Chapter XXVII

The Act and Testimony

Whilst the Assembly of 1834 was in session, a meeting was called, of the Old School members,. and others, who sympathized with their views, “for the purpose of deliberating on the best method of promoting the interests of the Church, in the present crisis.” For four years, the power of the Assembly had been in the hands of a revolutionary party, a party thoroughly organized and disciplined, managed with consummate skill, and guided with the farthest forecast, and a concentration and persistence of purpose, which nothing could divert from its chosen and cherished object. The design was, so to liberalize the Church, as to render her comprehensive of all grades of theological opinions, nominally evangelical; and a common receptacle, for the ingathering of an indefinite number of evangelical denominations, into one, grand, undiscriminating fold. The extent of the resources engaged, and the complete ness and efficiency of the auxiliary machinery, we have seen. The ranks of the party were swollen, by all, with rare exceptions, whom the efficient and systematic operations of thirty years had drawn into the Presbyterian Church, from New England, by those who had become infected with the contagion of New England theology, in any of its many phases; or, who had imbibed any form of lax principles on church government and discipline; by that large class who, themselves, knew and believed, or, rather, did not disbelieve, the truth, as to the doctrines of grace; but so little appreciated its value, that they did not consider it worth contending for, and preferred, therefore, a supine and shameful alliance with its enemies, rather than to be at the trouble of sharing in the toilsome and self-denying office of its defenders; and by many who believed and loved the truth; but, through a mistaken charity, could not be persuaded that evil devices were formed, that the departures from the faith were really many and serious, and the danger great and imminent. From this class, mainly, the party of innovation derived moral power and character. Without them, it would have been comparatively impotent for evil. At each advancing step, in the progress of the movement, when the bosom of the Church throbbed with startled apprehension, in view of some new and menacing development., and when wise and faithful watchmen uttered the notes of alarm, and called the Church to wakefulness and action, these good and trusted men were always at hand, ready to sing the lullaby, in the name of brotherly kindness, charity, and peace, and to hush the Church back to apathy and slumber.

The plans of the party were now advancing, fast and surely, to completion; and, unless the remedy is soon found and applied, it will shortly be too late. In the writings of Pearson and Anderson, Gilbert and Duffield, Barnes and Beecher, Beman and Cox, and others, heresy now vaunts itself, fearless of rebuke. In the person of Mr. Barnes, the Assembly has not only, judicially conferred on it impunity, but, in contempt of the Constitution, itself, has made provision for its security and comfort; thus, practically establishing the principle, that departure from the doctrines of the Constitution, entitles the party to special immunities, and honor. In the elective affinity Presbyteries and Synod, and the judicatories, in New York and the West, built up under tile operation of the Plan of Union, and through the agency of the American Education and Home Missionary Societies, and sustained by them, the requisite organizations are provided, to corrupt the theology of the Church, and supersede its Constitution. The Plan of Union, instead of being used as a temporary expedient, is treated as a sacred and time‑honored covenant and constitution, paramount to the Constitution of the Church itself, and more venerable and binding every day. And now, the denial to the Presbyteries, by the Assembly of 1834, of the right of examination of candidates for admittance, exposes every Presbytery in the land, helplessly, to the infusion of a corrupt theology. The elective affinity Presbytery may send Mr. Barnes; that of Troy, Dr. Beman; and Oneida, Messrs. Finney and Burchard; with a sufficient number of others, armed with clean papers, to reconstruct any selected Presbytery. They may come, with the demand made on behalf of Mr. Chambers, “We expect you to receive him, as one of us;” and there is no remedy. It was thus Cincinnati Presbytery and Lane Seminary were lost and won.

And, the General Assembly, having pursued “the compromising plan,” for several years, to the neglect and violation of its own constitutional duties, and the rights of those who are under its jurisdiction, and appeal to its bar, it now sends forth to the inferior judicatories its admonition, to settle their difficulties, among themselves; and not bring them, up to the; supreme court; an admonition which, interpreted in the light of all the circumstances, must be understood to indicate a wish on the part of the Assembly, to abdicate its judicial office, and descend to the position of an advisory General Association; with a like transformation, in the inferior courts.

