Chapter I

The English Heads of Agreement.

The standards of Westminster were the products of the piety, learning and researches of English divines. But the authors were never privileged to witness the action of the system in their own churches. The Long Parliament did, indeed, enact a polity which purported to be based on that of the Assembly. But the whole system was so modified as to be altogether subservient to the designs and subordinate to the power of Parliament, to which, in all cases, the ultimate de cision of ecclesiastical questions was reserved. Thus were the divines of Westminster thwarted in their labors, and the prelatic historian, Echard, scornfully but truly says, that “the Presbyterians never saw their dear Presbytery settled in any one part of England.” Even the Parliamentary system was not brought into general operation. It was altogether unacceptable to the Presbyterians, opposed by the Independents, and unsatisfactory even to the Parliament itself, in which the Independents were gaining the ascendancy. At length, Cromwell seized the reins, and the Parliamentary discipline at once fell into disuse.

In some instances the Presbyterian ministers voluntarily united themselves in organizations formed after the scriptural model. But they were under the frown of Cromwell, and upon his death became the objects of the most unrelenting persecutions of the restored house of Stuart. In 1688 the tyranny and misrule of that family came to an end. The exhausted patience of England drove James the Second from the throne, and the nation threw itself into the arms of the illustrious William of Orange, a Presbyterian prince. With him came respite from persecution, and, after long delay by a reluctant Parliament, the Act of Toleration. Now, at length, might have been realized the hopes so long deferred‑the development. on the soil of England of the polity so fitly framed by the wisdom of England’s best divines. But the nominal Presbyterians, who hailed the accession of William to the throne, were not the same who nearly half a century before had met in Westminster and composed those formularies. A new generation had arisen, which had been cradled in. the licentious reign of Charles the Second, and surrounded by influences every way unfavorable to the maintenance and transmission of sound principles.

It was, in fact, scarcely possible that the men of 1688 should have felt any peculiar interest in the distinctive principles of Presbyterian church government, or possessed any intelligent acquaintance with them. In this respect they were at a disadvantage which was not shared by their brethren, the Independents. The Presbyterian system involved features requiring extended co-operation, which implies more or less publicity and consequent exposure to the agents of persecution. But the other, offspring of a bloody period, is pre‑eminently fitted for perpetuation at such a time; for, wherever a little company of believers is associated for worship, it is complete in itself for all the purposes of their system. The Independents, therefore, emerged from the dark period which preceded the revolution of 1688 fully organized, familiar with the practical working of their system, and prizing it the more for all they had endured on its account, and for the blessings they had experienced in the stolen enjoyment of its ordinances.

The Presbyterians were in altogether different circumstances. During forty years of oppression and persecution they had been entire strangers to the practical operation of the Reformed polity, and it was impossible in their situation that they should have studied with any diligence, or cherished with strong attachment, the theory of a system so utterly impracticable to them. On the other hand, they were thoroughly habituated to a system which the pressure of their circumstances had moulded into essential agreement with that. of the Independents. They felt. an affectionate regard for that party which had so long shared with them the anxieties and scourge of persecution, and they were trained to the habit of compromise with regard to principles of order under the pressure of necessity‑a habit easily degenerating into a readiness to yield them to considerations of expediency or convenience.

When to the circumstances already indicated we add that new doctrines of seeming innocence, but really pregnant with apostasy, were cherished by leading Presbyterians and gaining strength in the party, we need look no further to find causes abundantly adequate to account for the fact that a less stringent order of discipline was preferred to that of Westminster‑that when the prize was just within their grasp these sons of an illustrious ancestry should reject it, and sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. The Union of 1690, though devised and executed by eminent and honored servants of Christ, was unwise in its conception, and, as demonstrated by the result, was consummated under the frown of the Head of the Church. For its origin we must look to the churches of New England.

Although a majority of the early population of the New England colonies were Independents, still many of the ministers and people who sought refuge there from the persecutions of England were, by conviction and preference, Presbyterians. Such was Wilson, one of the first pastors of Boston. Such was Hooker, the pioneer of Connecticut, “the light of the Western churches;” and Elliot, the apostle of the Indians. The Governor and Council of Connecticut, in 1680, in reply to a series of questions proposed to them by the Lords of Trade and Plantations in regard to the charac ter of the population, etc., state that “some are strict Congregational men, others more large Congregational men, and some moderate Presbyterians. And, take the Congregationalists of both sorts, they are the greater part of the people in the colony.” Such was the composition of the most of the Northern colonies. The commingling of these elements induced frequent debates and uneasiness, and gave occasion to the repeated assembling of councils and synods, by which schemes of discipline were constructed and plans of comprehen sion devised, varying from the Erastian Congregationalism of the Cambridge platform to the almost Pres byterian order of that of Saybrook. Thus, upon a vaguely‑defined and varying basis, by the union of Inde pendents and Presbyterians, were the Congregational churches of New England created.

