Chapter II b

Nature and Authority of the Church Courts in the Early PCUSA

Another evidence of the Calvinistic character of our church may be found in the circumstances attending the reception of the Rev. William Tennent in 1718. That gentleman had been episcopally ordained in Ireland, but on coming to this country, applied to be received as a member of the Synod of Philadelphia. That body required him to state in writing the reasons of his dissent from the Episcopal church. One of the most prominent of those reasons was that the church of Ireland connived “at Arminian doctrines.” Are we then to believe that Mr. Tennent left one church because it connived at Arminianism, to join another which tolerated Pelagian ism, nay, that required nothing more than assent to the absolutely essential doctrines of the Gospel? Surely the Synod would have had too much self‑respect to insert in their minutes a document charging it as a crime upon a sister church, that she connived at Arminianism, if they themselves did the same, and more.

The Calvinistic character of our church is further evident from the fact that, as soon as some other means than personal examination or the testimonials of ecclesiastical bodies became necessary to ascertain the orthodoxy of its members, subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith was demanded and universally submitted to. As long as the church was small, and all or a large portion of its members could be present at the admission of every new applicant, the most natural and the most effectual method to obtain a knowledge of his opinions was personal examination. And as long as the churches with which the Synod corresponded were faithful to their own standards, their testimony was received as sufficient evidence of the soundness of the men whom they recom­mended. But when, from the multiplication of Presbyteries, the first method became impossible, and when the second was found to be unworthy of confidence, another plan was adopted. On the supposition that the church was to remain one, and that it had any zeal for its own doctrines, it was necessary that the several Presbyteries should understand each other, and unite in adopting a common standard of orthodoxy. Hence arose the call for a general agreement, to make the adoption of the Westminster Confession a condition of minis terial communion. There can be no stronger evidence of the Cal vinistic character of the church than that this new test of orthodoxy was universally admitted, and that there was not a single member of the Synod who objected to any one article in the Confession of Faith, except that which related to the power of the civil magis trates in matters of religion. That article was, by common consent, discarded; all the others were cordially adopted. It is inconceiv able that a body of men should have unanimously adopted this measure, had it been the fixing a new and higher standard of orthodoxy, and not merely a new method for ascertaining the adherence of the ministry to what had always been demanded.

Some portions of the church felt the necessity for the adoption of this measure before others. One method, as already remarked, which had been relied upon to secure the church from unsound min isters, was the demand of testimonials of orthodoxy from all applicants for admission. So long as confidence was felt in those giving such testimonials, the church was satisfied, but when suspicion arose on this point, something more was demanded. The earliest and most serious suspicions were felt with regard to the Presbyteries in the North of Ireland, and hence the New Castle Presbytery, with in whose bounds most of the ministers from Ireland came, was the first that insisted on something more than clean papers from the applicants for membership. As early at least as 1724, they began to require the adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

It has been made a question, whether the Presbytery of Philadelphia did from the beginning, regularly and formally adopt the Westminster Confession or not. As the first leaf of the book of records is lost, it is impossible that this question should be satisfac torily answered. Dr. Green has argued for the affirmative with a great deal of force, and has rendered it highly probable that the first page contained some statement of the principles, both as to doctrine and discipline, on which the Presbytery was formed. It is certain they had “a constitution” to which they could appeal, and to which their members promised subjection. In a letter written by the Presbytery to the people of Woodbridge, in 1712, they say that Mr. Wade “submitted himself willingly to our constitution.” Whether this constitution was a written document, or a formal re cognition of the standards of the church of Scotland, or whether the passage quoted merely means that Mr. Wade had submitted himself to the acknowledged principles of Presbyterianism, cannot be certainly determined. The a priori probability is in favor of the supposition that the first page of the minutes contained some general recognition of the standards of the church of Scotland, as all the original members of the Presbytery, as we have every rea son to believe, except Mr. Andrews, had already adopted those standards at the time of their ordination.

What was on the first page of the minutes, however, is a very different question from another, with which it appears sometimes to be confounded. It may be admitted that the Presbytery, at the time of its organization, commenced its records with some preamble stating the principles upon which it was organized—but was it cus tomary to require a formal assent to the Westminster Confession as a condition of membership? That this question must be answered in the negative, appears plain from two considerations. The first is that, from 1706 to 1729, there is no mention, either in the min utes of the Presbytery before 1716 or in those of the Synod after that date, of such assent having been demanded or given. Whereas, after the adopting act in 1729, the record is uniformly made that the new members had adopted the Confession of Faith. This certainly seems to show that a change of custom was effected by that act; that, however, some Presbyteries, for their own satisfaction, had made the demand before; the original Presbytery and Synod had not been in the habit of making it. In the second place, the history of the adopting act itself establishes the same point. It appears that the church had hitherto relied upon other means for securing orthodoxy in its ministers, but as new dangers arose, new means of guarding against them were devised. The overture which led to the adopting act, though of considerable length, and though reciting the reasons which called for that measure, makes no allusion to its having been previously the custom to exact assent to the Westminster Confession, but speaks of it as a new measure, designed to meet a new difficulty.

