Original Seceders (1) (Associate Synod Of)
Original Seceders (1) (Associate Synod Of)
is the name of a body of Scotch Presbyterians who originated in 1827 by union of what was then the Constitutional Associate Presbytery and the Associate (Antiburgher): Synod, now generally known as Protesters (q.v.) because they took exception in 1820 to the Basis of Union between the two great branches of the secession. SEE SCOTLAND, CHURCH OF; SEE PRESBYTERIANISM IN SCOTLAND. The articles agreed upon as such a basis were drawn up by Dr. M'Crie, on the one side, and Prof. Paxton on the other. The Testimony, which was enacted as a term of fellowship, ministerial and Christian, in the Associate Synod of Original Seceders, was drawn up in the historical part by Dr. M'Crie, and nowhere do we find a more noble, luminous, and satisfactory view of the true Seceders, and of their contendings for the Reformation in a state of secession. Dr. M'Crie shows that the four brethren who formed the first Seceders, though soon after this deed of secession they formed themselves into a presbytery (Dec. 6, 1733), still for some time acted in an extra- judicial capacity, and in this capacity they issued, in 1734, a "Testimony for the Principles of the Reform Church of Scotland." It was not, indeed, until two years more had elapsed that they resolved to act in a judicative capacity, and accordingly, in December, 1736, they published their judicial Testimony to the principles and proceedings of the Church of Scotland, and against the course of defection from them. This Testimony, as Dr. M'Crie shows, was not limited to those evils which had formed the immediate ground of secession, but included others also of a prior date, the condemnation of which entered into the Testimony which the faithful party in the Church had all along borne. The whole of that Testimony they carried along with them to a state of secession. In prosecuting their Testimony, they deemed it their solemn duty to renew the national covenants, the neglect of which had often been complained of in the Established Church since the Revolution. The points of difference between the Original Seceders and the Cameronians or Reform Presbyterians are thus admirably sketched by Dr. M'Crie in the historical part of the Testimony of 1827:
"1. We acknowledge that the fundamental deed of constitution in our reforming period, in all moral aspects, is essentially unalterable, because of its agreeableness to the Divine will revealed in the Scriptures, and because it was attained to and fixed in the presence of our solemn covenants; and that the, nation sinned in overthrowing it.
2. We condemn the conduct of the nation at the Revolution in leaving the Reformed Constitution buried and neglected; and in not looking out for magistrates who should concur with them in the maintenance of true religion, as formerly settled, and rule them by laws subservient to its advancement.
3. We condemn not only the conduct of England and Ireland, at that period, in retaining episcopacy, but also the conduct of Scotland in not reminding them of their obligations, and in every way competent exciting them to reformation, conformably to a prior treaty and covenant; and particularly the consent which this kingdom gave at the union to the perpetual continuance of episcopacy in England, with all that flowed from this and partakes of its sinful character.
4. We condemn the ecclesiastical supremacy of the crown as established by laws in England and Ireland and all the assumed exercise of it in Scotland, particularly by dissolving the assemblies of the Church, and claiming the sole right of appointing fasts and thanksgivings, together with the practical compliances with it on the part of Church courts or ministers in the discharge of their public office.
5. We condemn the abjuration-oath, and other oaths which, either in express terms or by just implication, approve of the complex constitution.
