Chapter VI

The New Side Schism

We have seen tile history of the Adopting Act, and the attitude of the Church on the subject, down to the schism of 1741. Let us now inquire, whether the subsequent history corresponds with the foregoing.

The tendency which manifested itself in the churches of Europe, in the first half of the eighteenth century, to lapse into fatal heresies, was not so fully developed, in this country. Yet all the evidence assures us of the exceedingly low state of religion, and the abounding of world liness and licentiousness, among the people at large,

“I doubt not but there were some sincerely religious persons, up and down,” says the Rev. Samuel Blair ; “and there were, I believe, a considerable number, in several congregations, pretty exact, according to their education, in the observance of the external forms of religion; not only, as to attendance upon public ordi nances on the Sabbath, but, also, as to the practice of family worship, and, perhaps, secret prayer, too; but, with those things, the most part seemed, to all appear ance, to rest contented, and to satisfy their conscience with a dead formality in religion. A lamentable igno rance of the essentials of true practical religion, and of the doctrines relating thereto very generally prevailed. The nature and necessity of the new birth, were little known or thought of; the necessity of a conviction of sin and misery, by the Holy Ghost opening and applying the law to the conscience, in order to a saving closure with Christ, was hardly known at all, to most. The necessity of being first in Christ, by a vital union, and in a justified state, before our religious services can be well pleasing or acceptable to God, was very little understood or thought of; but the common notion seemed to be, that, if people were aiming to be in the way of duty, as well as they could, as they imagined, there was no reason to be much afraid.”

Such was the state of religion, in the most favorable circumstances, both in Europe and America, when that remarkable work of grace began, which is known as The Great Awakening. Among the churches of the Synod, it commenced in 1730, in the pastoral charge of the Rev. John Tennent, in Freehold, New Jersey. Great blessings followed, in many places. Believers were quickened, and the ungodly awakened and con verted, in great numbers. But, soon, grievous disorders marred the work. A diversity of sentiment arose respecting it, among the best men in the Synod. Those who were not prepared to go all the lengths of extrava gance were denounced as “blind leaders of the blind,” “dry; sapless, unconverted, ministers,” “babbling ignorant priests,” “the devil’s advocates,” “diabolical reasoners,” “ministers of Satan and enemies of all righteousness.” Their congregations were intruded upon; their people seduced, and distraction and division prevailed.

Especially conspicuous for zeal and success, in gathering in the abundant harvest of that day, were the Tennents and the other pupils of the patriarch of the Log College, at Neshaminy. But the Petrine impetuosity and fervor of spirit, which were chief elements of their power, in thundering the terrors of the law upon the impenitent, and pressing the claims of the gospel on the consciences of the awakened, operated, at the same time, to induce a spirit of censoriousness toward others, and a contemptuous disregard of the rights of their brethren, and of the regulations of the Synod for their protection.

So great were the inconveniences and distractions consequent upon the proceedings of the New Lights, as the patrons of extravagance were called, that the Synod was at length constrained to interpose. Ministers claimed to have such a special and extraordinary illumination and guidance of the Spirit, as to free them from responsibility to the ordinary rules of propriety, and the regulations of the Church. They professed to have the gift of discerning spirits, and readily ,pronounced such of their brethren as could not approve their rash and violent proceedings to be unregenerate men; and “it was no sin to denounce and vituperate such. Their pastoral charges, therefore were entered; the people taught to despise their ministers; pastors unsettled, and congregations rent asunder.

Not only were such measures prevalent, in the imme diate vicinity of the active supporters of the work; but their ministers and licentiates traveled in all directions, and, by similar proceedings, threw the entire Church into a ferment.

In view of these disorders, the Synod, in 1737, passed an act for preventing intrusions. By this Act, ministers, and, especially, probationers, were forbidden to intrude into churches, outside their own Presbyteries, without the concurrence of the brethren of the Presbytery of the bounds. This Act, however, was by the offending brethren, utterly disregarded.

Another occasion of difference arose. Hitherto, the Synod had derived its supplies of ministers from abroad; of men who had already been thoroughly trained, in the colleges of Britain and New England. As the can didates from Tennent’s school began to multiply, atten tion was called to the necessity of some measures being taken by the Synod, to ascertain the adequate education of those who, thus, without a regular collegiate degree, were entering the ministry. Apprehension was felt, and not without reason, that the zeal of the Tennents was in danger of hurrying forward a number of youths, whose training was essentially defective.

An act was therefore passed, in 1738, to provide for the emergency. It declared that. ” natural parts, how ever great and promising; for want of being well improved, must be marred of their usefulness,” and that “want of due care and pains paves the way for ignorance, and this for a formidable train of sad consequences.” To prevent this evil, it was provided, that every student who had not graduated in some college, before being encouraged by any Presbytery for the work of the ministry, should “apply himself to this Synod; and that they appoint a committee of their members, yearly, whom they know to be well skilled in the several branches of philosophy, and divinity, and the languages, to examine such students, in this place, and finding them well accomplished in those several branches of learning, shall allow them a public testimonial from the Synod, which, till better provision be made, shall, in some measure, answer the design of taking a degree in the college.”

