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public evils, without a public acknowledgment of them, and humiliation on account of them.
The long neglect of these duties, instead of lessening, increases the guilt; and being persisted in, will provoke Jehovah to come out of his place to inflict exemplary punishment, when the earth will disclose her blood, and no more cover her slain.* The Lord brought ruin upon Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, for what Manasseh had done an hundred years before that catastrophe.t It is impious to represent such public evils as antiquated facts, as, on account of their date, no more causes of God's wrath, no more grounds of humiliation. According to this supposition, if God should visit the iniquity of our fathers upon the present generation, he would be dealing unjustly! It should be considered, that God punishes the sins of individuals, or lets them pass with impunity in the present life, as he sees proper for his own glory. It is chiefly in a future state that he will reckon with them in that capacity. But the case is otherwise with churches and nations. They have only a temporal existence. And therefore the honor of God, as the moral Governor of the world, requires that churches and nations, persisting obstinately in open impiety, should be punished in the present life.
$ 54. Alesc. Mr. Willison says, that in the oath and covenant of the associate presbytery, there are some things ambiguous, obscure and doubtful, which great numbers of the takers know not the meaning of; and so cannot swear in judgement and in righteousness: as, for instance, when they abjure independency and latitudinarian tenets: these are words very general, dark and dubious, to which the imposers may affix any meaning they think proper. I
Ruf: It would, no doubt, be a sufficient objection against the bond of the associate presbytery, if the terms, in which it is expressed, had no certain determinate sense. The end of an oath is to take away or prevent controversy : but such ambiguity would rather occasion it. It appears, however, to have been the plainness and simplicity of the terms, used in the bond of the associate presbytery, that offended Mr. Willison and others. If, instead of independency and latitudinarian tenets, the associate presbytery had only said, errors with regard to church government, they would perhaps have escaped Mr. Willison's censure, which you have now recited; but the expression would have been much more general and indeterminate; according less with the faithfulness, which they studied, to God and to the souls of men, than the terms they have used. We find the word Independency, among other terms, denoting erroneous schemes contrary to the purity of religion, in the acknowledgment of sins and the engagement to duties, with which the solemn league and covenant' was renewed in Scotland, in the year 1648.||
Besides, the associate presbytery had shewn, in what sense they understood this term, in the following words of the introduction to their Declaration and Testimony: “ They judged it necessary to " enter into a presbyterial association, not only for maintaining that
Isai. xxvi. 21. † 2 Kings xxiii. 26. # Imp. Test. page 223. !! 'The words of that engagement are these: "The securing and preserving the puority of religion against ali error, heresy and schism, namely, Independency, Anabap“ tism, Antinomianism, Arminianism and Erastianism, shall be studied and endeavoured " by us.
vi order among themselves, which is required by the word of God; but 6 also, to distinguish themselves from those of the sectarian and inde“pendent way, who lodge the keys of government and discipline in “ the whole community of the faithful."
With regard to latitudinarian tenets, the presbytery have declared what they meant, when they say, in the acknowledgment of sins, “ That by these tenets, any particular form of church government is 6 denied to be of Divine institution; and under a pretence of catholic “ love, a scheme is laid for uniting parties of all denominations in 66 church communion, in a way destructive of any testimony for the “ declarative glory of Immanuel, as Head and King of Zion, and for " the covenanted reformation of this church and land :” and when they say, in another paragraph of the same acknowledgment, “That “ bý latitudinarian, independent and sectarian extremes, the unity of 6 the true catholic church is denied; the presbyterial order and 66 vernment, the only government which Christ has instituted in his 6 house, is subverted, and the warrantableness and great design of 66 confessions of faith and catechisms, as tests of soundness in the 6 faith, is overthrown.”
Ales. Mr. Willison adds, I am sure, there are many valuable ministers of Jesus Christ, and precious sons of Zion, whom Christ honours and admits to near communion with himself, who will not venture to swear such an oath.*
Ruf. And what then? Does it necessarily follow, that the swearing of such an oath is sinful ? There are precious ministers and sons of Zion, who will not venture to subscribe the Westminster confession of faith and the form of presbyterial church government. But it will not certainly follow, that the subscription of these subordinate standards is sinful; for there are no less precious ministers and sons of Zion, who hold such a subscription, in the
present state of the visible church, to be their indispensable duty. The truth is, the most eminent men are to be followed no farther than they follow Christ.
