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PART I. Section IV.


PART I. Section IV.

James Dodson

Rev. James Blackwood had been my predecessor in a brief pastorate at Brush Creek, and, as reported, “had been starved out.” He certainly had not been unpopular for his strictness, either in doctrine or practice. He had favored what have since usually been called “union prayer meetings.” Moreover, when a minister of the General Assembly occasionally came into the neighborhood, Mr. B[lackwood], at the close of the Sabbath service, “would announce preaching by the Presbyterian minister, and himself attend.” This may partly account for my attempt at reformation first in the session. In the Reformed Presbyterian Church the first step of disorder and incipient defection has ever been Occasional Hearing, and this step, though often insensibly, yet by logical necessity, leads to all succeeding steps which end in open apostasy—if not prevented by grace working repentance and reformation. In 1834, a memorial and petition was presented to General Synod, against this inconsistent, unfaithful, and suicidal practice; the operation of which had caused the lamentable disruption of 1833.[1.] Rev. Thomas Sproull, then young in the ministry and consequently inexperienced, spoke strongly against the memorial. He was doubtless anxious equally to enlarge his congregation and thereby to augment his salary. He closed an earnest speech by expressing “hope that Synod would just leave that matter to him and his session.” The memorial was shamefully and sinfully “returned.” Synod having failed when respectfully asked, or having refused to declare the law of the church and of the Bible in the case, the carnal mind would naturally and readily infer that every one was at liberty to do that which was right in his own eyes. Let this matter of occasional hearing be briefly considered here:

With a few exceptions in Continental Europe, all the churches of the Presbyterian family in the British Empire and in the United States are composed of members descended from the loins of covenanted progenitors. The “Act rescissory” passed by Charles II. and his prelatic counsellors forcibly overthrew the “Covenanted Reformation,” more than two hundred years ago. The majority then broke their most solemn oath of allegiance to the Lord and his Anointed, transferring it to Charles and his rebellious successors to the present time. But God was and still is a party, and the principal party in those solemn vows. Centuries are nothing to him with whom “a thousand years are as one day;” and who visited the children of Israel “on the self-same day as he had promised to Abraham four hundred and thirty years before.” “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness.” Shall we who profess to own the obligation of our fathers’ solemn engagements to God, follow a multitude to do evil—the great evil of perjury? Is this a scriptural way or rational expedient to bring them to a sense of their hereditary sin; to repentance and reformation? Surely not. No; the divine command and direction in the case is very plain and very express,—“Let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them.” “Waiting upon the ministry” of those who have gone away backward from our scriptural reformation and broken the “brotherly covenant,” is to neutralize totally our testimony against them; and the divine injunction is peremptory, “Be not partaker of other men’s sins; keep thyself pure.”

From the time of licensure, as I journeyed among our people, the inquiry was often made, “Do you know anything about a man by the name of Lusk, who was formerly a minister in our church?” My usual reply was, “I never saw him, but I have heard that he has lost both his ministerial and moral character by cheating his neighbor and taking a false oath to cover the iniquity.” This man, Rev. Robert Lusk, had lived for some years in comparative obscurity in an almost literal wilderness in the southern part of Indiana, and under an act of suspension by General Synod in New York city in 1825, for his faithfulness. After our division in Philadelphia, 1833, Mr. Lusk charitably hoped that we who were known as “Old Lights” were purged from preceding error and disorder. Having read our Minutes, and seeing my name as Clerk, he addressed me by letter, in which he said, “These are the first honest Minutes of Synod, and the only ones that can be legally used as testimony.” He also expressed his desire for restoration to our fellowship. In reply, I encouraged him to make regular application to the Ohio Presbytery. He applied in person accordingly; and adverting to the local fama clamosa against his character, he earnestly desired Presbytery to send a Commission to investigate the charges on the spot. His petition was granted, and Messrs. Charles B. McKee and John B. Johnston, ministers, with two ruling elders, were sent to Walnut Ridge, Washington Co., Indiana, “to take testimony and report to Presbytery.” The report was accordingly submitted to Presbytery at next meeting, and Mr. Lusk was also present. When the report was read in court, Mr. Lusk complained of partiality by the Commission, especially the ministers.[2.] Mr. McKee, chairman, on the way to Walnut Ridge, had made an appointment to preach to the Presbyterians in Salem, the county seat, on a certain day. To fulfil the appointment at Salem, seven miles distant, and complete the Commission’s duties at Walnut Ridge, the chairman found to be impossible. Mr. Lusk’s complaint was, that “the Commission finally adjourned while two of his witnesses were standing on the floor!” He asked for another Commission and this request was granted. Rev. John Wallace and I, with Messrs. William Ramsay and Robert Craig, elders, were sent to ascertain whether our predecessors had been partial as a Commission. We found the charge partially proved, not only by the two witnesses who had been left “standing on the floor,” but by other members. On our way homeward, Elder Ramsay in homely figurative style thus expressed his estimate of the people—“Mr. Lusk’s friends are the cream of the congregation, the rest are but skim milk.”