The question whether the Westminster Confession was uniformly adopted by new members, as before remarked, is one of subordinate importance. The church did not become Calvinistic by adopt ing that Confession, but adopted it because it already was so, and always had been. Its demands were in no respects altered, much less were they raised, by the act of 1729. That act was nothing more than a measure arising out of the altered circumstances of the church, designed to accomplish a purpose which had hitherto been attained by other means. The New England Puritans were not stricter Calvinists in 1640, when they adopted the Cambridge Platform, than they were in 1620; nor had they become more rigid in 1688, when they recognized the Westminster Confession. No historical fact of the same kind admits of clearer proof, from their origin, declarations, and acts, than that the founders of our church were Calvinists, and that they demanded Calvinism, and not merely faith in the absolutely essential doctrines of the gospel, as the condition of ministerial communion.

The next subject of inquiry is the form of discipline adopted during the period under review. If, as has been proved, all the original members of the Presbytery, except one, were Presbyterian ministers from Scotland or Ireland, and if all the congregations, unless the First Church in Philadelphia be partially an exception, were composed of Presbyterians, as has also been shown, then there can be little doubt that, at least at the beginning, whatever it may have become afterwards, our church was a Presbyterian Church. These considerations, however, are merely presumptive. They are of great weight, if confirmed by other kinds of evidence, but of very little, if contradicted by the conduct or avowals of those concerned. The real question then is, what, in point of fact, was the form of government on which the founders of our church acted? Was it Presbyterianism? Or was it Congregationalism? Or was it some anomalous system partaking of the features of both, yet belonging to neither? This point must be settled by an inspec tion of the records.

It is plain that, whatever these men really were, they thought themselves Presbyterians. It is the name which they adopted. They called their judicatory, not an association or council, but a Presbytery; they always speak of Presbyterians as being “of our persuasion.” In corresponding with the judicatories of Ireland and Scotland, they called themselves Presbyterians, to those who were accustomed to affix a definite meaning to the term. When writing to the governor of Virginia, in order to inform him of their principles, they tell him they were “of the same persuasion as the church of Scotland.” In 1721, the Synod declare in the preamble to an overture which they adopted, that they had “been for many years in the exercise of Presbyterian government and discipline, as exercised by Presbyterians in the best reformed churches, as far as the nature and constitution of this country would allow.”1 By “Presbyterians in the best reformed churches,” must be understood those of Scotland, Ireland, France, and Holland; and what the Presbyterianism of those countries was, is not a matter to be disputed. It is only asking then that the founders of our church should be regarded as sane and honest men, when it is asked that they should be regarded as a Presbyterian, and not as a Congregational or nondescript body.

Still, as actions speak louder than words, it is best to see how these men acted, how the individual congregations were organized and governed, how the Presbyteries were constituted, what au­thority they exercised over their churches and members, and what relation subsisted between them and the Synod. Presbyterianism is a mode of church government as definite and as well understood as any other form of ecclesiastical polity. Its fundamental principle is that the government of the church rests upon the Pres byteries, that is, the clerical and lay elders. It demands, there fore, congregational, classical, and provincial assemblies of such elders, i.e., Sessions, Presbyteries, and Synods. It establishes a regular subordination of the lower of these judicatories to the higher, giving to the latter the right of review and control over the former. And, finally, it declares the determinations and decisions of these several judicatories, relating to matters of government and discipline, to be binding upon all under their authority, when not inconsistent with the word of God, or some previous constitutional stipulation. Such is the Presbyterianism of Scotland, Ireland, France, and Holland. This is the whole system, and every feature of it is found in the form of discipline of the churches of those countries. The question is, are they all found in our system as at first established? If they are, it is a mere waste of time to dispute further about the nature of the system. It is what, in all ages and countries, has been called Presbyterianism, and it may safely be called so still.

How then were the individual congregations governed? It has already been shown that all the churches originally belonging to the Presbytery were regularly organized, unless the First Church in Philadelphia be an exception. This is admitted to have been the case with the four or five Maryland churches organized by Mr. Makemie before 1705. There is no doubt it was the case with the Scotch church of Upper Marlborough. Of the fifteen or sixteen churches in Pennsylvania in 1730, all were Scotch or Irish but two or three; and of these three, the one in Philadelphia was the only one connected from the beginning with the Presbytery. Of the remaining two, one was a regular Dutch Presbyterian church. Of those in New Jersey, Freehold was Scotch; Newark was settled by English Presbyterians, and had elders from the beginning, ac cording to the best information and belief of Dr. McWhorter. Elizabethtown also must have had them under President Dickinson, unless he acted in opposition to his avowed principles. With regard to Cohanzy, and the united congregations of Maidenhead and Hopewell, the facts are not known. Woodbridge is the only church of which there is satisfactory evidence that it was managed on the Congregational plan, and it is very doubtful whether this was the case even there, before the settlement of Mr. Pierson in 1714.