6. We consider that there is a great difference between the arbitrary and tyrannical government of the persecuting period and that which has existed since the Revolution, which was established with the cordial consent of the great body of the nation, and in consequence of a claim of right made by the representatives of the people, and acknowledged by the rulers; who, although they want (as the nation does) many of the qualifications which they ought to possess: according to. the Word of God and our covenants, yet perform the essential duties of magistratical office by maintaining justice, peace, and order to the glory of God, and protecting us in the enjoyment of our liberties and the free exercise of our religion. Lastly, holding these views, and endeavoring to act according to them, we can, without dropping our testimony in behalf of a former reforming period, or approving of any of the evils which cleave to the constitution or administration of the state, acknowledge the present civil government, and yield obedience to all its lawful commands, not for wrath but for conscience sake; and in doing so we have this advantage, that we avoid the danger of partially disregarding the numerous precepts respecting the obedience to magistrates contained in the Bible — we have no need to have recourse to gloss upon these, which, if applied to other precepts running in the same strain, would tend to loosen all the relations of civil life — and we act in unison with the principles and practice of the Christians of the first ages who lived under heathen or Arian emperors; of Protestants who have lived under popish princes; of our reforming fathers in Scotland under queen Mary, and of their successors during the first establishment of episcopacy, and after the Restoration down to the- time at which the government degenerated into an open and avowed tyranny." On the question as to the lawfulness of taking the burgess-oath, which so early as 1747 rent the secession body into two sections, the Original Seceders avowed in their Testimony a decided coincidence in statement with the Antiburghers. This is plain from the following explanations given by Dr. M'Crie, in which the religious clause in the oath is shown to be inconsistent with the secession Testimony:
"1. As it is a matter of great importance to swear by the great name of God, so the utmost caution should be taken to ascertains the lawfulness of any oath which we are required to take; and it is the duty of ministers and Church courts to give direction and warning to their people ins such cases, especially when the oath embraces a profession of religion, and more especially when the persons required to take it are already under the obligation of another oath sanctioning an explicit profession of religion, in consequence of which they may be in danger of involving themselves in contradictory engagements.
2. We cannot be understood as objecting to the clause in question on account of its requiring an adherence to the true religion, and in an abstract view of it as determined by the standard of the Scriptures (if it could be understood in that sense), in opposition to the Romish, which is renounced, or an adherence to the Confession of Faith, and any part of the standards compiled for uniformity in the former Reformation, so far a these are still approved of by the acts of the Church- of Scotland, and authorized by the laws. In these respects we account the Revolution settlement and the present laws a privilege, and agree to all which the Associate Presbytery thankfully expressed in commendation of them in their Testimony, and in the declaration and defense of their principles concerning the present civil government.
3. The profession of religion required by the burgess-oath is of a different kind. If this were not the case, and if it referred only to the true religion in the abstract, and every swearer were left to understand this according to his own views, the oath would not serve the purpose of a test, nor answer the design of the imposer. The Romish religion is specially renounced; but there is also a positive part in the clause, specifying in the religion professed in this realm and authorized by the laws of the land; while the word presently will not admit of its applying to any professions different from that which is made and authorized at the time when the oath is sworn.
4. The profession of the true religion made by Seceders, agreeing with that which was made in this country in and authorized by the laws between 1638 and 1650, is different from, and in some important points inconsistent with that profession which is presently made by the nation and authorized by the laws of the land. The judicial Testimony finds fault with the national profession and settlement made at the Revolution, both materially and formally considered, and condemns the state for excluding, in its laws authorizing religion, the divine right of presbytery and the intrinsic power of the Church — two special branches of the glorious leadership of the Redeemer over his spiritual kingdoms — and for leaving the covenanted reformation and the covenants under rescissory laws; while it condemns the Church for not asserting these important parts of religion and reformation. On these grounds we cannot but look upon the religions clause in question as inconsistent with the secession Testimony; and accordingly must disapprove of the decision of the synod commended in the swearing of it by Seceders.
5. As that which brought matters to an extremity, and divided the body, was a vote declaring that all might swear that oath, while at the same time it was condemned as unlawful, we cannot help being of opinion that this held ont a dangerous precedent to Church courts to give a judicial toleration or allowance to do what they declare to be sinful; but provided this were disclaimed, and proper measures taken to prevent the oath from being sworn in the body for the future, and as the use of the oath has been laid aside in most burghs, we would hope that such an arrangement may be made, so far as regards this question, as will be at once agreeable to truth and not hurtful to the conscience of any. With respect to the censures which were inflicted, and which had no small influence in embittering the dispute, we think it sufficient to say that they were transient acts of ill discipline, aid that no approbation of them was ever required from. ministers or people. If any difference of opinion as to the nature or effects of Church censure exist, it may be removed by an amicable conference.''
