Philip Schaff.

The American church history series, consisting of a series of denominational histories published under the auspices of the American Society of Church History; (Volume 6) online

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original proposal. The twenty-four Presbyteries of the
Cherokee nation, Chillicothe, Dubuque, Ebenezer, Hunt-
ingdon, Kingston, La Crosse, North Laos, North Texas,
Palmyra, Peoria, Platte, Portsmouth, Redstone, Rock River,
Sacramento, St. Louis, San Francisco, Shenango, Spring-
field, Trinity, Washington, Wooster, and Zanesville, all had
voted with the minority in 1890. They now voted for all
or nearly all the overtures — as did Pittsburg for sixteen of
them, Philadelphia for nineteen, and New Brunswick for
twenty-one — and would have carried them if the revision-
ists had kept their ranks. But in addition to the fifteen
abstentionists already referred to, the thirty-one Presby-
teries of Albany, Chemung, Chippewa, East Oregon, Free-
port, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Iowa City, Jersey City,
Larned, Logansport, Mahoning, Mankato, Maumee, Mil-
waukee, Montana, New York, North River, Otsego, Pe-
toskey, Puget Sound, Rochester, St. Clairsville, St. Law-
rence, Solomon, Southern Oregon, South Florida, Stockton,


Syracuse, West Jersey, and Whitewater, all of which had
voted for revision in 1890, now voted against the overtures
about as evenly as the conservative Presbyteries above
mentioned voted for them. This in a few cases may have
been the result of a shift of control of the Presbytery from
one party to another, but it cannot have been true in most
cases. These Presbyteries wanted revision, or something
like it, as much as ever, but not after this fashion.

The four overtures which fell below the average of sup-
port were the first, third, fourth, and the second half of the
fifteenth. The first proposed to insert into the list of the
things which " move us to a high and reverend estimate
of the Scriptures " a statement of the external evidences.
This belated bit of apologetics received but 97 votes. The
third was the restatement of the doctrine of reprobation,
which represented Princeton's ultimatum. It was rejected
by 107 votes against it to 67 in its favor. The fourth
ehminated the '* six days'" limit out of the statement of
creation, and it received 100 votes to 74 in the negative.
The second half of the fifteenth, on which a separate vote
was asked, was offensive to the conservatives. Drs. Green,
Patton, Alexander, and Leftwich, and Messrs. Junkin and
Stratton had appended an expression of their dissent from
it to their signatures to the report. It enlarged the state-
ment of the Confession as to the regeneration of elect per-
sons in the absence of the ordinary means from " all other
elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called
by the ministry of the Word," to ** all other elect persons,
who are not outwardly called by the Word." It also was
in the minority by 92 negative to 81 affirmative votes.
The overture just preceding, which would have struck out
the language as to *' elect infants," received but 105 votes
to 68.

The Assembly of 1893 received over sixty memorials

258 THE PRESBYTERIANS. [Chap. xvm.

asking the preparation of a new and shorter creed, but
voted to lay the matter aside. In this decision there was
a general acquiescence. The church was weary of the dis-
cussion. It was felt that the whole subject had been taken
up by the wrong handle, with the result of obtaining the
maximum of irritation and the minimum of relief.

Here the matter has rested, but cannot continue to do
so for many years. The discussion placed the church per-
manently in such a relation to its own Confession as makes
it impossible for it to retain the place it had held before
1889. The work of the Westminster divines has been
challenged as inadequate in its statement of the gospel of
divine grace, and as presumptuous in its handling of divine
mysteries. This has been done not by some obscure and
isolated group of theologians, but by men of the largest
influence in every part of the church. Its statements on
matters of vital importance have been declared unsatisfac-
tory by more than a majority of the Presbyteries, and the
substitution of other statements has been approved. In
this the church has gone much too far to stop, but the
delay will not be wasted if some attention be given to as-
certaining a better mode of procedure than was adopted
in 1889.