Against these Acts of the Synod, the New Brunswick brethren entered a protest, and proceeded in entire disregard of them. In addition to the charges of thus denying the authority of the courts of the Church, and of engaging in the disorders already mentioned, the New Light party were accused of departure from the doctrines of the Confession, in several particulars; as, in asserting “that every true Christian is sure of his own conversion; every adult person, when he is converted, must be able to tell the time, place and manner of his conversion; that no adult person is converted, without first undergoing an high degree of legal, ungracious, preparatory, convictions and terrors; with several other points of doctrine which have no foundation in the Word of God, nor are they agreeable to our Confession, etc.”

At length the controversy reached a crisis, and in 1741, the Synod was rent asunder. A protestation was brought in, by those who felt aggrieved by the course of the New Brunswick party.

“1. We protest,” said they, ” that it is the indispensable duty of this Synod to maintain and stand by the principles of doctrine, worship and government of the Church of Christ, as the same are summed up in the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and Directory, composed by the Westminster Assembly, as being agreeable to the Word of God, and which this synod have owned, acknowledged and adopted; as may appear by our Synodical records, of the years 1729 and 1736, which we desire to be read publicly.

“2. We protest that no person, Minister or Elder, should be allowed to sit and vote in this Synod who hath not received, adopted, or subscribed, the said Confessions, Catechisms, and Directory, as our Presbyteries respectively do; according to our last explanation of the Adopting Act; or who is either accused or convicted, or may be convicted, before this Synod, or any of our Presbyteries, of holding or maintaining any doctrine, or who act and persist in any practice, contrary to any of those doctrines, or rules contained in said Directory, or contrary to any known rights of Presbytery, or orders made or agreed to by this Synod, and which stand yet unrepealed; unless, or until he renounce such doctrine, and, being found guilty, acknowledge, confess, and profess his sorrow for such sinful disorder, to the satisfaction of this Synod, or such inferior judicatory as the Synod shall appoint or empower for that purpose.”

Upon these and other like grounds the protesters asserted that the disorderly members had forfeited their right to be acknowledged “as members of this judicatory of Christ; whose principles and practices are so diametrically opposite to our doctrine, and principles of government and order, which the great King of the Church hath laid down in his Word.”

Upon the reading of this paper, the New Side party took the ground that, as the signers of the protest were a minority of the body (but twenty out of forty‑four), and had declared that they could not remain united; they should withdraw. The protesters, on the contrary maintained that the New Side had forfeited their seats, even though a majority. A scene of confusion ensued. The New Side insisted on a count. A tumultuary count took place, during which the Moderator, Mr. Andrews seems to have left the chair. The New Side proved to be a minority; as several who did not sign the protest were in hearty sympathy with its authors. Great excitement prevailed; in the midst of which, the moderator resumed the chair, and, in hopes of securing calmer deliberation and action, commanded silence, and called upon the Synod to unite in an appeal to the Head of the Church, in prayer. At this moment, the New Side party withdrew from the house. They, at once, met in a Presbyterial capacity; took measures to perpetuate their organization; and, among other proceedings, adopted the following minute as to the charge of departing from the Confession : “Inasmuch as the Ministers who have protested against our being of their communion, do, at least, insinuate false reflections against us, endeavoring to make people suspect that we are receding from Presbyterian principles; for the satisfaction of such Christian people as may be stumbled at such aspersions, we think it fit unanimously to declare that we do adhere as closely and fully to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and, Directory, as ever the Synod of Philadelphia did, in any of their public acts or statements about it.”

Shortly afterward; the same body issued to the public a “Declaration” of their views and principles, in which they thus announced themselves:

” We think it proper, for the satisfaction of all, concerning us, and as a due testimony to the truth of God, to declare and testify to the world our principles and sentiments in religion, according to which we design, though divine grace, ever to conduct ourselves, both as Christians and as Ministers and Ruling Elders.

“And, first, as to the doctrines of religion, we believe with our hearts, and profess and maintain with our lips, the doctrines summed up and contained in the Confes sion of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, composed by the reverend. Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as the truths of God, revealed and contained in the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testa ments; and do receive, acknowledge, and declare the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms to be the confession of our faith; yet so as that no part of the twenty‑third chapter of said Confession shall be so construed as to allow civil magistrates, as such, to have any ecclesiastical authority in Synods, or church judica tories, much leas the power of a negative voice over them in their ecclesiastical transactions; nor is any part of it to be understood as opposite to the memorable revolution, and the settlement of the crown of the three kingdoms in the illustrious house of Hanover.”