I think this case merits some farther amplification, in its hearing upon subsequent transactions, as tending to illustrate important principles and also to develop variety of character.

The two reports of the aforesaid Commissions were obviously in conflict and tended to complicate the case when laid before Presbytery. The documentary testimony submitted by the first Commission was shown by the report of the second Commission to be incomplete. After laborious investigation and protracted discussion, Presbytery, still unable to come to an intelligible decision, unanimously referred the whole matter to the Western Subordinate Synod shortly to meet not far distant. The reader should now understand the gist of the case as it came before the superior court, probably for final adjudication. The sins and scandal preferred against Mr. Lusk, before the first Commission were expressed in variety of language. It was alleged that he had “cheated his neighbor and taken a false oath—had violated the eighth and ninth commandments—was guilty of swindling and perjury.” But how did Mr. Lusk become liable to the charge of these heinous, these enormous sins and scandals. Those who have heard and read of such charges in the Bible and outside of it laid against Christ’s faithful witnesses, will be likely to suspect slander instead of crime in such cases.

Mr. Lusk, “as a minister and a witness,” among other social sins, had borne public testimony against Freemasonry. A lodge of this “unhallowed club” existed in the neighboring town of Salem. A member of Mr. Lusk’s congregation had been inveigled into the lodge. This man had done some clearing on Mr. Lusk’s farm, in seeming grateful recompense for boarding and medical attendance duping protracted sickness in his benefactor’s family. When he became a Mason, the “brethren of the mystic tie” instigated him to make out a “trumped up account” against his former pastor and benefactor. Mr. Lusk, in necessary self-defense, made oath that he did not owe the amount of the prosecutor’s claim. Such is the substance of the whole matter.

When the case came before the Sub. Synod, Mr. Lusk being present, Rev. J.B. Johnston, one of the members on the first Commission, argued and strenuously insisted that Mr. Lusk could not be heard in defense: that the court must confine itself to the “documentary evidence” taken by the Commission of Presbytery. At this juncture, Mr. Blackwood rose and indignantly asked, “Moderator! Shall this court be insulted by refusing to hear a culprit at your bar?” Without taking or asking additional testimony, a motion was made and carried that the accused declare before the Synod “his sorrow for having been the cause of so much trouble to the church.” With deep emotion, visible in copious tears, Mr. Lusk addressing the chair, said, I cannot make that acknowledgment and be an honest man.” This was a moment of much and diverse feeling among the members of court. At length a member moved, That the word occasion be substituted for cause, and this was accepted at once by the court. Mr. Lusk immediately assented, for he was a man who understood the import and force of language. He was then “restored”—rather recognized as in full possession of all the rights of a brother in the ministry.



[1] The organic causes of that division must be traced along another historical line, that it may be better understood.

[2] Both these men left the church, J.B. Johnston went to the U[nited] Presbyterians and C.B. McKee to the General Assembly [i.e., PCUSA].