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Dr. Hodge probably would not thank us for volunteering to vouch his exemption from the bias which Dr. Baird charges on New School writers, and yet he says frankly: “It must be admitted that the language of the Act leaves the intention of its authors a matter of doubt." He insists that the interpretation which he gives to it is the cnly one which will save it “from the charge of direct contradiction.” He adds: “It is very evident indeed that the Act was a compromise.” And yet this “ambiguous" document, this “compromise,” which only Dr. Hodge's interpretation can save “from the charge of a direct contradiction,” is, in the view of Dr. Baird, so lucid, strict and consistent, that he does not hesitate to say that “the liberal principles of Dr. Gillett find no shadow of countenance in the Adopting Act of 1729.”
The Adopting Act—including in the use of the word the Preliminary Act-bears concession on its face. It was so understood at the time. It was so interpreted by different parties. The Old Side implied the fact in their protest against persons sitting with them in the synod who had not accepted the standards according to "our last explication of the Adopting Act.” It was assumed by the New Side, when, four years later, they organized themselves on the basis of the Adopting Act simply, utterly ignoring the “last explication.” It was asserted by the Seceders, and those who were in sympathy with them, and the assertion was persisted in, generation after generation. And yet the whole scope of Dr. Baird's elaborate effort is the conclusion that “the liberal principles of Dr. Gillett find no shadow of countenance in the Adopting Act of 1729."
The well-known views of Jonathan Dickinson were, as we have seen, such that, with his consent, the Synod of New York could have been constituted only on a liberal basis.* These views he held unchanged, and the language which we have quoted from him on terms of communion, etc., was employed after the “last explication of 1736.” He never recalled or modified them, and yet Dr. Baird, scouting the very idea of
* The Synod of New York and Philadelphia simply accepted in this respect the busis of the Synod of New York.
his consistency, and pronouncing the assertion of it a remarkable statement from one familiar with the history, declares 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.”
We have no doubt that Dr. Baird himself will readily admit that John Thomson, the author of the overture which led to the Adopting Act, understood the results of his movement and understood the latitude intended in the Act itself. Yet he says expressly (1741):“I suppose that what our brethren value the printed declaration (Preliminary Act included) which they mention, most for, is the too great latitude expressed in it, which fault was amended in the following year, when that latitude was taken away as dangerous.” And yet Dr. Baird, in the face of the fact that this “too great latitude” is asserted by Thomson to be “expressed” in the Adopting Act, and that in the following year it was taken away as "dangerous," declares that "the liberal principles of Dr. Gillett find no shadow of countenance in the Adopting Act of 1729."*
It is, of course, perfectly obvious that when the New York Synod, in 1745, and the reunited Synod, in 1758, took their stand on the Adopting Act of 1729, simple and unqualified, making no mention whatever of the modification of 1730, which took away the too great latitude as dangerous, or of the explication of 1736, they left the original latitude of the Adopting Act just as it was before the Synod of 1730 tampered with it; and yet Dr. Baird sums up his attempt to convince us of error, by saying that “the liberal principles of Dr. Gillett find no shade of countenance in the Adopting Act of 1729, nor the reunion of 1758, nor any where else in the history of our fathers."
* The manner in which Dr. Baird disposes of Pres. Davies' testimony, is only less amusing than the process by which he eliminates the word doctrine from the (Preliminary) Adopting Act, as apparently an “extemporaneous addition to the document.” One would scarcely suspect, from the manner in which he slurs over the matter, that Davies has said, “ that we allowed the candidate to mention bis objections against any article in the Confession, and the judicature judged whether the articles objected against were essential to Christianity, and if they judged they were not, they would admit the candidate notwithstanding the objections."
“This is a very remarkable statement for a writer familiar with the history.” It is by no means so remarkable for one who manifests such ignorance of it. “If it is true, in the sense intended,” then history may be written in the teeth of evidence and an author's prepossessions may shape his facts. That it is not true, we are thoroughly convinced, and we have no doubt that our readers will share our convictions. If it is not true, then, by the confession of Dr. Baird, the position of those whom he assumes to represent is “an innovation on the established principles of our church.” We trust that if our remarks do not work conviction in his mind, he will continue to prosecute his investigations, not disheartened by his present mistakes. A historic knot, as well as any other, is sometimes drawn fast in virtue of two opposing forces, and we feel under obligation to him for the occasion he has afforded us of vindicating what we deem the truth of history. If he has assailed our character for patience in the past, we are confident that he will do so no longer. Indeed, we question whether, after the remarkable declaration that “the liberal principles of Dr. Gillett find no shadow of countenance in the Adopting Act of 1729," any historic statement that could fall from his pen would at all move, or even greatly surprise us. We shall be prepared, we trust, to listen with perfect composure to whatever he may have to offer, and we take leave of his attempted refutation in the words of the “great Mr. Dickinson,” whose character he has so unwarrantably assailed: “ Thus I have entertained you with some counter evidences, and have more at your service, if these won't satisfy.”
