Chapter III c

The History of the Church from 1729 until 1741

With regard to the administration of the discipline and government of the church, the same characteristics which marked the preceding period are to be found also in that from 1729 to 1741. As might be expected, the Synod continued to exercise all the ordinary Synodical powers. The records of the several Presbyteries were regularly called for and revised, and approved or censured, as the occasion demanded. Appeals, references, and complaints were received and decided. For example, in 1736, “An appeal from a part of the Rev. William Tennent’s people from the judgment of the Presbytery of Philadelphia was brought in and read, together with a supplication of said persons to the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and their judgment upon it. After that, Mr. Tennent, the appellants, and the members of the Presbytery were heard at length; at last all parties were ordered to remove, and the Synod entered upon a debate upon the affair, and at last agreed in the following unanimous judgment, viz.: ‘That it appears evident to the Synod, that Mr. Tennent having in all respects acted and been esteemed and looked upon, not only by this Synod, but also by the congregation of Neshaminy, and particularly by the appellants themselves, as the minister and pastor of the people of Neshaminy, that he is still to be esteemed the pastor of that people, notwithstanding the want of a formal installation among them (which omission, though the Synod doth not justify, yet it is far from nullifying the pastoral relation between Mr. Tennent and the said people), and consequently that the Synod doth justify the judgment of the Presbytery of Philadelphia in reference to the matter; and that the appellants had no just cause of complaining against, or appealing from the said judgment of the Presbytery.”

It was also in the exercise of the usual powers of such bodies that the Synod erected new Presbyteries or divided old ones, as occasion required. In 1732, “it being overtured by the committee of overtures, that an erection of a new Presbytery in Lancaster county should be appointed by the Synod, it was voted by a great majority that Masters Anderson, Thompson, Orr, Boyd, and Bertram, be members of a Presbytery by the name of Donegal Presbytery.” In 1733 an overture was presented by the committee for a division of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, which was approved, and it was “agreed that Messrs. Andrews, Morgan, Evans, Tennent, Treat, Elmer, Gould, and Wales, be the Presbytery of Philadelphia., and that the rest of the members now in said Presbytery be the Presbytery of East Jersey.” In 1735 a request was made by Messrs. Hook, Jamison, Stevenson, and Martin, that they might be set off from the Presbytery of New Castle, “and erected into a Presbytery by themselves; the Synod do agree that they become a Presbytery under the name of the Presbytery of Lewestown, and do order them to meet and constitute the 19th day of November next, at Lewestown.” In 1738 it is recorded that “the Presbytery of Long Island being reduced so that a quorum cannot statedly meet about business, ’tis ordered that they be united with the Presbytery of East Jersey, and be henceforth known by the name of the Presbytery of New York.” The same year, “upon a supplication of some members of the Presbytery of New York, to be erected into a new Presbytery, with some members of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, overtured that their petition be granted, and all to the northward of Maidenhead and Hopewell unto the Raritan river, including also Staten Island, Piscatawa, Amboy, Boundbrook, Baskingridge, Turkey, Rocksitius, Minisinks, Pequally, and Crosswicks, be the bounds of that Presbytery, and that the said Presbytery be known by the name of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, and that the time of their meeting be the second Tuesday of August next at New Brunswick. This overture was approved.”

It was stated in the preceding chapter, as one of the peculiarities of our first Synod, that, in accordance with the Scottish system, it exercised all Presbyterial powers. The examples of the exercise of such powers, during the period under review, are very numerous. The Synod was in the habit, for example, of receiving and disposing of ministers and candidates who had not connected themselves with any of our Presbyteries. In 1730 Mr. John Peter Miller, a Dutch probationer, recently arrived in the country, was received, and left to the care of the Philadelphia Presbytery. In 1732 the Rev. Mr. Bertram was received from the Presbytery of Bangor in Ireland. In 1736 Mr. John McDowell presented his credentials from the Presbytery of Temple Patrick in Ireland, and “was received by the Synod as a probationer,” and recommended to any Presbytery to which he might choose to apply. The Synod likewise ordained, censured, removed, and suspended ministers without the intervention of a Presbytery. Thus, in 1735, “a supplication being brought into Synod from the people of Goshen, and also a letter from Mr. Tudor, a candidate for the ministry there, both signifying that he is ready to adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith, &c., and to submit to Presbyterial rules; and also desiring Synod would, as soon as possibly may be, send a committee to the said place to attend the ordination of Mr. Tudor there, “the Synod” it is said, “do accordingly appoint Mr. Robert Cross, Mr. Pumry, Mr. Webb, Mr. Nutman, Mr. John Cross, and Mr. Chalker, to meet at Goshen, the last Wednesday of the next month, October, to attend to the said ordination, and that Mr. Robert Cross preside in the said affair. And the Synod do further appoint for the trials of Mr. Tudor, that he make an exegesis in Latin upon that question, An lex naturæ sit sufficiens ad salutem? and that he preach a popular sermon upon Rom. II. 6.” The following year, the above committee reported that they did not ordain Mr. Tudor “because of his insufficiency.”

