Charles Hodge.

The Biblical repertory and Princeton review online

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as the history of both Old-side and New most unequivocally
illustrates. The Articles respecting the civil government, and
the Directory for the details of Divine worship, and the orga-
nization and government of the church might admit of inno-
cent difference of opinion — as we shall hereafter see Wither-
spoon and a committee of Synod explain; but the Articles of
&ith were sacred in their eyes, and guarded with jealous vigi-
lance against the first beginnings of error.

In the Westminster standards, as adopted in 1729, besides
the doctrinal Articles and the Catechisms, there were ''The
VOL. XL.— NO. rv. 78

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618 Dr. GiUett and Liberal PreAyUrioinism. [October

humble Advice of the Assembly, concerning Church Govern-
ment," and "a Directory for the Public Worship of God."
Brespecting them all, the Preliminary Act determined four
points: — 1st. That neither "in doctrine, worship, nor govern-
ment," were all the articles essehtial and necessary. 2d. That
in every case, parties must bring their scrnples, in the first
place, to the proper judicatory, and abide by its judgment
respecting them. 3d. That divergence from the teachings of
the book in the ''not-necessary" articles, would not, of neces-
sity forfeit ministerial communion. 4th. That error, in essen-
tia and necessary articles of fi&ith, involved the exclusion of
the party.

In the Adopting Act itself, these principles were strictly
applied. The members were individually called upon, and
each one — the non-subscriber Dickinson not excepted — stated
liis scruples as to any articles and expressions in the Confes-
sion and Catechisms, ^nd declared them to be the confession of
his faith ; excepting only the specified clauses. Every article
and expression, with these exceptions, was by the members
thus unreservedly adopted, no man scrupling one word to any-
thing in the doctrinal statements. Says the Bev. Samud
Blair, " There never was any scruple that ever I heard of,
mode by any member of the Synod, about any part of the
Confession of Faith; but only about some particular clauses
in the twentieth and twenty-third chapters; and these clauses
were excepted against in the Synod's Act roceiving the Con-
fession of Faith, only in such a sense; which, for my part, I
believe the reverend composers never intended in them, but
which might, notwithstanding, be readily put upon them."

The Directory for worship and government was treated in a
different manner. To it, — but to it alone, — was applied the
*' substance of doctrine" principle. It was pronounced "agree-
able in mbatance to the word of God," and as such oommended
to prudent and discriminating use.

Such was the mode and extent of the adoption of the Con-
fession by the members of the Synod, in 1729. Needing no
indulgence for themselves, and adopting the book, man by man,
in the full and unreserved manner here shown, it would cer-
tainly have been very extraordinary had they designed or pro-

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1868.] Dr. GHUett and Liberal Presbyterianism. 619

vided for giving to others greater liberty than they claimed
for themselves. Nor did they. At the time of making the
Adopting Act, this point was left to implication. But the
next year, report coming up of apprehensions caused in the
churches respecting it, the Synod unanimously declared, as
already stated, that the design of the Acts of 1729, was to
enforce on intrants the adoption of the standards ''in the same
manner, and as fully as the members of Synod did, that were
then present."

This minute of 1730 has been utterly ignored by New-school
writers, and for a very manifest reason. If the minute be
true, all their statements as to the design of the Adopting
Act, and arguments thence deduced, must go by the board.
And yet this minute was unanimously passed, at a " full meet-
ing" of the Synod. Of the eighteen members present in 1729,
twelve were now present; and of the seventeen who were
unanimous in the adoption of this minute, but seven could be
classified with the Scotch.

These men certainly knew what they meant in the pro-
ceedings of 1729. They declare them to have been designed
to enforce adoption upon intrants, ''in the same manner, and
as fully as the members of Synod did." Those members
adopted without reservation, every article and expression,
except the repudiate sense of the articles on the magistrate.
The whole issue, therefore, between us and our New-school
brethren is palpably one as to the veracity of the Synod in
this unanimous action. If the position of our New-school
brethren be correct, the fathers in this Synod deliberately
conspired to utter and place on permanent record a wilful
untruth. If the Synod told the truth, our brethren are inex-
cusable for the account which they insist upon giving of the
matter. That the question is one involving the truth of
our fathers, Dr, Gillett distinctly admits, as we shall pre-
sently see.