It is, however, highly probable that there were several churches connected with the Presbytery before 1715, which were but im perfectly organized. This could hardly have been otherwise under the circumstances of the country. Perfect order and regularity are not to be expected in any rising community, whether civil or ecclesiastical. The wonder is, even on the assumption that the ministers were the strictest Presbyterians, that there is so little indication of imperfect organization in the churches. The exist ence of such churches may be inferred from the language of Mr. Andrews in 1730. In a letter of that date, he says, “In the Jerseys there are some Congregational assemblies, that is, some of the people are inclined that way, being originally from New Eng land, yet they all submit to the Presbyteries readily enough; and the ministers are all Presbyterians, though most from New England.” This moderate language is indeed very far from being decisive. He does not speak of Congregational churches, but merely says, that “some of the people are inclined” to Congregationalism. This is just what might be expected from all other contemporary accounts. The churches there were composed of Dutch, Scotch, and New England people, and hence the moderate and correct mode adopted by Mr. Andrews of stating the amount of Congregationalism among them.

A more decisive proof that there were churches imperfectly organized, in connection with the first Presbytery upon its formation, is to be found in the following minute, adopted in 1714: “For the better establishing and settling of congregations, it is ordered and appointed, that in every congregation there be a sufficient number of assistants chosen, to aid the minister in the man agement of congregational affairs; and that there be a book of records kept for that effect, and that the same be annually brought here to be revised by Presbytery.” (p. 25.) The next year, there is the following minute on this subject: “In pursuance of an act made last Presbytery, appointing every minister to appoint assis tants and session book, &c., and in regard divers of the ministers have not complied with the designs of said act, it was therefore ordered, that the several ministers come with said books, and per form the other ends of the said act, as it is specified therein.” (p. 28.) Again, in 1716, when the Presbytery was divided, it is said, “With respect to session books, mentioned in our last year’s min utes, it is ordered that they be brought into, and revised by the respective Presbyteries, to which they shall after this time, according to our preceding appointment, belong.” (p. 34.)

It is certainly to be inferred from these minutes that there were some congregations in 1714 which had no regular sessions. From the second minute, however, it would appear that the difficulty related more to session books than to the sessions themselves. It is surprising that anyone should attempt to prove from this order of 1714 that there were no elders appointed in our churches before that date, when the reverse is perfectly notorious.2 It is not only known and admitted that the Maryland and many of the Pennsylvania churches had elders from the beginning, but they are constantly recorded as present, as members of the Presbytery. The first record is a fragment containing the minutes of an after noon session, of December 27, 1706, when no elders are mentioned, an occurrence far too frequent, even now, to excite surprise. At the next meeting, 1707, there were present four ministers and four elders, and from that time onward there is no meeting, either of the Presbytery or Synod, of which elders are not mentioned as con stituting a part. In 1710, three ministers were admitted as new members, and it is immediately recorded: “Memorandum upon the admission of those ministers above mentioned, three more elders sat in Presbytery, namely, Mr. Pierce Bray, Mr. John Foord, Mr. Leonard Van Degrift.” p. 9. There is, therefore, just as much evidence that there were elders from the beginning of the Presby tery, as that there were preachers. While this is an undeniable fact, it is freely admitted there were churches in which elders were not to be found. The wonder is that such churches were not more numerous. Perfect organization, as before remarked, is not to be expected at the beginning of any community. The Presbyterian Church in this country has never pretended to be more strict than that of Scotland. According to the theory of that church; every congregation should have its own elders. Yet knowing it was vain to try to make bricks without straw, it wisely ordered that this should not be attempted, and hence in the early period of the his tory of that church, there were multitudes of congregations with out a session. “When we speak of the eldership of particular congregations,” says the book of policy of 1581, “we mean not that every particular parish kirk can or may have their own particular eldership, specially inlandward, but we think that three, four, more or fewer, particular kirks, may have one eldership common to them all.” The Presbyterianism, therefore, of the Scotch and Irish ministers who came to this country, need not be very violently questioned, if, after the example of their fathers, they ap pointed elders when they could obtain suitable persons, and where they could not, did the best they could without them.3

After all, the really important question respects the principles of the founders of our church. What form of government did they aim at introducing? What were their demands? Most of the churches were regularly organized; some few were not. Was the Presbytery satisfied with this? Were they willing that things should remain in this state, or that the Congregational plan should be in­troduced? Far from it. They “ordered” those churches which, as yet, had no sessions, to choose them, to keep regular records, and to produce them annually to be revised by the Presbytery. When this “act” was, in some instances, disregarded, the order was re peated again and again. It is hard to see what a set of men, though just from Scotland, could have done more. Had they been as in­different on this subject as the church has been for the last forty or fifty years, they would have let it alone, and allowed the several congregations to take their own course in relation to it. It, is, there fore, very evident that the original Presbytery was far more strict in regard to this point than the church has been, at least since 1801.

