W. D. (William Dool) Killen.

A reply to the Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Belfast, and Rev. William Dobbin, of Anaghlone, or, Revivalism, assurance, the witness of the spirit defended, in speeches delivered at the General Assembly, June 12, 1866 online

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Online LibraryW. D. (William Dool) KillenA reply to the Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Belfast, and Rev. William Dobbin, of Anaghlone, or, Revivalism, assurance, the witness of the spirit defended, in speeches delivered at the General Assembly, June 12, 1866 → online text (page 1 of 8)
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B 2 642 247

A REPLY ^iss






|lel)il)alisra, ^ssuriiiite, t|e Witness of t\t Spirit


JUNE 12, 1866,





Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast hdmself as he that
putteth it off."









The debate, of which the following speeches are a part, had its origin
in what is called The Revival. Its history thus goes back so far as
1859. The special and prevailing religious anxiety of that remarkable
year was believed, by most men of intelligence and piety in Ulster, to
be a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. Some there were, however, who
could not so regard it, but deemed it rather a superficial and spurious
excitement, the product of artificial machinery and sensational devices.
These men, satisfied of the soundness of their opinion, gave the move-
ment decided and unsparing opposition. Foremost of them — the busiest
and the boldest — in the Presbyterian church, were two ministers — the
Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Donegal Street, Belfast, and the Rev, William
Dobbin, of Anaghlone, in the Presbytery of Banbridge.

Many of those who professed to be graciously visited during the
Revival, professed also the experience of the sweetest peace, and the
fullest assurance. Assurance became thus with them a favourite doc-
trine, and in their social converse, and religious meetings, occupied a very
prominent position — a position of greater prominence, and significance
than had been assigned to it in former years by older Christians, or
than experienced Theologians were inclined to admit. With some Re-
vivalists, it was the testing shibboleth of the new birth, the sine qua
non of a state of grace, the sum and substance, the all in all of religion.
Against such extravagant opinions the polished shafts of many keen and
skilful marksmen were directed. Sometimes the arrows missed the
error, and the archers shot the truth instead.

In the month of February, 1864, the Rev. W. Dobbin published a
pamphlet entitled " Remarks on the Assurance of Faith," containing the
substance of a discourse he had delivered in 1859, and designed to correct
and overthrow, what the author considered, the false and fundamental prin-
ciple of Revival Theology. To the views expressed in this pamphlet,
the Rev. Robert Crawford — a young minister of the same Presbytery,
but a warm admirer of the Revival — took strong exception, and in a
lecture from his own pulpit, severely criticised and condemned them.
Mr. Dobbin was present, and was highly dissatisfied with the critique,
as, in his estimation, ungenerous and unscriptural. Some epistolary
correspondence, very creditable to Mr. Dobbin, then followed. The
matter was referred to the Presbytery, and, by their aid, seemed amic-
ably settled. The settlement, however, was of short duration. At the
request of his congregation, Mr. Crawford gave his lecture to the Press.
Mr. Dobbin now appeared before the Presbytery, and tabled against
Mr. Crawford a charge of heresy. The Presbytery declined to investigate



