrines and novel practices as disorganizing new-light pedlars, disturbers of the good order and harmony of Zion.” Confession Faith chap. 20, sect. 4. “And because the powers which God hath ordained.”
3. Error in doctrine. See as above p. 10. “It is susceptible of demonstration, that since the commencement of Christianity, no government on earth has had a fairer claim to recognition as God’s ordinance than that of these United States.” p. 12. “So soon as public opinion, without which legislation is utterly unavailing, should render such a desirable measure at all practicable.” p. 11. “The most obnoxious feature, indeed we may say the only obnoxious one—the existence of slavery, is rapidly softening in its unsightly aspect.” Contrary to Confession of Faith, chap. 23, Sect. 3: “Yet he (the civil magistrate) hath authority and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire—that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed—all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline be prevented or reformed—and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed.” [Reformed Presbyterian] Testimony chap. 28: sect. 3: “But no power which deprives the subject of civil liberty, or which authorizes false religion, (however it may exist according to divine providence) is approved of or sanctioned by God, or ought to be esteemed or supported by man as a moral institution.” Sect. 7: “It is the duty of the christian magistrate to take order, that open blasphemy and idolatry, licentiousness and immorality, be suppressed and that the church of Christ be supported throughout the commonwealth.” Error 7: “That it is lawful for civil rulers to authorize the purchase or sale of any part of the human family as slaves.” Error 8: “That a constitution of government which deprives unoffending men of liberty and property is a moral institution, to be recognized as God’s ordinance.” Chap. 26, Error 4: “That irreligious men may be appointed as the official administrators of the religious ordinance of swearing.” Chap. 23, Error 2: “That man has a right to worship God, whatever way conscience may dictate, although that way should be opposed to God’s commandments.” Prov. 28.15, and 29.2. Psalm 94.20. Hos. 8.2,3. Rev. 11.15. Is. 8.12. Rom. 12.2.
4. Abandonment of the testimony of the church. See as above [Pastoral Address,] p. 9. “The morality or immorality of the character of these institutions, the recognition or the rejection of this authority, therefore could never have been any legitimate term of communion in our church. This in very deed is common ground, and as such is left entirely to the decisions of local jurisdiction.” p. 11: see their reasoning on the subject of slavery, pp. 26,27. “Among their reserved rights may be enumerated that of worshipping God as the individual may regard consistent with his law, and in the constitutions of all the members of the Federal union, this right is guaranteed unalienable. If these rights of conscience, subject only to the law of God inhere originally in the people; the power of regulating their exercise must be delegated by the people to their rulers if they are possessed of it at all.” Contrary to [the] Test[imony.] See all the places referred to under specification 3d of this libel. “The church may not recede from a more clear and particular testimony to a more general and evasive one; but the witnesses must proceed in finishing their testimony rendering it more pointed and complete,” &c. Error. 3: “That it is lawful in order to enlarge the church, to open a wider door of communion by declining from a more pointed testimony to one which is more loose and general.” Reformation Principles [Exhibited] 1st edition, pp. 136-138. Rev. 11.3, and 2.25. 1 Thess. 1.10. Ps. 78.5. Phil. 3.16.
5. Slandering Synod and its members. See pp. 12,13, 20. Contrary to large catechism, sins forbidden by the 9th commandment.
New-York, March 26, 1833.
To the Editor of the Albany Quarterly.
Dear Brethren—This day has fallen into my hands a pamphlet written by the Rev. Dr. McMaster, entitled “A Brief Inquiry,” and addressed “to the Reformed Presbyterians in the United States.” Its general aspect is so mild—the statements seem to be made with so much candor—the expressions of deep felt interest in the welfare of the Ref[ormed] Pres[byterian] church are so explicit, and it closes in such a fearful and affectionate manner, that it seems rather a painful task to oppose any of the statements made or inferences drawn therefrom. To many it must appear like blowing up the dying embers, and adding fuel to produce a flame. I recognize this in all its force, yet feel constrained to expose some of the fallacies therein contained, believing that no such insidious publication has ever been emitted in the Ref. Pres. church since we became a distinct people.
The Dr. commences with a declaration of his affection for the church and her cause, and the honesty of his public ministry. He next proposes to remove from the minds of good men some misapprehensions that may exist concerning the civil institutions of our country, and the judicative deeds of the church upon that subject. He recommends harmony, absence of passion and violence—fears a domestic broil—says he will not enter into it, and thinks the church will not countenance it.
