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PART II. Section II.


PART II. Section II.

James Dodson

After tracing some of the fruits of departure from the “footsteps of the flock” in different lands, it will be requisite to trace these to their source, and mark with more distinctness the successive and progressive steps of defection. And here my labor will bear some resemblance to that of “Old Mortality.”[1.]

In Scotland, the mother-church, Reformed Presbyterian, was the first to degenerate. In the latter part of the last century, “the mystery of iniquity did already work.” Even before ministers had become numerous enough to organize a synod, some of them began to court popularity and agitate for greater liberty. Rev. Adam Brown, of Crookedholm, appears to have been the leader in backsliding. As usual, he kept in the dark for a time, operating through the instrumentality of tools prepared by himself. It was well known, from the “Register of the General Meeting,” that prior to the year 1712, the “Society People” had used the “Rules of admission to their fellowship drawn up by Mr. James Renwick;” and it was also known from equally authentic sources, that the Auchensaugh Renovation was a term of communion from 1712 till 1741, and after the constitution of the Reformed Presbytery, till the adoption of the first Judicial Testimony in 1761, in which all the preceding attainments are expressly approved and formally sanctioned. For a period of about twenty years after the Testimony was published, no open attack was made upon any of the recognized standards of the Church. The leaven was working in secret, however, through the influence of the aforesaid Mr. Adam Brown. This is manifest from the fact that, about the year 1797, “three persons appeared before the Presbytery, with petitions that had a native tendency to blacken the Reformation period and introduce sectarian principles. But, as they did not get satisfaction, they went off to other parties.” “In August, 1798, six member of the congregation of Crookedholm (no doubt prompted by Mr. Brown) gave in petition to the Presbytery, tending to the disparagement of the work of Reformation, as carried on by our worthy ancestors. Yet, notwithstanding this, it was received by the Presbytery, and the petitioners allowed to receive church privileges.” I have now quoted from authentic documents, and a great deal more is at hand, of which I intend to make some farther use. Yet the reader can already see that a course of declension had been begun at the dates specified.

“It is said the Presbytery exerted themselves to give the petitioners satisfaction, by publishing the Explanation and Defence of the Terms of Communion.“ This was carnal policy, a temporizing expediency, instead of prompt and merited censure, as had been done by one Session, only two years before. I now quote again to establish this truth: “Certain members of the Glasgow congregation, in 1796, were dealt with by the Session, for occasional hearing. The case was referred to the Reformed Presbytery, who remitted the case to the Session, ordering these members to be censured by the Session. The Presbytery, at their next meeting, adhered to their former sentence. The parties accused declined the authority of Presbytery.” Is it not evident that the Presbytery judged occasional hearing censurable in 1796? And how could they so determine, unless they considered it a breach of solemn vows, and a violation and contradiction of their own testimony? a practical subversion of their distinctive profession? And I believe the Presbytery, the highest court then in the church, judged righteously and faithfully in supporting the authority of their Sessions; and I also believe that every honest man and woman of competent intelligence will be of the same mind. I have said elsewhere, that the practice of waiting on the ministry of those churches whose ministers and members have “gone out from us,” and against whose errors and corruptions we have publicly and solemnly testified, is at once a practice, sinful, uncharitable, contradictory and suicidal, as well as tending to all other moral evils and social disorders.

Again I quote:—“The disaffected people of Crookedholm congregation in 1814, (defection increasing), petitioned Synod for some alteration in the Terms of Communion, an individual having taken offence at a neighboring minister, explaining the Fourth article of the Terms relative to the Auchensaugh covenanting.” They had now grown to a Synod; but “the Session would not transmit this petition, asking some alteration in the Terms.” That was so far well; but the restless and persevering innovators, the very next year, 1815, demanded still liberty. “They earnestly requested that the Synod would render the Testimony more concise.” It appears that “this petition met with opposition in the Presbytery, having little aid from any of the ministers, but (except) Mr. Brown and the elder from his congregation: yet they had the influence to get it read in a private way, before the members of Synod.” This was another grievous concession to backsliders on the part of Synod, and prepared the way for accelerated defection. This is evident, for “in the year 1816, the Synod received said petition, and entered upon the consideration of two articles thereof; namely, the leaving out the clause in the Fourth article of the Terms relative to [the] Auchensaugh Deed, and remodelling the Testimony. And Mr. Brown was so successful at this time that he obtained a majority of votes to new model the Testimony. The matter was deferred, however, till another opportunity, because the ministers were not unanimous. The Synod had two meetings in 1816, in each of which these matters came before them. And though the report of the different Sessions relative to the propriety of a New Testimony and expunging of [the] Auchensaugh Deed was far from favorable: yet the Synod acted in such a forward manner that they appointed a committee to prepare the draught of a New Testimony. In May, 1819, the Synod did nothing in this business, as the opinion of the church in Ireland was not come forward. Yet the Rev. Professor John McMillan of Stirling, and Rev. W. Grieve, by their letters, cast all the arguments advanced by the innovators, then termed New Lights, into the shade. The Rev. James Reid in his speech gave his hearty approbation of the two letters read, and said the change of the Fourth Term of Communion, if carried into effect, would give him much trouble. A committee of the whole Synod met in 1820, to examine the draught of a New Testimony, and in April following it was published. In 1822, the Fourth Term of Communion changed: and after many alterations in the overture of a New Testimony, or a total change thereof, this Testimony appeared not till 1836-38, omitting to forbid the practice of ‘occasional hearing.’”—Thus in as concise form as possible I have adduced the evidence of eye-witnesses and of the very actors themselves, to the various steps of retrogression by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. “Men of corrupt minds,” among whom Mr. Brown distinguished himself, were unceasing in their private intrigues, and as they gathered more confidence from partial success became open advocates of their schemes of worldly conformity.