The preparation of a new Confession of Faith for the
Presbyterian Church of America, with the cooperation of
any of the sister-churches which can be induced to partici-
pate in it, seems the most feasible method of solving the
problem. The right, even the duty, of each national church
to express its own faith in its own words was recognized
among the earlier Calvinists. That they had as many con-
fessions as churches was one of the characteristics which
distinguished them from the Lutherans with their Augs-
burg Confession, for which they claimed an ecumenical
character. Holland did not copy France, nor did the


Huguenot Church of France repeat the Swiss. The church
of the Pfalz drafted its own Heidelberg Catechism as its
confession. The Scottish Kirk in Knox's day was weh
acquainted with the confessions of the continental churches,
but it prepared a confession of its own, a document full of
the spirit and the flavor of Scotland. No church thought
of playing the role of theological parasite, in the fashion
of the hermit-crab, as Professor Drummond describes it.
It was felt that the weight and force of the collective testi-
mony of these churches was greatly increased through
each testifying, " in its own tongue " and its own terms,
" the wonderful works of God." It is to this freedom of
individual utterance that the British churches are now re-
turning, for the Scottish Declaratory Acts cannot but lead
to the step already taken by the Presbyterian Church of
England. It will be in accord with the oldest traditions
of the Reformed churches if their American representa-
tives, laying aside the helmet of brass and the coat of mail
devised by the divines of Westminster for a scholastic-
polemic age, should go forth to the world with an expres-
sion of their own insight into Scriptural truth, their own
statement of those great doctrines of grace which exalt
God and humble man.

It is true that we are told — and Dr. Briggs seems to
agree in the statement — that the modern church has not
the ability to do anything half so good in that line as the
Westminster divines did. That statement is extremely
doubtful. They were not men of the first order of their
own time. The great names which most adorn the Puri-
tan age, with the exception of Samuel Rutherford, are all
wanting from the list of the Assembly. James Ussher,
Stephen Charnock, Thomas Brookes, John Owen, John
Howe, Richard Baxter, Robert Leighton, were all absent.
William Twiss, Herbert Palmer, Stephen Marshall, An-

26o THE PRESBYrERIAXS. [Chap, xviii.

thony Tuckney, and John Lightfoot were the best theolo-
gians among them, and not one of them but the last sur-
vived his age in any production of his pen. Their attempt
to supplement their work as an Assembly by a commen-
tary on the Scriptures proved a failure. Even their col-
lective repute failed to float their sapless "Annotations"
into favor.

The theologians of our American church may have less
scholastic training, and less faith in the adequacy of logic
to meet every emergency, than had the body which met
in Westminster Abbey. They may make but little of the
nice distinctions and discriminations which seemed so pre-
cious to the divines who debated across that green-baize
table in the Jerusalem Chamber. But they have had the
advantage of two centuries of deepening knowledge of
God's Word and deepening experience of his guidance of
his church. And what they would oflfer for the service
of God in the assertion of his truth, and for the upbuilding
of his kingdom, would be their own, and not the borrowed
ofTering, which was always rejected from sacrifice.



A CIRCUMSTANCE which tended to strengthen the hands
of the conservatives in the final vote on revision was the
precipitation of a new controversy upon the church, and
one even more exciting in its character. The Assembly
of 1 89 1, to which the report on revision was made, was the
first which had the case of Professor Charles A. Briggs, of
Union Theological Seminary, before it. This case raised
the question of the church's attitude to what lay behind
and above the Confession — to the Bible itself.

Two questions, frequently confounded, were involved in
this case and in that of Professor Henry Preserved Smith,
of Lane Seminary, which came after it. The first is that
of the inerrancy of the Scriptures ; the second that of the
composite character of the first six books of the Old Testa-
ment and the prophecies of Isaiah. They are entirely in-
dependent questions, as any one may take the negative side
on either while holding the positive on the other.

It was long contended by Christian scholars that the
Bible as it stands in the original text is altogether free
from errors and contradictions. Immense ingenuity was
expended in showing that the figures and dates of the Old
Testament in Hebrew were mathematically exact, and that
the apparent discrepancie's of the several Gospels presented
no real contradictions. Of late years, however, this kind
of harmonizing seems to have been abandoned by scholars


262 THE PRESBYTERIANS. [Chap. xix.

of the most orthodox type as regards some of these alleged
discrepancies, while they limit the concession to a much
smaller number of instances than the negative critics allege.
It is admitted that the Hebrew and Greek texts contain
some errors of statement, and the problem is how these are
to be accounted for without giving up the Bible as an in-
spired guide of human life.