Before proceeding finally into the discussion, he requests that his inquiry may not be judged by the private opinion of individuals, doubts, or silence of good men on certain points, sentiments expressed under circumstances no longer existing, or repealed enactments. The Bible, and the subordinate standards of the church, and as sustained in her standing authoritative adjudications, he admits as the test by which his work shall be tried. This is all fair. He has appealed unto Cæsar, and unto Cæsar shall he go.
It is true that his own writings could be brought forward, Mr. McMaster against Dr. McMaster, to show that there was a time when, if he wrote honestly, he believed the opposite of this pamphlet; but it is evident that the expression, “sentiments expressed under circumstances no longer existing,” is intended to parry this thrust, and as there is enough without calling in the Mr. against the Dr. it is waved, with merely expressing astonishment, that if these were his views as the acts of legislation were in progress, he should preach and print in a sermon called “the duty of nations,” sentiments calculated to induce Christians to believe the American government anything but the ordinance of God. If any one doubt of the correctness of this hint, all that is requested is that the reader will turn his attention to the “Duty of nations,” page 16th, 5th line from the bottom—22d page from the middle—page 38th footnote—and page 41st footnote.
The Dr.’s pamphlet is embraced in an answer to four questions; the first of which is—“what is the question at issue among a few of the brethren of the church?”
In reply to this question he pauses to state what is not the question at issue; and then what is in dispute. As to the former, what is not the question at issue.
The question, whatever it is, it appears only concerns “a few of the brethren.” From the interest taken in it by the whole church, it was apprehended that all were really interested in it. But it seems we were mistaken! The Dr. specifies several topics on which he says there is no dispute, viz.:
The whole subject of the principle of Presbyterial order, as settled by our reforming ancestors—the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms—the Declaration and Testimony—peculiar aspects of certain truths, so far as these forms of peculiarity have been settled by public authority. These forms are specified.
In every christian land christian influence should be exerted to subserve the interests of moral order, in bringing the nations to confess Immanuel as Lord of all—that the principles of God’s moral law should be the supreme standard of national policy—that one measure of scriptural qualifications is essential to the legitimacy of magistracy—that covenanting ecclesiastical and national upon proper occasions, is the ordinance of God, and that such moral deeds when formed, have a descending obligation till the ends of them be accomplished—and that all the benefits of life flow to the heirs of grace in the channel of the everlasting covenant.
On all these the Dr. asserts that we are in perfect harmony; that in the ministrations of our respective churches there is the same tone that distinguished them forty years ago; that the conditions of ordination to the sacred ministry, without deductions, additions, or changes, are such as they were in other days, and that “the application of the principles thus recognized, to the public evils of the land, whether civil or ecclesiastic, is such as it used to be”! He admits the existence of slavery; but considers it a matter of small account where the calamity and crime of slavery is; yet he is careful to inform us upon the same page that it is not in New-York, Pennsylvania, or Ohio, though, according to his own statement, it is of small account where it is. He then rather triumphantly asks, in page 6th, “what is the matter at issue”? And if the foregoing is true, well may he put the question, and find none to answer. Yet the Dr. directs the attention of his readers to the positive side of the question, and says, “it is however alleged, that some put in a plea for a connection with the government of the land, inconsistent with sound morality, the principles of our standards, and the ground which the church has taken upon the subject.” To this he replies that if the above allegation is well sustained, those who make such plea should abandon it speedily; for a fundamental principle of our church is that no sanction should be given to immorality in civil deeds. He states that all our people hold connection with the functionaries of the United States in what is properly political—says he will not plead to urge covenanters to form such connection; but pleads “for those who choose to act the part of orderly citizens in the discharge of the various duties to which they are called in the state.” He adverts to cautious legislation; individual opinion; the embarrassing difficulties in which the church was placed after the American revolution; states that members of the church were known all along to hold political fellowship with the institutions of the land; that the majority of the members “through delicacy to a few who had scruples on the subject,” refrained from political fellowship with the above institutions. The occasion of these political scruples he accounts by our ministry in their public discussions, not viewing the subject as a practical thing, but describing an ideal perfection, the hearer often forgot that man is an imperfect being!
Such a picture of unskilfulness on the part of the ministry, and more than Roman Catholic ignorance and prejudice upon the part of the covenanter hearers, has never been daubed by the worst painter. If covenanters can admit this description of their forgetfulness that man was an imperfect being, they are a different race of men from what their fathers were in times of trial and persecution.
The examination of the second question, and the Doctor’s assertions concerning it, will go far to settle the truth or falsehood of his allegations.