In 1734, the solicitude of the Synod on this subject was
indicated by a rule requiring that, at each annual meeting,
inquiry should be made as to the adoption of the Confession
by intrants, "according to the Acts of the Synod, made some
years since, for that purpose," — ^the Acts of 1729 and 1730.

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620 Dr. GUlM and Liberal Freahyterianism. [Ogtobek

In 1736, the Synod passed an explanatory Act, wluch has
been the occasion of no little displeasure to Dr. Gillett and
others. By some means, probably through the agency of an
enemy, the Preliminary Act had been published, without the
Adopting Act. To obviate the misconceptions and uneasiness
thus induced, the Synod formally and without a dissenting
voice, declared that it had adq>ted, and still adhered to the
Westminster standards, ''without the least variation or altera-
tion, and without regard to the said distinctions" of the Pre-
liminary Act. ''And we do further declare that this was our
meaning and true intent, in our first adopting of said Confes-
sion, as may particularly appear by our Adopting Act," which
they then recite in full, as evidence to the people "of our firm
attachment to our good old received doctrines contained in our
Confession, without the least variation or alteration."

The reader will bear in mind the stat^oi^ent of Blair, as to
the clauses in th^ Confidssion which were excepted to in the
Adopting Act, "only in such a sense; whvJ^, far my part I
believe the reverend eompoeere never intended in them." Here
is the key to the harmony between the exceptions made in the
Adopting Act, and the unreserved terms of this explanatory
minute and of many subsequent documents.

This minute entirely exhausts the patience of Dr. Gillett.
In his Sutory^ he exclaims, — "As a matter of fact, this was
not true; as- a matter of right, it was a gross injustice, to
attempt to change the constitutipnU basis," &a In Uie ILeviem
article now before v^, he is rather more modest in his language;
but the matter is left in the same predicament If we admit
Dr. Gillett's assumptions, we must believe that the explanar
tory Act of 1736 was a deliberate falsehood, concocted by the
wicked Scotch, to the injury of the rest, and unanimously
adopted by the Synod; English and Welsh, Irish, Scotch, and
Few Englanders, all concurring; whilst not a man was found
then, or afterward, until our historian arose, to impe^ it of
falsehood, or charge it with injustice.

The New-school "Declaration," of 1839, treats this matter
in a somewhat different, but equally remarkable manner.
Having, in its account of the Synod of 1729, given the Preli*
minary Act in fuU> under the name of the Adopting Act^ and

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1868.] Dr. GiUeU and lAberal J^esbyterianism. 621

suppressed all allusion to the latter, it not only pursues the
same policy in its account of the minute of 1736, by ignoring
the Act, as transcribed therein, but Sbctually asserts of the
minute, that by its adoption the Synod " established the power
of the civil magistrate to control synods and persecute the
church," although that was the point so expressly and carefully
guarded by the Adopting Act, which was transcribed into the
minute, as a part of it.

That the declaration of 1736 did truly represent the Adopt-
ing Act is manifest. Every member then present had, as a mat-
ter of fact, adopted the entire Confession, repudiating only what
they considered an illegitimate interpretation of certain clauses.
Every member, subsequently admitted, had been required by
the rule of 1730 to do the same. All the action on the subject,
from first to last, was consistent and unanimous ; and, at least
down to the schism of 1741, no man was admitted as a mem-
ber of the ministry without the £a.ct of bis adoption in accord-
ance with these Acts, being made the subject of formal inquiry
and record, on the minutes of Synod.

The schism of 1741 was immediately consequent upon the
extreme and irregular action of the signers of the Protestation
of that year. Its ultimate cause was the disorderly and fanati-
cal course of the New-side revivalists intruding into Presbyte-
ries and churches, denouncing their oj^sers as unconverted
men, treating with contempt their ministerial and pastoral
rights, and disregarding and trampling upon jsvery regulation
of the Synod which tended to restrain their irregularities.
They were also charged by the Old-side with propagating
grievous doctrinal errors. The principal errors thus charged
were such as, *' that every true Christian is sure of his own
conversion; every adult person, when ho is converted, must be
able to tell the time, place, and manner of bis conversion ; that
no adult person is converted without first undergoing an high
degree of legal, ungracious, preparatory convictions and ter-
rors," and such like.

