Original Seceders (2) (Synod of United)
Original Seceders (2) (Synod Of United)
is that body of Scotch Presbyterians organized in 1842, as was seen in preceding article, by union of the Synod of Original Burghers with the Synod of Original Seceders. Previous to the final act for this union it had been agreed that the Testimony adopted by the Synod of Original Seceders in 1827, with the insertion in it of several alterations rendered necessary by the union, should be taken as the Testimony of the United Synod. One important alteration agreed to by the Synod of Original Seceders was that the question in the formula regarding the burgess-oath should be dropped. To understand the position which the United body of Original Seceders occupied after the union, it must be borne in mind that the Testimony of 1827, which was drawn up in its historical part by Dr. M'Crie, was essentially Antiburgher in its whole nature and bearings. This element was dropped in the Testimony of 1842, and thus the character of the.
Testimony underwent an important change. On this the united body gave the following explanation in the historical part of the Testimony of 1842: "The Synod of Original Seceders, in their Testimony, published in 1827, after stating their reasons for not continuing to approve of the decision condemning the swearing of the oath by seceders, suggest it as their opinion that an agreement might be made of the subject of difference which would be at once agreeable to truth and not hurtful to the conscience of any." This suggestion was readily and cordially met by the Synod of Original Burghers, and joint measures were in consequence adopted, with the view of ascertaining the practicability of such an arrangement. In concluding the negotiation, both parties proceeded on the principle that, desirable as union is, if the reality of the thing is sought, and not the appearance merely, this would be secured more effectually, and with more safety to truth, by candid explanations on the points of question, than by studiously avoiding the agitation of them — a plan which, while it makes greater pretensions to charity and peace, lays a ground for subsequent irritation and dissension. "In the course of explanation, it was found that the only difference of opinion between the two bodies related to the exact meaning and necessary application of certain terms of the oath, which, as the question originally came before the session courts as a question of practice, did not appear to be an insuperable obstacle to a spiritual adjustment of the dispute. After repeated conferences, it was satisfactorily ascertained that the members of both synods were agreed on all points with the judicial Testimony of the first Seceders, particularly in its approval of the profession of religion made in this country, and authorized by the laws between 1638 and 1650, on the one hand, and its disapproval of the defects in the settlement of religion made at the Revolution on the other. Encouraged by this harmony of settlement as to the great cause of reformation, so much forgotten and so keenly opposed from various quarters in the present time. and feeling deeply the solemn obligations under which they in common lie to support and advance that cause; and the burgess-oath, the original ground of separation, being now in the providence of God, abolished, and both parties having now for various reasons seen it to be their duty to refrain from swearing that oath, shall it be re-enacted? the two synods agreed to unite upon the following explanatory declarations and resolutions, calculating, in their judgment, to remove the bars in the way of harmonious fellowship: and cooperation, and to prevent, through the blessing of God, the recurrence of any similar difference in future:
1. That when the Church of Christ is in danger from adversaries who hold persecuting principles, or who are employing violence or insidious arts to overturn it, the legislature of a country may warrantably exact an oath from those who are admitted to official and influential stations calculated for the security of the true religion; and that, in these circumstances, it is lawful and proper to swear.
2. That no Christian, without committing sin, can on any consideration swear to maintain or defend any known or acknowledged corruption or defect in the profession or establishment of religion.
3. That a public oath can only be taken according to the declared, and known sense of the legislature or enacting authority, and no person is warranted to swear it in a sense of his own, contrary to the former. 4. That no Church court can warrantably give a judicial toleration or allowance to do what they declare to be sinful, or what there is sufficient evidence from the Word of God is sinful.'" Those who hold high Antiburgher views maintain that the ruling element of the Original Secession Testimony of 1827 involves the decision come to by the Antiburgher party of the secession in 1746, viz. that "those of the secession cannot safely of conscience and without sin swear any burgess- oath with the said religious clause: while matters, with reference to the profession and settlement of religion, continue in such circumstances as at present; and particularly that it does not agree unto or consist with an entering-into the bond for receiving our solemn covenants." So strongly did the Antiburgher Synod of that time regard this decision as virtually comprehending the whole secession clause, that they declared that the Burghers who had opposed this decision "had materially dropped the whole Testimony among their hands, allowing of, at least for a time, a material abjuration thereof." Thus it is plain that the Antiburgher Synod made the decision of 1746, in regard to the burgess-oath, the exponent of the judicial Testimony, as well as of the declinature and the act of renewing the covenants. Hence the Original Seceders, in uniting with the Original Burghers, and adopting the Testimony of 1842, might be regarded as acting in opposition to the decision of 1746, which was the ruling expository element of the Testimony of 1827. Another peculiarity which distinguished the secession Testimony was the formal recognition and actual renewing of the covenants. To this peculiarity the original secession body steadfastly adhered, allowing no student to be licensed and no probationer to be ordained who had not previously joined the bond, or solemnly promised that he would so on the very first opportunity