Copyright
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

. (page 7 of 8)
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 7 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the explanations of both these brethren, and whatever they may be, and
however they may differ in their published statements, in their explanations
they are quite orthodox, and agree marvellously ; so that I repeat it, this long
protracted and vexatious disj3ute, seems to me to be little more than logo-
machy. While, however, I regret that so much of our time and attention
has been taken up by this question, I believe that good will come out of it — ^has
already come out of it. Many of us have been stirred up by it to examine
more carefully this doctrine of assurance. Not only has very considerable
light been thrown upon it by this discussion, but we have found that we
possess among us minds sufficiently clear and cultivated to handle any
doctrine however difficult. The intellectual ability, readiness of reply, theo-
logical research, and exegetical skill that have been displayed in this debate,
are such as any church in Christendom might well be proud of.

Again, sir, I half regi-et that, in this case the speakers were permitted to
break through the established order and usage of the house, and introduce
matters wholly irrelevant to the subject in hand. This however, is also
greatly counterbalanced by the fact that our friends here — Mr. Nelson and
others — have had the fullest latitude of speech, and that no one can say there
has not been perfect freedom of discussion. Having dealt thus liberally with
the appellants, I submit that the outcry about " order," which was made
last night, when the Commission were on their defence, was a little one-sided
and out of place; for surely if latitude be allowed the complainants, it
cannot with a good grace be refused the defendants.

And now sir, though my friend Mr. Eentoul has somewhat anticipated me,
I propose to examine Mr. Nelson's "reasons of protest and appeal," and I think
I shall be able to show how insignificant and shallow they are, and how sound
and substantial the decision is which they attempt to overturn. I pass over
Mr. Dobbin's, and notice Mr. Nelson's "reasons," simply because they are
shorter, and may be managed in a single speech. Mr. Nelson protests against
the finding of the Commission, first, because of the exclusion of the Press, (a)
My reply to this is a brief historical statement. When the Commission met,
almost the first question, which came up, was " Shall the Press be admitted ?"
I was anxious that our proceedings should have every publicity, and I spoke
m favour of the admission of the Press, and did what I could to overhaul the



88

arguments of Mr. Moore, who was on the opposite side ; and I am persuaded
that the Press would have been admitted, but Mr. Nelson made a statement,
and it was so intemperate, so violent, so abusive of the best men on the Com-
mission, and in the Church, that I saw at once, Mr. Moore was right, and I
wrong; and, therefore, when Mr. Nelson submitted a motion upon the subject
I decHned to second it. I recollect at this moment some of the words used by
Mr. Nelson, and if it were not that I would be sorry they should go forth
to the world I would repeat them, so that the Assembly might judge for
itseK whether the Commission acted wisely in refusing, for this special reason,
if for no other, the admission of the Press. Mr. Nelson insists that these
words shall be told, but I take leave to say that, Mr. Nelson's " insist," has
very small effect upon me — operates no further than I deem right and
prudent.