At the formation of the United Secession Church, in 1820, by the union of the "Associate (Burgher) Synod" and the "General Associate (Antiburgher) Synod," a number of ministers belonging to the latter body protested against the Basis of Union. And one of them formed themselves into a separate court, under the name of Associate Synod. This body of Protesters, as they were generally called, having merged themselves in 1827 in the body which took the name of the Synod of Original Seceders, it was only befitting that the Testimony then issued should speak in decided language on the defects of the Basis of Union, which led the Protesters to occupy a separate position. Dr. M'Crie accordingly thus details the chief points protested against:
1. The Basis is not laid on an adherence to the covenanted Reformation and Reformed principles of the Church of Scotland. In seceding from the established jurisdictions, our fathers, as we have seen, espoused that cause; declared their adherence to the Westminster standards as parts of the uniformity in religion for the three nations; declared the obligation which the ranks in them were under to adhere to these by the oath of God; testified against several important defects in the Revolution settlement of religion; and traced the recent corruptions of which they complain to a progressive departure from the purity obtained in the second period of Reformation. The United Synod, on the contrary, proceeds in the Basis on the supposition that the Revolution settlement was faultless — agreeably to it they receive the Westminster Conference and Catechisms, not as subordinate standards of uniformity for the three nations, but merely (to use their own words) 'as the confession of our faith, expressive of the sense in which we understand the Holy Scriptures;' they exclude entirely from. their Basis the propositions concerning the Church government and the Directory for public worship drawn up by the Westminister Assembly; and they merely recognize presbytery as the only form of government which they acknowledge as founded upon the Word of God, although the first Seceders, in their Testimony, condemned the Church at the Revolution for not asserting expressly the divine right of the Presbyterian government. Besides, the exception which they made to the confessions and catechisms is expressed in such a manner as to give countenance to an unwarranted stigma on these standards as teaching persecuting principles: and as it was well known that this was offensive to not a few, by agreeing to it they on that matter perpetrated two divisions in attempting to heal one.
2. The testimony to the continued obligation of the National Covenant and the Solemn League is dropped. These deeds are not so much as named in the Basis. When the United Synod approved of the method adopted by our reforming ancestors for mutual excitement and encouragement, by solemn confederation and vows to God, this can never be considered as a recognition of the present and continued obligation of our national covenants; and still less can we regard in this light the following declaration, including all they say on the subject: 'We acknowledge that we are under high obligations to maintain and promote the work of reformation begun and to great extent carried on by them.'
3. Though the morality of public religious covenanting is admitted by the Basis, yet the present seasonableness of it is not asserted; any provision made for the practice of it is totally irreconcilable with the Presbyterian principles, being adapted only to covenanting on the plan of the Congregationalists or Independents, and not for confining the conforming the profession of the united body; and in the bond transmitted by the general synod, and registered by the general synod, and to be taken by, those who choose all idea of the renovation of the covenants of our ancestors is set aside, and the recognition of their obligations, formally made, is expounded.
4. By adoption the Basis, any testimony which had been formerly borne against sinful oaths, and other practical evils inconsistent with pure religion and a scriptural and consistent profession of it, was dropped; and all barriers against the practice of what is called free communion, which has become so general and fashionable, are removed.
5. With respect to the burgess-oath, we have already expressed our views, and candidly stated what we judge to best way of accommodating the difference which is occasioned in the Associate Body. Of the method adopted for this purpose in the Basis we shall only say that, while. on the one hand, by making no provision fair preventing the sealing of an oath, which all along has been viewed as sinful by one half of the secession, it tends to bring all contending against public evils, and for purity of communion, into discredit with the genernation; so, oan the other hand, by providing that all in the united body shall carefully abstain from agitating the questions which occasioned the breach, it retains ministerial and Christian liberty in testifying against sin, and on that matter absolves the ministers and elders of one of the synods from an express article in their ordination vows." At the meeting of the synod in 1828, the Original Seceders enacted that all the ministers of their body, together with the preachers and students of divinity under their inspection, should enter into the bond for renewing the covenants at Edinburgh on the 18th of the following September. Two years thereafter the synod authorized a committee of their number to prepare and publish an address to their people on the duty of public covenanting and on practical religion. In 1832 a controversy arose in Scotland, which is usually known by the name of Voluntary Controversy (q.v.), involving important principles touching the duty of nations and their rulers to recognize, countenance, and support the true religion. In the heat of the controversy, the Synod of Original Seceders deemed it right to issue an address on the subject. This production, entitled "Vindication of the Principles of the Church of Scotland, in Relation to the Questions presently agitated," was published in 1834. It condemned the voluntary system on various grounds:
1, On account of its atheistical character and tendency;
2, as at variance with sound policy;
3, as unscriptural;
4, as directly opposed to one important design of supernatural relations — the improvement of human society;
5, as striking at the foundation of God's moral government, so far as regards nations or bodies politic.