it. Mr. Dobbin appealed to the Synod of Belfast. Tlie S\Tiod dedined.
Mr. Dobbin returned to the Presbytery, and again tabled his charge in a
new form. The decision of the Presbytery, after long and careful con-
sideration, was that, in their opinion, Mr. Crawford did not hold or intend
to teach doctrines at variance with the Standards of the Church, but that
he had expressed himself loosely. Mr. Dobbin appealed to the General
Assembly of 1865. The Assembly appointed a Commission to "consider
the whole case, examine the documents, and report." The Commission
met in October, and having examined the documents, and heard the
parties, came to the conclusion "that the charge against Mr. Crawford
had not been sustained." Against this decision Mr. Dobbin, now joined
by the Rev. Isaac Nelson, a memberof the Commission, again appealed.
The case came before the Supreme Court of the Church in June last.
Its discussion excited the liveliest interest. The conduct and theological
reputation of the Commission — the orthodoxy and capacity of a young
minister — the nature of assurance, and the place it should, hold in the
estimation and creed of Christians — the reality of the "Iiish Revival "
— Mr. Nelson's fame as an orator, debator, and expositor of Scripture
— the truth of the charges which for years he had been hurling against
opinions and persons — all these important matters were involved in it,
and would be affected by its issue. The debate, though lengthened,
was unusually spirited and exciting, and was well sustained to the close.
It occupied the greater portion of three days. It attracted the religious
public of all denominations. It filled, with a crowd of anxious and
attentive hearers, the largest church in Belfast, and received the com-
mendation of being the best and ablest debate that has been in the
Assembly for years. The appellants had now every thing they wished.
The opportunity of which they had almost despaired was come at last.
They had complained that a fair and full hearing had never been vouch-
safed them. Now the widest latitude was allowed them. They had
demanded publicity for their views. — The ministers and elders of the
church, the public, and the press, sat patiently before them. The
appellants having concluded the Commission were heard in defence.
It is sufficient to say that the Assembly, having carefully considered the
whole case, dismissed the appeals, and sustained the decision of the
Commission, prefixing to it the finding of the Presbytery of Banbridge.
With the concurrence of all the speakers, and to the great satisfaction
of the Court, Dr. Dill, the president of the Magee College, Derry,
kindly undertook to edit the whole debate and give it to the public in a
permanent form. It was thought that such a scheme would be peculi-
arly agreeable to those who were so confident in the strength of their
position and soundness of their views, and who had so long sought and
clamoured for pubHcity. It failed, however, and chiefly through the
delay and declinature" of Mr. Nelson. Mr. Dobbin has pubHshed his
own speech. Mr. Nelson's, if we are to believe an advertisement in the
Banner of Ulster, is speedily to appear. In self defence, in defence of
truth, in defence of the Christian people, the Commission now pubHsh

BuSHYFiELD, October, 1865.

K E P L Y,

The time for hearing the Commission having now arrived. Dr. Killen, of
Belfast, ascended the platform and said : —

Moderator, — Having acted as a member of this Commission, and having
occupied a somewhat peculiar position in reference to the finding, I deem it
incumbent on me to say something ; and as, in the absence of Dr. Cooke, I
am, perhaps, the senior member of the Commission present, I have been re-
quested to speak first. Permit me, at the outset, to say a word in reference
to Mr. Nelson. That gentleman told you, in his address on Friday last, that
he desires to abuse no man. I hope he will long continue to cherish that
good desire. It would have been well had he always acted on it in times
past. Unquestionably when this Commission met, he appeared to be other-
wise minded, for he then seemed to have a desire to abuse every man. Mr.
Nelson makes extraordinary pretensions to scholarship and to knowledge of
theology. — I must confess I am not at all prepared to endorse these preten-
sions; and certainly at the meeting of the Commission, in conference he
added nothing to us. Instead of addi*essing himself like a scholar, or a divine,
to the question before us, he wasted our time in declaiming about the Revival,
and in attacking almost every one around him. Even the hoary hairs and
distinguished position of Dr. Cooke afforded no protection from Mr. Nelson's
most wanton insults. I consider it. Moderator, a solemn duty to report his
conduct to this Assembly, and I humbly submit that, as you respect your-
selves, you will never again appoint such a man as Mr. Nelson on such a
Commission. I am exceedingly unwilling. Moderator, to find fault with Mr.
Dobbin, for he is, in many respects, a very different man from Mr. Nelson ;
and he obviously does not possess so great talent for discursive eloquence,
that is, for wandering from the point. I would much rather speak of him in
the language of eulogy than in the language of condemnation — ^but he has
persistently pressed on this prosecution ; and now, that we are assembled in
this court of Christ, we must declare the truth without favour or affection.
I must then say I do not admire Mr. Dobbin's conduct throughout this affair.
One great object of church discipline is the reformation of the offender, and
another is the vindication of the character of the church : had Mr. Dobbin
desired simply to accomplish one or both of these objects, might he not long
since have given up this prosecution ? Surely no one can seriously believe
that Mr. Crawford at present entertains any sentiments at variance with the
Confession of Faith. He has again and again most distinctly repudiated the
errors imputed to him. At the meeting of the Commission he endeavoured to
show that certain statements in his pamphlets, to wlaich Mr. Dobbin attached
a heterodox meaning, are susceptible of a sound interpretations he has this
day gone over the same coui'se; and were Mr. Dobbin du-ected by that
charity wliich thinketh no evil, might he not long ago have accepted of these
explanations and withdrawn from the prosecvition ? Nor is this all. Mr.
Dobbin throughout this whole business has displayed an extraordinary
temper. Last year, at the meeting of the Synod of Belfast, my good friend