Mr. Nelson's second "reason" is that, the words of the Confession which the
Convmissionhave used in their finding , are accepted by Mr.Dohhin. This, moderator,
in my humble opinion, is a strange and not very intelligible " reason." As I
read it, it is a reason for, rather than against, our finding ; for what more ap-
propriate language could we employ, than the language of one of- oiu- own
Standards ? It is an old established custom, and it is a safe one, when any
diificult question comes up, to reaffirm some minute of Assembly, or refer to
some passage of the Confession of Faith, that bears upon the point. Surely,
the fact that both Mr. Dobbin and Mr. Crawford have agreed, and still agree
to accept the language we have employed, is an additional reason in its
favour ? But it is not quite clear to me, against what the objection lies,
whether against the words themselves, or against the use of them by the
Commission, or the acceptance of them by Mr. Dobbin. Mr. Nelson's tlm-d
''reason" is, that one of the points charged, as an error by Mr. Dobbin, was declared
by the Commission to be the doctrine taught in the Confession of Faith. If Mr. Nelson
had had any respect for himself, or for the position which he has occupied, and
still occupies, in connexion with this case, he would have been silent upon
this point, and omitted it altogether from his " reasons of protest " Why
did not Mr. Nelson, when the Commission were coming to their decision
on this matter, endeavour to convince us that we were wrong ? Why did
he not show us that this alleged error was not taught in the Confession of
Faith ? We were ready to hear argument — We were open to conviction, but
no argument — nought but dogmatic assertion — was offered us. Mr. Nelson
challenged Dr. Watts to prove the position he had laid down, and obhged
him to stop in the middle of his speech, and show from the Confession, the
truth of his statements ; and when Dr. Watts demanded that Mr. Nelson's
assertion should be subjected to the same test, and when a copy of the Con-
fession was thurst into Mr. Nelson's hand, that he might prove his own, and
disprove our doctrine, he fumbled and fumbled helplessly over the leaves, and
could not hit upon the place— eventually, he laid the book down, saying, he could
not find the spot which he wanted — afterwards, when repeatedly urged to give
us proof, he declared that this was not the time, nor the place, for showing
what the Confession of Faith taught on the subject. Not the time nor the
place ! — Why, sir, I affirm, it was the very time and the very place. We were
appointed to consider the errors, with which Mr. Dobbin had charged Mr.
Crawford. Mr. Nelson was added to our number, at Mr. Dobbin's special
request, and against the express desire of Mr. Crawford, No one entertains a
doubt as to the cause of his appointment. We all knew that he held Mr.
Dobbin's views, and we aU expected that when the Commission woiild meet,
he would put forth aU his great powers to defend and uphold them. Why,
then, did he not fulfil the design of his appointment ? Why did he not
shield his friend? Why did he not estabUsh the truth of his own doctrine ?
What better place and what more fitting time ? Sir, allow me to say that in
the discussion and settlement of any important disputed question, it is most
unfortunate and inconvenient to be allied with a man who deals only in
strong assertions, and withholds any reasons he may happen to possess ;
who says he can do so and so, but reserves to some future occasion, the dis-



play of his ability. The fact of the matter is, Mr. Nelson's ability has been
much overrated — his reputation has greatly outrun him. Readily do I ac-
knowledge that he possesses many features of great worth and excellence,
but, with all respect I am bound to add that, his is not a mind fitted for severe
thought, for close connected argument. He is the man for taking a sudden
fling at one. He is the man for making a capital hit. He is the man for
giving a cut here and a slash there, now on this side and now on that, sur-
prising you at every turn by the keeness of his edge and the rapidity and
dexterity of his passes, but he is not the man to argue. In proof of this you
have only to look over his speech of last Friday. I freely admit that it was
a great, eloquent, thi-illing speech, but it was quite characteristic of Mr.
Nelson's cast of intellect. In grand flights, keen cuts, dexterous passes, it
was inimitable, but there was no continuous thought in it from beginning
to end — not an item of argument. Having touched upon all supposable
subjects, he came at last to speak of the doctrine in dispute, and most cooUy
said he would "leave the theology of the question to Mr. Dobbin." I cannot
but admire his prudence. EeaUy this was consummate wisdom ; for every
one who knows Mr. Dobbin, or who heard his very able statement the other
day, knows him to be a man of clear intellect, and sound judgment — a profound
theologian, an excellent reasoner — a man who can think well and argue
closely; while every one who heard Mr. Nelson's speech — whatever fine
qualities it displayed — will declare him to be quite the opposite of his friend. I
listened most attentively to that speech. I read it over most carefully, and,
so far as I could discover, there are in it but two positive statements which
clearly express the speaker's views of Scripture truth, and from both of these
he has since withdrawn. Speaking of faith, he defined it as " the mental link
which binds the soul to tne Saviour." On last night, however, he resiled
from this definition, when Dr. Watts was endeavoiu-ing to show its deficiency.
Then again, in another place, he analysed faith, making it to consist of
"belief, hope, and confidence," but when exception was about to be taken to
this analysis, he was afraid of the result, and cried out that it was none of
his, and most adroitly threw it over on the Bishop of Ossory, an author whom
he had recommended and eulogized in the very highest terms. Mr. Nelson,
having eliminated from his speech, the only positive statements of doctrinal
truth that it contained, has thus left it as bare of theology as it is of argu-
ment. The foiirth objection to our finding is, that we have not defined the
nature of the Sjpirifs testimony to a believer's safety in explicit words, so as to-
correct the errors of 1859. If Mr. Nelson protests against the words we have
employed as not explicit enough, he protests against the Confession of Faith,
for we have used the words of the Confession. Is the Confession of Faith
not explicit enough for Mr. Nelson ? The Assembly wiU hardly say that it
is not explicit enough for them. At any rate, the Commission were satisfied
with it, and so I think wiU be the Assembly. Is it not passing strange that
the same gentleman, who raises this objection, finds fault with us for coming
to any definite decision on the subject ? It seems we were appointed " to
examine the documents and report to the Assembly," and that we have
greatly exceeded our instructions. Now, suppose we had kept exactly by our
instructions, as Mr. Nelson contends we ought, what would the Assembly
have thought if we came forward here to-day, and said, "we have examined
the documents, and we report that we have examined them?" If, however,
we had been led to a conclusion very different from that at which we did
arrive — a^ conclusion sustaining Mr. Dobbin's charges, condemning Mr.
Crawford's doctrine — is there any one here so unsophisticated as to imagine
that Mr. Nelson would have found fault with such a finding, and complained
that the Commission had exceeded their instructions ? But it appears we
did not examine all the documents. The famous Monthly Messenger was
omitted. I appeal to Mr. Dobbin if, in making his statement, he did not
read to us an extract from the Monthly Messenger, containing the passage to
which he objected, and if that passage was not under consideration through-
out our deliberations. Mi-. Dobbin admits that it was in the minutes of the



