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James Dodson

[from The Reformed Presbyterian, Vol. XXIV. No. 7./Vol. VI. No. 7. New Series.

July, 1860. pp. 201-204.]

MR. EDITOR—I find it to be the genius of our people not to be contented with the discussion of a subject, unless every thing be said on it that can be said.

Your remarks, in the April No. on “Interchange of pulpits,” has made some of them apply to me to write an essay on Occasional Hearing. I do not pretend to say all that can be said on the subject, but I beg leave to follow up your ideas, in a few remarks. As to the interview between Usher and Rutherford, I would observe that, from the numerous anecdotes which we have of the ministers of that period, it appears it was not the custom for the guest to tell, nor the host to ask, his name.

In A.D. 1796, I heard an old Covenanter tell the story thus: Usher had called with Rutherford, on Saturday. On Sabbath morning, R[utherford] went into Lord Kenmure’s seat; K[enmure] said to him, Who is to preach when you are here? R[utherford] replies, I do not know. Kenmure asked again, Do you give your pulpit to a man you don’t know? Rutherford answers, Yes; for I am sure he is worthy of it. When the bishop rose in the pulpit, Rutherford clapped Kenmure on the shoulder and whispered in his ear, “Archbishop of Usher, if he be alive.”

As to the propriety of Rutherford’s conduct, hear the Informatory Vindication, Head 4th, sec. 1:

“We distinguish between a church in her infancy and ‘growing up into reformation, and an adult church which has arrived at a higher pitch of reformation: in the former, many things may be tolerated which may not in the latter; and therefore our fathers might have borne with many things in ministers which we cannot, because we have been reformed from these things, which they were not.

“We distinguish between a church in a growing case, coming forward out of darkness and advancing in reformation, and a church declining and going back again: in the former many things may be borne with, which, in the latter, are no ways to be yielded unto; as in the time of the former prelacy, many did hear prelatical men, which now we cannot do.”

Stating positively what ministers we should not hear, it is said:

“Hence, not only must we withdraw from those ministers that maintain errors fundamental, overturning the doctrine of salvation; but in this broken and declining state of the church, from all these also that oppugn and withstand our common confession of all orthodox truths received by the church of Scotland.”

Now, do we withdraw from such ministers, when we go to hear them?

Perhaps it will be alleged, that the Informatory Vindication is no part of the church’s standards. Let us understand this matter. It was written principally by Rev. James Renwick, of blessed memory; and it is characterized by that unbending faithfulness and Christ-like mildness, for which that martyr was so remarkable. Now when the Rev. John M’Millan joined the Society people (as the followers of Renwick were called), he took up the testimony where Renwick laid it down; and from that day till this, Reformed Presbyterians have gloried in being the followers of Renwick.

Again: I assert that the Informatory Vindication is as really a part of the church’s standards as the Solemn League and Covenant. Our fifth term of communion is, an approbation of the faithful contendings of the martyrs of Jesus against immoral constitutions of civil government, together with all Erastian tolerations and persecutions which flow therefrom. Now how do we know their faithful contendings, but by their writings? The Societies adopted the Informatory Vindication as their platform. Has the church ever set it aside? It contains the very things which we profess to approve. 

But again: It will be said by some, that many of our people never saw the Informatory Vindication; and how can they be bound by a document of which they are ignorant? Ans. The Informatory Vindication has been published once and again; and if people will not buy and read it, it is their own fault. It is a maxim in law, that ignorance of what every one ought to know, does not excuse.

But, say some, there is no law in-the church against occasional hearing. If the word of God be law, I am sure we have abundance of law against it. I have reasoned from Rom. 16:17, as you do,[1] and I find the reasoning is unanswerable. Indeed, I know of few things against which there is more law in the Bible. Let us hear a few of its precepts on the subject: “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” Prov. 19:27. “Beware of false prophets.” Matt. 7:15. Christ’s sheep will not follow a stranger; but they will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. John 10:5. “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” 2 These. 3:6. See also Eph. 1:14; Heb. 13:9; John 4:1; 2 John 10; Rev. 2:2.

To all this they reply, What harm can there be in hearing a good gospel sermon from a minister of another denomination? Ans. If he be a faithful minister, why do you not hear him statedly? If he be unfaithful, why hear him at all? If our testimony be law, we have law in the church against occasional hearing. We testify against it as an error, that occasional communion may be extended to persons who should not be received to constant fellowship. By a parity of reasoning, we cannot hear those occasionally whom we cannot hear statedly. Every one knows, that from the time of Renwick till now, occasional hearing has been considered a censurable offense.

After we finished the historical part of our Testimony, we tell the world that we cannot consistently join, either statedly or occasionally, in the communion of any other church by waiting upon its ministry, either in word or sacraments, while they continue op-posed to -these declared sentiments. We are told this passage belongs to the historical part, and is partly founded on human words; and, therefore, not an article of faith. Not so fast, my friend; what I have quoted is not history; it is a doctrinal proposition, and irrefragably proved by the forecited Scriptures.

I find some beginning to talk now, as our New-side [i.e., New Light] brethren did years ago, viz. that Covenanters were never censured for attending on the ministry of other denominations, if they did not neglect the ordinances in their own church. It is a mistake. Our former brethren were men of talents; they understood human nature. They knew, that to indulge itching ears was the way to make themselves popular, and to produce indifference to the church’s testimony. And now, they have excluded from their terms of communion every distinctive principle of Covenanters. Such will ever be the effect ‘of occasional hearing.

Permit me to add a word more, in relation to the quotation from the conclusion of the historical part of the Testimony. Those who are opposed to the proposition should move, in Synod, to have it expunged, and not stultify themselves by confounding doctrine with history.

To conclude; when I joined the Covenanters, I joined a people who followed Renwick as he followed Christ; and, if those who now call themselves Covenanters are disposed to take another course, I must, however reluctantly, bid them farewell.

“Meddle not with them that are given to change.” Prov. 24:21. “The church may not recede from a more clear and particular testimony to a more general and evasive one.” Ref[ormed] Presb[yterian] Testimony, chap. 33, sec. 3, Proof.” “Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” Phil. 3:16.

Satan leads to apostasy by such suggestions as this: “I am not bound to follow a Cameron, a Cargill, or a Rcnwick; they were not infallible; I must think for myself.” We testify against it as an error, “That a Christian is under no obligation to follow Christ’s witnesses in their faithful contendings.” “Ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.” Dent. 32:7. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” Heb. 13:7. “Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.” Prov. 22: 28. “Remove not the old landmark.” Prov. 23:10.