In 1735, the Rev. Mr. Hemphill was tried by the commission of Synod for false doctrines, and the case upon their report came before the Synod, who passed the following sentence: “The Synod from the consideration of his contumacy in his errors; his disregard of the censures of the commission; and rejecting our communion; do declare him unqualified for any further exercise of his ministry within our bounds, and that this be intimated to all our congregations, by each respective minister. Approved nem. con.”

The Synod also frequently acted in reference to the congregations in the capacity of a Presbytery. Thus, in 1733, “Mr. Andrews made a motion to the committee of overtures that an assistant be allowed unto him in the work of the ministry in this city, and the committee after discoursing upon it, having recommended the consideration thereof to the Synod, upon the proviso, that if the said motion be allowed or approved, there be first a sufficient provision made for an honourable maintenance of Mr. Andrews, during his continuance among this people, and the Synod entered upon the consideration of the said motion… and it was carried in the affirmative, nem. con.” It was then overtured “that the congregation be allowed to call an assistant to Mr. Andrews,” which was also agreed to. In 1734 it appears an application was made to the commission for the removal of Mr. Robert Cross from Jamaica to Philadelphia. The matter was thus brought before Synod, when the commissioners from the two congregations interested in the business were heard, and after public notice had been given to the people of the First Church, that if any of them had “any thing to object against ‘Mr. Cross’ being settled here in Philadelphia, they may appear and offer what they had to say in the affair,” Synod decided against his removal.

The following year it is recorded that “a supplication being brought into the Synod from one part of the Presbyterian congregation of Philadelphia, desiring Mr. Robert Cross to be granted for their minister; also another paper to strengthen the supplication; and also another supplication from another part of the said congregation desiring Mr. Jonathan Dickinson to be their minister, the Synod not having time to issue that affair at present, do defer the consideration of it till tomorrow morning.” The following day, however, a petition was presented by the friends of Mr. Cross to be erected into a new congregation, which was deferred for future consideration. The next morning the motion for a new erection “was carried in the affirmative by a great majority. Mr. John Smith of Bethlehem, in the Highlands of New York, desired that his dissent might be entered on our minutes.” This decision having produced dissatisfaction, it was reconsidered in the afternoon, and reaffirmed, Messrs. Dickinson, Pemberton, Webb, Elmer, Chalker, and Wales dissenting. The Synod then declared that they did not intend by their decision “to oblige the said people to erect themselves into a new congregation, but only that the Synod allowed them to do so.” The following summer, a new congregation was formed by the Synod’s commis­sion, and, in 1737, “a call from the new erection in this city,” it is said, “to the Rev. Mr. Robert Cross, together with a supplication to the Synod containing arguments to move the Synod to concur with the designs of the said call, were read.” The call was handed to Mr. Cross and his sentiments desired in relation to it. In answer to which he said “that he was clearly convinced and persuaded in his judgment, as things now appear, that it is his duty to remain with the people of Jamaica, and he thought the Synod could not determine this matter until his people be apprized thereof, and have opportunity to declare themselves concerning it.” The Synod then agreed that “the clerk and Mr. Elmer, each of them by himself, should en­deavour to prepare an overture upon the affair to be brought in the afternoon, to be considered by the Synod.” This overture, which was unanimously adopted, proposed to defer the question of Mr. Cross’ removal until the next meeting of the Synod, that in the meantime he should preach two months for the new congregation, that the Synod should appoint supplies for the people of Jamaica during Mr. Cross’ absence, &c., &c. In 1737 a supplication was again presented to the Synod for Mr. Cross, “the purport whereof was to invalidate what was offered in the supplication from Jamaica.” Mr. Cross having submitted himself wholly to the judgment of the Synod, after considerable debate, and “after solemn calling upon God for light and direction, it was decided nem. con., to transfer Mr. Cross to Philadelphia.” In the following year it was reported to the Synod “that the Rev. Robert Cross was installed since our last meeting, according to the Synod’s appointment, and that the two congregations in Philadelphia were since united.” In all this protracted business, neither the Presbytery of New York to which Mr. Cross belonged, nor that of Philadelphia with which the congregation was connected, is so much as named. So completely did the Synod act on the Scottish principle, that the higher court has all the powers of the lower ones.

The Synod continued to transact much of its business by committees, which were sometimes designed merely to collect information, but most commonly were clothed with full powers. Thus, in 1731, some difficulty having occurred between Mr. Bradner of Goshen and one of his church members, the Synod “appointed a committee to go to Goshen, with the full power of the Synod, to hear and determine that business.” In 1734, “an appeal being brought in by Mr. John Kirkpatrick and Mr. John Moor from the Presbytery of Donegal, the Synod appointed that Messrs. Andrews, William Tennent, Treat, Alexander Hucheson, George Gillespie, Thomas Evans, and Henry Hook, be a committee to meet on the first Wednesday in November next to hear the said appeal, and determine it by the authority of Synod, and that they bring an account of their transactions therein to the next Synod. And the Synod do also empower the said committee to hear any matter de novo, that shall be brought before them by the said John Kirkpatrick and John Moor, with relation to the affair aforesaid, and authoritatively to determine thereupon; appointing also that if either party shall appeal from the determination off the said committee, they shall enter their appeal immediately, that it may be finally determined by the next Synod.” In 1737 we find the following record: “Overtured on Mr. Morgan’s affair, that inas­much as it would be both difficult and tedious for the Synod to make a particular inquiry into the whole affair, the Synod appoint, the Presbyteries of Philadelphia and East Jersey to meet as a committee at Maidenhead and judge of the said affair, and absolve Mr. Morgan from the censure he lies under, if he appear suitably penitent, and no new accusations be advanced against him; and Mr. Morgan to continue under suspension until the said committee meet, and that at least three members of each Presbytery be a quorum. The first Wednesday of August next to be the time of meeting; and it is ordered that every minister do endeavour to bring an elder with him. Approved nem. con.”