Dr. Murpliy who, I believe, had not then read these pamphlets, attempted to
effect a pacific settlement. I need not say here that Dr. Miu'phy is one of
our most peace-loving ministers — an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile —
and I have often said to my friends that, were I ever to quarrel with Dr.
Murphy, I gave them notice that I would myself be in the wrong — for Dr.
Murphy would willingly offend no one. But when my friend, at the Synod,
interfered to promote peace, and in the spirit of conciliation described Mr.
Dobbin as "an intensely orthodox minister," — you all know how this gentle-
man immediately flared out in the newspapers in an epistle which was only
discreditable to himself ; and ever since he has been pursuing the same com-se.
Instead of exhibiting the spii'it of Him who did not strive, nor cry, neither did
any man hear his voice in the streets, Mr. Dobbin has manifested a wonderful
itch for notoriety. Every now and then he has been popping out his head in
the newspapers— in some little spit-fire epistle. Moderator, I do not think
that the newspapers are a proper medium for the discussion of a question
such as this. The doctrine of the assurance of grace and salvation should
be examined with the utmost seriousness — it pertains specially to the chil-
dren of Grod — and in its investigation the world lying in wickedness can be
expected to take no interest whatever. I hold, then, that the man who insists
on introducing the question into common newspapers displays very little good
sense, very little taste, very little consideration.

This Commission, Moderator, was appointed to examine documents and to
report to the Assembly. My impression was that we were bound to examine
documents on both sides ; and, if necessary, to report, as well in regard to Mr.
Dobbin, as in regard to Mr. Crawford. On looking into these pamphlets I
found that Mr. Dobbin had deviated from the Confession of Faith ; and
though he has stated to you this morning that no Irishman took any im-
portant part in the proceedings of the Commission, he must remember that
I made a rather remarkable motion. I moved that he should be reported to
the Assembly as an errorist ; and I believe I am an Irishman. My motion
was not adopted, as it was argued that Mr. Dobbin was not before us. I then
thought, and still think, otherwise. I deem it right to mention what occurred ;
for though I eventually acquiesced in the finding of the Commission, I did not
altogether approve of it — as I believed we should have gone farther.

You are to remember, Moderator, the position of Mr. Dobbin before you.
He is both the aggressor and the plaintiff. He has, indeed, this day told you
that he is not the aggressor ; but it is obvious, from his own showing, that
the statement is incorrect. He has admitted that he preached the sub-
stance of his " Eemarks " in 1859 — the "Eemarks " appeared in print eai-ly
in 1864 — and after their publication, Mr. Crawford, for the first time, entered
into the controversy. And is he to be blamed for this ? Mr. Dobbin, in his
" Eemarks," had attacked a doctrine of the Confession of Faith, and was Mr.
Crawford wrong in defending the assailed truth ? When he ventured into
the discussion he was a very young minister : he could not be expected to be
profoundly conversant with all the subtleties of theological controversy ; he
expressed himself sometimes rather loosely ; but should we not give him
credit for his valour and his zeal, though we may not be exactly prepared to
endorse all his phraseology ? The position of Mr. Dobbin is very different.
He has erred himself, and yet he prosecutes another for heresy, and appears
before you demanding judgment. It is an equitable rule, " With what mea-
sure ye mete, it shall be measured to you " — and Mr. Dobbin cannot weU
object to its enforcement. I think, indeed, I see some symptoms of relenting
— and I am extremely unwilling to press matters to extremities against him.
I trust that the complete breaking down of this prosecution will, in the mean-
time, be a sufficient rebuke to him. But should he persist in his course, his
conduct cannot be overlooked— for his Presbytery must lay judgment to the
line, and bring him under ecclesiastical discipline.