The question as to the spirit of American Presbyterianism -whether it was of a liberal or rigid type—is one at this present time of special significance. We do not, indeed, feel ourselves bound and fettered by precedent, for our fatherslike ourselves—were fallible men, and we do not believe that wisdom died with them. But, entering upon the inheritance they have bequeathed to us, we claim the right to know and determine its metes and bounds. We want the question set
tled, not by technicalities, not by by abnormal incidents of their history, not by special pleas that blink vital facts, but by historical evidence, fairly and impartially weighed. If the Adopting Act of 1729, re-accepted and endorsed by the united synod of 1758, and constituting the doctrinal basis of our church, while defining its policy, was not what we have claimed it to be, the fact can be shown. That Dr. Baird bas not shown it, we presume all candid readers will admit, and that he can not show it they will be apt to infer. If he can not do it, who can ? And shall mere surmise or insinuation or theological prejudice be allowed to wrest from facts their historical significance, and obscure the fame and memory of men whom we delight to honor ?
We claim in behalf of the American Presbyterian Church, that, considered in its historical aspect, it is liberal in spirit, while resolute in maintaining the vital doctrines of the Reformed faith. It has been charged with bigotry on one side, and with laxness on the other, but it has never more than temporarily swerved from the line of fidelity to the spirit of its symbols. We do not believe that this passing time is a fitting occasion for the shadow to go back on the dial of its history. The mind of the world was never more active than to-day, never more disposed to resent the narrowness of inherited or antiquated ideas, rigidly imposed. There is much in the signs of the times to occasion alarm. Many a good man's heart fails him for fear. It is an anxious and pertinent inquiry, What shall be done ?
There are two paths of policy before us which we are invited to consider. One is that of a rigid repression of all interpretations of the meaning of the standards, unless they are of a certain specific type. The other is that which, while allowing a larger liberty, and placing less confidence in authoritative decisions, has faith in that grand harmony of divine truths, so fitly compared by Andrew Fuller to “chain-shoť” bound together by an iron-linked connection, and necessitating the acceptance, sooner or later, by all rightly constituted minds, of that system of truth which we find so excellently comprehended and embodied in the Westminster Standards.
It is this last which will invite and win over scrupulous consciences, while the other will tend only to exasperate and provoke rebellious protest. One fences in, or shuts out, by virtue of a human authority that overtops the limitations of the divine word. The other allures by Christian gentleness and invites the weak in faith to no doubtful disputations.
Ard yet our history, and the spirit of our church, furnish no shelter for Broad-church notions, in the accepted meaning of that phrase. We are Calvinists—not as accepting all that Calvin taught--not as bound by his authority--not as calling him or any man master, but as excluding from the scheme of divine truth those systems of religious error, against which the career and teachings of the Genevan Reformer have become a historical protest. Our Christian sympathies are as broad as the church of Christ under all its forms, but we believe that, as an organized body, we can, for the present at least, harmonize appropriately and act effectively only by adhering in a considerate and liberal spirit to the standards of the Westminster Assembly. Planting ourselves on these, and claiming the sanction of the Fathers of the American Presbyterian Church in our manner of adopting them, we feel that we combine sufficient safeguards against fatal error with a liberality of spirit, and a toleration of minor diversities, which reflect, in a measure, the mind of Christ.
Art. III. THE UNION QUESTION IN SCOTLAND.* By Rev. MELANCTHON W. Jacobus, D. D.. Prof. in the Western Theological Seminary, Allegheny City, Pa.
It is a signal fact that the great Presbyterian Church, on both sides of the water, is moving vigorously in the direction of organic and visible union. However it may have been initiated, here or there, no one can doubt that it forms an era in the history of this great denomination of Christians, and that it is accordant with many special leadings of Providence,
Fifih Annual Report of the Union Committee of the Free Church of Scotland, presented to the General Assembly at Edinburgh, May 28th. With the Deba'e thereon. The Rev. ROBERT BUCHANAN, D. D., Glasgow, Convener. The Daily Review, Glasgow.