40

Presbytery wliich lie read to us, but the Monthly Messenger itself was not, ha
says, before the Commission. I hope the house will not pai-ley over such
quibbling. The grand point, however, of this fourth "reason" is that, we did
not correct, what our friends call, the " errors of 1859." Sir, '59 lies at the
bottom of all this weary, worrying, and unseemly controversy. The Eevival
of '59 is the gist of the whole dispute, and the head and front of our offence
is that we did not give the Eevival a right slap on the face. I am saying
nothing but what I can prove, and prove by Mr. Nelson himself. In that
eloquent speech of Friday, from which I have already quoted, Mr. Nelson
candidly tells us that he would not waste five words on Mr. Crawford's
opinions, if they did not form a branch of the Eevival of 1859. I confess I
do not understand such heresy-hunting, that expends all its care and strength
upon the errors of one unfortunate year, and regards with perfect indifference
the errors of all other years. I do not understand the Christian spirit, the
ministerial fa,ithfulness, the burning zeal of the man, to whom a brother's
unsoundness in the faith is a matter of no consequence in the world, unless
it be connected with the year of the great religious awakening. Does Mr.
Nelson mean to say that he would not try to purify the church from any heresy
except from that of 1859 ? If he do, and he must withdraw his statement if
he do not, I may admire his candour but I question his fidelity. The reason,
then, of the impeachment, and pertinacious i3rosecution of Mr. Crawford,
is that his doctrines were regarded as a part of revival theology. But
what is this "revival" against which our friends manifest such hot indigna-
tion, and such persevering zeal ? Has not this church been ma,king mention
of it for the last seven years with the heartiest approval and the deepest
gratitude ? Has not this Assembly said, over and over again, that it was
the work of the Spirit of God, and, over and over again, thanked God for it ?
Is it not thus described, over and over again, in our church records ? And
are we now to be told that in aU this we committed a grand mistake, and
that what we in our ignorance termed the year of grace, was, in very deed,
" The Year of Delusion." Undoubtedly Mr. Nelson possesses plenty of pluck.
I cannot but compliment him on his boldness. I regret I cannot compli-
ment him on his humility. Courage, of no ordinary kind, must belong to
him, who stands up here and braves this General Assembly to its face, telling
us that the Eevival, which we have solemnly endorsed as the work of the
Holy Ghost, was a human and a mischevious thing — that the theology which
we then taught was downright fanaticism — and that we all have been all
wrong, with the exception of Mr. Dobbin and himself. Mr. Nelson talks of
egotism, but this, I submit, is egotism with a vengeance. Our venerable
father. Dr. Cooke, whose absence, and its cause, we all so much deplore,
said, at a previous Assembly, that one of the strongest evidences of our being
a revived church, was our patience and long-suffering in a certain direction.
The observation wiU be seen to attest its own truth and pertinence if we
but consider that there is no brother in this church who has distinguished
himself by his zeal and ability — no man, the head and shoulders taller
than his f eUow — whom Mr. Nelson has not publicly and scornfully assailed
and abused — I am unwilling to use the word slandered.