that offered. The descending obligation of the covenants was distinctly maintained according to the Testimony in 1827, and the same doctrine as avowed also by the United Original Seceders in their Testimony of 1842. In this respect they were only following in the steps of the first seceders, who had no sooner broken off their connection with the Established Church of that day than they fell back upon the Church of the former period, and proceeded to identify their cause with that of the Reformed Covenanted Church, and this they did by actually renewing the covenants. By their act relating to this subject, published in 1743, "they considered the swearing of the bond was called for and rendered necessary by the strong tide of defection from the Reformation cause which had set in," and that by so acting they would make themselves heirs to the vows of their fathers. Dr. M'Crie accordingly, in referring to this part of the history of the first seceders, tells us in the historical part of the Testimony of 1827: "The ministers having entered into the bond, measures were taken for having it administered to the people in their respective congregations; and at a subsequent period (1744) they agreed that all who were admitted to the ministry should previously have joined in renewing. the covenants, while such as opposed or slighted the duty should not be admitted to sealing ordinances." Thus both the formal recognition and the actual renewing of the covenants came to be necessary terms of fellowship in the early Secession Church. The work of renewing the covenants had, in the summer of 1744, been gone through in only two settled congregations, when a stop was put to it by the synod having forced upon it the settlement of the question, "Whether those in communion with them could warrantably and consistently swear the following clause in some burgess- oaths: 'Here I protest, before God and your lordships, that I profess and allow with my heart the true religion professed within this realm, and authorized by the laws thereof." The question involved in swearing the burgess-oath respected the character of the Revolution settlement or legally authorized profession of religion. It was on this point that the secession body became divided into two conflicting synods. From the Testimony of 1827 it is plain that the Original Seceders regarded both the principle and practice as inherited by them from the first seceders. Nor does there seem to be any moral difference between the Testimony of 1827 and that of the United Original. Seceders in 1842, insofar as regards the question as to the descending obligation of the covenants. But in the latter Testimony a clause occurs which seems to indicate a somewhat modified view of the necessity of actually renewing the covenants. The clause in question reads thus: "It is also agreed that while all proper means are used for stirring up and preparing the people of their respective congregations to engage in this important and seasonable duty, there shall be no undue haste in those congregations where it has not been formerly practiced." The clause marked in italics is not found in the Testimony of 1827, and must therefore be considered as one of those alterations in the Testimony of the Original Seceders which was deemed necessary in order to the accomplishment of the union of the Original Burghers.
The year which succeeded the formation of the Synod of Original Seceders was the year of the disruption of the Established Church of Scotland, an event which was one of deepest interest to the Christians of Scotland, if not of the world, but more especially to the representatives of the first seceders. The formation of the Free Church of Scotland, in a state of entire independence of all state interference and professing untraveled to prosecute the great ends of Christ's Church, submissive to the guidance and authority of her Great Head alone, was hailed by the newly formed body of United Original Seceders as realizing the wishes, the hopes, and the prayers of their forefathers, who had concluded the protest which formed the basis of the secession in these remarkable words: "And we hereby appeal unto the first free, faithful, and reforming General Assembly of the Church of Scotland." As years passed on, after the memorable events of 1843, the conviction was growing stronger and stronger in the minds of many both of the ministers and people of the United Original Seceders that in the Assembly of the Free Church they could recognize the General Assembly to which the first fathers of the secession appealed, and that therefore the time had come when the protest of. Nov. 16, 1733, must be fallen from. At length it was resolved in the synod of the body to lodge a representation and appeal on the table of the Free Church Assembly, with a view to the coalescing of the two bodies. The union thus sought was accomplished in May, 1852, on the express understanding that the brethren of the United Original Secession Synod who thus applied for admission into the Free Church of Scotland should be allowed to retain their peculiar views as to the descending obligation of the covenants, while at the same time the Free Church did not commit itself, directly or indirectly, in any way, either to a positive or negative opinion upon these views. Several ministers and congregations connected with the United Original Seceders eftsed to accede to the union with the Free Church, and preferred to remain in their former position; and accordingly a small body of Christians still exists holding the principles and calling, themselves by the name of the United Original Seceders. One congregation of Original Seceders in Edinburgh, under the ministry of the Rev. James Wright, with not a few adherents in various parts of the country, disclaims all connection with those who adhered to the Testimony of 1842, and professes to hold by the Testimony of 1827, thus claiming, in the principles which they avow, to represent the first seceders in so far as in the advanced state of the secession cause they held their principles to be identical with those of the Reformed Covenanted Church of Scotland. See Marsden, Hist. of Christian Churches and Sects, ii, 290 sq.; Gardner, Faiths of the World, ii, s.v.; Hetherington, Hist. of the Church of Scotland, p. 352, 361; Stanley, Lect. on the Hist. of the Church of Scotland, lect. ii Sq.; and the authorities quoted in the article. SEE SCOTLAND, CHURCH OF; SEE PRESBYTERIANISM IN SCOTLAND.