Images de page

Such were the reasons that influenced them in associating together in a presbyterial capacity. They agreed, however, that for some time to come their meetings should be held chiefly for prayer and religious conference; and that before proceeding to any judicial acts, they would wait to see whether a spirit of reformation might not yet pervade the ecclesiastical judicatories, and thus a door be opened for their restoration to the bosom of the national church. Before separating, they appointed Messrs. Wilson and Moncrieff a committee to prepare an extended statement of the reasons of their protestation before the Commission. These brethren executed with great care, and with much ability, the task assigned them; and having presented at a future meeting of presbytery a long and an elaborate statement of the reasons of their secession from the national church, the whole was carefully revised by all the brethren, and was soon after published under the sanction of the Presbytery. It was entitled, “ A Testimony to the doctrine, government, and discipline, of the Church of Scotland; or, Reasons by Mr. Ebenezer Erskine, &c. for their protestation before the Commission of the General Assembly, November 1733."

It does not consist with the plan which the writer of this narrative has prescribed to himself in the prosecution of this history, to introduce into its pages the various official publications emitted from time to time by the Secession Church. To do so, would be to load the narrative with a mass of matter, which, however excellent it might be in itself, could not be supposed interesting to the greater part of his readers, and would be apt to deter them from the perusal of this work. To this rule, however, which I have laid down for my guidance, occasional exceptions must occur, otherwise the interests of truth would suffer, and an injury would be inflicted on the memories of the good. The notice which I am now about to take of the first Testimony published by the Fathers of the Secession, forms one of these exceptions. Let none of my readers close this book in disgust at the mentioning of the word Testimony. I am aware that the term is, in the estimation of many, sufficiently vulgar and commonplace, and that there is a danger of their being seized with nausea at the very sight of it; but I know also, that a publication having an unpromising title, may yet be distinguished for the excellence of its contents, and that we are to judge of the value of it from the latter of these, and not from the former. Had the Fathers of the Secession, instead of adopting the plain and familiar word Testimony, dignified their official produotions with some high-sounding title, the probability is, that the men of the present day, enlightened and intelligent though

they be, would not have deemed them unworthy of their

The province of the historian, however, is not to invent new names for works that have been long in existence; his business is to give a faithful narrative of the past, as well as of present events, calling every thing by its proper name; and seeir.g that the venerable men, with whom the Secession originated, after having formed themselves into a presbytery, considered it due to themselves, and to the cause in which they were engaged, to publish a defence of their conduct and of their principles, and gave to their defence, when published, the title of “ À Testimony to the doctrine, government, and discipline of the Church of Scotland,” &c., it certainly becomes the men of the present generation to give to these intrepid worthies a patient and attentive hearing. The language in which their sentiments are clothed, is occasionally homely and uncouth; but the sentiments themselves are dignified, manly, and scriptural in a high degree; they breathe à spirit of the most ardent devotedness to the cause of God, and to the best interests of the human race. The writer of this work, then, craves no indulgence from his readers, while he presents them with a brief exposition of the statements contained in the first Testimony published by the Associate Presbytery in vindication of their conduct. In giving this exposition, he is influenced chiefly by the following reasons :- 1. The conduct of Mr. Erskine, and of those who acted along with him, has been frequently arraigned and condemned, in the strongest terms, by writers who have espoused the opposite side of the question. They have been stigmatized as “ popular demagogues,” and have been charged with “unreasonable intemperance and pertinacity,”* in opposing the violent measures of the ruling party in the church; and it is nothing more than an act of common justice to give these men an opportunity of being heard in vindication of themselves, so that the world may judge on what side truth and justice lie. 2. Many have grown up within the Secession, who are, in a great measure, ignorant of the exact grounds which the founders of the Secession occupied, when they withdrew from the national church, and of the principles which they maintained ; and it is of importance that these should have stated to them, in the language of the first Seceders themselves, what were the views which they held, and what were the reasons that influenced them in forming themselves into a distinct religious society. 3. I conceive that a history of the Secession Church would be very incomplete, did it not furnish those connected with other denominations, with the means of knowing exactly what were

* Moncrieff's Life of Dr. Erskine, Appendix, No. I. pp. 444, 446.

the charges preferred by the Seceders against the Established

judicatories, and which constituted the original grounds of the

Secession; also, what were the sentiments which they held,

in reference to Christian doctrine and church polity. That

Christians of other denominations may be furnished with the

means of obtaining this information, I have attempted to give

a condensed view of the facts and reasonings contained in the

document above-mentioned.

In the introduction, the presbytery give a narrative of the

ecclesiastical proceedings carried on against Mr. Erskine, and
the other brethren, and which terminated in the Commission
dissolving the relation betwixt them and their respective con-
gregations. They then take a review of what God had done
for the Church of Scotland, during the past periods of her
history, and detail the steps by which she had gradually de-
clined in purity. They avow their attachment to the con-
stitution and standards of the church, and declare that they
did not secede from the church itself, but from a ruling party
within the church, who had got the management of affairs
into their hands, and who were pursuing a course of defec-
tion, disregarding the laws of Christ, and trampling upon the
privileges of the people. Against this party, they state five
distinct charges, as the reasons of their Secession from them ;
and each of the charges they substantiate, by adducing a
variety of facts, which were both too recent and too notori-
ous to be denied.