The fifth objection to our finding is that it could not tend to the promotion
of doctrinal accuracy. Why ? Because, as Mr. Nelson explains, it was in the
language of the Confession of Faith. Mr. Nelson, then, does not regard the
language of the Confession as calculated to promote the very thing it was
designed to promote, and for which we all admire and revere it. This is the
third time he has in effect protested, not against our decision, but against
the Confession of Faith. He will excuse me, however, if I say that such
excessive jealousy for doctrinal accuracy does not, to my mind, harmonise
well with that remarkable statement, that he would not waste five words on
the opinions of Mr. Crawford, if they did not form a branch of the Eevival of
1859.

In addition to those five "Seasons of Protest" it seems we erred most
egregiously, if not presumptuously, in recommending our friends here, Mr.



41

Dobbin and Mr. Crawford, to cultivate peace. We are told that tbey needed
no such lecture from us, and yet he wbo says so, speaks of these "two
brethren quarrelling," and waxes pathetic as he expatiates on the evils of
such an unseemly spectacle. I suspect. Moderator, that there is another
brother here who is not out of the need of a similar lecture, if it would do
him any good; especially, as Mr. Nelson has informed us that, the reason why
he did not write to Mr. Macnaughtan for a copy of the finding of the Com-
mission was "we had been sparring." Sparring such as this, which prevents
one Christian minister from writing to another, on an ordinary matter of
business, would require, in the opinion of most people, a pretty strong re-
commendation in behaK of peace, and, perhaps, a more effective remedy.

Then again, we are charged with injustice to the Banbridge Presbytery.
It is not long since Mr. Nelson condemned their decision in the roundest
terms, casting his proud scorn and ridicule upon it, because it expressed the
belief that Mr. Crawford did not intend to teach error, A change, however,
has come over the spirit of his dreams, and now it appears that the decision
of these brethren is an admirable one, not only satisfactory to Mr. Nelson,
but worthy of his eulogies. So. far as the Banbridge Presbytery are con-
cerned, I am not prepared to justify the finding of the Commission. I said
at the time, and say so stiU, that it should have contained some reference to
that most respectable body of men, especially as the case we had to consider
came before us as an appeal from their judgment. I find here on the fly leaf
of "The Confession" I used on the occasion, the rough draft of a, resolution
which I submitted to the Commission, and afterwards withdrew in deference
to the mature judgment of more experienced and wiser men. It is to the
following effect : — " That the Commission having exa/mined the documents, and
heard the parties, sustain the decision of the Banbridge Presbytery, find that Mr.
Crawford has written with considerable looseness and obscuA-ity, but are satisfied,
from his explanations, that his views are not at variance with the Standards of this
church — that the Commission refer both Mr. Crawford and Mr. Bobbin to the 18th
Chapter of the Confession of Faith, where it is plainly stated that believers may be
assured of their interest in Christ, and of their eternal safety — that a man may be
a believer and yet not be assured — and that assurance, therefore, is not of the essence
of faith." It seemed to me, after reading Mr. Crawford's pamphlets, that they
must have been written in great haste, and that, consequently, the thought
was sometimes confused, the language inaccurate, the meaning vague. I
am bound to say, however, that Mr. Crawford's explanations of those obscure
passages were quite satisfactory. Still, I deemed it but fair to Mr. Dobbin
and to the Banbridge Presbytery, that we should express, in our finding, our
opinion of the pamphlets. And now. Moderator, though I fear that I have
trespassed too long upon the attention of the house, yet I crave your indul-
gence for a word or two upon this disputed suljject of assxu-ance. Sir, I hold
it to be in perfect accordance with the teaching of the Confession of Faith,
that believers may be fully and infallibly assured of their acceptance with God
and their final salvation. I am happy to find that, on this point, there is now
no difference among us. The question is, when and how is this assurance
obtained ? Our friends here, if I rightly understand them, say that it never
igf that it cannot be, obtained until a man has been a believer for a consider-
able period of time — until he has acquired considerable Christian experience,
and then, only by examining the changes that have passed over him, and
weighing the evidences he possesses of a new heart and a holy life. We hold
that there may be instances in which assurance may exist without this lapse
of time — without this Christian experience — without this examination of
changes — ^without this weighing of evidences — through the immediate agency
of the Holy Ghost — the Spirit witnessing with our spirits that we are the
children of God. This, we say, is the teaching of Scripture, the teaching of
the Confession, the teaching of the Presbyterian Church. The conversion*
recorded in the "Acts of the Apostles" were generally accompanied by a
feeling of peace and joy. The Ethopian eunuch and the PhiUppian jaalor
are cases in point. It is difficult to read the New Testament and not see that