The example thus exhibited in the colonies sug gested frequent movements toward a similar union in the mother country. Baxter gives an account of three several schemes of this sort in which he was engaged, all of which failed.

Shortly before the accession of William and Mary, the Rev. Increase Mather, being at the time President of Harvard College, was sent to England, and remained there several years on business of the province and college. Whilst there, he set himself with great zeal to bring about such a union in the mother country as had long been familiar to him in the New England colonies. His proposals were seconded by Bates, Howe, Baxter and others. The result was, that in 1690 the ministers of the three denominations in London‑the, Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists‑entered into articles of union with each other. These articles, or, as they were entitled, “Heads of Agreement,” constituted a final and entire surrender of Presbyterian principles by the ministers of that name. The example of Lon don was speedily imitated throughout the kingdom.

The author of Magnalia Americana; speaking of the Heads of Agreement, says, “The brethren of the Pres byterian way in England are lately come into such an happy union with those of the Congregational that all former names of distinction are now swallowed up in that blessed one of ‘United Brethren.’ And now, partly because one of New England, namely, Mr. In crease Mather, then resident in London, was very sin gularly instrumental in effecting of that union, but more because that union hath been for many lustres, yea, many decades of years, exemplified in the churches of New England, so far that I believe ’tis not possible for me to give a truer description of our own ecclesiastical constitution than by transcribing thereof, the articles of that union shall be here repeated.”

The system developed in the articles gives the Inde pendent definition of the particular congregation. It declares that “In the administration of church power, it belongs to the pastor and other elders of every par ticular church, if such there be, to rule and govern, and to the brotherhood to consent according to the rule of the gospel” It states the office of deacon to be “of divine appointment, and that it belongs to their office to receive, lay out and distribute the church’s stock to its proper uses by the direction of the pastor and brethren, if need be. And whereas divers are of opinion that there is also the office of ruling elders, who labor not in word and doctrine, and others think otherwise; we agree that this difference make no breach among us.” No provision was made for stated meetings of church officers, but it was agreed, “1. That, in order to con cord, and in other weighty and difficult cases, it is needful, and according to the mind of Christ, that the ministers of the several churches be consulted and advised with about such matters. 2. That such meetings may consist of smaller or greater numbers, as the matter shall require. 3. That particular churches, their respective elders and members, ought to have a reverential regard to their judgment so given, and not dissent therefrom without apparent grounds from the word of God.” But to preclude any assumption of authority in these councils it was agreed, “That none of our particular churches shall be subordinate to one another, each being endued with equality of power from Jesus Christ. And that none of the particular churches, their officer or officers, shall exercise any power or have any superiority over any other church or their officers.”

Thus, for no case that could arise in regard to the discipline of members or ministers was there any tribunal other than the particular church, and for possible dereliction of churches no remedy whatever was provided. It is not necessary to enter more into detail in order to demonstrate that by these articles of union the nominal Presbyterians of England definitively abandoned every feature distinctive of the Westminster polity. Of the system now inaugurated in its stead we have some illustrations in the observations of our own Samuel Davies, whose visit to England on behalf of the College of New Jersey enabled him to witness the operation of the system in its heyday of success. In his journal, writing in London, he says: “In the evening I went to the Amsterdam Coffee‑house, where the Independent ministers meet for friendly conversation and to consult about the affairs of the churches, for they have no other Asso ciations, as the Presbyterians have no other Presbyteries. Indeed, there seems to be no government exer cised jointly among either of them. The English Presbyterians have no elders nor judicatories of any kind, nor seem to me to agree, but in very few particu lars with the Church of Scotland. I find,” he further remarks, “the Calvinistic Presbyterians, as well as the Baptists, choose to frequent the Independent coffee-house, rather than associate with their Presbyterian brethren of Arminian or Socinian sentiment at Hamlin’s.”

In view of the state of these churches thus developed, we might leave them, with the language of Orme, the biographer of Baxter, himself a Congregationalist. Having given a history of the union, he adds, that “from the date of this agreement Presbyterianism may said to have existed but in name in England.” But there are lessons in the subsequent history of these churches upon which we shall briefly linger.