The first charge which they advance is, that the prevail-

ing party were pursuing measures subversive of the presby-

terian constitution of the church. In support of this charge,

they refer to repeated instances in which the Assembly had

violated their own constitution, and enacted laws, either with-

out previously sending them down, agreeably to the barrier

act, to presbyteries, to be considered by them, or in oppo-

sition to the declared wishes of the presbyteries. The act of

1730, for instance, which prohibited the recording of reasons

of dissent against the decisions of church courts, and which

was a grievous infringement of the rights of both ministers

and elders, was passed by the Assembly, without being trans-

mitted to the presbyteries at all; and the obnoxious act of

1732, concerning the settlement of vacant congregations, was

passed by the mere authority of the Assembly, even though

the majority of the presbyteries had declared against it. In

reference to these and similar proceedings, they complain that

“the prevailing party have usurped a legislative power

thority over the

house of God, in making

laws and


that not only have no manner of warrant from the Word, but
are contrary unto it; and they exercise a lordly and magisterial

and au-

power over the flock and heritage of God, in binding their decrees upon the consciences of the members of the church, by threatening and actually inflicting the highest censures of the church upon them, if they do not submit to their arbitrary impositions; and this we judge to be a thrust at our constitution, and that in a most sensible manner." They further refer, in support of the same charge, to the unconstitutional power assumed by the Commission, in determining the causes referred to them. This delegated court engrossed almost the whole authority of the church, and matters of the highest importance were settled by them in a manner the most arbitrary and absolute. By pleading that their decisions, however unjust they might be, were irreversible, they made their own will pleasure the rule of their conduct. The wishes of the people, and the remonstrances of presbyteries, were alike disregarded by them. Contrary to the common maxim, delegatus non potest delegari, they assumed to themselves the power of erecting sub-commissions, and invested them with powers which were not intrusted to themselves, and which it was not in the power even of the Assembly to give, viz. to invade the rights of presbyteries, which are radical judicatories. These sub-committees, appointed by the Commission, travelled over the country, received the trials of young men, and ordained them, in opposition to the declared mind both of the presbyteries in which, and of the parishes over which, they were settled; and this they did, without waiting the judgment of the ensuing Assembly, though protestations for leave to complain to the Assembly had been entered in due time and form.

* Instead of appointing the presbyteries themselves, as the constitution required, to execute the sentences of the supreme court, the Assembly or Commission appointed individual ministers of their own number, or members of synods, or presbyteries in the vicinity of the parishes, to execute their sentences, by giving collation to the presentees, in the same forms which, in ordinary cases, would have been competent to the presbyteries themselves, leaving it to such members of the presbyteries as were willing to join with them, to take part in the transaction.

“ This expedient was adopted in 1729, in the settlement of New Machar ; and continued to be resorted to in cases of similar difficulty, for twenty years after that time. It was certainly a great deviation from constitutional law. But the times were difficult. The scruples of many of the most popular clergy were as sincere as they were obstinate. The agitation of the people on the subject was every day becoming more visible and violent. The opposition to many of the presentees, who were inducted by the committees appointed by the supreme court, was as inveterate after their induction as before, and their churches were in danger of being almost entirely deserted. The leaders in the Assemblies were not willing to add to the struggle occasioned by the opposition of the people, a controversy with the scruples of the clergy; and this was the origin of what was then denominated among the populace, • The Riding Committees.'". -Moncrieff's Life of Dr. Erskine, Appendix, p. 442.

The attempt which the reverend baronet here makes to apologize for what

“ The above conduct of the Commission,” say they, “appears to us to strike at the very root of our presbyterian constitution, and to be a piece of tyranny equal to any thing exercised by the diocesan prelates, when they were in power and authority in the land. It is a presbyterian principle, founded upon the word of God, that the authoritative missions of men unto the work and office of the holy ministry, by the trial of their gifts and qualifications, and the setting of them apart to that sacred office, by prayer and imposition of hands, belongs unto a constitute presbytery. It is also a received principle amongst us, that the power of superior courts over a presbytery, is not a primitive, but a cumulative power and authority; that is, neither synods, nor assemblies, nor their commissions, can deprive presbyteries of these inherent rights and privileges that belong unto them, or of that power and authority that they have received from the Lord Jesus, the only Head and King of the church, but that they ought to protect and support them in the exercise of the same. But the present management of the commissions of our several General Assemblies in appointing committees with a power of trial and ordination, is a taking of that power out of the hands of presbyteries, which properly belongs unto them; and, at the same time, an erecting of a court, with a power of mission, unto the work and office of the ministry, that has no manner of foundation in the word of God.”

The second charge which the Seceding brethren advance against the ruling party in the church is, “ that they are pursuing such measures as do actually corrupt, or have the most direct tendency to corrupt, the doctrine contained in our excellent Confession of Faith.” In support of this charge, they refer to the lenity that had been shown by the Assembly to Professor Simson, after he had been convicted, on the clearest evidence, of teaching the most dangerous errors; also to the manner in which certain publications of Professor Campbell of St. Andrews had been received, containing in them sentiments that were opposed both to the word of God, and the standards of the church. “ Instead of commencing any process," say they, “ against the author, he is caressed and countenanced in our assemblies, as being a fit man for the purpose of our ruling side, who are carrying on the present course of defection !" They appeal, further, to the refusal of the ecclesiastical rulers to listen to the representations of synods and presbyteries, urging them to publish an act confirmatory of


se calls “ a great deviation from constitutional law,” is certainly a very sorry

What a miserable contrast do his statements present to the firm and dignified language which the Seceders employ, when reprobating this same « deviation !"

« PrécédentContinuer »