Nor have the plans, formed of old, respecting the Boards, been abandoned. But all things are tending to the desired end; and when the proper time shall come to strike the blow, it will be easy to elect to each of the Boards, and to the Directory of the Seminaries, such persons as will take the requisite action. Already, intimations are given of a design to make some changes in Princeton; and the names of McAuley, Mason, Hillyer, and Barnes, among the Directors, give reason to ponder the possibilities of the future.

In another direction, recent indications were calculated to cause anxiety. During the preceding spring in a series of “Letters to Presbyterians,” published in the Presbyterian newspaper, the Rev. Dr. Miller had assumed ground which was presumably indicative of the position to be taken by the Moderate party. In these Letters, the questions in agitation were brought under elaborate review. The conclusions, however, which were attained, were disproportioned to the argument, and altogether inadequate to the emergency. As to doctrinal differences, the Professor declared his conviction that “nineteen-twentieths of the whole number of our ministers are sufficiently near to the Scriptures and to each other, in respect to all the essentials of truth, to be comfortably united in Christian fellowship and co-operation;” and that the great mass of the ministry were as united in sentiment as were the fathers of the Church, in 1741. The schism of that year he regarded as having been condemned by the reunion of 1758. He, therefore, gave his voice, ” not for division, but for peace and continued union;” “for softening asperities, for reconciling differences, for putting away all bitterness, and wrath, and evil‑speaking.” He insisted that the Church, in conducting the business of missions and evangelization, was engaged in her proper and peculiar work; yet wished her sons to sustain the voluntary societies, too; and, whilst expressing pleasure at the formation of the Western Foreign Missionary Society, uttered the hope that the attempt would not be made to induce the Assembly to undertake the work. He condemned and showed, very clearly, the evil and danger of erecting church courts upon the principle of elective affinity; and yet declared that, had he been in the Assembly, he would probably have voted for that measure. In fact, the venerable Professor was the leading promoter of the « compromising policy” of the Assembly of 1831, by which a judicial decision, in Mr. Barnes’ case was evaded; and he was chairman of the committee, which recommended the erection of the elective affinity Presbytery, for the accommodation of that gentleman, and his friends.

As the result of the entire discussion, the Professor opposed himself decisively to any really effectual measures, and proposed, as the remedy for the evils which were harassing the Church, that the extremists, on the, one hand, should cease giving cause of uneasiness to their brethren; and that those, on the other, should no longer agitate the Church, with their apprehensions and alarms!

Such was the situation of the Church, and such the view of it taken by some of the most honored and revered of her ministers; when the conference was called, in the lecture-room of the Seventh Church, on the evening of May 26, 1834. The Rev. Dr. William Wylie was called to the chair; and the Rev. D. R. Preston appointed secretary. After an appeal to the throne of grace, and a free interchange of views, a committee of six was appointed, to prepare a protest against the action which had been taken that day, restoring the elective affinity Presbytery. But this was comparatively an unimportant matter. The great question was, to find a really practicable and effectual remedy for the evils threatening the Church. Protests in abundance were already on record; and served to acquit the consciences of the signers; but gave no relief to the Church. Prosecution for heresy, remonstrances, memorials, petitions, references, appeals, and complaints, every form of ordinary remedy had been tried, in vain. To all, it was evident, that unless some means could be devised to arouse the Church, effectually, from the unconsciousness and stupor, into which she had been so assiduously nursed, to convince her of the magnitude of the peril which impended; and so to draw the lines as to constrain those, who really loved her and the truth, to rally to her aid, unless the honest and orthodox portion of the Peace party could be dislodged from their false position, and induced to take a stand, either for or against her, all else was in vain. Those who loved the doctrines of her standards might prepare to abandon the Church, and seek an asylum in some other fold.

