Images de page
PDF
ePub

with the clause which allows persons, scrupling articles of the Confession, to lay them before the synod or presbytery. But, if so, it implies that at some time—and what time so appropriate as that of licensure and intrance ?—these scruples, if they existed, should be heard and weighed. That the Overture, even while thus considerate in this provision for scrupu‘lous consciences, yet should have been accounted objectionable by men like Dickinson, shows plainly enough how little place any rigid or bigoted strictness would find for itself in the body of the synod.

nd yet, according to Dr. Baird, we are to believe that, because the synod “needed no indulgence for themselves, and adopted the book, man by man, in a full and unreserved manner,” therefore they neither provided or designed to give to others greater liberty than they claimed for (does he mean exercised) themselves. In other words, we are left to infer that this American Synod—composed of Irish ministers who, in general, according to Wodrow, scarcely came up to the standard of Scotch subscription, and of ministers from New England, some of whom came near rejecting subscription altogether, at once went beyond all the precedents of the mother church, beyond all the demands of Thomson's Overture, indeed beyond anything which, so far as we know, any member of the synod desired. We must decline to accompany him in his belief that a stream will rise higher than its fountain. Such a thing can occur, whether in the realm of nature or of morals, only by the lifting—not to say blinding-power of fogs and vapors.

Dr. Archibald Alexander has recorded his own indebtedness to the father of Dr. Moses Hoge of Virginia. When that venerable man was eighty-four years of age, young Alexander met with him at the house of his son, and he remarks, “I know not that I ever received so much instruction in the same time from any one as from this old gentleman.” . Unquestionably this “old gentleman” was a man of more than ordinary intelligence. He was capable at least of understanding the meaning of the Adopting Act; yet he was a seceder, and he “left our church on account of the 'Adopting Act' which permitted candidates to make some exceptions when they received the Confession.” And yet we are told by Dr. Baird that the old gentleman had no “shadow” of reason for his coursethat “the liberal principles' of Dr. Gillett find no shadow of countenance in the Adopting Act of 1729.”

It is a well-known fact that the manner in which the Confession was allowed to be received by the Adopting Act was the pretext for most of the secessions from the Presbyterian church which occurred subsequently. For half a century it was the capital on which they traded, and they made, from the very terms of the Act, a plausible apology for their own course, and one which carried conviction to the minds of thousands.

It will not be amiss to note some historical illustrations of this fact. The early history of the Associate church in this country is well suppled with them. Alexander Craighead, in withdrawing from the church, put forth, among his published reasons for leaving the connection, the following, which was his “ principal inducement;" viz., that neither synod nor presbytery had adopted the Westminster standards by a public act. Cuthbertson and Gellatly were very ready and bold in their allusions to the laxness of the synod and its ministers, and the provocation which they offered to the Newcastle Presbytery and the Presbyterian ministers generally, derived its force from this fact. The synod's action of 1736, asserting that it had adopted and adhered to the standards “without the least variation or alteration, and without regard to the said distinctions," was the result of the pressure brought to bear upon them by popular opinion, that discerned in those “distinctions" a proviso for such as scrupled unqualified subscription.

But even this action did not set suspicion at rest, so long as the Adopting Act (including of course the Preliminary Act) stood unrepealed. The synod was still taunted and reproached for the manner in which the Confession had been adopted. It is unnecessary here to dwell upon the controversies which were thus occasioned. We give a specimen of the statements which were freely made and repeated on every favorable occasion, showing the light in which the stricter Presbyterian bodies of the country professed to regard the Synod of Philadelphia, or subsequently the conjunct synods.

The Associate Synod, from the time of its organization, has published and republished, almost down to the present time, that “the adherence to the Westminster Confession, requires of ministers belonging to the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, is with an exception of what, not only the synod itself, but any Presbytery subordinate to it, may judge not essential or necessary in doctrine, worship and government.'— And who knows what this may be? Were the Articles, deemed not essential or necessary, specified, it would then appear, what was the public confession made in that church : but while they are not, we can not say what this is."