42

there was such a thing as "peace and joy in beKeving," in the very act of/
immediately upon, believing. This "peace and joy," I submit, could not
have existed apart from the consciousness of a saving interest in the Lord
Jesus. Mr. Dobbin has directed our attention to the Confession of Faith,
chap, xviii., sec. 2, where it is said that this assurance "is founded upon the
divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidences of those
graces unto which those promises are made, the testimony of the spirit of
adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God," and
he contends that the third clause of this sentence is, and was designed to be,
explanatory of the second, and, that if this were not the case, the conjunction
"and" would have appeared, coupling them together. The omission of the
"and" shows, according to Mr. Dobbin's interpretation, that the sentence is
complete without the third clause, and that the third clause is added merely
with the view of being exegetical of the second. Dr. Watts, however, has shewn
us that in the parallel passage of the Larger Catechism, the conjunction "and"
does appear. Mr. Dobbin's ingenious argument is thus demolished by a
single stroke. I hold in my hand "Shaw's Exposition of the Confession,"
and it may be of some importance to obsg?ve that in quoting the passage
under consideration, he has supplied the very " and," the omission of which
our friends make so much of, thereby intimating that, in his opinion, it
ought to have been there, and that the third clause is not explanatory of
the second. Suppose, however, we grant the soundness of Mr. Dobbin's
argument, and admit that the want of the conjunction, "and," is proof
sufficient that the third clause is explanatory of the second, we cannot stop
with this. Any one who chooses to press this principle of interpretation may
constrain us to go a great way further, and admit that the second clause is
but explanatory of the first, for here also the " and" is omitted, and thus
both the testimony of the Spirit, and the evidence of our graces will be
eliminated from assurance, and it will rest solely and exclusively upon the
divine truth of the promises of salvation — the Holy Grhost having nothing
to do with it. The passage, to my mind, is clearly progressive to the close.
It contains three distinct clauses, each one having its own distinct noun,
and each one telling its own distinct truth. It proposes to lay down the
grounds of assurance, and plainly enough, step by step, it lays down three,
— the truth of the divine promises, — the evidence of the divine graces, — ^the
testimony of the divine Spirit.

Mr. Dobbin has cited, in support of his views, the opinion of Dr. David
Dixon, of Irvine. It is a pity that he did not tell us something more of
this very distinguished divine, — that he lived in the days of the second
Reformation, — that he was a famous Revivalist, — that under his ministry
there occurred one of the most interesting and extraordinary religious
awakenings with which Scotland has been blessed — called by its detractors
"the Stewarton sickness" — and that he was the intimate friend of the
renowned and saintly Livingstone, whose name is inseparably connected
with the Kirk of Shotts, and the Revival which took place there, where it is
said 500 were converted by one sermon, where the people fell by fifties
around the preacher, until the place resembled a field on which a fearful
battle had been lately fought. It is unfortunate for our friends that their
great authority was a great Revivalist. And now with regard to the Revival
of 1859, which, somehow or other, has been the occasion of this unseemly
dispute, and of far more unseemly things from a similar quarter. It may
not be known to Mr. Nelson that when the news of this Revival first reached
me, I had my own misgivings and doubts about it, and was, in fact, as
strenuously opposed to it as Mr. Nelson has been. I thought that it was
merely a little overheated excitement, got up by artificial machinery, and
I resolved to watch it closely, and warn my people against it. There was an


1 2 3 4 5 7

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 7 of 8)