One measure remained, which had been tried and blessed in other times of peril. To it recourse was now had. Upon motion of the Rev. Dr. W. D. Snodgrass, a committee of nine was appointed, to prepare an Act and Testimony, on the crisis. The names on this committee are worthy of a place on the page of history. They were the Rev. R. J. Breckinridge, Rev. Drs. Green and Snodgrass, and the Rev. Messrs. John Gray, Alexander McFarlane, Samuel Boyd, S. G. Winchester, H. Campbell, M. D., and the chairman, the Rev. Dr. Wm. Wylie. By these brethren the duty of drawing up the paper was laid upon Mr. Breckinridge.

In preparing this document, Mr. Breckinridge consulted with the Rev. Dr. Charles Hodge; by whom, with one exception, were dictated the statements, under the head of Errors of doctrine. The clause under the head of “Imputation,” was inserted by Mr. Breckenridge, contrary to the mind of Dr. Hodge. Other modifications were made, in the original draft of the paper, under the mistaken impression that it would, thereby, secure the approval and support of the Professor. As thus constructed, the document was reported, at an adjourned meeting of the conference, held on the evening of the 28th. It was, then, referred to a new committee, for revision. On the morning of the 30th, at six o’clock, this committee reported several amendments, which were approved; and, then, the paper was, finally, adopted and signed.

The Act and Testimony, thus carefully framed, after a suitable introduction, proceeded to testify against the various evasions employed in adopting the Confession; against a list of enumerated doctrinal errors, taught in the Church; and against irregularities in discipline and violations of order, which were prevalent. It closed with recommending to the churches certain measures of reform. As to doctrine, it bore witness against the following, as “a part of the errors held and taught, by many persons in our Church.”

“1. OUR RELATION TO ADAM—That we have no more to do with the first sin of Adam, than with the sins of any other parent.

“2. NATIVE DEPRAVITY—That there is no such thing as original sin; that infants come into the world, as perfectly free from corruption of nature, as Adam was, when he was created; that, by original sin, nothing more is meant, than the fact that all the posterity of Adam, though born entirely free from moral defilement, will always begin to sin, when they begin to exercise moral agency; and that this fact is, somehow, connected with the fall of Adam.

“3. IMPUTATION—That the doctrine of imputed sin and imputed righteousness is a novelty, and is nonsense.

“4. ABILITY—That the impenitent sinner is, by nature, and independently of the aid of the Holy Spirit, in full possession of all the powers necessary to a compliance with the commands of God; and that, if he labored under any kind of inability, natural or moral, which he could not remove himself, he would be excusable for not complying with God’s will.

“5. REGENERATION—That man’s regeneration is his own, act; that it consists, merely, in the change of our governing purpose, which change we must ourselves produce.

“6. DIVINE INFLUENCE—That God cannot exert such an influence on the minds of men as shall make it certain that they will choose and act in a particular manner, without destroying their moral agency; and that, in a moral system, God could not prevent the existence of sin; or, of the present amount of sin; however much he might desire it.

“7. ATONEMENT—That Christ’s sufferings were not truly vicarious.”

The practical recommendations, embraced in the Act and Testimony, proposed to discountenance the propagators of error; to use all lawful means to bring them to discipline; to labor to re‑establish sound discipline and order; and to hold elective affinity courts to be unconstitutional, and those who voluntarily belong to them to have, virtually, departed from the standards of the Church. It advised that all ministers, elders, and church courts give their public adherence to the Act and Testimony; and that importunate supplications be addressed to the King in Zion, for the restoration of purity and peace. It also recommended. that, on the second Thursday of May, 1835, one week before the meeting of the General Assembly, “a convention be held in the city of Pittsburgh, to be composed of two delegates, a minister and ruling elder, from each Presbytery, or from the minority of any Presbytery, who may concur in the sentiments of this Act and Testimony, to deliberate and consult on the present state of the Church, and to adopt such measures, as maybe best suited to restore her prostrated standards.”