It was in view of these "points of doctrine," and the con-
nected disorders, that the Old-side, in 1741, protested, among
other things, that no person *' should be allowed to sit and
vote in this Synod who hath not reoeived, adopted, or su1>>

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622 Dr. Gillett and Liberal JE^esbyterianism. [October

scribed the Oonfeesion, &c., as our Presbyteries respectively
do, according to our last explication of the Adopting Act; or
who is either accused or convicted, or may be convicted, before
this S3mod or any of our Presbyteries, of holding or maintain-
ing any doctrine, or who act and persist in any practice con-
trary to any of those doctrines, or the rules contained in said
Directory, or contrary to any known rights of Presbytery, or
orders made or agreed to by this Synod."

It will be noticed that whilst the protesters here assert the
obligation of the Acts of 1729, they also testify that the Pres-
byteries respectively were faithful in enforcing subscription
''according to our last explication of the Adopting Act." The
point of the protestation is aimed at the doctrinal aberrations
and the disorders before mentioned. Touching the meaning of
the Act and the truth of the explanatory declaration, there
appears, as yet, no diversity of sentiment. Eespecting this
matter, however. Dr. Gillett in his ESstory thus speaks :

"It will be observed, that 'the last explication of the
Adopting Act was that of 1736. The majority of the Synod,
therefore, demanded as a condition of membership a principle
fundamentally different from that of the Adopting Act. They
demanded, in short, an ipsisdma verba subscription. And
because of the refusal to yield to this demand, among others,
they proceeded to what was a virtual excision, and what they
did not hesitate to chsjracterize aa such, in their subsequent
documents. . • . The eystematioj in contradistinction from the
ijmssima verba subscription, was re^tablished at the reunion
of 1768."

Of these statements as to the Acts of 1729 and 1736, the
reader is now competent to judge. If anything more had been
necessary to show how much this writer relies upon his fancy
for his facts, it would be found in the assertion that one cause
of the excision was the refusal of the New-side to consent to
the explication of 1736. Let us hear them on the subject.

The Protestation was a formal impeachment of them. Their
reply was immediate. No sooner did the division take place
than they met and adopted the following minute : " Inasmuch
as the ministers who have protested against our being of their
communion, do at least insinuate false reflections Against us,

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1868.] Dr. OiUeU and Liberal Prefbyteriardsm. 623

endeavouring to make people suspect that we are receding
from Presbyterian principles, ... we think it fit unanimously
to declare that we do adhere as closely and fully to the West-
minster Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and Directory, as ever
ike Synod of Philadelphia did, in any of their public acts or
statements about it."

Shortly afterward they issued a " Declaration" of their views
and principles. In it they proceed, in the first place, to de-
clare their adoption of the standards, in the precise manner of
the Adopting Act, and with its exception to the obnoxious
interpretation as to the civil government. (See Baird's Digest,
p. 32.) Neither of these papers is held entitled to a piece in
the New Digest Nor does Dr. Gillett think them worthy of
recognition. Their significance the reader will appreciate, and
their bearing upon the Doctor's assertion as to the reasons for
the proto-excision.

But our author finds new evidence of " liberal" sentiments
in the New York Synod's constitution, when organized in 1745.
The first article declared their agreement ''that the West-
minster Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter
Catechisms, be the public confeesion^of their faith, in such man-
ner as waa agreed unto by the Synod of Philadelphia in the year
1729. "This language," says Dr. Gillett, "is as distinct a
repudiation" of the position taken by the signers of the Pro-
testation, on subscription, " as anything can be by means of
implication." This assertion might possibly be sustained were
the Adopting Act blotted out of existence and the Preliminary
Act surrendered to Dr. Qillett's interpretation. But, as the
facts stand, — the language of the Preliminary Act applying its
distinctions, not to the doctrines but to the Articles of the Con-
fession; its perfect oongruity with Thomson's overture, on the
one hand, and the Adopting Act on the other; the full and
comprehensive terms of the latter; the interpretations of 1730
and 1736; the absence of all dissent, complaint^ or dissatisfac-
tion with these measures; the unanimous enforcement given
them by Old-side and New, both before and after the division;
in a word, the active concurrence of all parties for fourteen
years, which had now elapsed since the passage of the Adopt-
ing Act, forbid us to accept the forced interpretation put by