There is one record on the minutes which presents the opinions of the early members of our church on this subject, in so clear a light that it must not be passed over. In 1722, Mr. Dickinson and some others introduced four articles into Synod, explanatory of their principles of church government. The first of these declares, “that the power of the keys is committed to church officers and to them only.” By the power of the keys is, of course, meant the power of discipline, the right to open or shut the door of the church. This right, according to Congregationalism, belongs to the brotherhood; according to Presbyterianism, to church officers, and to them only. This article, then, contains an explicit condemnation of the Congregational method of conducting the discipline of the church, and of consequence of those churches (connected with the Synod) that acted upon that plan. Yet these articles came from what may be called the New England side of the house. They were introduced in opposition to a measure proposed by one of the Scotch members, and were unanimously adopted. There was, therefore, as to this point, no diversity of opinion. Whatever irregularity in practice might in some cases exist, it was never sanctioned, but condemned by all parties and on all suitable occasions.

The next subject of investigation is the organization and power of the original Presbytery. A Presbytery, according to our present constitution, is a convention of bishops and elders within a certain district. It has “power to receive and issue appeals from church sessions, and references brought before them in an orderly manner; to examine and license candidates for the holy ministry; to ordain, install, remove, and judge ministers; to examine, and approve or censure the records of church sessions; to resolve questions of doctrine and discipline seriously and reasonably proposed; to con demn erroneous opinions which injure the peace or purity of the church; to visit particular churches for the purpose of inquiring into their state and redressing the evils that may have arisen in them; to unite or divide congregations at the request of the people, or to form or to receive new congregations, and, in general, to order what ever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches under their care.” That the first Presbytery was a convention of ministers and elders, has already been satisfactorily shown. And it is really re markable, considering the circumstances, how large and regular an attendance of elders was obtained. In 1707, there were four min isters and four elders present; in 1708, six ministers and three elders; in 1709, seven ministers and five elders; in 1710, at first four ministers and four elders, afterwards seven of each class. Thus it continued until the formation of the Synod, when the proportion of elders in attendance is generally less.

That this Presbytery exercised all the powers above specified in their fullest latitude, is evident from every page of their records. With regard to the powers of ecclesiastical bodies, much confusion and misapprehension have arisen by pressing too far the analogy be tween them and those of similar names in civil society. Our judicatories are neither courts nor legislatures, properly speaking. They are the governing bodies in the church, and are invested with the general authority to administer its affairs. This authority no more admits of being reduced to distinct categories, than that of a parent. It is that of general direction and control, limited, as in the case of a parent, by the nature of the relation, by the word of God, and by mutual stipulations.

It is precisely such a general authority, as above stated, that we find the first Presbytery exercising over the churches under its care. No congregation could either settle or dismiss a pastor without its permission. All calls then, as now, were presented to the Presby tery, and if approved, were handed to the persons for whom they were designed. Thus, in 1710 the call from Monokin for Mr. McNish was presented to him by the Presbytery. In the same year, Mr. Wade, having resigned his charge, it is said, “The Presbytery do henceforth allow the good people of Woodbridge to supply them selves with another pastor.” In 1712, a call was presented from one of the Maryland churches for the Rev. Thomas Bratten, and forwarded to him, and he having died before his settlement, another was presented the following year from the same church to the Rev. Robert Lawson. Similar records occur in the minutes of almost every year. In 1715, we find the following: “Mr. Philip Ringo having presented a call from the people of Maidenhead and Hopewell, in West Jersey, unto Mr. Robert Orr, the Presbytery called for, considered of, and approved the said Mr. Orr his [Mr. Orr’s] credentials as a preacher of the gospel, and likewise considered of and approved the call, which being presented by the moderator unto the said Mr. Orr, he accepted of it.” On the same page there is a record of precisely the same character, respecting a call from Balti more county, for Mr. Hugh Conn. In the minutes for 1716, it is stated, “A call from the people of South Hampton, on Long Island, to Mr. Gelston, wherein the said people do subject themselves to us in the Lord, as a Presbytery, being presented to us in the name of their representatives, we did tender it to the said Mr. Gelston, and he accepted it.”