The following minute affords an illustration of one other peculiarity in the mode of action adopted by the Synod. A reference was made in 1738 by the Presbytery of Philadelphia of some difficulty between them and the congregation of Hopewell and Maidenhead. The Synod censured the conduct of the people, and “wholly disallowed the said complainants being erected into a new congregation, until they do first submit the determination of the place for erecting a new meeting-house to their Presbytery, as was agreed upon between them and their neighbours, as a condition of their being a separate congregation. This overture was approved by a large majority. And it is further ordered by the Synod, that when the Presbytery of Philadelphia meet at Hopewell and Maidenhead, to fix the place of a new meeting-house, they shall call the following correspondents: Messrs. John Pierson, John Nutman, Samuel Blair, Aaron Burr, Nathaniel Hubbell, and Eleazar Wales.”

There is not much in the powers granted to the committee, in the following illustration, beyond what is now customary, but the case is interesting and instructive. In 1738 “Mr. Gilbert Tennent represented to the committee that there had been differing sentiments in some points of doctrine, between himself and Mr. David Cowell, upon which there had been sundry large letters passed between them, concerning which it is overtured: that this affair be considered by a committee appointed by the Synod, who shall be directed to converse with Mr. Tennent and Mr. Cowell together, that they may see whether they so widely differ in their sentiments as is supposed, and if there be necessity, distinctly to consider the papers, that Mr. Tennent and Mr. Cowell be both directed to refrain all public discourse upon the controversy, and all methods of spreading it among the populace, until the committee have made their report to the Synod; and that no other member take notice of, or divulge the affair. The above mentioned committee were Messrs. J. Dickinson, Pierson, Pemberton, Thompson, Anderson, Boyd, and the moderator [Richard Treat].” It would be thought rather singular for any Synod in our day thus to lay an interdict upon theological controversy. In the afternoon of the day on which they were appointed, the committee reported that they had heard Mr. Tennent and Mr. Cowell explain themselves on the points in debate, and requested to be allowed to report to the next Synod. This request was granted, and Mr. Robert Cross was added to the committee.

The next year they “brought in the following overture, which being read, the Synod had the great satisfaction to find that the contending parties fully agreed in their sentiments on the point in controversy, according to the doctrine contained in the said overture, viz. though they apprehend that there are some incautious and unguarded expressions used by both the contending parties, yet they have ground to hope that the principal controversy between them flows from their not having clear ideas of the subject they so earnestly debate about, and not from any dangerous errors they entertain, since they both own that the glory of God is the great ultimate end of all things. And as the point under debate concerns an important doctrine of religion, we would take the liberty to express our thoughts with respect to it, in a few words, which we hope will be agreeable to the sentiments of the Synod, and readily agreed to by the parties concerned in this dispute. We apprehend that the glory of God was the only motive that influenced him to all his external operations. For since nothing else had an existence, nothing certainly could influence him from without himself. By his declarative glory we mean the manifestation of his essential and adorable perfections for the great and excellent ends he de­signed in this manifestation. It is the indispensable duty of every creature, according to its utmost capacity, to aim at the same end, which the blessed God has in view, and to endeavor to direct all his actions unto it. The method in which the great God has required us to prosecute this end is by conformity to his image and example, and a sincere and universal obedience to his laws. In his infinite and astonishing grace he has been pleased insepar­ably to connect our happiness with the prosecution of this end. This obedience which we are to pay to the divine law, and by which alone we can glorify him, must be performed by us, not only because it is the way to happiness, but because it is infinitely just and reasonable in itself, agreeable to the blessed God, whom we are under indissoluble obligations to obey and carry on the same design which he has been pleased to propose in all his actions. And these designs of the glory of God and our own happiness are so inseparably connected that they must never be placed in opposition to each other. For in all cases, he that actively glorifies God promotes his own happiness, and by a conformity to the divine statutes and laws, which is the only way to happiness, we, in the best manner we are capable of, glorify God.”

This is surely sound doctrine. The glory of God is the ultimate end of all things. To promote that glory is the highest duty, and should be the governing purpose of all intelligent beings, and their own happiness is inseparably connected with their aiming at this end and being governed by this motive. This, no doubt, was the doctrine which Mr. Tennent had so much at heart. He was satisfied with the Synod’s assertion of it, though he was, or at least became, greatly dissatisfied that the opposite doctrine, that happiness was the grand end of existence, and its attainment the proper governing motive of all rational creatures, which he supposed Mr. Cowell to hold, was not more pointedly condemned.

