« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
up a paper in these words : Isincerely believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the only rule of revealed religion, a sufficient test of Orthodoxy, or soundness in the faith ; and that they settle all the terms of Ministerial and Christian Communion, to which nothing may be added by any Synod, Assembly, or Council whatsoever; and I find all the essential articles of the Christian doctrine to be contained in the Westminster Con. fession of Faith ; which articles I receive upon the sole authority of the Ho. ly Scriptures. The Presbytery of Belfast having perused this paper, thought fit to receive me into their association, as Pastor of the old congregation of Belfast, though four members protested against that resolution. But the north of Ireland was soon filled with clamours against those who had voted to receive me into Ministerial Communion, without such a subscription as they were obliged to require.
Though this affair did not come regularly before the Synod of 1721, they could not be diverted from asking me, whether I adhered to the assent, which I had given to the Westminster Confession, when licensed at Rotterdam. This question having been put in an authoritative way, so as to carry in it the air of an inquisition, after I had preached the Gospel faithfully, though in much weakness, for the space of thirteen years, I answered in these words: My refusal to declare my adherence to the assent I gave, when I was licensed, does not proceed from my disbelief of the important truths contained in it; but my scruples are against submitting to human tests of divine truths, especially in a great number of extra essential points, when imposed as a necessary term of communion.”
The Moderator said that he had spoken with great modesty; and on the recommendation of the celebrated Dr. Leland and other Dublin Ministers, he was ordered to be installed in Belfast. To this “happy termination of a matter which had once threatened to produce unpleasant consequences,” the General Synod specially referred in their letter of advice to their Brethen at Salters' Hall, dated June, 1720: yet, as if they had still some misgiving with regard to the real condition of affairs, they passed a Declaration, at the same meeting, in the following words, viz. :
“Whereas there has been the surmise of a design to lay aside the Confession of Faith, we declare that none of us have such a design ; and if any have spoken disrespectfully of it, we strictly forbid any such thing to be done in future ; and we heartily recommend the said Confession as being a very good abridgment of the Christian Doctrine, contained in the Holy Scriptures. But, if any person called upon to subscribe, shall scruple any phrase or phrases in the Confession, he shall have leave to use his own ex. pressions, which the Presbytery will accept of, provided they judge such a person sound in the faith, and that such expressions are consistent with the substance of the doctrine."
The above is still known by the name of The Pacific Act, from its spirit of comparative forbearance, and its tendency to promote harmony in the church. At the same time, “individual Ministers were forbidden to publish any thing on controverted subjects without consulting the most judicious of their Brethren;" and finally, the following Caveat was entered on the ininutes:
“Whereas mutual jealousies and suspicions have been entertained among Brethren, which have an unhappy tendency to destroy charity, and endanger the peace of this churcb.--This Synod does earnestly recommend to all Ministers and others to have a due regard to one another's reputation ; and if they hear any thing reported to the disadvantage of each other, they shall not rashly entertain it; but either make a visit to such a brother, or let him know what they heard, or acquaint him by a letter, that so in a private Christian way he may have opportunity to clear himself, and give satisfaction. That no public complaint shall be made by any, till they have followed the Gospel rule to tell their Brother betwixt him and them alone, what they find fauli with; and in fine we do earnestly recommend to all our Brethren to deal frankly and openly with one another on such occasions."
All this trimming of the sails clearly indicated the apprehension of a storm ; and the result, as the following details, condensed from various sources, will abundantly show, did not belie the calculation :
“The whole country burst into a flame in consequence of the Installation of Mr. Haliday, whom the Synod had praised so highly, and to whose settlement annong them they bad looked forward with so much pleasure. Before the middle of September it had arisen to such a height, that the principal lay gentlemen of Dublin followed the example of the gentlemen in London, on a similar occasion, and addressed a remonstrance in the form of a letter, to a Committee of Ministers and Elders from north to south, then sitting in Newry. They were sorry to find that these divisions prevailed chiedy among the Ministers; they were astonished that those who had so often recommended charity and brotherly kindness to others, should not be able to exercise those graces themselves; and that those who had recently obtained a toleration on terms scarce hoped for, should make use of it to break out into unnatural animosities against each other, and to destroy the peace and security granted them by thal valuable law. They remind them of the healing letter they had written to their brethren in London, and of the opinion that those gentlemen must form of them, when they hear that they were no less divided ihan they were. They were sorry to be under the necessity to remind men like them, of the duty they owe to God, to his church, and to one another; and they must take leave to tell them, that if no remonstrances of this kind are regarded, they would be constrained to let the world know, that they had no hand in it, but, on the contrary, how much had been done, and to bow little purpose, to prevent it.
“ Upon this, the Committee dropped the design of calling a special meeting of the Synod, to consider of censuring the Presbytery of Belfast, for installing Mr. Haliday. But the popular jealousies continued to increase, and rumours were spread abroad, that Ministers had embraced the opinions lately lsroached in England, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity.