We have mentioned the existence of incipient heresy one of the causes which indisposed the nominal Presbyterians of King William’s time to organize their churches after the Westminster model. Arminianism for a half century been dominant in the Established Church, and was also gradually infecting the churches of the Continent. Richard Baxter, a man eminent among the Presbyterians, alike for his talents and piety, for his invaluable practical writings, and for his sufferings under the persecutions of the Second James, had attempted to open a “middle way” between the harshness of the Reformed theology, and the laxity of Arminius. The following, from Mather’s Magnalia Americana, not only exhibits some of the leading features of the new system, but also the esteem in which it was held by the fathers of New England: “As in those elder days of New England the esteem which our churches had for that eminent man (Mr. Baxter) did not hinder them from rejecting that new covenant of works, with which they thought he confounded that most important article, upon the notions whereof the Church either stands or falls; thus it is a grief of mind unto our churches at this day to find that great and good man, in some of his last works, under the blind ing heat of his indignation against some which we also account unjustifiable, yea, dangerous opinions and expressions, of Dr. Crisp, reproaching .some of the most undoubted points of our common faith. We read him unaccountably enumerating among errors, which he says have corrupted Christianity and subverted the Gospel, such things as these:

“They feign that God made a covenant with Adam, that if he stood God would continue him and his posterity, and if he fell God would take it as if all his posterity then personally sinned in him.’ Feigning God to make Adam not only the natural father and root of mankind, but also arbitrarily a constituted representer of all the persons that should spring from him. Whence they infer that Christ was, by God’s imposition and his own sponsion, made the legal representative person of every one of the elect, taken singularly; so that what he did for them God reputeth them to have done by him. Hereby they falsely make the person of the Mediator to be the legal person of the sinner.’ ‘They forge a law that God never made, that with, “Thou, or thy surety, shall obey perfectly, or die.’” ‘They feign God to have made an eternal covenant with his Son’ ‘They feign Christ to have made such an exchange with the elect that having taken all their sins he hath given them ail his righteousness, not only the fruit of it, but the thing in itself.’ I They say that by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, habitual and actual, we are judged perfectly just.’ They talk of justification in mere ignorant confusion. They say that to justify is not to make righteous, but to judge righteous’ `They err grossly, saying, that by “faith imputed for righteousness” and our “being justified by faith,” is not meant the act or habit of faith, but the object, Christ’s righteousness, not stickling thereby to turn such texts into worse than nonsense.’

“All these are Mr. Baxter’s words, in his ‘Defence of Christ,’ ch. ii. These things which our churches with amazement, behold Mr. Baxter thus calling fictions, falsehoods, forgeries, ignorant confusion and gross errors, were defended by Mr. Norton as the faith once delivered to the saints; nor do our churches at. this day consider them as any other than glorious truths of the Gospel.”

The reputation of Baxter’s learning and piety, and the fame of his sufferings under the persecutions of the High Commission, gave ready and extensive currency to his views, although they were met with determined opposition from the beginning. Soon after the institution of the Pinners’ Hall Lectures, in 1672, the introduction there of these opinions created uneasiness, and induced some controversy with the adherents of the evangelical theology. It was not, however, until the the death of Baxter that the seeds which he had profusely sown germinated in an open rupture. About that time a work was published by the Rev. Daniel Williams, one of the most eminent of the Presbyterian party, which, under pretence of opposition to Antinomianism, strove to obscure and overturn the received doctrines of grace, and to substitute Baxterianism in their stead. The result was a heated controversy and the ultimate exclusion of Dr. Williams by the patrons of Pinner’s Hall from the lectureship which he there held. The partisans of the new theology, together with many who aspired to a character of moderation and “candor,” now united in establishing a rival lectureship, which was instituted at Salters’ Hall in 1694, In consequence of this separation, the meeting at Pinners’ Hall, where the Independents were predominant, became the rallying-point of the defenders of the Calvinatic theology, whilst that at Salters’ Hall was the head quarters of the United Brethren, where the new theology was cherished and propagated.