That Mr. Tennent was not pleased with the issue of this dispute is evident from the fact that, when the minutes were read at the next meeting of the Synod, he moved that all the papers relating to the controversy should be read, and the whole subject be considered by the Synod. This motion, after considerable debate, was rejected by a large majority. This no doubt increased his dissatisfaction. The following year, 1740, when from various causes he felt constrained to read before the Synod a paper containing his reasons for thinking that a large portion of his brethren were unconverted men, he assigned as the first reason “their unsoundness in some of the principal doctrines of Christianity that relate to experience and practice, as particularly in the following points: First, that there is no distinction between the glory of God and our happiness, that self-love is the foundation of all obedience.” “These doctrines,” he says, “do in my opinion entirely overset, if true, all supernatural religion; render regeneration a vain and needless thing; involve a crimson blasphemy against the blessed God, by putting ourselves upon a level with him. Secondly, that there is a certainty of salvation annexed to the labours of natural men. This doctrine in my opinion supposes the greatest falsehood, viz. that there is a free will in man naturally to acceptable good…As these opinions are contrary to the express testimony of holy Scripture, our Confession of Faith and Christian experience, they give me reason to suspect, at least, that those who hold them are rotten-hearted hypocrites, and utter strangers to the saving know­ledge of God, and of their own hearts.”

The first of these doctrines was the one involved in his controversy with Mr. Cowell. Why he should charge it upon the Synod, seeing they so explicitly teach the opposite doctrine in the minute above cited, does not appear. As to the second point, Mr. Thompson, in his reply to Mr. Tennent, says he did not know a single man in the whole Synod whom he even suspected of holding it. How strongly Mr. Tennent felt on this subject is still more evident from a subsequent charge against the Synod, viz. that they had so much “more zeal for outward order than for the main points of practical religion. Witness the committee slighting and shuffling the late debate about the glory of God, and their present contention about the committee-act” (that is, the act for the examination of candidates by a committee of Synod). Considering the composition of the committee against whom this complaint is directed, and the character of their award, it must be regarded as a little singular. Had this good man lived in our day, his ardent temper could hardly have kept within bounds, when he saw the doctrines that “self-love is the foundation of all obedience,” and that “there is a free will in man to acceptable good,” made the keystone of a whole system of theology.1

There is scarcely any period in the history of our church more prolific in acts and overtures than the one now under consideration. These acts proceeded in nearly equal proportions from each of the two parties into which the Synod now began to be divided. Neither party questioned the right of the Synod to make such acts, as both freely availed themselves of the power. Several of the most important of these measures are so intimately connected with the great schism of 1741, that they will be more properly considered in detail, in connection with that event, though chronologically belonging to the present period.

In the minutes for 1733, there is the following record: “Upon an overture to the Synod in pursuance of an order of the committee to that purpose, viz.: to use some proper means to revive the declining power of godliness, the Synod do earnestly recommend it to all ministers and members to take particular care about ministerial visiting of families, and press family and social worship, according to the Westminster Directory; and they also recommend it to every Presbytery at proper seasons, to inquire concerning the diligence of each of their members in such particulars. This overture was approved nem. con. Ordered, that each Presbytery take a copy of said overture, together with this order, and insert the same in their Presbytery books.”

In 1735 “Mr. Gilbert Tennent brought some overtures into the Synod with respect to trials of candidates both for the ministry and for the Lord’s supper, that there be due care taken to examine into the evidences of the grace of God in them, as well as of their other necessary qualifications. The Synod doth unanimously agree, ‘That as it has been our principle and practice, and as it is recommended in the Directory for worship and government, to be careful in this matter, so it awfully concerns us to be most serious and solemn in trying both sorts of candidates above mentioned. And this Synod does, therefore, in the name and fear of God, exhort and obtest all our Presbyteries to take special care not to admit into the sacred office, loose, careless, and irreligious persons, but that they particularly inquire into the conversation, conduct, and behaviour of such as offer themselves to the ministry; and that they diligently examine all the candidates for the ministry in their experience of a work of sanctifying grace in their hearts; and that they admit none to the sacred trust that are not, in the eye of charity, serious Christians. And the Synod does also seriously and solemnly admonish all the ministers within our bounds to make it their awful, constant, and diligent care to approve themselves to God, to their own consciences, and to their hearers, serious, faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, and of holy and exemplary conversation. And the Synod does also exhort all the ministers within our bounds to use due care in examining those whom they admit to the Lord’s supper. This admonition was approved by the whole Synod. And the synod further recommends unanimously to all our Presbyteries, to take effectual care that each of their ministers is faithful in the discharge of his awful trust. And in particular, that they frequently examine with respect to their members, into their life and conversation, their diligence in their work, and their method of discharging their ministerial calling; particularly that each Presbytery do, at least once a year, examine into the manner of each minister’s preaching; whether he insists in his ministry upon the great articles of Christianity, and in the course of his preaching recommends a crucified Saviour to his hearers as the only foundation of hope, and the absolute necessity of the omnipotent influences of Divine grace to enable them to accept of this Saviour; whether he does, in the most solemn and affecting manner he can, endeavour to convince his hearers of their lost and perishing state whilst unconverted, and put them upon the diligent use of those means necessary, in order to obtain the sanctifying influences of the Spirit of God; whether he does, and how far he does discharge his duty towards the young people and children of his congregation, in a way of catechizing and familiar instruction; whether he does, and in what manner he does visit his flock and instruct them from house to house. And the Synod hereby orders, that a copy of this minute be inserted in the books of each of our Presbyteries, and be read at each of their Presbyterial meetings; and a record of its being read be minuted at the beginning of every session, and that there be also an annual record in each Pres­bytery book of a correspondence with this minute. And in case any minister within our bounds shall be found defective in any of the aforementioned cases, he shall be subject to the censure of the Presbytery; and if he refuse subjection to such censure, the Pres­bytery are hereby directed to report his case to the next Synod. And the Synod recommends to each of the ministers within our bounds, to be as much in catechetical doctrines as they in prudence may think proper.”

