Reformed Presbyterian Church
Reformed Presbyterian Church This body, like many others, is known by different names: its members have been designated as Mountain Men, Old Dissenters, Cameronians, and Society People; but their most common designation is Covenanters. The name of "Mountain Men" was given them because they are a remnant of those who were driven to hills, moors, and other uninhabited places by persecution in the reign of the Stuarts in Scotland. They are called "Cameronians" from Richard Cameron, one of their leaders during that persecution. They were called "Society People" because they were often confined to prayer-meetings in private as their only means of social worship when their ministers were killed or banished. For the name "Covenanters," see that article in vol. 2 of this work. The history of these people has been given well, though briefly, under articles SEE CAMERON; SEE COVENANTERS; SEE PRESBYTERIAN (REFORMED) CHURCH;
SEE SCOTLAND, CHURCH OF. This article is intended to present their peculiar characteristics, the leading points in which they differ from other Presbyterian bodies.
1. A prominent feature is their separation from the State. In this country, as well as in the British isles, they withhold an oath to the government, whether in naturalization, in taking office, or anything which implies full allegiance; nor do they vote for any officer so qualified, whether the office be legislative, judicial, or executive; neither do they sit on juries under oath. This position they occupy, not as the Quakers, who object to an oath entirely as well as to the forcible execution of law. Covenanters in this country approve of the representative system, and of a definite constitution reduced to writing as a righteous measure, and one which should be adopted by every nation under heaven. From the beginning they gave their sanction and encouragement to the cause of American independence; and they would gladly enjoy the fill privileges of citizenship were it not for the evils connected with the government. However they may fail in particular instances, their design and desire are to promote the influence of all the good regulations and laws of the country, and to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.
2. They give great prominence to the universal dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ. They hold that as king in his Church, he has settled all her institutions and ordinances. Other denominations admit this in the general, while many claim the right of miodifying altering, instituting, or abolishing religious observances With the decreeing of rites aind ceremonies Covenanters have no sympathy. Besides this kingship in his Church, they claim for Christ, according to the gift of the Father, uncontrolled dominion over all things, outside of the Church as well as within; and that this extensive authority is used by him for the benefit of his body, the Church; that he may send his messengers into heathen countries; that he may use angelic powers at his pleasure; that he may supply his people with temporal support and subdue all their enemies; that he may raise the dead and judge the world at the last day (Ps 2:6; Ps 89:19; Ps 110:3; Isa 9:6-7; Da 7:14; Mt 11:27; Mt 28:18; Lu 1:32; Joh 3:35; Joh 5:27; Joh 17:2; Ro 14:9; Eph 1:20; Heb 2:8; 1Pe 3:22).
3. They consider the Church and the State as the two leading departments of Christ's visible kingdom on earth, or, as Merle d'Aubigne has designated them, the two poles of human society. In this view they labor much for the purity and power of the two great ordinances, the Gospel ministry and the civil magistracy; both being equally of God, both being under the sgvereignty of Christ, and each, in its sphere, to be regulated, in a Christian land, by the written law. Where this law is either entirely disregarded Or flagrantly violated, they refuse to take any part either in Church or State.
4. They lay great stress on the witnessing character of the Church (Isa 43:10: "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord"). This idea enters largely into the constitution of the New-Test. organization — Ac 1:8: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ve shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." This presents the douible aspect of the Church's work — one, the salvation of men; one, the glory of God; both harmonizing in the services of ministers and people together (Ac 1:22; Ac 2:32,40; Ac 3:15; Ac 4:33; Ac 5:32; Ac 10:39; Ac 13:31; Ac 20:21; Ac 22:15,18; Ac 26:16,22; Ac 28:23; Re 1:2,9; Re 6:9; Re 11:3-12; Re 12:11,17; Re 19:10).
This feature is presented often in the epistles, and implies three things:
(a) setting forth the whole truth of God, keeping nothing back;
(b) applying that truth to the parties addressed;
(c) pointing out the contrary evils. Following out this idea, Covenanters have, besides their Confession
(d), a Testimony specifying the evils of the time.