In like manner we find the Presbytery dismissing pastors, with or without their consent. Mr. Wade’s case is an example of the latter kind. He resigned his charge in Woodbridge in 1711, but immediately retracted his resignation, and insisted upon continuing to act as the pastor of the church. Whereupon, in 1712, the Pres bytery, after a recital of the grounds of their dissatisfaction with him, say, “We, therefore, in the fear and in the name of our great Master, do appoint and ordain that the said Mr. Wade do no longer exercise his ministerial office in the town of Woodbridge, or among the people thereof, unless allowed by the Presbytery hereafter, but that he forthwith, and without resistance directly or indirectly, give place to some other, whom God in his providence may send, and the good people of Woodbridge, or the major part of them, call and agree about.” An example of an opposite kind occurred in 1718, when the Synod acting in a Presbyterial capacity, say, “Rev. John Hampton having petitioned for a dismission from his pastoral rela tion to the people of Snowhill, they considering that the said Mr. Hampton was not able to perform the office of a pastor to that people, without manifest hazard to his life, through bodily indisposition, the Synod upon mature deliberation having put the matter to vote, it was carried nemine contradicente to accept of his resignation, and to declare his congregation vacant, to the great regret of Synod.” In 1726, in consequence of a reference from the Presbytery of Long Island, the Synod determined inter alia, “that Mr. Anderson, according to his desire, be left at liberty to remove from New York, and to accept of a call from any other people, as Providence may determine, and that the people of New York be at liberty to call another minister, in an orderly way, as soon as they shall pay up what arrears appear justly due to Mr. Anderson.” In the following year, Mr. Pemberton having been called without the intervention of the Presbytery of Long Island, the Synod made the following minute: “As to the call and settle ment of the Rev. Mr. Pemberton at New York, the Synod do determine that the rules of our Presbyterian constitution were not observed, in several respects, by the congregation in that matter. This also passed nemine contradicente. And it was put to vote, receive or delay the receiving of Mr. Pemberton as a member of this Synod, and it was carried for delaying, which delay did not flow from respect to Mr. Pemberton or any fault or objection to him, but from other reasons.” These examples, which are only a few of those which might be selected from the minutes for the period under consideration, illustrate the kind of authority exercised by the Presbytery in relation to the calling and settling of ministers.

Similar instances might be adduced of every other power ever exercised at the present day by a Presbytery over a congregation, as that of erecting new churches, dividing congregations, appoint ing supplies, &c., &c. These, however, are so familiar as to render anything more than this general reference unnecessary. It will be more interesting to notice a few examples of a somewhat different character. As early as 1708, the people of New Castle petitioned “that the people of White Clay Creek be not suffered to set up a new meeting-house.” These early Presbyterians must have had high ideas of the authority of Presbytery, or they never would have presented such a request. In consequence of this petition it was “ordered that the people of New Castle, and of the country, should not be divided by setting up two separate meetings.” This appears to have been not merely a refusal to divide an ecclesiastical body, but to allow the same church to have two places of worship. A similar case occurred at a somewhat later period. The Presbytery of New Castle had refused to sanction a portion of Mr. Houston’s congregation on Elk River having a new meeting‑house. An appeal was taken from this decision to the Synod, which, in 1726, unani mously approved of the conduct of the Presbytery. In the mean time the meeting‑house was built, and the matter coming up the following year, the Synod, “desirous of taking healing as well as just measures in determining that affair,” judged, “First, that that party be allowed to have a new meeting‑house in some part of their side of the congregation, yet still remain a part of the congrega tion, until the Synod or Presbytery have more encouragement for a new erection. Secondly, that in order to this the new meeting- house be removed to any place above six miles distant in a direct line from the old meeting-house, which said supplicants shall agree upon, and that it shall be seven miles from any other,” &c. At a subsequent meeting, the Synod agreed to abate one half mile of the specified distance. It is not often that we see ecclesiastical bodies quite so authoritative, in such matters, at the present day.

Again it was very common for the Presbytery to see that the congregations paid their pastors’ salaries. Thus in 1708, it was ordered that a letter be written to Snowhill, “requiring their faith­fulness and care” in collecting Mr. Hampton’s salary. A similar order was made the next year in relation to Mr. McNish. In like manner, as mentioned above, the New York congregation were allowed to call another minister, when they had paid what was due to Mr. Anderson. And, in 1733 (though this is rather beyond our present limits), when the church in Philadelphia wished to call an assistant minister, they were not allowed to do it, until they had pledged themselves not to diminish Mr. Andrews’ salary on that account.