“In the Synod of 1721, held in Belfast, the marks of resemblances between them and the meeting at Salters' Hall, became more and more apparent; some of them arising from the infirmities of our common nature, and others, it would seem, from a studied imitation. Each of them had been lavish of good advice and warnings against divisions, and each of them had made a breach among its own members. Each of them had received warm remonstrances from the laity of their own denominations; and these were repeated in 1721. Christian liberty was the subject under consideration with both, and an attempt to enthrál the conscience the result. They both professed peace, and ihere was no peace, but rather division. This was occasioned by the same motion, for å voluntary declaration on the Eternal Deity of the Son of God, which was supported on the same grounds, to
bear witness to the truth, to preserve the reputation of the individuals, and of the body, among their own people, and those of another denomination. In both, the Non-subscribers declared that they did not dispute the truth of the doctrive, which they would look upon as highly injurious to their cha. racter; but the expediency of the motion, and the mode of proceeding by inquisition, which put it in the power of every, ne to hold an inquisition on any man, and was contrary to Presbyterian order, which required a specific charge, or a Fama Clamosa--to the rule of equity, which allowed no one to give testimony against himself—and to the law of God, which said, Against an Elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three wit
This was not obviated by the pretence, that the subscription was to be voluntary; for, in fact, it was enforced by the penalty of odiuin and reproach, loss of reputation, usefulness, and even subsistence, to those who should refuse it. There were other minuter circumstances of likeness, which indicated, that the Synod was not ignorant of the debates at Salters? Hall. In both, there was an imposing spirit on one side of the house, and too much of a time-serving spirit on the other. It was justly argued in both, that the imposition of subscription was contrary to the supreme and sole authority of Christ, the sufficiency of scripture, and the principles of non-conformity : but it is hard to believe, that all the members of the Bel. fast Society could sincerely concur in the doctrines of the Confession of Faith, and resent the imputation of disbelief in the supreme deity of Christ, as a stain upon their characters.
“There was one other point of greater importance, in which these reverend assemblies resembled each other-the violence and rancour of their debates. Arguments for delay were returned with a loud and vehement cry for a Vote! a Vote! The non-subscribers returned the cry, no Vote! no Vote! For some time there was nothing to be heard but clamour and noise : and no party was free from the guilt of these heats and indecencies. The bulk of the Elders showed great impatience at the thought of any delay.
“So much for the temper of the Synod. We shall now briefly state the measures which they adopted. After receiving two pacific letters from laymen in Dublin, and in Belfast, and intemperate applications from seventeen congregations, that they would enforce subscription; and holding a conference of Ministers without Elders, they passed an Overture, declaring their ad. herence to the necessary existence, absolute eternity, and independency of the Son of God; asserting any aspersions to the contrary to be groundless; and resolving if any person shall deny the said article, to proceed against him according to the laws of the Gospel, and the known practice of this Church, and not to own him as a member. A motion was then made, That all members who are willing to subscribe, according to the terms of the Pacific Act, be allowed to do it; which, after a long debate, was carried by a great majority. Before the question was put, Mr. Iredell, at the desire of the Synod, called on God for light and direction in this affair. The minority were, from this time, called Non-subscribers.
Though the non-subscribers had declared their belief in the deity of Christ to the satisfaction of the Synod, they had not declared it to be an essential article; and in the Synod, which met at Derry in June, 1722, suspicions as to that point were openly declared, in justification of a breach of communion. The four Dublin Ministers, who attended as correspon. dents, Wild, Boyce, Stewart, and Choppin, proposed, that all disputes about declarations, and about subscribing and non-subscribing, should be waived; but in opposition to them an overture was made to exclude from communion with the Synod all those who would not subscribe the Confession of Faith, and the answers to the fifth and sixth questions in the Assembly's shorter Catechism. This was another point of resemblance between them and the disputants at Exeter and London, substituting only the Confession of Faith for the first of the thirty-nine Articles. This attempt was averted or weakened by some of the subscribers, who from zeal for peace, and charity to their non-subscribing brethren, held private conferences with them, in the intervals of Synod ; at which they had an opportunity of hearing them declare their sentiments in private conversation ; with the friendly intention to testify for thein in public, which they accordingly did. About twenty-three of them entered into a resolution against a breach of communion, which was laid before the Synod on the following day, when a suspicion was started that the non-subscribers did not believe in the fundamentality of the deity of Christ; but this also was quashed.
“ This put an end to all the attempts at a rupture in this Synod, on the score of doctrine.
An attempt at a division was then made, on pretence of a diversity of sentiment on Church power; but on this also the parties were found to be sufficiently agreed. The meeting was closed by a series of Resolutions, declaring their principles of doctrine and discipline in moderate terms; with a conciliatory preamble and conclusion, professing Christian forbearance to their brethren, and earnestly exhorting the people, as far as their consciences would allow, to adhere to their pastors. The non-subscribers declared, that they could not vote for the Resolutions, because some things seemed designed as tests. In this the Synod acquiesced.