5. Among other things, they bear a practical testimony against the moral evils in the Constitution of the United States. In one important particular the Constitution has already been amended — the clauses bearing on slavery. In this amendment Covenanters rejoice, and take courage to labor for further advance. In the anti-slavery conflict they stood among the foremost; they preached, they wrote, they labored in all available ways against the slave-holding interest. The articles which they still wish to see amended are such as the following:
(1.) In all the Constitution there is no recognition of God, the Sovereign of the world and Source of all authority and power. Justice Bayard and other authors labor earnestly in offering apologies for this defect; but all these apologies are set aside by the Declaration of Independence, in the simple fact that the Supreme is repeatedly acknowledged in that memorable document as nature's God, as the Creator, as Divine Providence, and as the Judge of the world; as One on whose protection the nascent empire could exercise a "firm reliance" while struggling for existence. When independence was achieved and a prosperous career fairly entered, his name is lopped off in the new Constitution; and, although the document has been repeatedly amended, the place for his name is still left a blank. In fact, Benjamin Franklin could not succeed in having prayer offered in the convention that framed the Federal Constitution. We think this is the first nation known to history that has set up a government without acknowledging any deity whatever. True it is that many of their deities were not worth the honor, while we as a nation have refused to honor "the God in whose hand our life is, and whose are all our ways." That he should be acknowledged in the Constitution and obeyed in the administration is shown by the following, among other considerations:
(a.) He is not only the Creator of men, but he is the Author of national blessings. He gave the nation its existence at the first, and holds the entire control of all its destinies.
(b.) Civil government is one of his institutions for the good of men and for his own glory among men. Not only did he direct the people of Israel to set up judges and officers, but in the New Test. he recognises such officers as his ministers, and their power as his ordinance. He claims obedience to them as his representatives, and that honor shall be given to them for his sake, while he tells all nations that there is no authority unless it be of God (Ro 13:1-7; 2Pe 2:13-17; Tit 3:1). All Christians are agreed that civil government set up on moral principles is the "ordinance of God." This implies, requires even, an acknowledgment of him in the Constitution as well as elsewhere.
(c.) There are many very solemn services in the exercise of civil rule. Take one of many: A fellow-mortal is charged with murder, and must be dealt with, whether he be a citizen or not. This dealing is a solemn affair in the sight of God:
(i) whether we let him loose on society;
(ii) whether we hang him up by the neck until he is dead;
(iii) whether he is sent to the penitentiary for life;
(iv) whether he is found guilty or innocent of the charge. In any and all of these cases civil rulers have the destiny of that man in their control for life, as well as an influence which may reach, for good or for ill to eternity. This responsibility cannot be evaded, and it can be properly met in the fear of God only. So of war and peace, where thousands are involved at once. So of sanitary regulations. So of license to sell strong drink, gunpowder, and poisonous drugs.
(d.) He severely threatens and awfully punishes the nations that will not honor and serve him.
(e.) He has given abundant promises to nations who will serve him.
(f.) There is the same responsibility on a nation that there is on an individual to serve the Lord (Job 34:29).
(g.) The United States have received such favors from God, in quality and quantity, as have never been bestowed on any other nation, not even on the chosen family of Israel. Why should we not acknowledge in the most solemn and public manner the hand of him that gives?
(2.) The qualifications for rulers are very defective in the Constitution of the United States. Some officers are required to be of a certain age, and born in the country. It is taken for granted that they will be men of ability. This is right so far as it goes; but if a ruler is to be regarded as the minister of God, some degree of moral character ought to be required, and the Constitution is the proper place to begin; then the people can select men of the highest order of Christian morality.
(3.) The law of God as supreme law is formally set aside, superseded by three provisions: (a) the will of the people as stated in the preamble; (b) the Constitution itself as the expression of that will; (c) laws of Congress and treaties with foreign powers in carrying out the Constitution, art. 6 § 2. If these provisions meant no more than the relation to particular states, it would not be objectionable; but there is no allusion to a higher law in any part of the document.
6. Covenanters claim the universal application of the divine law to all the institutions of men, and to the man in all his relations — the Church, the family, the civil, military, commercial, financial legislative, judicial, social, and all possible connections of man with man. They take no stock in street- car or railroad companies, or any institutions which desecrate the Sabbath or otherwise trench on any of the ten commandments. They have always excluded freemasons from their fellowship.
7. They hold the Old Test. as still the word of God, and of equal authority with the New.
8. In praise they use exclusively the book of Psalms. They also disapprove of instrumental music in churches.
9. They claim that the prayer-meeting, in which ministers and people stand on the same level, is a divine ordinance as much as family worship and public preaching. On this item they and the Methodists were long the only witnesses. For some twenty-five years the idea has been spreading, until all respectable bodies have their prayer-meetings, to say nothing of irregular associations. While other denominations regard rather the utility, propriety, and expediency of these meetings, Reformed Presbyterians stand for their divine institutions as well, basing their position on such Scriptures as the following: Heb 10:25; Col 3:16; Mal 3:16; Joh 20:19; Ac 16:13.
10. Besides their adherence to the Scottish covenants, they hold that covenanting is an ordinance of the New Test. as well as of the Old. This they find held forth in prophecy (Isa 19:18-21; Isa 44:5; Isa 42:4; Jer 1:5) and exemplified in the apostolic Church (2Co 8:5).
11. They hold strictly close communion, on a doctrinal as well as practical basis, according to Ac 2:42; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 14:15. (R. H.)