In like manner a smaller body of Presbyterians insisting, at the close of the last century and the commencement of this, on the grounds which justify their separate organization, set forth the case thus: After speaking of the Presbyterian emigrants from Ireland to this country, they add—“By the junction, it is reported of some Congregational ministers who had settled in the Middle States, and adopted the Presbyterian system, they formed themselves into a Synod. As they were a new and independent ecclesiastical body, they had no ecclesiastical standards by which it might be ascertained whether they had an orthodox belief of the Scriptures or not. At length they professed adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith, in 1729 ; but in such a way as left their orthodoxy at as much uncertainty as if they had never professed to adhere to it; for their ministers were required to adhere to it, with a permission and liberty to refuse and reject any article or articles in doctrine, worship or government, which the synod, or any presbytery subordinate to it, may judge not necessary or essential; so that the whole of the orthodoxy of the whole body is referred to that; and after, synods and presbyteries will, themselves, be orthodox : for who could possibly predict what they would account necessary and essential ? Or whether, at last, they would count an adherence to any article of that Confession, or any other creed or confession, essential ?"

[ocr errors]

Nor do they admit that the matter was mended by the course of the united synods. “A good many years ago, the

A Synod of New York and Philadelphia agreed that there should be synods formed in different parts of the country, and that they should meet thereafter, at convenient and appointed times, in one General Assembly. The General Assembly, after some years,* took the Confession of Faith compiled by the Westminster Assembly into consideration; and after they had cast out many things contained in that book, ... and modeled to their own taste, the thirty-three chapters of the Confession, properly so called, and the Catechisms contained in that book, they adopted it as their constitution. Yet it appears that they neither made it a term of ministerial or Christian communion. This appears, etc. . . These loose latitudinarian Laodicean principles of the above-mentioned synod, seem to be prevalent through the whole body to which they belong, or with which they are connected.” No “New School” was then in existence to bear this reproach which was freely bestowed upon the entire church.

In 1783, one of the stricter branches of the American Presbyterian Church published its catechism of nearly 200 pages. It was elaborately prepared, and of course was designed to vindicate the peculiar views of the body by which it was put forth. In it we find the following question and answer, bearing especially upon the meaning and scope of the Adopting Act:

What are the distinguishing principles and practice of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia ?

" This Synod, and the people under their inspection, are the most numerous body of Presbyterians in the United States. They are composed of ministers and people from different countries ; hence it is not surprising, that they are not of one heart and one mind in the faith. However, it appears to be a received principle among them, that whatever is disputed among the pious and learned, ought not to be a term of communion in the Christian church ; and hence they live generally in peace with one another, notwithstanding their jarring sentiments.

• They have not adopted expressly the directory for public worship, nor the propositions concerning presbyterial government; and though they have adopte

To one familiar with our history, it is unnecessary to point out the mistakes in these statements.

say,

ed the Larger and Shorter Catechism, as also the Confession of Faith, but with this proviso : 'And in case any minister of the Synod, or any candidate of the ministry, sball have any scruple with respect to any articles of said Confession, he shall in time of making said declaration declare his scruples to the synod or presbytery, who shall notwithstanding admit him to the exercise of the ministry within our bounds, and to ministerial communion, if the synod or presbytery shall judge his scruples not essential or necessary in doctrine, worship or government.” Adopting Act, 1729. Hence it is that to quote the Confession of Faith or Catechisms upon any disputed point with the members of this synod, has very little weight with many of them.”

We trust it has been made sufficiently evident that the Adopting Act has given occasion for the charge of latitudinarianism against the Presbyterian church. Knowing the attitude and spirit of those who brought the charge, we can make proper allowance for its exaggerated tone. But will any man

there was no fire where there was so much smoke? Of what use is it to attempt to throw in the shade the historical fact, that the Adopting Act of 1729, re-affirmed by the united Synod of New York and Philadelphia, gave a plausible pretext for the assertion that the Presbyterian Church in this country was lax-we should say liberal or rather Scriptural—in its terms of ministerial communion ? And yet, with facts and statements like those we have cited above, contradicting him, and utierly inexplicable in his scheme of history, Dr. Baird asserts that“ the liberal principles' of Dr. Gillett find no shadow of countenance in the Adopting Act of 1729, nor the reunion of 1758, nor any where else in the history of our fathers.”

Verily, if this be so, the fact is an anomaly in history. It is inexplicable on all the common principles of human reasoning.

It may, perhaps, be supposed by some that "liberal principles” as to terms of Christian and ministerial communion were not prevalent at the time of, and subsequent to, the Adopting Act, except among a few ministers from New England who sympathized with Dickinson. To obviate any such mistake, we need only turn to the publications of the day, issued by, or receiving the sanction of, the New Castle Presbytery or its members. They were not heedless observers o the controversy concerning terms of communion which was carried on between the Seceders and the Presbyterians of the

« PrécédentContinuer »