$ 55. Alex. The associate presbytery have been greatly censured for their act, dated at Edinburgh, February 14th, 1744; in which they agree and determine, that the swearing of the foresaid covenant should be the term of ministerial communion with them; and likewise the term of christian communion to the people, with respect to their partaking of the seals of God's covenant. A surprising act, indeed, exclaims Mr. Willison. It is a term of the brethren's making; for which they have no warrant in God's word. It is a manifest usurpation and encroachment upon the Headship of the King of Zion; and an infringement of that precious article of our creed, the communion of saints.
Ruf. I shall read you the words of the presbytery's act. “ They 6 did agree, resolve and determine, that the renovation of the national 6 covenant of Scotland, and of the solemn league and covenant of the 6 three nations, in the manner now agreed upon and proposed by the 6 presbytery, shall be the term of ministerial communion with the “ presbytery; and likewise of christian communion, in the admission “of people to sealing ordinances; secluding therefrom, all opposers, 6 slighters and contemners of the said renovation of our covenants; or such as, after deliberate pains taken for their information, with 6 all due meekness and patience, shall be found, by the session or “ superior judicatories, to which they are subject, to be neglecters " and shifters of this important moral duty; or not to be, themselves, “in the due use of means, for light and satisfaction about it.'
Imp. Test. page 223.
† Ibid. pages 220, 221.
Mr. Willison represents this as a term of the brethren's own making; for which they have no warrant in God's word. In order to prove
this assertion, it would have been necessary to shew, with regard to the matter or the manner of their covenanting, that it is something not required in the word of God.
With regard to the matter of their bond or covenant, as comprehending a testimony against various public evils and grounds of God's controversy with the church and nation, Mr. Willison, indeed, condemns several articles of the presbytery's acknowledgment of these evilş; but we have seen, that in doing so, he is neither consistent with the truth, nor with himself. And supposing such evils to have really taken place-nothing is more evident, than that the scripture requires us to mourn for them, and testify against them. Ministers ought to lift up their voice like a trumpet, and shew the professing people of God their transgressions. Those whom the Lord marks for safety in an evil day, are such as sigh and mourn for the abominations done in the midst of the land. It was the practice of the prophets under the Old Testament dispensation, and of Christ and his apostles under the New, to testify against the errors and corruptions that prevailed in their times. Their example, in this respect, is undoubtedly for our imitation. And here, it is necessary to observe, that such is the perfection of the holy scriptures, that they are not more against the errors and corruptions of the periods in which they were first written, than they are against those of every subsequent period. They no less require us to condemn the compliance of the ministers of the church of Scotland with the acts of Parliament, concerning the oath of abjuration, and concerning patronages, than to condemn the compliance of the ten tribes of Israel with Jeroboam's command to worship the calves of Dan and Bethel. They bind us to abhor the sin of the church of Scotland, in suffering the errors of Mr. Simson and Mr. Campbell to pass without due censure, as well as to abhor the iniquity of the church of Thyatira, in suffering the woman Jezebel to teach and seduce the Lord's servants.
How absurd is it to charge ministers with making new terms of communion, for no other reason than this; that they make a just and necessary application of God's word, to various cases of error and corruption that take place in their own times; and that they refuse to admit such persons to sealing ordinances as avow their obstinate attachment to opinions and practices which are just as contrary to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ as those of Hymenus and Philetus,
any other false teachers in the times of the apostles. It is most evident, that Mr. Willison has not pointed out any thing in the matter of the associate presbytery's bond or acknowledgment of sins, that can, in the least degree, serve to support the charge he brings against them, of requiring terms of communion which Christ does not require in his word, or of determining any thing to be sin or duty, which he has not made so.