Another prerogative of a Presbytery is the right to review and correct the proceedings of church sessions. That the original Presbytery exercised this power has been already shown, from the order made in 1714, and twice repeated, that the sessional records should be regularly produced for examination. The authority to sit in judgment on the decisions of the lower courts is involved in this general right of review. To the original Presbytery, there fore, appeals were regularly made from church sessions. Thus in 1711, a censure inflicted upon two members of Mr. Wade’s church was reversed by the Presbytery, and the precise form of words prescribed, in which their decision was to be announced. There are, happily, but few cases of appeal upon record before the forma tion of the Synod. When the church was enlarged they became more numerous. Though these cases, in one aspect, belong to the exhibition of the relation in which the Synod stood to the Presbyteries, yet as they serve, at the same time, to illustrate the nature of the control exercised by the Presbyteries over the congrega tions, they may be properly referred to in this place. In 1717, Mr. Wotherspoon presented to the Presbytery of New Castle the case of one of his members who had married the widow of his bro ther. “The Presbytery considering some circumstances in regard of different sentiments, between us and the Dutch ministers in this affair, thinks fit,” as it is recorded, “to defer further consideration upon it till our next meeting; against which time we may have occasion to hear more from the Dutch ministers about this case.” At the next meeting, it is said, that as the Dutch ministers were expected to be at Synod, which was to meet the following week in Philadelphia, the whole matter was referred to that body. The Synod decided, nem. con., that the marriage was unlawful, and that as long as the parties lived together, “they be debarred from all sealing ordinances, and that Mr. Wotherspoon make intimation hereof to his congregation in what time and manner he shall think convenient.” The following year it was reported, “that Mr. Wotherspoon had, in due time, observed the order of the Synod concerning” this affair. In 1728, six persons who had been ex communicated by the Rev. Mr. Jones, appealed to the Presbytery of Philadelphia, who referred the matter to Synod. That body decided that as the appellants confessed they had done wrong in breaking away from the communion of Mr. Jones’ church, they should, on a public acknowledgment of their error, “be absolved from the aforesaid censure, and so be free to join with what con gregation they please.”

These few examples are sufficient to show the regular operation of the system of appeals, and the supervision of the higher judicatories over the acts of church sessions, which is one of the lead ing features of Presbyterianism. Another illustration of the na ture of this general supervision over congregations may be found in the standing rule adopted in 1710, when it was “ordered that the ministers and elders of this meeting come prepared for the future, to give a true and impartial account how matters are mutually betwixt them, both with regard to spirituals and temporals.” It was accordingly the custom, after this, to call first upon the ministers to give an account of the state of their congregations, and then upon the elders to say how their ministers were supported, and how they discharged their duties. Thus, in 1711, we find the following record: “Inquiry was made of the several ministers, touching the state of their congregations and of themselves in re lation thereto; and also of the several elders, not only of the measures taken to support the ministers, but of the life, conversation, and doctrine of their several pastors, and report was given to our satisfaction for this time.” This custom was long continued, as appears from the records.

As this is an illustration, not only of the superintendence exer cised by the Presbytery over the churches, but also of the “watch and care” which they extended over the ministers, it naturally introduces the consideration of the authority of that body over its own members. That it exercised the right of examining, licensing, ordaining, suspending, and deposing ministers, is what might be expected from its name, as these are ordinary and acknowledged Presbyterial functions. The examples of the exercise of this power are so numerous that they need not be adduced. It will be more instructive to refer to some illustrations of a more general character. When a new member joined the Presbytery, it was customary to make him promise subjection to them in the Lord. This much at least was included in Mr. Wade’s voluntary submission to “our constitution,” as the Presbytery expressed themselves, because it was disobedience to a decision of the Presbytery in continuing to preach in Woodbridge after his resignation, that led to their censure upon him. In like manner, when the Rev. Mr. Pumry was received in 1715, it is stated that “he was heartily and unanimously accepted, he promising subjection to the Presbytery in the Lord.” The same formula is used upon other similar occasions. When the Rev. Mr. Powell was received in 1713, the Presbytery being satisfied as to his ordination, &c., admitted him as a member, but advised him to obtain from England more ample testimonials within a year, and “that till then it shall be free to him to exercise his ministry in all its parts, where Providence shall call him, but not fully to settle until the expiration of the said time.” In the following year the Presbytery resolved, “that having considered that their brother Mr. Powell had used diligence to procure further credentials, according to last year’s minutes, but not having received answers from England, and we being further satisfied by such long trial and personal acquaintance, together with other considerable circumstances, and now a unanimous call being presented to us for him from the people of Cohanzy, the Presbytery, after mature deliberation, did sustain the call, but withal did recommend him, as formerly, that he should procure let ters from England.” Such cases illustrate both the watchfulness of the Presbytery and the authority which they exercised over their own members. Mr. Powell was admitted a member, but was forbidden to settle for a year, and at the expiration of that period it was a matter of deliberation whether he should be allowed to accept a call or not.

It appears, then, that there is no one of the functions of a Presbytery, as now understood, which the original Presbytery of our church did not exercise from the beginning. It claimed the same supervision and control over churches, the same authority over its own members; and was in all respects as thoroughly Presbyterian in its powers as any similar body at the present day. It may be asked, however, whether there were not some modes of action adopted by that body more allied to Congregationalism than anything which now occurs. So it has been said. Proof of this point has been sought in the fact that the Presbytery performed so much of its appropriate business by committees. It was very com mon, for example, for the Presbytery to appoint a committee to examine a candidate for the ministry, and if satisfied with his qualifications, to license, ordain, or install him. Mr. Gillespie was thus ordained by a committee in 1712, Mr. Wotherspoon in 1713, Mr. Bradner in 1714, Mr. Thompson in 1716. Indeed this was the method commonly pursued. Should it even be admitted that there was a departure in this mode of procedure from strict Presbyterianism, a sufficient explanation might be found in the circumstances of the church, without assuming any tendency to Congregationalism on the part of the Presbytery. It is to be remembered that the members of that body were scattered over the country at distant intervals, from the mouth of the Chesapeake to Long Island Sound. There were then no such facilities for traveling as those which we have long enjoyed. On this account the Presbytery met but once a year. As it was deemed important that the candidate should be ordained in the presence of the congregation which he was called to serve, such ordinations could seldom be performed at the stated meetings of Presbytery. Is it a matter of surprise then, that instead of requiring all their scat tered members to be present, at a great expense of time and money, they should devolve this duty upon three or four of the neighboring ministers, and authorize them to act in their name? Do we not constantly install by committee? And is not installation as much a Presbyterial act as ordination? The founders of our Church must have been formalists indeed, had they not acted as they did.