I have stated. Moderator, that Mr. Dobbin has himself deviated from the
Confession of Faith. He has maintained that no man can be assured of his
regeneration. Now this is c ^tly the doctrine of the Council of Trent. " No

man can know with a certainty of faith, which is liable to no mistake, that he
has obtained the grace of God," say the Fathers of Trent, in their Sixth Ses-
sion, chapter ninth. No wonder that this doctrine of doubt has been always
cherished by Eoman Catholic theologians— for if no man, by the light of the
Word, can be assured that he is a child of God, the Scriptures are insufficient
for our spiritual guidance. They do not enable us to give a thoroughly satisfac-
tory answer to one of the most important questions that can be addressed to
an immortal being — viz., am I in Christ ? We may then seek rest in the in-
fallible chm-ch, and endeavour to obtain peace by submitting to the direction
of spiritual dictators. But if a man, under the teaching of the Word and
Spirit of God, may be assured of his salvation, his position is quite changed.
When he has realized assurance, he is free indeed — he has not the spirit of
bondage, but the spu-it of adoption ; and no one need attempt to coerce his
conscience. If he is in the way of his duty, he may be excommunicated by
the church, but still he can look up confidently to his Father in heaven, and
rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. When he is walking in the path of
the divine testimonies, he may expose himself to ecclesiastical anathemas ;
but he can spurn the spiritual thunderbolts, for he knows that " the curse
causeless will not come."

I proceed now,Moderatoi, to prove that Mr. Dobbin has deviated from the
Confession of Faith. I refer you accordingly to his "Eemarks on the Assur-
ance of Faith," page 4, where he says : — " The question then fairly presents
itseK for consideration ; Is it competent to any man, especially any Calvinist,
to assert that he knows with undoubting and infallible certainty, that he is
regenerated by the Holy Spirit and that his sins are forgiven. This question
so stated, I unhesitatingly answer in the negative." Be it observed now.
Moderator, that throughout this whole pamphlet, he labours to establish this
position. I shall now read to you a corresponding question and answer in
our Larger Catechism. Question 80, " Can true believers be infallibly assured
that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto
salvation ? A. Such as triily believe in Christ, and endeavour to walk in
aU good conscience before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith
grounded upon the truth of God's promises, and by the spirit enabling them
to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made,
and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, be
infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shaU persevere
therein unto salvation." These statements. Moderator, require no comment.
The English language cannot weU express a more direct or emphatic contra-

Mr. Dobbin has this day told us. Moderator, that he holds the doctrine of
the assurance of grace and salvation. If so, he has changed his mind ; for
I have shown you that he did not hold it, as laid down in our Standards, when
his first pamphlet was written. And if he has changed his views, why does
he not candidly read his recantation ? Why should he seek, by stealth, to
withdraw from his original position ? Is it fair, or manly, or straight-
forward to shift his ground, and yet not confess he has done so ?

I do not intend. Moderator, to enter into the various questions involved
in this discussion — as I know that some of them will be taken up and exam-
ined fully by my brethren of the Commission who are to foUow me — I desire
merely to draw your attention to two or three of the leading topics.

First, aUow me to make a few remarks on the doctrine of the assurance of
grace and salvation. This subject is expounded at considerable length in the
Confession ; and the extant writings of the Westminster Divines contribute
farther to its illustration. Some of these Divines, who have expressly treated
of it, speak of two kinds of assurance — the assurance of sense, and the
assurance of intuition. I need scarcely state what they mean by the assur-
ance of sense. This assurance is reahzed when the individual is convinced
that his faith is genuine — when he sees clearly that he possesses the marks of
grace. We are assured that we are children because we are satisfied that
we have the lineaments of the childi'en of God. " Hereby we know that He


