Original Antiburghers

Original Antiburghers is the name usually given to those Scotch Presbyterians who seceded in 1806 from the General Associate (Antiburgher) Synod of Scotland. SEE ANTIBURGHERS. The occasion of their secession is generally called the "Old and New Light Controversy." This was a consideration of the power of the civil magistrate in matters of religion. The early seceders had held what is commonly termed the Establishment principle. Gradually a change of opinion came over a part of the body, and some were disposed to question, the expediency and New-Testament authority for national Church establishments. In 1793 it became a subject of debate in the General Associate Synod, and from that time New-Light or Anti-Establishment principles gained many advocates. Year after year the subject was keenly discussed, and in 1804 the Narrative and Testimony, or a new Secession Testimony, embodying these proposed views as those of the secession body, was adopted by the General Synod. A small number of members, however, headed by Dr. Thomas M'Crie, protested against the New Testimony as embodying, in their view, important deviations from the original principles of the first seceders. When at length the Narrative and Testimony came to be enacted as a term of communion, Dr. M'Crie, and the brethren who adhered to his sentiments, felt that it was difficult for them conscientiously to remain in communion with the synod. They were most reluctant to separate from their brethren, and accordingly they retained their position in connection with the body for two years after the New Testimony had been adopted by the synod. At length the four brethren, Messrs. Bruce, Aitken, Hogg, and M'Crie, finding that they could no longer content themselves with mere unavailing protests against the doings of the synod, solemnly separated from the body, and constituted themselves into a presbytery, under the designation of the Constitutional Associate Presbytery. But though they had taken this important step, they did not consider it prudent to make a public announcement of their meeting until they had full time to publish the reasons for the course they had adopted. Yet, as they did not affect secrecy in the matter, intelligence of the movement reached the General Associate Synod, then sitting in Glasgow, which accordingly, without the formalities of a legal trial, deposed and excommunicated Dr. M'Crie. The points of difference between the original Secession Testimony and the "Narrative and Testimony" which led to the secession of the four protesters and the formation of the Constitutional Associate Presbytery cannot be better stated than in the following extract from the explanatory address which Dr. M'Crie delivered at the time to his own congregation:

"The New Testimony expressly asserts that the power competent to worldly kingdoms is to be viewed as respecting only the secular interests of society, in distinction from their religious interests. It is easy to see that this principle not only tends to exclude nations and their rulers from all interference with religion, from employing their power for promoting a religions reformation and advancing the kingdom of Christ, but also virtually condemns what the rulers of this, land did in former times of reformation), which the original Testimony did bear witness to as a work of God. Accordingly this reformation is viewed as a mere ecclesiastical reformation; and the laws made by a reforming Parliament, etc., in so far as they recognized, ratified, and established the Reformed religion, are either omitted, glossed over, or explained away. In the account of the first Reformation the abolition of the laws inl favor of popery is mentioned, but a total and designed silence is observed respecting all the laws made in favor of the Protestant Confession and Discipline, by which the nation in its most public capacity stated itself to be on the side of Christ's cause; and eves the famous deed of civil constitution; settled on a reformed footing in 1592, is buried and forgotten. The same thing is observable in the account of the second Reformation. On one occasion it is said that the king gave his consent to such acts as were thought necessary for securing the civil and religious rights of the nation, without saying whether they were right or wrong. But all the other laws of the reforming parliaments during the period, which were specified and approved in the former papers of the secession, and even the settlement of the civil constitution in 1649, which was formerly considered as the crowning part of Scotland's Reformation and liberties, is passed over without mention or testimony. Even that wicked act of the Scottish Parliament after the restoration of Charles II., by which all the laws establishing and ratifying the Presbyterian religion' and covenants were rescinded, is passed over in its proper place in the acknowledgment of sins, and when it is mentioned is condemned with reserve; nor was this done inadvertently, for if the Presbyterian religion ought not to have been established by law, it is not easy to condemn a Parliament for rescinding that establishment.