There is, however, no need of any apology in the case. The course in question is not only consistent with the strictest Presby terianism, but arose out of its strictness. The idea of inherent, in opposition to delegated, power in the Presbytery is involved in this assumption of the right to delegate its authority to a committee of its own appointment. So far from such a committee resembling a Congregational council, it is the opposite extreme. There is some analogy between such a council and a Presbytery, considered as a convention of ministers and elders, who are representatives of the churches; but none at all between a council and a committee ap pointed, not by the churches, but by Presbytery, and by them clothed with authority to exercise one of its most important func tions. It is in perfect accordance with this idea that the Synod were accustomed to appoint a commission invested with all Synod ical powers, and to nominate committees to visit particular places and decide cases of discipline, or to adjust difficulties with the full authority of the appointing body. It was on the same principle also that the Synod would name some half dozen of its members, and bid them retire and examine and ordain a candidate, or that in matters of difficulty, they would direct two or three experienced ministers to meet with a particular Presbytery as members and assist in adjudicating a given case. All these modes of proceeding were borrowed from Scotland, and they all continued in our church as long as its original character lasted. It is rather singular that the very circumstance should be fixed upon, to prove the Congregationalism of the early members of our church, which most distinctly proves the reverse. It was certainly not Congregationalism which induced the General Assembly in Scotland to appoint com mittees, with full powers to visit different parts of the kingdom, “to plant kirks [churches] with qualified ministers, and to depose and deprive such as be unqualified either in life or doctrine”; or to designate the Presbytery of Edinburgh with eight other ministers, to sum mon certain Earls, Lords, Barons, and freeholders, and institute process against them; or to give a commission “to certain bre thren to visit and try the doctrine, life, conversation, diligence, and fidelity of the pastors within the said [i.e., all] Presbyteries.” Things analogous to these we find in the early history of our church, and they savor of anything rather than of Congre gationalism. This acting, then, by committees clothed with plenary powers, should never be referred to in proof of the lax Presbyte rianism of the founders of our Church.

What renders this reference in the present case the more surprising is that, in ordaining by committee, the Presbytery acted in obedience to the very letter of the Westminster Directory. It is therein ordered that, “upon the day appointed for the ordination, which is to be performed in the church where he that is to be or dained is to serve, a solemn fast shall be kept by the congregation, that they may more earnestly join in prayer for a blessing upon the ordinance of Christ, and the labors of his servant for their good. The Presbytery shall come to the place, or at least three or four ministers of the word shall be sent thither from the Pres bytery, of which one appointed by the Presbytery shall preach to the people concerning the office and duties of the ministers of Christ, and how the people ought to receive them for their work’s sake.” In this point, therefore, the original Presbytery must stand acquitted of any want of fidelity to their own system.

There is, however, one case, and as far as is known, one only, which is not accounted for by what has now been said. The peo ple of Cape May were without a pastor. Mr. Bradner, a candi date for the ministry, was willing to serve them, but had no au thority to preach. In this emergency, three of the nearest ministers, Messrs. Davis, Hampton, and Henry, on their own responsi bility, examined and licensed him. This was in March, and in September the matter was reported to Presbytery and received their sanction. That is, as a pro re nata meeting of the Presby tery was out of the question, these gentlemen thought it better that they should act informally, than that a people should be deprived of the preaching of the gospel for six months. The Presbytery said they did right; John Knox or Andrew Melville would have said the same. It is difficult to see what this case can prove, beyond what everyone must be ready to admit, that though consistent Presbyterians, the founders of our church were not bigots for matters of form. Nothing can more clearly show the character of the members of the first Presbytery than the fact that the above mentioned case is the only one, as it is believed, which can be produced from their minutes, of departure from even the forms of Presbyterianism.

The preceding review will serve to exhibit with sufficient clearness the nature of the ecclesiastical system introduced by the first ministers of our church. It was Presbyterianism; for there is no function of a Presbytery which they did not claim and exercise as fully as is done by any similar body at the present day. There is no evidence of indifference with regard either to doctrine or order, and no relaxation of discipline for moral offenses. The minutes abound with evidence of the diligence, punctuality, and zeal of the members, and of their earnest desire to promote the spiritual wel fare of the people and their own improvement.