The second topic is, “upon the question of our civil relations, what are the existing authoritative acts of our supreme judicatory”?
Dr. McMaster attempts to show that all the acts passed by our supreme judicatory recognize the morality of the American government.
And 1st he refers to the acts of 1806 respecting the giving of testimony under oath before an unqualified administrator, and serving as jurors. The former of these, he says, “at once became a dead letter.” He does not condescend to tell how, or why, it became so. The reason that has been given in and out of the church courts for not requiring our members to act upon it, was that our testimony was emitted. The community had an opportunity of reading it. By it every person knew that as a church we did not recognize the American government as the moral ordinance of God, and that if they were ignorant of our views, it was their own fault, not that of our people:—and, besides, that our people were not all able to enter into the argument so as to do justice to the act, and might thereby do injury to our cause. We ask any intelligent man if this was modifying the act?
As to the latter (the Jury act) the Dr. says, “that which gave accession to the latter was the existence of slavery, at that period, in most of the states where covenanters resided. The Juror, it was apprehended, might be called on to pass between the slave-holder and slave, under the direction of an immoral law. The jury law had such a case in view, and prohibited the church member from acting in it. It would then follow, that where this evil did not exist, or where it had ceased to exist, this act would be without object, and consequently void.” He farther states that “by some oversight the jury act was never entered upon record”—that “an unknown statute can be no rule of action—that law was thus null.” He argues from the specification of these two cases that “all the rest of the system remained untouched,” and informs us that “the historical notice of supposed or alleged immoralities in the system, refers to the opinions formed of it in 1789 rather than to those of 1806.” And the Rev. Dr. farther adds that “they presumed not to pronounce the system immoral.” The notice of it in their historical narrative comes the nearest to doing so; but they declared that narrative to be no term of communion, and this part of it they “subsequently expunged from their records.”
The above sentiments (strange indeed considering the source whence they came) are easily set aside by plain facts and documents.
Why require covenanters at any time to explain, before taking an oath? Explain what? That our church received the government as the moral ordinance of God, himself God’s vicegerent, having a moral right to demand our testimony under oath, and that we could freely hold communion with him in his official capacity? Hear the testimony of the church upon this subject, it is worth at least as much as that of Dr. McMaster.
“Presbyterian covenanters perceiving immorality interwoven with the general and the state constitutions of government in America, have uniformly dissented from the civil establishments.” Act. and Testimony page 134, 1st edition, N.Y. 1807.
“Anxious not to impede the execution of justice, and yet to maintain a consistent Testimony, they declare in that act, that an oath may be made before the constituted authorities, if these authorities are given to understand that it is not made as a recognition of their official right of administration.” Same edition, p. 135.
Same page. “Let it be perfectly understood, that the oath is an act of homage performed voluntarily to the Supreme Being, and by no means a recognition of the Magistrate’s authority, or an act of communion with him in his official capacity.” But we are told that “they declared that narrative to be no term of communion, and this part of it they subsequently expunged from their records.” Admit that the history is no term of communion; yet it does not follow that the acts referred to in that history are no terms of communion. It, however, proves distinctly the opposite of Dr. McMaster’s unfounded assertion, that “they presumed not to pronounce the system immoral.”
As to the expunging from the records, the Dr. introduces it as if the design of expunging was to abolish the acts. The Dr. knows better than this. What some men designed thereby is not asserted. Nearly five pages were stricken out of the historical part of the Testimony. Let the footnote from page 125, 2d edition, explain the reason. These are the words of the note:
“It is deemed proper, by Synod, in this edition, to omit the insertion of the acts, and to reserve them together with the act abolishing slavery in the church, and other acts since passed, for publication in a statute book hereafter to be prepared.” There are some important facts going far to destroy almost every part of the Dr.’s argument.
1. The Synod informs the people that some things are omitted in the edition of 1824, which it terms acts. Not history, as Dr. M. now says. How omit them in the 2d edition if not in the first? They viewed the part stricken out as containing the very spirit of the acts.
2. These acts are put upon the same standing with the act abolishing slavery. It is also expunged. It is to be feared that before long the Dr. will urge upon us, that as it is expunged, covenanters may hold slaves.
3. These three acts are classed along with other acts since passed, and all appointed to be published in a statute book.
4. If the oath, and jury, and slavery acts were not law abiding before, by this declaration of Synod they were so declared, being, in 1824, put out of the history for the purpose of publishing in a statute book.