This period extends from 1796 to 1822. At the latter date, the innovators had so far succeeded as to effect the first change in the constitutional law of the church, by expunging the Auchensaugh Renovation. Contemporary with that fatal change, or rather leading to it and rendering the change necessary for consistency, was the growing practice of occasional hearing. Yet this change in principle, and correspondent change in outward practice, met with resistance for a time, by a majority. But the majority gradually succumbed, until it had passed to the side of the declining party. For years the minority contended against the increasing flood of doctrinal and practical error. Among the ministers of the now hopeless minority were Professor McMillan, Grieve, Thomas Henderson and Reid. History attests that whenever the backsliders had prevailed so far as to remove the first organic principle of the church, Mr. J[ames] Reid alone had sufficient fortitude to act upon his convictions by formal separation, in 1822. I know that good men, while agreeing in principle, vastly differ in their estimate of principle; and that their practice is determined by their estimate of the value of a principle. The Protestors of 1650 in Scotland admitted that among the Resolutioners were many “good and godly ministers.” But oh! their convictions of the value of principle did not enable them to obtain the crown of martyrdom, nor even hinder them from afterwards entering into fellowship with “perjured curates” at the Revolution Settlement! Had the minority separated as Mr. Reid was enabled to do in 1822, when majority were manifestly irreclaimable, the church might never have seen or been misled by the New Testimony and Terms of Communion.

After having shown by an induction of particulars what was the condition of the church in Scotland before the beginning of the present century, the reader will not be surprised that her daughter in America should develop equal or even more rapid progress in declension. It is natural that a daughter imitate her mother; but, having less experience, she is liable to be more attracted by what is deemed liberal and fashionable. Accordingly the young and inexperienced ministers who had the chief hand in “exhibiting their principles to the world,” changed the whole testimony of the Scottish martyrs and their legitimate successors. In doing so, they far outran the most lax of the fathers in Scotland at that date, 1806. For, although occasional hearing had begun to be practiced a little before, (1796) in violation of the Auchensaugh Covenant and Testimony, yet such offenders had been “dealt with by the Session,” and no party in that land had as yet entertained the thought of excluding either history or argument from the Testimony. When the “remodelling of the Testimony,” was for years in progress, even after Mr. Reid had left the Synod, that innovation was strenuously opposed by the residuary minority. Between forty and fifty ago, I read with interest, and I think with some profit, certain publications by authors who were not ministers, but evidently intelligent and more faithful than most of their guides. One of these, “printed at Edinburgh in 1823,” purports to be an answer to a “letter of Rev. Adam Brown of Crookedholm.” The author of this answer signed himself an “Old Dissenter;” but, by comparing documents, I think his real name was “John Dow.” The motto prefixed to his pamphlet is the following: “Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? (Jer. 2:36). No man also, having drunk old wine, straightway desireth new; for he saith, the old is better.” The reasoning of this intelligent Scotchman, in 1823, appears to be conclusive, and it is as sound and seasonable in 1883 as when it was uttered. He says, “It appears too evident that Mr. Brown and the Synod have taken the pattern of the new testimony from their friends in America, and new light Seceders in this country. The Reformed Synod in America maintain, that the historical part (of their Testimony) is partly founded on human records, and therefore not an article of faith; nor should it be incorporated with the confession of the church’s faith. This quotation appears to me to condemn all the testimonies emitted by the parties professing to bear testimony to the reformation. Both narrative and argument were incorporated with their testimonies. When our Trans-Atlantic Synod made such a great change in their testimony, it was surely proper that they should have assigned some reasons for it. It matters very little to tell us, that the narratives of men are fallible without proving that they have actually fallen and given a wrong statement of facts. And it will not be much better to inform us that the fallible narratives of men can never be a ground of faith, if this be meant of divine saving faith. But there is a human faith about human things, having such evidence as the nature of the case requires and admits; which, if we would deny, there could be no subsistence in human society. The concerns of all human things must, in many instances depend upon the witness of men. How can a Christian obey the second commandment by confessing the sins of his fathers, if human testimony be rejected? for on no other evidence can he confess them at all.” [And our author might have shown that filial obedience, enjoined in the fifth commandment, is predicated on the sole credibility of human testimony.] “It must, without doubt, be as solemn a business to make confession of the sins of our fathers, as to give an assent to the narrative of a testimony. Why then expunge the very strongest ground of withdrawing from corrupt churches? This Mr. Brown, in his letter, and the Synod, in the overture of a new testimony, seem to do. If they act consistently on this plan, they will not need to publish any causes of fasting, or confess any sins but what they know are independent of human testimony.”