It is obvious that neither the knowledge nor power of evangelical religion could be dead in a church which was willing and able to issue such admonitions as the above. There may have been, and probably was, a great declension in practical religion, but there was no denial of evangelical principles. The public sentiment of the church must have been in favor of genuine experimental godliness. The above overture so far illustrates the relation in which the Synod stood to its own members and the several Presbyteries, as it contains not only the solemn admonitions of the governing body, insisting upon the performance of specific duties, but direc­tions as to the mode of their performance, and requisitions with which the Presbyteries were called upon to comply. That these bodies felt these orders to be obligatory upon them, is obvious from their obedience. This overture is recorded at length in the Pres­bytery book of Philadelphia, and in the minutes of their next subsequent meeting it is stated, “the minute of Synod ordered to be recorded in the Presbyteries, was read according to order of Synod, and by proper inquiries of the several members, it was found that the design of the said minute was in a good degree complied with.” A nearly similar entry is made frequently in the minutes for subsequent years. That the Presbytery of East Jersey complied with the above directions appears from the following record in the synodical book: “There having been a complaint made by some members of the Presbytery of East Jersey, that the Presbytery are incapable to comply with the excellent design of the act of the last Synod with respect to the trials of candidates for the ministry, and of the fidelity of their own members in the discharge of their ministerial trust, by reason that several of their members, and Mr. John Cross in particular, neglected to attend the stated meetings of the Presbytery; and that Mr. John Cross has, without the concurrence of the Presbytery, removed from one congregation to another: the Synod do declare the conduct of such ministers as do neglect attendance on the meetings of the Presbytery without necessity, or that take charge of any congregation without the Presbytery’s concurrence, to be disorderly, and justly worthy of Presbyterial censure, and do admonish said Mr. Cross to be no further chargeable with such irregularities for the future.”

How Mr. Tennent regarded this matter, and what authority he attributed to the act of Synod, may be inferred from what he says in the paper read to that body in 1740, and before referred to. He therein complains of some of his brethren for “setting out men to the ministry without so much as examining them about their Christian experiences, notwithstanding of a late canon of this Synod enjoining the same. How contrary is this practice to the Scriptures, and to our Directory, and of how dangerous tendency to the Church of God! Is it probable that truly gracious persons would thus slight the precious souls of men?”

In the year 1734, the following order was inserted on the minutes: “The Synod determines that no minister of our persuasion, in the government of Pennsylvania, or the lower counties, from this time forward, marry by any license from the government, till the form of them be altered and brought into a nearer conformity to those of the neighboring governments of New York and New Jersey, and particularly till they are altered in such a manner as hath no peculiar respect to the ministers of the Church of England, nor oblige us to any of the forms and ceremonies peculiar to that Church. And we do further agree to refer it to the Presbyteries of New Castle and Donegal, to make what regulations they see cause for upon the affair of licenses with respect to their own members.” In 1735 it is recorded that “upon reading last year’s minutes relating to marriages by licenses, it is supposed there may be some exempt instances, wherein the restraints of that act may be found too severe. The Synod, therefore, order that each particular Presbytery shall have full liberty to determine upon, and direct in such exempt cases as they shall think convenient, provided always that no minister within our bounds shall be allowed to marry by license any members of our established congregations, or others known to be of our communion, without certificates from the ministers of such congregations; or in case of the absence of the minister, or of the congregation’s being without a minister, from some other substantial persons, that such marriage is regular, and that there is no just bar in the way of it.” The Synod, it seems, felt no hesitation in assuming the right to control all its members in the exercise of one of their official functions; or, when the rule prescribed was found too strict, to order that the several Presbyteries “should have full liberty” to determine what cases should be exempted from its operation.

In the following year we find a still more extraordinary record. “Upon motion made by a member, the Synod do agree that if any of our members shall see cause to prepare any thing for the press upon any controversy in religious matters, before such member publish what he hath thus prepared, he shall submit the same to be perused by persons appointed for that purpose, and that Messrs. Andrews, Dickinson, Robert Cross, Pemberton, and Pierson, be appointed for this purpose in the bounds of the Synod to the northward of Philadelphia; and Messrs. Anderson, Thomas Evans, Cath­cart, Stevenson, and Thompson, in the bounds of the Synod to the southward of Philadelphia. Approved.” Here then is an actual censorship of the press. This is almost equal to the Presbyterianism of France, where the national Synods made and enforced similar regulations. All the gentlemen above named, except Mr. Pierson, were present at this meeting of the Synod, and yet no protest against what we should regard as a most extraordinary stretch of Synodical power is even hinted, and no refusal of Mr. Andrews, Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Evans, or Mr. Pemberton, to act on such a committee, and thus sanction the legality of its appointment. Surely they must be under a delusion, who, in their aspirations after advisory councils, long for the return of the early days of our Church.