While thus maintaining in the strongest and most decided manner the principles of establishments in opposition to the voluntary principle, the Originial Seceders took occasion, in the course of the same pamphlet, to lay down with equal distinctness the ground on which they felt themselves excluded from all prospect of an immediate return to the communion of the Established Church.
"Our objections," they say, "to the Established Church of Scotland are not confined to the administration: we cannot unreservedly approve of her constitution as it is established in the Revolution. Though our fathers were in communion with that Church, yet they, together with many faithful men who died before the secession, and some who continued in the Establishment after that event, were all along dissatisfied with several things in the settlement of religion at the Revolution, and in the ratification of it at the union between Scotland and England. The first Seceders, in their 'Judicial Testimony and Declaration of Principles,' specified several important points,with respect to which that settlement involved a sinful departure from the previous settlement of religion in Scotland (that, namely, between 1638 and 1650), which they distinctly held forth as exhibiting the model, in point of scriptural purity and order, of that reformed constitution to which they sought by their contending to bring back the Church of their native land. This synod occupy the same ground with the first seceders. They are aware that the Established Church of Scotland has it not in her power to correct all the evils of the Revolution settlement which they feel themselves bound to point out; but they cannot warrantably quit their position of secession until the Established Church shows a disposition to return to that former constitution by using metans to correct what is inconsistent with her, in the use of those powers which belong to her as an ecclesiastical and independent society under Christ, her Head, and by due application to the state for having those laws rescinded or altered which affect her purity and abridge her freedom. It will be found, on a careful and candid examination that a great part of the evils, in point of administration, which are chargeable on the Church of Scotland may be traced, directly or indirectly, to the defects and errors cleaving to her establishment at the Revolution; and as it is her duty, so it will be her safety seriously to consider these, and, following the direction of, Scripture and the example of our reforming ancestors, to confess them before God, and seek for their removal." The evils to which the document here refers were chiefly a want of a formal recognition of the national covenants, of the divine right of presbytery, and of the spiritual independence of the Church.
The year in which the "Vindication" appeared formed an important aera in the history of the Established Church. of Scotland, since from that date commenced that line of policy in the General Assembly which resulted at length in the disruption in 1843. It was not to be expected that the Original Seceders, feeling, as they did, a lively. interest in every movement of the National Church, could look with indifference on the crisis of her history upon which she was entering. In the following year, accordingly, a pamphlet was drawn up, remarkable as being the last production which issued from the pen of the venerable Dr. M'Crie, entitled "Reasons of a Fast," appointed by the Associate Synod of Original Seceders, and containing several remarkable allusions to the peculiar circumstances of the Church of Scotland. Nor were such allusions inappropriate or. unreasonable. From that period the struggles of the Established Church to maintain spiritual independence, and to protect the rights of Christian people against the intrusion of unacceptable ministers, became the all- engrossing subject of attention in Scotland. The views of the Original Seceders were in harmony with the majority of the General Assembly; and the important proceedings from year to year of that venerable court were watched with deep and ever-increasing anxiety. At length, in 1842, a change took place in the position of the Original Seceders, a union having been formed between that body. and the Associate Synod, commonly called the Synod of Original Burghers, which gave rise to a new denomination, entitled the Synod of United Original Seceders (see next article).