These declarations, it will be observed, were made with specific reference to the insinuation made ,in the protest, that these brethren did not conform to the Acts of 1729, and 1736.

Ten ministers withdrew with the New Side party; of whom but two were from New England. Dickinson and the rest of the Eastern members, whilst rejoicing in the work of grace wrought through the instrumentality of the New Brunswick brethren, disapproved of the disorders with which they were chargeable; and had cordially concurred in the propriety of the acts, on intrusion, and the examination of candidates. But, regarding the proceedings, by which those members had been separated from the Synod, as being irregular and disorderly, they labored, for some years, to induce the Philadelphia Synod to recognize and readmit them. At length, failing in this, they determined to retire from the Synod, and join with the New Brunswick brethren, who had, in the mean time, been led to a juster view of the impropriety of many of their former proceedings.

The New York members, therefore, having applied for and received the consent of the Synod to their so doing, amicably withdrew, in 1745, and united with the excluded brethren in erecting the Synod of New York. In forming this union, however, they were careful to incorporate in its terms a distinct assertion of the authority of the Confession of Faith, and a repudiation of the disorderly principles and practices which had led to the division.

This subscription, thus enforced by Dickinson and the New York brethren upon the New Brunswick men, is the more significant, in view of the position taken by him on the subject, at the time of the Adopting Act.

“1. They agree that the Westminster Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, be the public confession of their faith, in such manner as was agreed unto by the Synod of Philadelphia, in the year 1729; and to be inserted in the latter end of this book. And they declare their approbation of the Directory of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as the general plan of worship and discipline.”

“2. They agree that in matters of discipline, and those things that relate to the peace and good order of our churches, they shall be determined according to the major vote of Ministers and Elders; with which vote every member shall actively concur or pacifically acquiesce;” and if any one cannot conscientiously do so, in a case deemed necessary by the Synod, he shall peaceably withdraw, without disputation or contention.

From the history thus carefully traced, it is evident that Blair did not speak ignorantly, nor without con sideration, when he so emphatically denied the assertion of Craighead, that the minute of 1736 was false, as to the intention of the Act. of 1729. It also appears that the unequivocal language of the expository minute was not too strict for the New Side men, the only ones whom it can be supposed to have offended. In full view of it, they declare that they adopt the Westminster standards, as fully as the Synod of Philadelphia had ever done. They, thus stand voluntarily and fully com mitted to the strictest rule of subscription. “Substance of doctrine” had no favor with them.

At a subsequent “date, the Synod of New York adopted a minute designed to obviate misapprehensions among the Dutch churches.” We do hereby declare and testify our constitution, order, and discipline to be in harmony with the Established Church of Scotland. The Westminster Confession, Catechisms, and Directory for Public Worship and Church Government, adopted by them, are in like manner adopted by us. We declare ourselves united with that Church, in the same faith, order, and discipline. Its approbation, countenance, and favor, we have abundant testimonies of. They, as brethren, receive us; and their members we, in like manner, as opportunity offers, receive as ours,” etc.

Again, the Synod replied to an insulting letter from some disaffected members, “Though we might justly refuse to take any further notice of what is offered in said paper, yet as we would condescend to the weakness, and, as far as can consist with duty, bear with the imperfections, of those who are under our care, for the sake of their edification; we therefore inform them, that, by adopting the Westminster Confession, we only intend receiving it as a test of orthodoxy in our Church; and it is the order of this Synod, that all who are licensed to preach the gospel, or become members of any Presbytery in our bounds, shall receive the same as the confession of their faith, according to our constituting act; which we see no reason to repeal.”

The affinity of the Synod to the Church of Scotland was again asserted, in a letter to the General Assembly of that Church, on behalf of the college of New Jersey. In it, they say, “Your petitioners conform to the constitution of the Church of Scotland, and have adopted her standards of doctrine, worship, and discipline. And unfolding their necessities they “most earnestly pray that this reverend Assembly would afford the said college all the countenance and assistance in their power. The young daughter of the Church of Scotland, helpless and exposed, in this foreign land, cries to her tender and powerful mother for relief.”

Scotch Presbyterianism was no object of alarm or repugnance to these fathers of our Church. Their position, on this question, was distinctly defined and consistently maintained, from the beginning.

At this era in the history, occurs a curious coincidence. New England seems to be regarded as the early patron of liberal principles of subscription. At New Haven, the officers of the college had, heretofore, been required to give their strict adoption of the Saybrook Platform, which included the Savoy Confession. But now, in 1753, five years before the reunion of the divided Synod, not only the officers, but the Trustees of the college, were required to subscribe the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, in the most unqualified sense, and to renounce all doctrines and principles contrary thereto. No class of Presbyterians, Scotch or American, ever were more rigid, on this point, than the New England churches, in all their history, prior to the rise of the school of Edwards.

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