It is unnecessary to turn back and examine some of the statements made by the Dr. It is fully admitted that slavery was one reason for passing the Jury act. It was considered a positive immorality. It is so still. It is also admitted that whenever slavery ceased to exist, the act would be without object, so far as slavery is concerned: but there are other evils besides slavery in our land, and so the same history declares that our church knew. Moreover, the Testimony and these acts were made for covenanters in the United States, not in any one particular state. Thus the ones who formed it say, “Presbyterian covenanters perceiving immorality interwoven with the general and the state constitutions of government in America, have uniformly dissented from the civil establishments.” Slavery and all the other evils mentioned in page 136, Testimony, 1st part, ed. 1807, still exist in the land—in the United States as such; are sanctioned by law; and even the state of New-York, is compelled by law to give up the runaway slave to his master. The restoration of such person is secured by law. No wonder the church said in the above quoted page, “there are moral evils essential to the constitution of the United States, which render it necessary to refuse allegiance to the whole system.”
But the Dr. says “by some oversight the jury act was never entered upon record”—“an unknown statute can be no rule of action.” It really does appear as if some men had overseen the jury act. Perhaps they prefer the 2d edition, because it is not found there. It was expunged from the former to be put in a statute book. Let this fact not be forgotten.
But again, “All of the rest of the system remained untouched.” So Dr. McM. says; but so did not say the fathers when they passed the two acts. They said it was necessary “to refuse allegiance to the whole system.”
The Dr. also intimates that the “supposed or alleged immoralities, refer to the opinions formed of it in 1789, rather than to those of 1806.”
How admirably this kind gentleman pleads for the fathers of our church? The old ministers in 1787 refused allegiance to the whole system. In accommodation to their false estimate of the American government in 1789, those who knew better in 1806, charitably made a law to prohibit the people from sitting on juries, recognizing magistrates, &c. But it is necessary to pass on to the second enactment.
In page 1st Dr. McMaster refers to the second enactment of Aug. 14th 1812. He quotes the act in full. I do not attempt to follow the Dr. in all his reasoning upon this act. I have neither time nor room: and without this tedious course it is hoped that the fallacy of the Dr.’s reasoning can be shown.
The first clause declares the wishes of Synod. “Messrs. Gibson, Wylie, and McLeod, were appointed a committee to inquire what security can the members of this church give to the constituted authorities of the United States, consistent with their avowed principles, that they are not to be considered, whether aliens or citizens, in the character of enemies, and report thereon.”
It will be remembered that this transaction took place in 1812. The new Testimony was emitted in 1824, consequently, the first edition, without expunging, was in full force. In it were to be seen our avowed principles, the aspect of which might lead the government to suspect that we were not merely dissenters from the government but open enemies. In the meantime they throw in the caution that this “security” is to be given in consistency with their avowed principles.
The first item in the report of the committee every covenanter could subscribe fully, with the exception of Dr. McMaster’s construction of the words, “domestic factions,” which they never can admit while they know it to be a sin to hold unoffending men in bondage. The Synod never proposed giving a pledge to leave their homes, and assist southern slave-holders to subjugate the negroes in case of a revolt. In this article they declare “that they approve of the republican form of the civil order of the United States, and the several states; that they prefer this nation and its government, to any other nation and its government; that they will support to the utmost, the independence of the United States, and the several states, against all foreign aggressions and domestic factions; and disclaim all allegiance to any foreign jurisdiction whatever.”
The second article declares “the duty of nations to recognize formally the sovereignty of Messiah over all persons and things, and to construct their system of government upon principles, which fully recognize the authority of that divine revelation which is contained in the scriptures, as the supreme law; their disapprobation of the presently existing constitutions, and that it is with them a matter of conscience, and wholly founded upon the omission of the duty.”
Many could cheerfully recognize this article were it not for the Dr.’s explanation of the expression “wholly founded upon the omission of their duty.” From this item it appears that covenanters could not take the common oath of citizenship.
They have been long in the habit of considering sins of omission as immoralities, and of greater magnitude than the pamphlet before us seems to represent them. To omit christian profession—the reading of the Bible—attendance upon divine ordinances—the recognition of God and his government, &c., Covenanters have viewed as gross sins. Thus teach their catechisms. See under the questions of what is forbidden in the fourth and fifth commandment? Christ taught this doctrine in Matt. 25.42,45, “For I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat,” &c.