The same year (1736) a long overture was introduced, no doubt, judging from the style and sentiments, by Mr. Thompson, against heresy. It alludes particularly to the case of Mr. Hemphill, who had been unanimously disowned by the Synod, as before stated. It urges, “Seeing we are likely to have most of our supply of minis­ters to fill our vacancies, from the north of Ireland, and seeing it is too plain to be denied or called in question that we are in danger of being imposed upon by ministers and preachers from thence, though sufficiently furnished with all the formalities of Presbyterial credentials,” the adoption of various expedients for guarding against the danger. It also testifies against the custom of some of the Irish Presbyteries of ordaining men sine titulo before they come to this country, thus depriving the Presbyteries here of their right of judging of their fitness for the sacred office. In consequence of this overture it is recorded, “The Synod do agree that no minister ordained in Ireland sine titulo be received to the exercise of the ministry among us, until he submit to such trials as the Presbytery among whom he resides shall think proper to order and appoint, and the Synod do also advertise the general Synod in Ireland, that their ordaining any such sine titulo before their sending them hither for the future, will be very disagreeable and disobliging to us. And the Synod do appoint Messrs. Robert Cross, John Thompson, and Joseph Houston, to send the above overture and appointment to the general Synod in Ireland, inclosed in a proper letter unto them.” On a subsequent page it is stated that “inquiry being made of the several Presbyteries whether they had complied with an order of Synod, touching the admission of foreign ministers and candidates that come from Europe, it was found that the order has been complied with.” It is evident from the above overture, and from various other sources, that the Irish members in their zeal against error were not actuated by any sectional jealousies. Their efforts were directed against their own countrymen. There was no desire to gain or confirm an ascendency in the Synod for men of their own origin. The very persons most prominent in these measures are found writing urgent letters to New England for suitable ministers to supply their vacant churches. Under these circumstances it is impossible to question either the sincerity of their professions or the purity of their motives.

In 1737 an overture was introduced and approved in reference to itinerant preachers. This act forbad a licentiate to preach in any vacant congregation without the order of the Presbytery to which he belonged, or of the Presbytery under whose care the congregation was placed. It forbad also the congregations to invite any minister or probationer without the concurrence of their Presbytery, &c. In the following year this order was so modified as to forbid any minister belonging to the Synod “to preach in any congregation belonging to another Presbytery,” after being warned by any member of the Presbytery that his so preaching would be likely to cause division. To this was added the explanation that this prohibition by one member was to be merely temporary. If the Presbytery to which the congregation belonged gave the stranger liberty to preach, he might do so. Thus explained, it was agreed to nentine contradicente. In 1739 it is stated that “the act made last year with respect to ministers preaching out of their own bounds being taken under a review, the Synod determine that if any minister in the bounds of any of our Presbyteries judge that the preaching of any minister or candidate of a neighboring Presbytery has had a tendency to promote division among them, he shall complain to the Presbytery in whose bounds the said congregation is; and that the minister who is supposed to be the cause of the aforesaid division shall be obliged to appear before them, and it shall be left to them to determine whether he shall preach any more in the bounds of that congregation; and he shall be bound to stand to their determination, until they shall see cause to remove their prohibition; or the Synod shall have an opportunity to take the affair under cognizance. Approved nem. con.” In 1740 the Synod say that although this agreement had at the time it was passed met with universal acceptance, yet as some of the brethren had become dissatisfied with it, and some of their people misinterpreted it, supposing it to be intended against all itinerant preaching, they agreed to repeal it, and thus avoid all contention on the subject.

This act is not so much an illustration of the power of the Synod, as it is a declaration, and enforcing the rights of Presbyteries. It merely provided that no man should preach in any congregation against the will of the Presbytery under whose care such congregation was placed. This is a principle fully recognized in our present constitution. If a congregation is vacant, it applies to the Presbytery for supplies, or obtains permission to fill its own pulpit. That the Presbytery has the right to watch over and provide for the religious instruction of its churches is one of the most familiar principles of our form of government. It very clearly shows at once the agitation existing in those days, and the moderation of Synod, that they were willing to waive this principle, though twice unanimously sanctioned, for the sake of peace. The opposition to this rule seems to have proceeded principally from Mr. Tennent. No man was, under ordinary circumstances, more disposed than that gentleman to enforce the obligation of such rules, and even to push them to extremes. But when he thought they stood in the way of the interests of religion, he trampled them under his feet. To create a division in the congregation of a converted pastor, or to preach against his consent within his bounds, was, in his eyes, a high ecclesiastical offense. But to preach the gospel to the people of a graceless minister, in despite of his remonstrances, was a matter of duty; and he would have done it, in despite of all the Synods in the world. In this he was clearly right, as far as the principle is concerned. There are obligations superior to those of mere ecclesiastical order; and there are times when it is a duty to disregard rules, which we admit to be legitimate both in their own nature, and in respect to the authority whence they proceed. It was on this principle that the apostles and the reformers acted. It is analogous to the right of revolution in civil communities, and consequently the cases are very rare in which it can be resorted to, with a good conscience. Because the reformers rightfully trampled on the ecclesiastical authorities to which they were subject, it does not follow that every wandering evangelist, who thinks that he is a better man or better preacher than his brethren, may properly enter into parishes, divide congregations, and unsettle pastors at pleasure. Whether Mr. Tennent was right in applying his principle in the way he did, is a very difficult question, which belongs properly to a subsequent period of our history.