The two ways which have been suggested are (i) to
ascribe the errors and inaccuracies to the copyists' lack of
care in transcription, or (2) to modify the conception of
divine inspiration so as to leave room for human error in
the inspired man with regard to matters which do not
pertain to '' teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction
in righteousness." To minds of the conservative type the
former solution of the difficulty very naturally commends
itself, as apparently the safer, and as involving no modifi-
cation of the usual conceptions of the divine dealings with
men. It is not, however, one which finds any warrant in
the Westminster Confession, which declares that '' the Old
Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek
being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular
care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore
authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the
church is finally to appeal to them." The authors of this
statement certainly did not regard the divine efficiency as
less enlisted in the preservation of the Scriptures from error
during their transmission to us than in their first origina-
tion by the inbreathing of the Holy Spirit. And when
they appeal in the same chapter to " the consent of all the
parts " as an evidence of the " infallible truth and divine
authority thereof," they leave no room to suppose that they
have reference only to original copies, while the present
texts have fallen from this " consent of the parts " into in-
consistencies, or from this '* infallible truth " into errancy


through lapse of that ** singular care and providence."
Such a supposition they distinctly reject — more distinctly,
indeed, than a theory of inspiration which leaves room for
the presence of mistaken judgments in the inspired man
as regards other and lesser matters than " the goodness,
wisdom, and power of God," ** the comfort of the church
against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of Satan
and the world," " the full discovery of the way of man's
salvation," '* the whole counsel of God concerning all
things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith,
and life," and authoritative guidance ** in all controversies
of religion," which things the Confession defines, as the
content of the Bible.

Yet this theory of the inerrancy of the original texts,
along with the admitted errancy of the texts we have, not
only has obtained recognition as a permissible solution, in
the face of the Confession's teaching to the contrary, but
has been exalted to serve as a new test of orthodoxy, to
the condemnation of those who prefer the other solution,
which finds nothing like an explicit condemnation in the
Confession. In this way the divine providence, which our
Lord declares to extend to the numbering of the hairs of
our head, is confessed inadequate to preserving the Bible
in that state of perfection in which it was first given to the
church, and which, we are told, we must believe it once
possessed if we are to believe that its human authors were
really inspired by God.

The other question as to the origin of certain parts of
the Bible is of lesser importance. Inspiration may use
editors as well as authors, and did so in the case of the
third evangelist, who knew nothing at first-hand of the
story he tells. It is, indeed, another affair when the books
of the Mosaic law are represented as a series of inventions
of late date, wdth no root in the nation's legal traditions,

264 ^-^^ PRESBYTERIANS. [Chap. xix.

SO that "The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ..." be-
comes a mere mode of speech with no historic warrant.
No such significance, however, can be attached to the
question of the double authorship of the Book of Isaiah,
except that the notion of prophecy as prediction out of
historic relation to the prophet's environment rests largely
on the assumption that one Isaiah wrote the whole book.

In this case, also, the contact with the churches of Great
Britain, and especially with the Free Church of Scotland,
had much to do with the origination of the controversy.
In 1 88 1 Professor W. Robertson Smith had been removed
from his professorship of Hebrew in the Free Church Col-
lege, Aberdeen, by the Free Church Assembly, his offense
being the views he presented of the origin of the Old
Testament Scriptures in articles contributed to the Ency-
clopaedia Britannica, and in his book, ** The Old Testa-
ment in the Jewish Church" (Edinburgh and New York,
1 881). The case attracted general attention on both sides
of the Atlantic, and raised the question whether the church
was likely to confirm the faith of her own members, or to
exert the right influence upon the world, if she decided to
expel her Thomases from the apostolate, as her Master
did not.