But the pregnant character of the heresies, which had now obtained foothold and recognition, was not the only ominous indication in the United Churches. A false moderation had, in the minds of many, usurped the place of zeal for the truth. By this not a few were ensnared who were still free from the infection of doctrinal error. Under the pretence of superior “candor” and liberality of sentiment was veiled a real intolerance toward those who felt that they were set for the defence of the Gospel; and this was associated with a slothful indifference to the errors of its assailants. Carried away by this influence, some of the most eminent and excellent men of the age, themselves sound in the faith, gave their countenance to the authors of innovation, and thus lent themselves to weaken the hands of the witnesses for the truth. Such was Henry, the commentator, himself untainted with heresy, yet the biographer of Dr. Benion, to whose Neonomian theology he gives the implied sanction of publication without censure. Such was Howe, the chaplain of Cromwell, the most prominent of the Independents, who withdrew with Williams from Pinner’s Hall, and aided in establishing the rival lecture. “He had truly a great soul,” says Calamy, his biographer, “and at the same time a very cool and moderate spirit, and was an utter enemy to that uncharitable and censorious humor that is visible in so many. He did not look upon religion as a system of opinions, or a set of forms, so much as a divine discipline to reform the heart and life. In lesser matters he could freely give others the liberty of their own .sentiments, and was as unwilling to impose as to be imposed on” So says Dr. Calamy, his contemporary and biographer; and in describing Howe he expresses his own and the prevailing sentiments of the age. Opposition to error was stigmatized as intolerance. and persecution, and earnestness in defence of the truth was looked upon as indicative of bigotry and narrowness of soul.

Near akin to this was a growing disposition to decry doctrinal preaching, and substitute in its stead the enforcement of practical duties. Since “religion was not a system of opinions, or a set of forms, so much as a divine discipline to reform the heart and life,” as Calamy insists, it immediately followed that the preach ing of doctrinal truth‑the promulgation of systems of opinions‑was unprofitable, and the preacher’s busi ness ought rather to be the laying down of appropriate rules of discipline for the reformation of the feelings and conduct.

An illustration of this disposition to supersede all doctrinal instruction presents itself in a volume of catechisms, of which we shall say more presently. In the :preface parents are thus admonished: “They are con siderable errors in the method of education that parents take more pains to teach their children the doctrines than the duties of religion, though the doctrines are revealed for the sake of the duties; that they are more careful to instruct them in the abstruse and darker than in the plain doctrines of Christianity, though these are always the most important; that they too much neglect duties to men and those inward virtuous tempers which are the spring of these duties, though duties to men who need our love and service are as strongly insisted on in Scripture as duties to God who needs them not.”

Another circumstance conspired to facilitate the pro cess of declension. The Heads of Agreement declared, that “As to what appertains to soundness of judgment in matters of faith, we esteem it sufficient that a Church acknowledge the Scriptures to be the word of God, the perfect and only rule of faith and practice, and own either the doctrinal part of those commonly called the Articles of the Church of England, or the Confession, or Catechisms, Shorter or Larger, compiled by the Assembly at Westminster, or the Confession agreed on at the Savoy, to be agreeable to said rule.” Thus, with abounding liberality, the United Churches esteemed it sufficient to acknowledge either of five several docu ments to be agreeable to the word of God. But even this rule, moderate as were its demands, applied only to the churches. For the ministry no provision whatever was made. In practice the candidate drafted his own creed, on presentation of which, if satisfactory to the selected council, he was ordained. Ultimately, as libe ral principles became prevalent, even this was omitted, and the whole matter was reduced to a mere profession of faith in the Scriptures as being the word of God.

A very interesting illustration of the process here indicated is presented in a work to which allusion has already been made‑a volume of catechisms for the instruction of children and youth, published during the progress of the apostasy by Mr. Samuel Bourn. It consists of a short and a large doctrinal and an histori cal catechism from the pen of Mr. Bourn, to which is added an edition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, altered and amended. In the preface we are informed that “‘Tis now generally thought that the religious principles set forth in the Bible have been better understood in this present age, through the free and diligent searches of the learned, than they had been in any since the primitive times. As there are still farther advances made in critical learning, and by the later notations on the Scriptures great improvements are made upon those that went before, no considerate per son can reasonably think that in ninety years’ space men letters and study should see no cause for giving such accounts of the doctrines of revelation as would some way or other vary from what had been ..taught before that period, especially considering that the teachers of Christianity in. this nation had been no very long while out of the Antichristian darkness; how much of their time had been taken up in defending the Reformation against the Romanists, as well as in their ordinary ministerial work, and how little they had left for thoroughly studying the inferior points of gospel divinity.”