It appears that in addition to isolated pamphlets, from one of which the extracts given above have been taken, a Magazine issued quarterly from Edinburgh, was commenced by some person or party in the year 1824. Whoever conducted this periodical wrote anonymously. He wielded, however, a caustic pen and displayed a high degree of literary culture. Part of the title chosen for this Quarterly will indicate to the intelligent reader the sarcastic complexion of the author’s style—“The Elucidator of the Spirit of the Third Reformation.”[2.] It would seem that its criticism of public men and measures, and more especially its exposure of their private intrigues and character, proved too strong pabulum for the taste of a declining community. I give only a little sample of much that might be quoted. The editor says:—“We lift our pen at the call of an imperative duty, which is both our warrant and apology for doing so. In our Prospectus issued a month ago, we have broadly avowed the motives which called us to the field, and pointed out the objects to which our attention would be mainly directed. And now, in the discharge of that important duty, we desire to present ourselves to the notice of that portion of the discriminating public who feel they have an interest in these concerns which are more immediately to be brought under review; and who are sensible that whatever affects the profession and exercise of discipline in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, ought to be viewed by them as a matter of no trivial importance.

“The testimony we have avouched, the principles we profess to maintain and contend for, possess too much intrinsic value in themselves, and which have descended to us consecrated with too much precious blood, to be bartered away at the shrine of apostacy and corruption, or sapped by judicial intrigue. The Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Scotland profess to be endeavoring to maintain and diffuse the principles of the Reformation. Little can we promise our readers, but a display of the most obvious manifestation of a decay of principle and dereliction of duty, coupled with as many shuffling sophistries, maneuvers and intrigues, as ever disgraced the name of the reformed cause, or stained the annals of a tribunal of ecclesiastical judicature. Any who opposed their downward course were treated with contempt, their petitions and complaints thrown over the bar with disdain, and themselves stigmatized in the very Minutes of Synod as blasphemers, perverters of Scripture, enemies to the church’s peace, fomenters of divisions, and actuated by the spirit of the devil!”



[1] In “Tales of My Landlord,” Sir Walter Scott introduced and gave special prominence to a fictitious character by this name. The novelist was, in politics, of the party called by historians, “Tories,” the patrons of arbitrary power in the State, allied to lordly prelacy in the Church. The opposite party were known by the name of “Whigs,” the advocates of constitutional rights and popular liberty. The covenanted Presbyterians of Scotland were always found in the front rank of this party of social progress. Of course, the novelist had no sympathy with the Covenanters. His “Tales,” etc., betray the bitter hostility of the writer to the Covenanters, and display the fertility of his imagination to blacken their character and expose them to ridicule. “Old Mortality” is portrayed as laboriously and affectionately renewing, with chisel and mallet, the inscriptions on the tombs of the martyrs, which time had partially obliterated. Sir Walter’s sagacity as a worldly politician, is equal to his ingenuity as a novelist, in selecting an original for his caricature. Well did the “Wizard” know what kind of Samuels to conjure up for the purpose of deceiving and misleading his admiring and credulous patrons. Many learned and godly men, sympathizing more or less with the cause of the Scottish martyrs, have “done worthily in Ephraim and become famous in Bethlehem,” by their historical writings; as Cruikshank, Wodrow, Hetherington, McCrie, and many others, yet none of them has embalmed the memory or transmitted the testimony of those noble and patriotic witnesses, as was done by the loving labor of an obscure and comparatively illiterate individual. This was John Howie, of Lochgoin, an eminently godly man, and for his numerous and trustworthy writings, worthy to be ranked among “the first three.” From him subsequent and learned historians have derived whatever is authentic in their useful works, as “Scots Worthies,” “Ladies of the Covenant,” etc.

[2] [This full title of this publication is as follows: “The Ecclesiastical Observer, and Reformed Presbyterian’s Intelligencer; or, the Elucidator of the Spirit of the Third Reformation: being a Sketch of the Conduct of Modern Reformers, and a Summary of their History, Principles and Testimony, in which the Intolerant Principles, weak, inconsistent and narrow-minded notions ascribed to the Reformers of the past age, are contrasted with the liberal and enlightened sentiments of Modern Covenanters. And a view of the Proceedings of the Reformed Synod of Scotland, in endeavouring faithfully (as they profess) to maintain and diffuse the Principles of the Reformation . . . (Edinburgh; Printed for J. Dow, bookseller, No. 5, South Hanover Street, by J. Glass, South Bridge. 1824. No. i, January, 1824. Price 3d. 12mo., 24 pp.)” It appears to have consisted in a single issue. ED.]