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626 Dr. GHUett and Liberal Presbyterianism. [October

charged upon them, were in general, the errora of doctrine
which have been already illustrated, and the disorders and dis-
regard of Synodical authority and rules of which they were
guilty. The signers of the Protestation took the ground that
by these things the New-side men had, ipsofacto^ separated
themselves from the Synod and forfeited all rights therein; and
it was by the Synod's acquiescence in this assumption that
their actual exclusion was effected, without any vote or formal
act of exclusion.

Upon the propriety of this course of procedure, the New
York brethren joined issue with the Old-side. They admitted
that no person could rightfully remain in connection with the
Synod, whilst rejecting its authority, and violating its deci-
sions. But they denied that it was consistent with Presby-
terian principles to attempt the exclusion of such persons with-
out judicial process, by mere protest, and removal of their
names. In accordance with these views, they proposed in
the overture for reunion, that, in the united church, all the
members should be required to actively concur, or passively
submit to all decisions of the courts of the church; or, if they
can do neither, then to withdraw, peaceably, without attempt-
ing to excite controversy or create division. Here arose the
point made use of by Dr. Gillett. Shall this rule to submit to
the decisions of the courts or withdraw, apply to all cases,
without exception; or only to those which may concern essen-
tial questions. If, for example, Mr. Andrews cannot consent
to comply with the rule of the Sjmod in favour of a morning
expository discourse, after the Scotch method, must he with-
draw? The Sjmod of New York insisted that the obligation
be limited to necessary cases; whilst that of Philadelphia, at
first, urged that it be universal.

The first overture of the New York Synod for reunion pro-
posed an article in these terms: "That every member promise,
that after any question has been determined by the major
vote, he will actively concur or passively submit to the judg-
ment of the body; but if his oonscienoe permit him to do
neither of these, that then he shall be obliged peaceably to
withdraw from our Synodical communion, without any attempt
to make a division among us. Yet ikU is not inteTided to

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1868.] Dr. GiUeU and Liheral Presh/terianism. 627

extend to any cases but those which the Synod judges essential
in matters of doctrine and discipline.*'

This is that famous ''paragraph about essentials/' which
Dr. Qillett constantly treats as if it had respect to the mode
of subscription to the Confession, and to the distinctions of the
Preliminary Act, with which it has nothing in common,
except the fsiet that the word " essential" occurs in both. The
sole question here debated was, whether the members might
with impunity trample on the authority of the supreme court
of the church, as the New Brunswick brethren had done in
their proceedings prior to the ^vision. On this point, the
seeming difierence between the two Synods was, in fact, a mere
question of words; for, a decision which the Synod should pro-
nounce to be not essential, would be thereby stripped of the
authority of a Synodical ordinance, and become a mere recom-
mendation, appealing to the discretion of the members. Prac-
tically, the result would have been the same, whether the New
York or Philadelphia phraseology were adopted. The latter
proposed to insert, instead of the clause above italicised, the
following : " always reserving him a liberty to sue for a review,
and to lay his grievances before the body, in a Christian

When all other points of difference had been removed out
of the way, it was evident that the " paragraph about essen-
tials" could create no embarrassment. Without pausing to
decide this point, therefore, the Synod of Philadelphia pro-
posed, and the New York Synod consented to the appointment
of a joint committee, to digest details for reunion. The result
was a report of Articles of Union. These were unanimously
accepted by the two Sjrnods, which thereupon coalesced as one
body in 1758. The first and second articles of this bafiis were
as follows :

"I. Both Synods having always approved and received the
Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Cate-
chisms, as an orthodox and excellent system of Christian doc-
trine, founded on the word of Grod, we do still receive the
eame as the confession of our faith, and also adhere to the
plan of worship, government, and discipline, contained in the
Westminster Directory, stricUy enjoining it on all our mem-

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628 Dr. GiUett and Liberal Presbt/terianism. [October

bers and probationers for the ministry, that they preach and
teach according to the form of sound words in said Confeasion
and Catechisms, and avoid and oppose aU errors contrary

" II. That when any matter is determined by a major vote,
every member shall, either actively concur with, or passively
submit to such determination; or, if his conscience permit
him to do neither, he shall, after sufficient liberty modestly to
reason and remonstrate, peaceably withdraw from our commu-
nion, without attempting to make any schism. Provided,
always, that this shall be understood to extend only to such
determinations as the body shall judge indispensable, in doc-
trine and Presbyterian government."