The paper closed, with the following earnest and decisive language: “And now, brethren, our whole heart is laid open to you, and to the world. If the majority of our Church are against us, they will, we suppose, in the end, either see the infatuation of their course, and retrace their steps, or they will, at last, attempt to cut us off. If the former, we shall bless the God of Jacob; if the latter, we are ready, for the sake of Christ, and in support of the testimony now made, not only to be cut off, but, if need be, to die also. If, on the other hand, the body be yet, in the main, sound, as we would fondly hope, we have, here, frankly, openly, and candidly, laid before our erring brethren the course we are, by the grace of God, irrevocably determined to pursue. It is our steadfast aim, to reform the Church; or, to testify against its errors and defections, until testimony will be no longer heard. And we commit the issue into the hands of him who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

Thus solemnly and in the presence of God, did the signers of this paper pledge themselves to each other, to consent neither to peace nor truce with the corrupters of her doctrines and order; but to strive, by every lawful and scriptural means, for their reformation, or exclusion from the Church; until the object thus announced should be accomplished, or the witnesses themselves cast out of the body. Solemnly was their purpose announced; and well and faithfully was it fulfilled. History will cherish their names; and the Church of God, in coming ages, will honor their memories. Under God, the testimony and resolve thus recorded, and the measures adopted in pursuance of this pledge, were the means blessed to the recovery of the Church. It is evident to the intelligent and candid reviewer of the history, now, that without some such decisive action, her reformation was, humanly speaking, beyond hope; and that had the measure been delayed, but one or two years longer, it would, in all probability, have come too late. In fact, the futile prosecutions of Messrs. Duffield, the Beechers, and Barnes, and the proceedings of the Assembly of 1836, demonstrated that, already had the New School party known how to temper their triumph with moderation, the Church was in their power, and the day for effectual resistance to their policy was past.

The Act and Testimony, as originally published, on the 19th of June, 1834, was signed by thirty‑seven Ministers, and twenty-seven Elders. It ultimately received the signatures of about three hundred and seventy-four Ministers, seventeen hundred and eighty-nine Elders, and fourteen licentiates. It was also adopted, either entirely or substantially, by five Synods; and thirty Presbyteries.

The publication of this paper, after the rising of the Assembly of 1834, was received with various emotions, by the different parties, into which the Church was divided. By those who had been long struggling against growing corruption and defection, it was hailed as a pledge of hope. By many, it was accepted, as an, occasion of aroused attention, and of ultimate conviction, as to the reality of the emergency, and the necessity of active exertions, for the recovery of the Church. By the New School party, it was received with expressions of mingled derision, apprehension and displeasure. But, it was among the Moderate party, that the decisive position taken, in the Act and Testimony, produced the profoundest impression, and elicited the strongest feelings, and the most intense opposition. Many of these made this the occasion definitively to commit themselves to the New School party. Others who saw with regret, the impossibility of retaining, much longer, the attitude of serene superiority, which they had sought to maintain ;who felt that they must soon take a definitive position, on one side or the other, were excited to express their displeasure at the authors of this necessity, in terms which did not always keep within the bounds: of that dignified moderation, which they, so much, affected.

But the most powerful and stunning blows dealt against the Act and Testimony, and its friends; came from a quarter whence they were least expected. Mr. Breckinridge had so modified the first draft of the document as to meet, as he supposed, the views of Dr. Hodge; with the hope of securing the sanction and cooperation of Princeton. In the end, it appeared that there had been a total misapprehension, between the parties, on this subject. In the Princeton Review, for October, the conductors of that periodical, in an elaborate article, planted themselves in determined opposition to the Act and Testimony, and the measures proposed by its advocates.

In this article, the document was condemned, as being, not a testimony, but a test, divisive in its tendency, as unjustly charging the General Assembly with giving countenance to error and disorder, as exaggerating the extent of the evils complained of, and as “a revolutionary proceeding,” “an appeal from the con stitutional government,” in undertaking to call a convention to deliberate on these questions.