" During the interval between this Synod and that of 1723, it was pub. licly given out, that notwithstanding all the charitable declarations and resolutions that had passed, there was a design to commence a process against the non-subscribers, for those principles, which had been declared to be subjects for mutual forbearance, and not inconsistent with ministerial communion. In consequence of this, the Presbytery of Dublin, and the gentlemen of distinction and character in that city, wrote a letter to the Synod, earnestly recommending peace, charity, and mutual forbearance, to all the members : and the dissenting gentlemen of the north of Ireland presented a representation to the same purpose.
“The process against the Non-subscribers was in the form of an appeal from the sub-synod of Belfast, which met in January, and was conducted by Colonel Upton, ancestor of Lord Templeton. The sub-synod, at a preceding meeting, had appointed some of their members to hold a conference upon a pamphlet, called the Vindication of the Subscribers and Non-subscribers, supposed to be written by one of the Non-subscribing Ministers, in 1721. The advocates for the pamphlet were charged with maintaining principles which open a door to let all errors and heresies into this church. or this they were unanimously acquitted by their brethren; and the subsynod resolved to adhere to the general synod's charitable declarations. The synod justified the appellant in his appeals against the former of these resolutions, and proceeded to try the cause; and in the first place, excluded the members of the sub-synod, who were one-third of their body, from voting, as being parties. This was followed by very protracted debates, chiefly on the laws of evidence and rules of order, conducted with ability, acuteness, and perseverance. They terminated in an adjournment of the cause till next synod.
“At that meeting, Colonel Upton was prevented from attending, and the decision of the question was deferred for another year. The Synod, however, was not destitute of a subject of discord. This was supplied by the trial of Mr. Thomas Nevin, Minister of Downpatrick, in the iheu Presbytery of Down.
“The charge against Mr. Nevin arose from the following incident. In the course of conversation, in a private house, on that article of the Confession, which asserts the power of the magistrate to punish blasphemers, Mr. Nevin alleged that it should be understood with some limitation ; and instanced the case of the Jews, who could not be guilty of blasphemy, though they denied Christ to be God. This passed on the 17th December; and on the 27th of May following, an affidavit was sworn before Simon Isaac, J. P. at Comber, by the master of the house, Captain William Hannington, of Moneyrea, and two more, that Mr. Nevin did positively say that it is no blasphemy to say that Christ is not God. When Mr. Nerin challenged the chief deponent, and demanded whether that assertion had not reference to the Jews, he said that he did not remember what was then said on this head; but believed, his man, Solomon, another of the deponents, did ; but he, on being questioned, said, that upon account of his going out and in, he did not know how the conversation was brouglit in, or to what the words related.
“ This frivolous charge, with its various branches, gave rise to a trial, which occupied the Synod for ten days, and was conducted with a degree of violence, artifice, and chicane, that would disgrace a company of pettifog. ging attorneys, and would not have been tolerated in any court of law or equity. It was concluded by this question — Seeing that Mr. Nevin bas refused to make a declaration of his belief of the supreme deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, when demanded by the Synod; whether we of this Sviod shall have any further ministerial communion with him, the said Mr. Nevin, and proceed any farther in his trial or not? The question being put, it carried in the negative by a great majority. Against this decision, a protest was signed by Messrs. Kirkpatrick, Abernethy, Haliday, Hender derson, Clugston, Simson, Thomas Naclaine, Williamson, Michael Bruce, Donaldson, Harpur, Wilson, Ministers; and by Colonel Bryce, Mr. Miagee, Captain Macullough, and Patrick Getty, Elders. To the Narrative is subjoined a list of 109 Ministers, who did not join in the vote of exclasion. If these were all present, the majority must have been composed of lay elders ; for the Synod consisted of 123 Ministers, and 106 Elders present.
“On the meeting of the Synod of 1725, the process against the non-subscribers, which had been deferred on account of the absence of Colonel Upton, fell to the ground, in consequence of his death ; but a measure which had been interrupted by the last adjournment was resumed. This was a proposal of the High Party, as they were called by their opponents, that subscribers and non-subscribers should meet separately, to think of some amicable and peaceable expedients for removing or compromising their differences. This was objected to by what we may call the Low Party, as tending to promote a rupture ; but was finally carried into execution. The result of these separate meetings was, that the subscribing body presented three Overtures. The first was, that Ministers, on either side, who serupled communion with the other, might be allowed to follow the light of their consciences in that particular. The second restricted the indulgence usually allowed under the Pacific Act, and increased the penalty against transgressing the new construction of it. The third went to class all the nonsubscribers, with two subscribers in one presbytery, called the Antrim Presbytery ; and also to erect a Presbytery at Bangor, Killileagh, and Templepatrick. These overtures were agreed to.
“They also produced five expedients for peace, to be transmitted to the Presbyteries for consideration. The first was, to prosecute, as in cases of scandal, all who should reflect upon, or reproach Synods and Presbyteries, for their acts. The second excluded all, who denied that Christ had lodged any authority in the church judicatories, and held that their decisions may be counteracted by any man's private judgment, from voting in any matter affecting any of an opposite sentiment. The third directs that those who