A few of the questions of the Shorter Catechism, as here amended, will serve as a clue to the whole system. It answer to the fundamental question, What is sin? We read that “Sin is any voluntary want of conformi ty to or transgression of the law of God.” “The fall brought mankind into a state of sin, as in consequence of the fall men are born with less perfect constitutions than Adam was created with, were more liable to do evil and less able and disposed to do good, which be came an unhappy inlet to actual transgressions and habits of wickedness.” ” God having out of his mere good pleasure purposed from eternity to show special favor to mankind, did enter into a covenant of grace,”, etc. “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, by which in concurrence with his Word and providence and our own sincere endeavors he so convinceth us of our sin and misery, and enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renews our wills, as to per suade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the Gospel.” ” Justification is that act of the free grace or favor of God wherein he pardoneth all our sins and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, through Jesus Christ, upon our believing in him.” ” Faith in Jesus Christ is such a firm and hearty per suasion of the truth of his Gospel as is productive of obedience to it.” One additional answer will complete the outline and reveal the landing‑place of this scheme. Instead of the Westminster question on the Trinity we have the inquiry, “Do not the Scriptures give an account of more divine persons than one? The Scrip tures give an account of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and that this holy Trinity were entirely united in com pleting the most glorious of all God’s works.”

The first open avowal of Arianism was in Exeter, where the Rev. James Pierce, after much trouble and the call of repeated councils, was excluded from the church of which he had charge for refusal to preach the doctrine of the Trinity. He had previously main tained an obstinate silence on that subject, but immed iately upon his exclusion erected a separate congregati on, and proclaimed his Arian sentiments. In London the defection was less. rapid and extensive than in the country, although the poison was, there, too, spreading secret infection. In 1730, of forty‑four Presbyte rian ministers in the city, nineteen were professed Calv inists, twelve Baxterians, and thirteen Arminians —not one avowed Arian. Yet among them was Lardner, who became an Arian and died a Socinian. Others allowed in the same course.”

As the defection originated in the doctrinal views of leading Presbyterian divines, so several circumstances inspired to induce its development, particularly among the churches of that name. Their union with the In dependents had stripped them of every safeguard of their own system, without compensating them with even the feebler barriers of Independency. The moral power of the latter system is essentially dependent upon a conscientious conviction of the divine right, and consequent duty of each congregation to exercise the functions of government and discipline over its own officers and members, irrespective and independent of any other tribunal. Repudiating as they did this opinion, it was not to be expected that the Presbyte rian churches should assume the exercise of functions and the burden of responsibilities, such as those of persecution for heresy, which were odious in them es, and not enforced by their own conscientious opinions as to the order of God’s house. Hence, the authors of innovation were much less liable to be brought to account in a Presbyterian than in an Independent Church.

The respectable social rank of the Presbyterian body, and the rich endowments which it gradually accumulated, were also a snare to its own people and an inducement to the corrupt and designing to unite with it. The reputation of tolerance and “candor” naturally caused the erroneous to coalesce with the Presbyterian churches rather than with the stricter Independents, with whom, on the other hand, the faithful ministers and people of God everywhere sided.

Any churches, of whatever antecedents, in which the new doctrines became prevalent, readily arrayed themselves under the respectable and tolerant banner, on the folds of which was inscribed the Presbyterian name. On the contrary, individuals who loved the truth withdrew from the backsliding churches, and united with Independent congregations. Sound parts of Arian congregations, separating themselves, formed Independent churches, and whole congregations, as their pulpits became vacant, sought Independent pastors and assumed that name.

Such is the history of the Socinian apostasy of the nominal Presbyterians of England. Beginning in the theological aberrations of the sainted Baxter, it ended in blasphemies against the Son and Spirit of God. Starting out with a denial of the imputation of Adam’s sin, of the vicarious satisfaction of Christ, and of the imputation of his obedience and sufferings, nourished by lax principles on the subject of subscription to the confession, and free from the trammels of a scriptural discipline, its fatal career was quickly run. Traversing the systems of Arminius and Pelagius, its nominal results were reached in the utter denial of the divinity of Christ and of the existence of the Holy Spirit of grace.

That apostasy is the constant appeal of Congregational writers in proof that Presbyterianism is no protection against fatal heresies, and the Heads of Agreement are the favorite resort of our New School brethren in tracing the origin of that liberal policy which they so much admire. The facts of this history preclude both of these appeals. The “liberal Presbyterianism” of England originated in a compelled Independency. Its organization never was Presbyterian, but was the original of Congregationalism, and it resulted in Socinian heresy and a return to Independency.

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