abideth in us by tlie Spirit that He hath given us." (1 John iii. 24.) The
assurance of intuition is realized when, guided by the Hght of the word — ^but
without at all referring to marks of grace — we look directly into the loving
heart of Jesus, when we see there the intense love of the Saviour to sinners,
when we are melted by the sight, and when we are filled with strong conso-
lation. And it appears to me that Peter speaks of this assurance of intuition
when he says to his brethren concerning Christ: — "Whom having not seen, ye
love ; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing ye rejoice with joy
unspeakable and full of glory." (1 Peter 1. 8.) This assurance of intuition
is realized by directly "looking unto Jesus." It is nothing else than faith in
its highest, strongest, purest form. • I require not. Moderator, to remind the
Assembly of the mighty power of faith. It pui-ifies the heart, and works by
love. When faith grows exceedingly, the other graces grow exceedingly.
The assurance of intuition, or faith in its highest form, will speedily manifest
its influence on the whole character. It wiU speedily produce such a change
on the affections and the conduct that its possessor wiU soon also realize the
assurance of sense, for he wiU see that he has the features of God's children.
Mr. Dobbin appears to think that assurance can be obtained, if obtained at all,
only after a long course of holy living. He objects to the Revival on the
ground that then the peace of God was often so soon enjoyed. He seems to think
that this blessing cannot be so quickly realized. But I would ask — ^why not ?
Is any thing too hard for the Lord ? Assurance is the gift of God, and the
work of the Spirit of God. The assurance of intuition is simply faith in
vigorous development ; and if God gives us a little faith, may He not also give
us strong faith ? Is the spirit of the Lord straitened ? Is He not omnipo-
tent ? When the Westminster Divines, in our Shorter Catechism, enumerate
the benefits which accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanc-
tification, they mention, in the very first place, the assm'ance of God's love.
Now justification, adoption, and sanctification, are always combined. He
who is justified is also adopted, and to some extent sanctified. It is then
apparent that, according to our Westminster Standards, the assurance of
God's love may accompany, as well as flow from justification. In other words,
this assurance may be realized at a very early period of our religious career.
And the Scriptures attest the same truth; for the Philippian jailor, immediately
after his conversion, rejoiced believing in God with all his house. It thus
appears. Moderator, that what has been called the theology of the Revival, is,
after all, the theology of our Shorter Catechism and the theology of the Word
of God.

One of the charges preferred against Mr. Crawford is, that he has described
assurance as of the essence of faith. Now, in one sense, assm-ance is certainly
not of the essence of faith : but we must here define our terms before we can
distinctly understand what is meant by the statement. Faith may be viewed
either subjectively or objectively' — as it exists in the heart of the individual,
or as it is related to its ground or object. When viewed as objectively it may,
perhaps, be said that assurance is of the essence of faith. What I mean is
this — by faith we receive and rest on Christ alone for salvation as He is
offered to us in the Gospel. But we can have no faith at all if we are not con-
vinced that there is a Saviour, and if we are not persuaded of the truth of
certain things reported to us in the Scriptures relating to this Saviour. We
may be assured that the promises are true, and yet not be assured that the
promises are ours. Or, to put the same thought in a somewhat different form,
we may be assured of the truth of the promises, and yet not be assured
that we are heirs of the promises. It may also be said of the assurance of
intuition that it is of the essence of faith — for it is simply faith in its most
vigorous form. But we cannot so speak of the assurance of sense, as it is not
properly derived from the direct act of faith at aU. When these things are
considered, it is not strange that the Westminster Divines have somewhat
varied their phraseology when expounding this subject. In the Larger Cate-
chism, Quest. 81, they speak of " assurance of grace and salvation not being
of the essence of faith;" but in the Confession itself, chap, xviii. 3, they ex-

press themselves ratlier differently. " This infallible assurance," say they,
" doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait
long, and conflict with many difficulties before he is partaker of it." I shall
attempt to explain the meaning of this particle "so " thus— We^may say that
ardent spirits are essentially intoxicating — and yet we may say that they are
not so essentially intoxicating, but that a man may partake of them and still
not be inebriated. In like manner, though viewed in certain aspects, assur-
ance may be aflfirmed to be of the essence of faith, we may assert that it
does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a man may have faith and
yet want assurance.

Moderator, I understood Mr. Nelson to state, in his address to you on
Friday last, that no man can be conscious that he is under the influence of the
Spirit of God. I consider these words true only in a certain sense and to a
limited extent. It must be admitted that no man can exactly distinguish

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Online LibraryW. D. (William Dool) KillenA reply to the Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Belfast, and Rev. William Dobbin, of Anaghlone, or, Revivalism, assurance, the witness of the spirit defended, in speeches delivered at the General Assembly, June 12, 1866 → online text (page 1 of 8)