With all the remarkable reformation of this land, has it yet as a nation recognized the sovereignty of Messiah—constructed its government on Biblical principles—publicly recognized divine revelation as the supreme law—abolished slavery in the District of Columbia and the slave-holding territories? In all these respects, and many others, how much better is our government than in 1812, when our members could not take the common oath of citizenship? When the new oath was found to be as strong and unqualified as the other, the committee had not the hardihood to get to the seat of government to have it granted; for if they had obtained it few Covenanters would have adopted it.
The third article refers to emigrants from foreign nations. They are instructed “when required” (not when they wish to run to the ballot-box) to take a certain prescribed oath, as follow: “I, A.B. do solemnly declare, in the name of the Most High God the searcher of hearts, that I abjure all foreign allegiance whatsoever, and hold that these States, and the United States are, and ought to be, sovereign and independent of all other nations and governments, and that I will promote the best interests of this empire, maintain its independence, preserve its peace, and support the integrity of the Union, to the best of my power.”
Setting aside the Dr.’s construction of the words “integrity of the Union” (and it is not said that he has not construed them as a civilian would) any Covenanter would take the above oath in consistency with those pages stricken out of the new edition of the Testimony, and with the 28th chap. 4th section, and the testimony against the last two errors mentioned in said chapter. Whatever might have been the design of the committee in using this expression, or of the person who framed the document, it is certain that the people who could not conscientiously take the common oath of citizenship, could not have taken this. Why then all this trifling by three of our oldest ministers, if they meant that we could consistently swear to maintain what they pronounced an immoral constitution! The very fact that they did not go to the seat of government speaks a volume upon the subject. They did not go, because upon reflection they considered the oath as fundamentally opposed to our testimony. In other words; it was the same in substance as the oath prescribed to any alien.
The fourth item confirms these remarks, while it presents the same idea found in the design of synod in appointing a committee. The words are these, “with a view to obtain the protection of the laws, in maintaining their present Testimony.” What was this delegation instructed to ask of the government? Citizenship? No. A place and right at the ballot and jury-boxes? No. Offices under government? No. To do what they had always done—viz. hold communion with the United States in the truth of politics? No. Not a word of all this in the whole document, nor one word like it. What then were they instructed to ask? Let the document itself tell. Merely “the protection of the laws in maintaining their present Testimony.” It is hard to believe that the Dr. has not willfully perverted the meaning of the whole document. Certain it is he has perverted it.
The third enactment to which the Dr. refers is that of Oct. 19, 1821. In reply to a letter of Mr. James Willson of Kaskaskia it is said “that no connection with the laws, or the order of the state is prohibited by the church except what truly involves immorality.” From this the Dr. argues that the system at large was considered as moral, that exception was only taken in particular cases, and that this act was the same in spirit as that of 1812.
It has been shewn that the act of 1812 did not even hint at a liberty to recognize the morality of the government, or the plea for any privilege in the matter of oaths, juries, and elections. This act appears to me to have been an evasion of the question of Mr. Willson. The church received it in this light. The system which is now developed, was then working secretly. Here I am constrained to refer to the Testimony that was at that time unmutilated, to show that Mr. Willson need have had no difficulty in settling the question in his own mind, and, if he had a Testimony, no need of information from Synod. See pages 136 and 137, first edition.
There they declare, 1. That there are moral evils essential to the constitution of the United States. 2. That these rendered it necessary to refuse allegiance to the whole system. Specifications are given to prove the above. (1.) No acknowledgement of the authority of God. (2.) Nor of the christian religion. (3.) No submission to the kingdom of Messiah. But (4.) It gives support to the enemies of the Redeemer, in admitting to its honors, and emoluments, Jews, Mahommedans, Deists, and Atheists. (5.) Establishes that system of robbery by which men are held in slavery, despoiled of liberty, and property, and protection. And (6.) Violates the principles of representation, &c. They go on to say that they have maintained a constant testimony against these evils—have refused to serve in any office which implies an approbation of the constitution—have abstained from giving their votes at elections for legislators or officers who must be qualified to act by an oath of allegiance to this IMMORAL CONSTITUTION. They state that some persons, who in other things profess an attachment to reformation principles, considered serving on juries as consistent with their Testimony. To expose the inconsistency of this practice the Presbytery (then our highest judicatory) were determined to publish a warning against it, and in the meantime deemed it expedient to pass a prohibitory act. They then proceed to show the impropriety of serving as jurors.