Nor was there any thing in the manner of their covenanting, which afforded Mr. Willison a pretence for this charge. He himself, as we have seen, has proved by various places of scripture, that public covenanting is a duty of the church under the New Testament dispensation. We cannot suppose, that Mr. Willison would object against the associate presbytery, because, in their covenanting, they proposed to renew the national covenant of Scotland, and the solemn league and covenant of the three nations; since he intimates, in his account of the settiement of religion, after the revolution by the accession of William, Prince of Orange, to the British throne, that it would have been desirable, that the obligation of these covenants had been then asserted, and that they had been then renewed. Nor could Mr. Willison oppose the only rational way of renewing these covenants; that is, the renewing of them in a bond, like that of the associate presbytery, in which they adapted these covenant engagements to the present circumstances of the church: for he wishes that they had been renewed at the revolution, in the way of accommodation to the circumstances of the church at that time.* So that it does not appear that aný thing was meant by this term of communion, as stated by the associate presbytery, which Mr. Willison could consistently deny to be commanded duty. Nor could there be any infringement of the communion of saints by secluding from sealing ordinances the opposers, the slighters and contemners of this commanded duty. By doing so, instead of usurping or incroaching upon the Headship of the King of Zion, they displayed a commendable zeal against such as were openly justifying the flagrant instances of usurpation and incroachment on his Headship, specified in the presbytery's declinature. Nor was their zeal carried to any extreme. They declared, that much tenderness is to be used with the weakest of Christ's flock, who are lying open to light, and desiring to come forward to the discharge of their duty. Such are to be waited for, till they willingly offer themselves. None are to be excluded from sealing ordinances, but such as are found, after deliberate pains have been taken for their information, with all due meek. ness and patience, to be neglecters of this important moral duty, and not to be seriously in the use of means for light and satisfaction on this point.
Alex. The associate presbytery seem to be chargeable in this part of their act with inconsistency. They call the swearing of their new covenant an important moral duty; and yet they pretend to dispense with the omission of it in some of their people for a time.
Ruf. You have acknowledged public covenanting to be both a duty and a privilege; and yet you have relinquished the
practice of it, and have given up the prospect, for any thing that appears, of ever setting about it, or joining in it. Is not this far more inconsistent than it was for the associate presbytery to exercise forbearance towards some of their people who, though they were not prepared to enter into the bond, were neither opposing this important moral duty, nor neglecting the due use of means for obtaining light and satisfaction about it.
* Imp. Test. page 59.
Some who believe public covenanting to be a moral duty, and to be seasonable at present, may be in doubt as to their personal fitness or preparation for entering into the bond. This seems to have been chiefly the case contemplated by the presbytery in the clause, you refer to, in their act. The observation of due order, is indeed of great importance in the discharge of religious duties. For the neglect of such order, David acknowledged, that the Lord had made a breach upon his people, in the death of Uzzah. Those in Nehemiah's time, who joined in public covenanting, were such as had knowledge and understanding ;* this qualification being necessary to a swearing, The Lord liveth, in truth, in righteousness, and in judgement. Generally speaking, the same qualifications are necessary to a right participation of the Lord's supper. But in order to the swearing and subscribing of a particular bond or covenant engagement, it is obvious, that persons ought to have a distinct understanding of the terms in which it is expressed; and of every particular which it specifies, as well as of its general nature and design.
Hence, the usual practice before mentioned, of intimating publicly the design of covenanting in any particular congregation a considerable time before its transaction, and of appointing various meetings of session for conversing with and receiving such as offer themselves to join in that work. Thus the associate presbytery was led to consider, that there might be some persons in their congregations, who would decline entering into the bond, on a particular occasion, for want of competent information; who were not slighters, or contemners of covenanting; who adhered to the testimony in the hands of the presbytery; and, therefore, were not to be secluded from sealing ordi
Alex. Mr. Willison observes farther, that the associate presbytery call their new oath and covenant, not a term, but the term of christian communion; as if it were the only qualification for admission required, and as if it answered for the want of others. By this new act, let a man be ever so well qualified, according to the terms which Christ hath determined; yet, if he has not freedom to go into this term, he must be excluded both from ministerial and christian communion.
Ruf. Mr. Willison ought to have said, qualified according to the other terms which Christ hath determined : for that covenanting is one of these terms, he could not deny, consistently with his own cona fession, that it is one of the things which Christ hath commanded
And we have seen, that he has not pointed out one thing taught or inculcated by the associate presbytery, that is really different from what Christ taught and inculcated. And would not our Lord Jesus and his apostles have refused to admit persons to sealing ordinances, who were open opposers, slighters or contemners of any one thing that Christ had really commanded, however well qualified they might be in other respects ?
With regard to the expression, the term of communion, while it is very unjustly and invidiously represented as implying, that the terms which Christ has determined were not so much observed by these mi. nisters, as this; it is but fair to read to you a passage, which contains
* Nehem, X.