The case was complicated by the peculiarly unconcilia-
tory temper of Professor Smith, who combined a great deal
of the for titer in re with very little of the stiaviter ifi inodo.
It was to be regretted that these difficult and delicate ques-
tions should be first pressed on the attention of the church
by one who, whatever his learning, had so little reverence
for opinions long cherished by his countrymen, and identi-
fied by them, rightly or wrongly, with their grasp upon
the Word of God. Much the same embarrassment at-
tended the appearance of the same problems in the Amer-
ican church. Professor Charles Augustus Briggs shares


Professor Robertson Smith's temper as well as his critical
opinions, and goes beyond the Scotchman in his enjoyment
of a spirited controversy. If we may judge from the way
in which he is said to have received the remonstrances of
those friends to whom he showed his Inaugural before its
deHvery, he prefers to say the thing which will shock his
hearers, rather than to give it a shape less offensive. In
none of his works is there shown that faculty of reverence
which is as needful for the critic as for the pastor. He
never gave the church the impression that, in his view, the
great work of a professor in training the ministry to a
knowledge of the Scriptures is to show them what are the
elements of power which have given those books their hold
on the faith, the affections, and the conscience of mankind.
On the other hand, it is beyond question that he knew how
to w^in the enthusiastic affection of his pupils, and that in
some cases he had been the means of rescuing young men
from a profound skepticism as regards the Bible to a prac-
tical faith in its authority.

But it was the former side of his work which was most
in evidence before the church when in 1 891 he was trans-
ferred from the chair of Hebrew and cognate languages in
Union Seminary to the newly founded chair of biblical
theology, and delivered (January 20th) his inaugural ad-
dress. As early as 1870 he had repudiated publicly the
traditional theory of inspiration. In his articles in the
" Reformed and Presbyterian Review " and in his '' Bibli-
cal Study" (1883) and ''Messianic Prophecy" (1886) he
had show^n himself affected by the school of critics to which
Professor Robertson Smith belongs, but always wdth reser-
vations which kept him within the bounds of toleration.
In the Inaugural he showed that he had reached a point
which, conservatives thought, made it impossible to pass it
over in silence. His case first came before the General

266 THE PRESBYTERIANS. [Chap. xix.

Assembly of 1891, under the agreement of Union and
other seminaries to submit the election of professors to the
Assembly for confirmation. His friends contended that
his transfer from one chair to another did not require the
Assembly's approval ; but the Assembly overruled this,
and by 449 to 60 votes formally refused to confirm his

His Presbytery therefore appointed a committee to con-
sider the propriety of trying him upon charges of unsound
doctrine. This committee reported charges, which the
Presbytery ordered him to answer. On November 4,
1 89 1, the Presbytery heard his answer, and by 94 votes
to 39 decided to dismiss the case *" in view of the declara-
tions made by Dr. Briggs touching his loyalty to the Holy
Scriptures and the Westminster standards, and of his dis-
claimers of interpretations put on some of his words." The
prosecuting committee then took the unusual step of ap-
peaUng directly to the General Assembly, while thirty-four
members of the Presbytery complained in the ordinary
way to the Synod of New York. The Assembly of 1892,
meeting at Portland, Ore., entertained the Protest and or-
dered the Presbytery to try the case on its merits. The
Presbytery, meeting in November, 1892, cited Professor
Briggs to appear before it a month later, and to answer the
Hst of charges, with specifications, which the Committee of
Prosecution had laid before it. When the trial actually
occurred, it was a matter of more than national interest.
The prosecution was conducted with distinguished ability
and legal acumen, though not with great exegetical learn-
ing, by Drs. G. W. F. Birch and Joseph J. Lampe, and
Elder John J. McCook. The charges were that he taught
(i) that men may be enlightened unto salvation by reason
or through the church, apart from the Bible ; (2) that the
inspiration of the Bible was not such as to exclude errors


as to matters of fact even from the original documents;

(3) that he denied the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch
and of the unity of authorship of the Book of Isaiah; and

(4) asserted the continuance of sanctification after death.
The second point was really the essential one, and cannot
be said to have been handled fully and frankly by the
prosecution. Appeal was made to a great number of
authorities, who really held to the inerrancy of the He-
brew and Greek texts as we have them, and who would
have repudiated Dr. Green's concessions as emphatically as
those of Dr. Briggs. In his reply Professor Briggs showed
his superiority in a professional familiarity with the subjects
under discussion, and was unhappy only in the tone which
characterized every reference to the prosecution and the
Assembly. The Presbytery, by a somewhat diminished
majority, acquitted Dr. Briggs on all the charges.

