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ACCOUNT OF THE SECESSION CHURCH.
As the history and principles of the Secession Church, of which Dr. Waugh was a distinguished ornament for nearly half a century, are but little known to our English readers, it has been deemed proper to give a short account of that religious body, extracted from the papers published under the sanction of the United Associate Synod, which, since its happy re-union in 1820, consists of nineteen presbyteries, comprehending about three hundred ministers, and about fifty vacant congregations, which have not yet enjoyed a fixed ministry, or have had their pastors translated to other charges, or removed by death.
“ The Secession did not originate in any dissatisfaction with the professed principles of the Church of Scotland, which Seceders venerate as a precious summary of divine truth - the most valuable inheritance they have received from their fathers — and which they are anxious to transmit in purity to their children. But for some time before they were expelled from the communion of the National Church, a tide of defection had been flowing in from the prevailing party in her judicatories, which, while it spared the erroneous in doctrine, and the irregular in conduct, bore down the Christian people contending for their religious privileges, and those ministers who testified faithfully against ecclesiastical misconduct.
“A professor of divinity, in one of the universities, taught that the souls of children are as pure and holy as the soul of Adam was in his original condition, being inferior to him only as he was formed in a state of maturity; and that the light of nature, including tradition, is sufficient to teach men the way of salvation. For these doctrines, subversive of the first principles of Christianity, a process was instituted against him, in which it was clearly proved that he was chargeable with teaching publicly these and other errors. But so far from being subjected to the censure he deserved, he was permitted to retain his place in the university and the church ; and the General Assembly were satisfied with declaring that some of his opinions were not evidently founded on the word of God, nor necessary to be taught in divinity, and prohibiting him from publishing such sentiments in future.
“ The Marrow of Modern Divinity' teaches that God in the Gospel makes a gift of the Saviour to mankind as sinners, warranting every one who hears the Gospel to believe in him for salvation ; that believers are entirely freed from the law as a covenant of works; that good works are not to be performed by believers that they may obtain salvation by them.' In the unqualified condemnation of these principles, the General Assembly materially condemned some of the most important doctrines of the Gospel, such as the unlimited extent of the Gospel call, and the free grace of God in the salvation of sinners.
“ For a short time after the revival of the law of patronage, in 1712, such as received presentations were backward to accept of them, and the church courts were unwilling to proceed to their settlement, where opposition was made by the people of the vacant charge. But presentees and judicatories became gradually less scrupulous, and several settlements afterwards took place in reclaiming congregations, which gave plain evidence that the right of the members of the church would be no longer regarded. The little influence which might occasionally be left to the people in the choice of their ministers, was destroyed by an act of the General Assembly passed immediately before the commencement of the Secession. This act, providing that where patrons might neglect, or decline to exercise their rights, the minister should be chosen by a majority of the elders and heritors, if Protestant, was unconstitutionally passed by the Assembly, as a great majority of the presbyteries, who gave their opinions upon the subject, were decidedly hostile to the measure.
Many pious and faithful ministers were grieved by these defections; but being deprived, by the prevailing party in the Assembly, of the liberty of marking their disapprobation in the minutes of the court, no method of maintaining a good conscience remained except testifying against defection in their public ministrations. This method was adopted; and for a public condemnation of these corruptions by the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, 1732, a process was instituted against him, which terminated, 1733, in first suspending him and three of his brethren, the Rev. Messrs. William Wilson, Alexander Moncrieff, and James Fisher, who had joined him, from the exercise of the ministerial office, and afterwards, 1740, dissolving their relation to their congregations and the National Church.
“During the progress of these violent proceedings, they stated a formal Secession from the prevailing party in the Church of Scotland, and constituted themselves into an ecclesiastical court for the support of the important cause in which they bad engaged, 1736. The reasons of Secession have, since that period, gathered strength: for though in some parts of the Church there has of late been an increase in the number of evangelical ministers, in which we rejoice, yet it may be justly doubted whether, upon the whole, her condition is not worse than when the fathers of the Secession separated from her communion.
“ Several prosecutions for error have, since that period, commenced before the church courts, and have terminated in a way which manifested a lamentable indifference to the purity of the truth. In many parishes there is no regular exercise of discipline, and in some there are not even resident ruling elders. The settlement
of ministers in opposition to the minds of parishioners, is now so common that it attracts very little attention. The people, disregarded, either quietly leave the Established Church, or tamely submit to the imposition; and ministers who oppose such settlements have been enjoined to attend them, and thus to countenance, by their presence, the procedure of which they disapprove.
“ The chief reasons of Secession then are: the sufferance of error without adequate censure, the settling of ministers by patronage even in reclaiming congregations, the neglect or relaxation of discipline, the restraint of ministerial freedom in testifying against mal-administration, and the refusal of the prevailing party to be reclaimed. For these and other reasons, that they may carry on the work of reformation, in which their pious ancestors so fervently laboured, Seceders have separated and still maintain a separation, from the judicatories of the Church of Scotland."*
The General Assembly of 1740 " deposed the seceding ministers from the office of the holy ministry, prohibiting and discharging them, and every one of them, to exercise the same, or any part thereof, within this church, in all time coming;" and appointed due intimation of this sentence to be given to those invested with civil authority, in the different places of their residence, that they might be thrust out of their churches. But neither these censures, nor the discountenance and reproach which the Seceders incurred, prevented the rapid increase of their numbers; for, within two years subsequent to this event, the Associate Presbytery consisted of not fewer than twenty ministers. From the number of ministers, and their distance from each other, it was found extremely inconvenient for them to meet so often as was necessary, and scarcely possible for them to continue so long together as their business required. They therefore
Summary of Principles agreed upon by the United Associate Synod, Sept. 1820.
divided themselves into three presbyteries, October 11, 1744, to meet in one synod, under the name of the Associate Synod, which met for the first time at Stirling, on the first Tuesday of March, 1745.
Hitherto the seceding ministers had stood fast with one heart and one mind, in the good cause in which they were engaged. Many subjects had been under their consideration, and deliberately discussed ; and a delightful harmony had characterised their decisions. They had inducements, arising not only from our common Christianity, but from their peculiar circumstances, to continue “ to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That unity, however, was unhappily broken.
It having been an appointment to presbyteries to consider what overtures they might think needful for farther reformation, one was introduced into the Synod at their first meeting, relating to the burgess oath in some burghs, particularly the first clause, viz.“ Here I protest, before God and your lordships, that I profess, and allow with my heart, the true religion presently professed within this realm, and authorised by the laws thereof. I shall abide thereat and defend the same to my life's end, renouncing the Roman religion called Papistry.”
Some members of Synod judged that the present swearing of the oath by Seceders was inconsistent with their peculiar profession and circumstances. . Others judged that Seceders might lawfully swear the oath. The discussion of this question occupied no small portion of the time and attention of the court at several meetings. If such frequent and protracted discussion did not issue in harmony of views, it was natural to expect that mutual alienation would be the consequence; and that incidents would occur which, by exciting sinful tempers, would create new causes of offence, and impart additional importance to the original subject of dispute. At last, “the contention was so sharp between” the two parties in the Synod, that they separated “one from the other.”