Here, it will be perceived that the whole question of sub-
scription is decided by the first Article ; and decided in a way
which utterly ignores the Preliminary Act as interpreted by
Dr. GiUett, and harmonizes perfectly with the Adopting Act
and the whole subsequent tenor of action on the subject. It
will also be noticed that the second Article has reference,
wholly, to the question of the authority of determinations of
every kind, made by church courts; and that, in it, the PHla-
delphia and New York propositions are combined in perfect
and recognized harmony. The former allows that dissentients
shall first have "sufficient liberty modestly to reason and re-
monstrate," before withdrawing ; and the latter provides that
unless, thereupon, the court shall allow the determination in
question to be dispensed with, the party must withdraw.

What then shall we say to the commentary of our historian
upon this transaction. In his essay he omits any allusion to
the first of the above articles, recites the second, and proceeds
in the following style :

" Thus the New-side had secured the thing, while less scrn-
pulous about the form. They had acted in consistency ^^
themselves throughout. They made the Adopting Act, ^
received in 1729," (the reader will remember that Dr. Gil\^^
refers to the Preliminary Act,) "the fundamental posi*^^'^
which they resolved to occupy. They allowed a latitude ^^

what they accounted non-essentials His [Gellatly^j

charges of laxity were based on inference, and not on fact^y ^

Digitized by


1868.] Dr. GUlett and Liberal Preshyterianism. 629

may therefore readily be set aside; but he was not mistaken
ia his view of the importance the New-side attached to the
paragraph about essentials. With them it was a vital matter;
it was a point which, even for union's sake, they would not and
did not surrender.*'

He goes on through several pages to descant upon this idea;
leading his readers, all the time, to suppose that the question
involved in the second article was that of subscription for sub-
stance, and leaving them in utter ignorance of the fEict that,
already and unequivocally, that question had been concluded '
by the first article; and that the only subject handled in the
second article, 'was the authority of church courts to bind the
members by decisions, whether doctrinal or administrative.

Davies is appealed to by our author as attempting to con-
ciliate English non-subscribers by telling them of the liberty
allowed in the Preliminary Act. Davies truly stated the dis-
tinctions of that Act But he did not give his English friends
the key to those distinctions, in the terms of the Adopting Act,
and the subsequent deliverances and practice of the church.
The statement of Davies appears, indeed, on the face of it, to
have been a weak concession to the latitudinarian spirit by
which he was surrounded, and of which, in his account of the
matter, he so bitterly complains. In &ct, the association of
ideas on this subject, in connection with the English churches,
is not flattering to the friends of " liberal principles."

Twenty-one years after the reunion of 1758, the Rev. Jacob
Green, the father of the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green, claimed the
privilege of withdrawing from the Synod. His reasons were
found in the two Articles of the basis of union above cited.
He complained, that the Confession, "without any liberty of
explanation in any Article, was enjoined upon all the ministers,
who are to teach and preach accordingly ;" and that the Synod
assumed authority, after the Scotch method, to enact regula-
tions and enforce them on inferior courts and ministers.

We might have supposed that such a practical exposition of
the reunion basis, founded as it was upon the very words of
that document, would stagger our author as to the correctness
of his theory of the transaction. But he is entirely proof
against the force of the argument. He tells us in his JBiBtory

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630 Dr. GiUett and Liberal Presh/teriardsm. [October

that a large amount of Mr. Green's repugnance '' might have
been overcome, if he had known or remembered that provision
had been made for the 'scruples' of the candidate, and that he

Online LibraryCharles HodgeThe Biblical repertory and Princeton review → online text (page 59 of 61)