"Another point which has been in controversy is the national obligation of the religions covenants entered into in this land. The doctrine of the New Testimony is that 'religions covenanting is entirely an ecclesiastical duty;' that persons 'enter into it as members of the Church, and not as members of the State;' that those invested with civil power have no other concerne with it than as Church members; and accordingly it restricts the obligation of the covenants of this land to persons of all ranks only in their spiritual character and as Church members. But it cannot admit of a doubt that the National and Solemn League and Covenant were national oaths in the most proper sense of the word; that they were intended as such by those who framed them, and that they were thus interpreted by the three kingdoms; the civil rulers entering into them, enacting them, and setting them forward in their public capacity, as well as the ecclesiastical. And the uniform opinions of Presbyterians from the time they were taken has been that they are binding in a national as well as ecclesiastical point of view. I shall only produce the testimony of one respectable Writer (principal Forrester): "The binding force'' says he, "of these engagements appears in the subjects they affect; as, first, our Church in her representatives, and, in their most public capacity, the general assemblies in both nations: second, the state representatives and parliaments. Thus all assurances are given that either civil or ecclesiastical laws can afford; and the public faith of Church and State, is plighted with inviolable ties, so that they must stand while we have a Church or State in Scotland. Both as men and as Christians, as members of the Church and State, under either a religions or civil consideration, we stand hereby inviolabliy endangered; and not only representatives, bult also the incorporations (or body) of Church and State are under the same. On this broad ground have Presbyterians stated the obligation of the covenants of this kind. And why should they not? Why should we seek tomorrow their obligation? Are we afraid that these lands should be too closely bound to the Lord? If religious covenanting be a moral duty, if oaths and vows are founded in the light of nature as well as in the Word of God, why should ot men be capable of entering into them, and of being bound by them in every character in which they are placed under the moral government of God, as men and as Christians, as members of the Church and of the State, whenever there is a call to enter into such covenants as have respect to all these characters, as was the case in the covenants of our ancestors, which seceders have witnessed for and formally renewed? In the former Testimony witness was expressly borne to the national obligation of these covenants. In speaking of the National Covenant, it says, 'By this solemn oath and covenant this kingdom made a national surrender of themselves unto the Lord.' It declares that the Solemn League and Covenant was entered into and is binding upon the three kingdoms; that both of them are binding upon the Church and lands, and the Church and nations. The deed of civil constitutions is said to have been settled in consequence of the most solemn covenant engagements, and the rescinding of the law in favor of the true religion is testified against as an act of national perjury. Yet by the New Testitmony, all are bound to declare that religions covenanting is entirely an ecclesiastical duty, and binding only on the Church and her members, as such; and that those invested with civil power have no other concern with it but as Church members. Is it any wonder that there should be seceders who cannot submit to receive such doctrine? The time will come when it will be matter of astonishment that so few have appeared in such a cause, and that those who have appeared, should have been borne down, opposed, and spoken against. It is not a matter of small moment to restrict the obligation of solemn oaths, the breach of which is chargeable upon a land, or to explain away any part of that obligation. The quarrel of God's covenant is not yet thoroughly pleaded by him against these guilty and apostatizing lands, and all that have any due sense of the inviolable obligation of them should tremble at touching or enervating them in the smallest point." At the request of the brethren Dr. M'Crie drew up and published a paper explanatory of the principles involved in the controversy which had led to the breach. This work appeared in April, 1807, and was regarded by those who took an interest in the subject as exhibiting a very satisfactory view of the principles of the Constitutional Associate Presbytery. But, however able, this treatise attracted little attention at the time, although copies of it. were eagerly sought many years after, when the Voluntary Controversy engrossed much of the public interest. The Constitutional Presbytery continued steadfastly to maintain their principles, along with the small number of people who adhered to them, and from all who sought to join them they required an explicit avowal of adherence to the principles of the secession as contained in the original Testimony. For twenty-one years the brethren prosecuted their work and held fast their principles in much harmony and peace with one another, and to the great edification of the flocks committed to their care. In 1827 a change took place in their ecclesiastical position, a cordial union having been effected between the Constitutional Presbytery and the Associate Synod of Protesters, under the name of the Associate Synod of Original Seceders. SEE ORIGINAL SECEDERS (ASSOCIATE SYNOD OF).

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