Replies to this article were made in the Presbyterian by Messrs. Engles and Breckinridge. The Review for January, 1835, pursued the discussion, in two several articles. In the first, the reviewer, went so far as to assert that, instead of the Assembly being, justly, chargeable with giving countenance to disorders or error, the Old School men themselves were responsible for the obnoxious measures, by reason of their clumsy manage ment. “We have no doubt,” said the writer, “that sound, Old School principles would have fared far better, in the General Assembly, nay, they would have invariably triumphed, IF THEY HAD BEEN MANAGED AND PRESENTED WITH, EVEN, TOLERABLE DIS CRETION.” The reviewer, still insisted that error and defection did not prevail to such an extent as to justify the representations of the Act and Testimony, or give occasion for serious apprehension. “If a few dozen men, whom we could name, had either the honesty to withdraw from a Church, whose formularies they never really believed; or, the discretion to keep their speculations to themselves; we are fully persuaded, we should have occasion to hear little more, on this subject, in the Presbyterian Church.”

In the second article, the same views were pursued, with special reference to the defensive publications of Breckinridge and Engles. In closing his remarks, the reviewer pronounced, the Act and Testimony “confessedly a failure. It is announced that its object was to unite all the orthodox. This it has not done. It has received the sanction of but one Synod in the Presbyterian Church. It has not, even as a general declaration, been adopted by one‑sixth of the ministers of our communion. It has, therefore, failed in its avowed object. More than this. By failing to unite, it must, of necessity, divide. If a certain portion only of the sound part of the Church adhere to this docu ment, and its policy, of course, the remaining portion is separated. Whose fault is this? The fault of those who proposed and urged the signing of a paper, as a test of orthodoxy, which few, comparatively, can conscientiously sign. It is no longer a matter of conjecture or opinion; but a matter of fact, that the Act. and Testimony has divided the ranks of the Old School men. It has filled the mouths and hearts of their most open opponents with rejoicing. It is, to them, the most certain presage of triumph; the most welcome of all services.”

Happily, the reviewer was, mistaken. The Act and Testimony was no failure. And, if the enemies of sound doctrine were disposed to imagine, in it, cause of triumph, their exultation was of brief continuance.

To these articles, of the Repertory, the Rev. Dr. Wilson, of Cincinnati, published a pamphlet reply. A remark, of the Review, that “Moderate men have always fared badly between ultra partisans,” suggested the title of his paper, “The Moderates, and the Ultra Partisans.” In playful reference to the nominal incognito, under which the reviewer insisted upon veiling himself behind the “Association of gentlemen in Princeton,” by whom the Repertory was conducted, Dr. Wilson suppressed his own name, and signed himself, “A Gentleman.” “Hitherto,” said he, “I have chosen the open field; but, now, I must I ‘take to a tree.’ Some departure, therefore, from the strictest rules of polite warfare may be tolerated.” In a mingled strain of pleasantry and satire he examined and replied to the points made against “ultra Old School men,” and the Act and Testimony. With reference to the assertion that the cause of failure, before the Assembly, had been the mismanagement of the Old School, themselves, by whom, according to the reviewer, no case had been presented fairly upon its merits, “A Gentleman” pungently and most justly demanded, “Why have not the Moderates done their duty, and showed the Old School how this thing can be done? Why have they not brought up fairly before the Assembly, some of the ‘few dozen’ heretics of their acquaintance, unconnected with ‘peculiar, personal, local, or exciting circumstances;’ so that the Assembly might have given, at least, one ‘calm and dispassionate’ decision?”

Whilst these various discussions were going on, and by means of them, the Act and Testimony was doing, most effectually, its expected work. And upon none did it operate with more evident power than upon a large class of persons who spurned the idea of submitting themselves to the bondage of its test; but were impelled; all the more earnestly, to demonstrate, otherwise, that they were not behind any, in their devotion to the faith, and zeal for the order of the Church.

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