It is worthy of remark that the same circumstances which called forth this act of the Synod, under the different system of the Connecticut churches, led to the interference of the civil authorities. In May 1742, the General assembly of Connecticut passed a law, in which, after a long preamble, they enacted that any settled minister who should preach within the parish of another minister, unless invited by the latter and by the major part of the people, should be deprived of all the benefit of the law for the support of the clergy; that if anyone not a minister or licentiate should teach or exhort in any parish, without being properly invited, he should be bound over in the penal sum of one hundred pounds; and if any stranger not an inhabitant of the colony should trans­gress in like manner he was to be sent as a vagrant from constable to constable out of the bounds of the colony.

In the year 1738, the Presbytery of Lewes brought in an overture respecting the examination of candidates for the ministry. After reciting the various disadvantages under which such candidates then labored in the prosecution of their studies, and the dangers arising from the admission of uneducated men into the ministry, it proposed that the Synod should agree that all the Presbyteries should require every candidate, before being taken upon trial, to be furnished with a diploma from some European or New England college; or in case he had not enjoyed the advantage of a college education, he should be examined by a committee of Synod, who should give him a certificate of competent scholarship, when they found him to merit it. This overture was approved by a great majority; and Messrs. John Thompson, George Gillespie, James Anderson, Thomas Evans, Henry Hook, James Martin, and Francis Allison were appointed the committee of examination for the Presbyteries to the South of Philadelphia; and Messrs. Andrews, Robert Cross, G. Tennent, E. Pemberton, J. Dickinson, D. Cowell, and J. Pierson for the Presbyteries to the North of Philadelphia.

In 1739 “the New Brunswick Presbytery having brought a paper of objections against the act of last year, touching the pre­vious examination of candidates, the Synod consented to revise that act, and upon deliberation agreed to the following overture, which they substitute in the place of it, viz.: It being the first article in our excellent Directory for the examination of candidates for the sacred ministry, that they be inquired of what degrees they have taken in the university, &c.; and it being oftentimes impracticable for us in these remote parts of the earth, to obtain an answer to these questions of those who propose themselves for examination, many of our candidates not having enjoyed the advantage of an university education; and it being our desire to come to the nearest conformity to the incomparable prescriptions of the Directory that our circumstances will admit of; and after long deliberation of the most proper expedients to comply with the intentions of the Directory where we cannot exactly fulfil the letter of it, the Synod agree and determine that every person who proposes himself for trial as a candidate for the ministry, and who has not a diploma or the usual certificate from an European or New England university, shall be examined by the whole Synod, or its commission, as to those preparatory studies which are generally passed through at the college, and if they find him qualified, shall give him a certificate which shall be received by our respective Presbyteries as equivalent to a diploma or certificate from the college. This, we trust, will have a happy tendency to prevent unqualified men from creeping in among us, and answer, in the best manner our present circumstances are capable of, the design which our Directory has in view, and to which by inclination and duty we are all bound to comply to our utmost ability. This was agreed to by a great majority.”

Against the above act, Messrs. Gilbert Tennent, William Tennent, Sen., William Tennent, Jun., Charles Tennent, Samuel Blair, and Eleazar Wales, together with four elders, protested. It is stated in the minutes of the next year that various proposals were made with the view of reconciling these protesting brethren. As these efforts were not successful, “the Synod,” It is said, “still desiring that that unhappy difference may be accommodated, recommend it to any brethren of the Synod to consider any further expedient to that end, to be brought in at the next sederunt.” What these expedients were, the records do not inform us. Two of them may be learned from other sources. Mr. Dickinson proposed that “there should, by consent of both parties, be drawn up a fair re­presentation of the state of the case debated, and sent to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland or their commission; to the general Synod of Ireland or their commission; or to the ministers of our profession in London or Boston, to obtain their judgment or advice.” This proposal was rejected by Mr. Tennent, because, besides other reasons, the persons specified were mostly “dead formalists.” Another expedient was suggested by Mr. Gillespie, which at first seemed likely to succeed. He proposed “that if a Presbytery admit a man, they shall report his trials to the Synod for their satisfaction on his taking his seat. When Mr. Tennent was asked by Mr. Dickinson, whether, in case of the Synod’s dissatisfaction, he would allow a re-examination or censure, he said, No. He would consent to the Presbytery being censured, but not to the candidate being examined or censured. The matter was then dropped, as Mr. Tennent claimed the right of imposing what members he pleased upon the Synod.” After these and other efforts for an accommodation had failed, “it was put to vote whether the said agreement [about candidates] should be repealed, or continued until some other expedient could be found to the Synod’s satisfaction; and it was voted that it continue at present. The protesting brethren renewed their former protest,” and were joined by Mr. John Cross and Mr. Alexander Creaghead, ministers, and eleven elders. The Rev. George Gillespie, and the Rev. Alexander Hucheson dissented. The Synod then passed the following explanatory declaration: “That they do not hereby call in question the right of inferior Presbyteries to ordain ministers, but only assert their own right to judge of the qualification of their own members; and though they do not deny but that such as are brought into the ministry contrary to this agreement, may be truly gospel ministers, yet, inasmuch as they cannot but think the said agreement needful to be insisted on in order to the well-being of this part of the Church of Christ, they cannot admit them, when so brought into the ministry, to be members of this Synod, until they submit to the said agreement, though they do consent that they be in all other respects treated and considered as ministers of the Gospel; any thing that they be otherwise construed in any of our former proceedings notwithstanding.”