The question is not whether their views were correct or the reverse. It has nothing to do with the present question. It would be of importance if there was a proposal to alter the act, or disannul it; but Dr. McMaster rests his argument on the basis, that our church did not, in her judicial character pronounce the whole system immoral, and refuse to permit her members to identify themselves with the government. The above abstract shows that the Dr. makes a statement unsupported by the declarations and acts of our church, yet he has appealed to them, and professes that he will abide by their decision. Let him not attempt evasion by urging that this part of the Testimony was expunged, and that it never was a term of communion. It was not expunged at the time of passing the act under present consideration, nor of passing the act which follows—and if the history was not a term of communion (which it was not) yet the act itself was as much so as the act upon slavery which is also expunged from the history in the 2d edition. But to settle all dispute on this question, hear what the 28th chap. Sect. 3d, says upon the subject.
“But no power which deprives the subject of civil liberty—which wantonly squanders his property, and sports with his life—or which authorizes a false religion (however it may exist according to Divine Providence,) is approved of, or sanctioned by God, or ought to be esteemed or supported by man as a moral institution.”
See also the 8th error mentioned in the same chapter. The church condemns the error, “That a constitution of government which deprives unoffending men of liberty and property is a moral institution, to be recognized as God’s ordinance.”
These are not yet expunged. The narrative above quoted, and the acts referred concerning oaths and juries show plainly that the 28th chapter has a direct reference to the American government.
The fourth act to which the Dr. refers is that of 1823, while the published (not expunged) views of the church were as formerly. It purports to be a reference of all such questions to the local judicatories. Refer to the local judicatories! For what purpose? To make law for the church as it respected our intercourse with the State? To disannul an act binding all, and never yet repealed? This were a strange mode of conducting business! No. The sole object was evidently to store the business aside, as it was perceived to be a very delicate subject. What would, what must the local judicatories do if they had any respect for their standards and the acts of the superior judicatories, but apply them? This was the full amount of their decision. It admits of no other construction except that some men wished to have full liberty to act as they pleased without any respect to former decisions or existing law. To dwell longer upon this act would be useless, for the next act settles the whole question. That of 1825.
Complaints had come up from the different parts of the church, that the Synod was abandoning its former ground or seemed disposed to do it; or, at least, that the former act produced confusion in different churches. That there was no uniformity. The church was not fully ripe for incorporating with a slave-holding nation, and one that had not acknowledged Jesus as Moral Governor, nor the law of God as its rule. It was then decided “that this Synod never understood any act of their’s, relative to their members sitting on juries, as contravening the old common law upon that subject.”
What was the old common law? It has been quoted already from page 157 of the Testimony, where speaking of their conduct, even before the act of 1806, they say that “they have refused to serve in any office which implies an approbation of the constitution”—and farther that Ref. Presbyterians “have abstained from giving their votes at elections,” &c. The oldest formal enactment appears to be that of 1806; and the common law, as every person knows, was to abstain from the ballot and jury boxes. Is it not remembered that about three years since Mr. McCrie stated in Presbytery, in Albany, that a report existed against some of Dr. McMaster’s congregation voting and sitting on juries, and the Dr. treated it as a slander?
The next legislation upon this subject, it appears, was the appointment of a committee to report on our civil relations. The committee reported—it was thought inexpedient to publish it, and it was referred to another committee, with the power added thereto, to examine the report, and if thought proper, publish it during the interim of the Synod. The next committee reported the inexpediency of publishing the document at that time; but did not say a word about its contravening the common law that formerly existed.
Thus, my dear sir, it appears that while the original act has never been repealed, there has for some time existed a secret disposition to have it done away without the formality of acts. My own deliberate conviction is, that there never has been but one formal, and direct act upon the subject. That is, the act of 1806. All the legislation upon the subject of our civil relations, are either directly confirmatory of that act, or intended to shove aside the subject, and let it die a natural death, by our people incorporating with the governments of the land—the ordinance of God—the ordinance of Satan, or something else I have not inquired; it is merely to the acts of the church upon the subject, and her views of the American government to which I have directed my attention; which acts and views are in my opinion very different from those stated by Dr. McMaster. To the third and fourth questions proposed by the Doctor, no attention has been paid, as the second is the great burden of the pamphlet; should you allow me a place in your columns at some future period, I may avail myself of it, to make more plain, a subject that has been much obscured by false colorings. The peace of Jerusalem, I trust that I wish as ardently and sincerely as Dr. McMaster or any other person; but if our jury and oath acts are improper, and our views of the American government false, let us, like plain, open-hearted, honest men, and Christians, have them annulled. My earnest desire is, that mild and christian measures be adopted in all our judicatories, and that the history of excommunications unnecessarily inflicted may never disgrace our public documents.
Yours, most affectionately,