The Committee of Prosecution now appealed a second
time to the General Assembly, both on the ground of ex-
ceptions taken to the Presbytery's conduct of the trial, and
of the wrongfulness of the verdict reached. To this course
it was objected that a committee of Presbytery could not
appeal against the Presbytery, and that no appeal could
be taken from a verdict of acquittal by a public prosecutor.
It was pointed out that no such appeal had ever been en-
tertained in the American church, that it was forbidden to
the national courts by an amendment to the Constitution,
that it was a violation of the common law inherited from
England, and that it was contrary to the universal prin-
ciples of equity. That such appeals had been taken
by private prosecutors in the cases of Mr. Barnes and
Dr. Beecher established no precedent for this case, as the
public prosecutor incurs none of the personal risks which
Presbyterian law attaches to the failure of the private
prosecutor to make good his charges. The revised Book

268 THE PRESBYTERIANS. [Chap. xix.

of Discipline, however, allowed of an appeal being taken
by " either of the original parties," where the old book
had limited this to " a party aggrieved " by the decision.
On this point mainly the conservatives rested their case.

In the selection of members of the Assembly of 1893,
as in the case of its predecessor, pains were taken to send
up delegations whose sympathies coincided with those of
the majority in each Presbytery. This worked badly for
Professor Briggs's friends, who were the majority in very
few Presbyteries, and secured an Assembly much more
conservative than the church at large, and one whose
scholarship was not as ample as would have been obtained
with less party management. It is not always those who
have given most attention to a complex question who are
the most positive about it. Next to the report on the vote
of the Presbyteries on the twenty-eight overtures for the
revision of the Confession, the Briggs case was the most
important matter of business, and in point of popular
interest it almost wholly eclipsed that. The Assembly,
by a vote of 410 to 145, decided to entertain the appeal,
Dr. NichoUs, of St. Louis, and four other members of the
Judicial Committee objecting to this course. The trial of
the appeal then proceeded, Messrs. and McCook
stating the case for the prosecution, and Dr. Briggs reply-
ing. After hearing other members of the Presbytery and
members of the Assembly, the vote was reached, and 295
voted to sustain the appeal as a whole and 84 to sustain
in part, while 1 16 voted not to sustain.

Before the sentence was pronounced a subcommittee of
the special committee appointed to draft it waited on Dr.
Briggs in the hope that he would make some retraction,
which might render a stay of proceedings short of suspen-
sion possible. He replied first verbally, and then in writ-
ing, that he had nothing to retract, as he '* adhered to all


the positions taken before the General Assembly." The
Assembly therefore went on to declare the decision of
the Presbytery of New York erroneous and its proceeding
faulty, and to pronounce Professor Briggs guilty of all the
charges on which he had been tried — of having ** uttered,
taught, and propagated views, doctrines, and teachings
contrary to the essential doctrines of Holy Scripture and
the standards of the Presbyterian Church, and in violation
of [his] ordination vow, which said erroneous teachings,
views, and doctrines strike at the vitals of religion, and
have been industriously spread." On this ground it sus-
pended him " from the office of a minister in the Presby-
terian Church, until such time as he shall give satisfactory
evidence of repentance to the General Assembly for the
violation by him of said ordination vow."

This decision lacks the calm of the judicial temper. It
is pervaded by a personal animus, which finds an outlet in
many of its phrases, and especially in the conversion of the
charge of unsound teaching into one of personal immoral-
ity, and in making the restoration of the offender depend-
ent not upon the retraction of his alleged errors, but
upon his " repentance " for his sin. It thus affixes a stigma
to the accused, which was not warranted by any evidence
before the Assembly, nor embodied in any of the charges
on which he was tried. It bases this sin of unfaithfulness
on each and all of the charges, thus declaring that who-

Online LibraryPhilip SchaffThe American church history series, consisting of a series of denominational histories published under the auspices of the American Society of Church History; (Volume 6) → online text (page 23 of 36)