As this act was the immediate occasion of the schism which occurred in 1741, the consideration of it, as a constitutional question, must be reserved until the causes and merits of that great controversy come to be examined. It may, however, be remarked here, what indeed cannot fail to attract the reader’s attention, that the opposition to this measure was not so much of an ecclesiastical as of a religious character, that is, it did not arise so much from difference of opinion as to the power of the Synod, as from the supposed bearing of the act upon the interests of religion. This is evident from the character of its opponents. They were all, unless Mr. Wales be an exception, Irishmen or Scotchmen. That the New England members took side with the majority in all this matter, appears from the absence of their names from the list of either Protestants or dissenters; from the open effort of Mr. Dickinson to conciliate Mr. Tennent’s consent to some compromise; and especially from the fact that when the Synod of New York was formed, to which the New England members in the general attached themselves, it was made one of its fundamental principles that the Synod should be obeyed. This provision, which has already been referred to, and which subsequently was incorporated into the terms of union between the two Synods, was evidently intended to meet just such cases as the present. It stated that if any member could not, with a good conscience, either actively concur in, or passively submit to, any determination of the Synod, he should peaceably withdraw, without attempting to make any schism, provided the Synod insisted upon their determination as essential to their doctrine or government. In reference to the act about itinerant preachers, the Synod, though the matter had twice been unanimously concurred in, and though clearly in the right, declined to insist, when they saw the opposition springing up among some of their members and people. In relation to the act about the examination of candidates, they first adopted a modification, then proposed one expedient after another for a compromise, but refused to give it up. As the other party thought they could not, with a good conscience, yield, a division became inevitable, and it therefore took place, though not in the Christian manner in which the article just referred to afterwards provided for. This schism, however, never would have taken place, neither party would have been so unyielding, had they not, in a great measure, lost their confidence in each other, and become embittered in their feelings.

The motive therefore of Mr. Tennent’s opposition to this act was not dislike of the ecclesiastical principle on which it was founded, but dislike of the object at which he thought it aimed. He believed it was adapted, and probably designed, to keep evangelical men out of the ministry, and therefore he would not submit to it. The arguments by which he and his friends justified their opposition, the ecclesiastical principles which they advocated, how far these differ, or whether they differed at all from those of their opponents, are questions which belong to a subsequent period of our history. It would be strange if Gillespie, Hucheson, and Creaghead, who sided more or less with Mr. Tennent, held a more lax system of Presbyterianism than Dickinson, Pemberton, and Pierson, who as far as appears, were on the other side. The reader will not, of course, confound the question as to the validity of the act respecting the examination of candidates, with the propriety of the exclusion of the New Brunswick Presbytery, by a simple protest. Many who sanctioned the former measure, remonstrated against the latter.

The review of the whole period which has now been passed over, must, it is believed, lead the reader to at least the three following conclusions.

First, that the Presbyterian Church in the United States does not owe its existence to Congregationalists. From the middle of the seventeenth to the middle of the eighteenth century, Presbyterians were the most numerous class of emigrants to this country, and probably more numerous than all other classes combined. Our church is but one branch of this extended Presbyterian family, and owes its origin to the English, Scotch, and Irish Presbyterians, who sought on these shores a refuge from the persecutions or penury which awaited them at home. The Congregationalists who associated with them, who were few in number, ceased to be Congregationalists. They entered the church under the name and with the profession of Presbyterians, promising “to submit to Presbyterian rules.”

Second, that our Church was, during this whole period, strictly and properly Presbyterian. There was less irregularity in the organization of the congregations than among the churches of Scotland during the corresponding period of their history. The great majority of our ministers were presbyterially educated and ordained. The Presbytery and Synod not only exercised uniformly and with­out opposition all the powers which are now recognized as belonging to such bodies, but in many respects greatly exceeded them. In all the particulars in which they differed from the Presbyteries and Synods of the present day, they conformed to the principles and usages of the Church of Scotland.

Third, that assent to the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith has always been a condition of ministerial communion in the Presbyterian Church. Before 1729, this was, in effect, the case; after that time, it was the publicly asserted and uniformly enforced condition of admission into the ministry in our communion.

End of Part I

  1. The former of these doctrines the reader may see presented with most revolting plainness in the closing number of the Christian Spectator. He who reads the paper in that number on the foundation of moral obligation will cease to wonder at the strong language of Mr. Tennent in relation to this point. For the doctrine that the ultimate ground of moral obligation is the tendency of virtue to promote our own happiness, and that the highest reason why we are bound to obey God, is, that He is wiser than we, and therefore knows best what will make us happy, must excite abhorrence in every pious heart, whose feelings have not been drugged into insensibility.