It has already been stated that in 1716, three Presbyteries were constituted, who agreed to meet annually as a Synod. It is therefore necessary, in order to understand the character of American Presbyterianism, to ascertain the relation which this Synod sus tained to the Presbyteries and to the churches under their care. In order to illustrate this subject, it must be stated that the first Synod not only exercised all the powers which, at the present day, are claimed by such bodies, but several others which our present Synods are not in the habit of assuming. To the former class belongs, first, the general power of review and control of Presby teries. This, as far as the review of records is concerned, was provided for at the time the Synod was constituted. It was then “ordered that a book be kept by each Presbytery containing a record of their proceedings, and that it be brought every year to our anniversary Synod to be revised.” Accordingly, it is regularly noticed what Presbyterial books were presented at each meeting, and who were appointed to examine them. Thus, in 1719, it is stated, “that the Presbytery book of New Castle was revised and approved by the Synod unto the end of sessio septima in page 19, as is to be seen in the margin of the said book, in the above said page. Ordered, that the Presbytery of Long Island get a new, well‑ordered book against the next Synod, and that they leave marginal room for Synodical corrections.” Secondly, to the class of ordinary powers belongs also that of receiving and deciding appeals and references from the lower judicatories. Examples of the exercise of this power have already been given, as the reference by the New Castle Presbytery of the case of the church member who had married his brother’s widow, and of the appeal of the members of Mr. Jones’ congregation who had been excommunicated.

In 1722, the Presbytery of New Castle rebuked, sus pended, and deposed the Rev. Mr. Laing, “for violating the Lord’s day by washing himself in a creek, and for his indiscreet carriage before the Presbytery at the time of his rebuke.” When the matter was brought before the Synod in 1723, that body decided that “they do judge those censures of suspension and deposition were too severe, and do therefore reverse them.” The rebuke, they decided, was merited. In 1720, an appeal by certain mem bers of Mr. Houston’s congregation from a decision of the Pres bytery of New Castle was tried, and the Presbytery unanimously sustained. There is one order of the Synod connected with this appeal, which, whether it is to be referred to the head of ordinary or extraordinary powers, the reader must judge. The matter in dispute, as stated upon a preceding page, was the erection of a new meeting-house by a portion of Mr. Houston’s congregation. The Synod at last decided that they might have a new house, provided they removed it to a distance of six miles from the old one. This, it appears, they neglected to do. Whereupon the Synod “ordered, that no minister preach in the said new meeting-house while in that place, where it now is.” That this order was not a dead letter, appears from the following minute in the records of the Presby tery of New Castle: “The Presbytery having inquired into Mr. Gelston’s conduct, with respect to his violation of the Synod’s act relating to the new erection at New London, by his preaching with in the forbidden bounds of the said act, and in the prohibited house; the Presbytery having heard and considered his reasons, do judge them invalid; and that Mr. Gelston’s conduct in that affair is highly offensive and irregular. Mr. Gelston being called in, and interrogated with respect to his resolution of receding from the said practice, he acknowledged his transgression, and promised absolutely not to preach in the said house, nor elsewhere within the prohibited bounds, till either the Synod or Presbytery opened the door for him.” This, it might be supposed, is Presbyterianism sufficiently rigid to satisfy the most skeptical as to the character both of the Synod and Presbytery.

To the class of ordinary powers belongs also the right “to take effectual care that the Presbyteries observe the constitution of the church.” This is illustrated by such cases as the following. It seems that some doubt had arisen whether the Presbytery of Long Island had proceeded regularly in the settlement of Mr. Anderson in New York. When the matter came before Synod, the following record was made: “After a full hearing and long reasoning upon the case represented by Messrs. Livingston and Smith, touching Mr. Anderson’s settlement in New York, the question was put, whether the proceedings of the Presbytery of Long Island, in the settlement of Mr. Anderson at New York, were regular; and it was decided in the affirmative by a great majority.” On the other hand, as stated above, when the question came up respecting the settlement of Mr. Pemberton, it was decided that “the rules of our Presbyterian constitution” had not been observed in his case, and the Synod decline to recognize him as a member.

Finally, the Synod exercised a general supervision over the churches, warning them of improper or irregular preachers, receiv ing and answering their petitions or complaints. Especially did it concern itself for the supply of destitute places, which was one of the principal items of its business. To select but two cases out of a multitude: In 1719, a letter was received “from the people of Potomac in Virginia, requesting the Synod’s care and diligence in providing them an able gospel minister.” The Synod accordingly directed the Rev. Mr. Magill to visit them, who reported the next year that he went to Virginia, and after some months’ continuance, “put the people into church order.” This must have been one of the earliest Presbyterian organizations in that part of the State. In 1723, a representation having been made of the earnest desire of some Protestant dissenting families in Virginia for preaching, the Synod appointed “that Messrs. Conn, Orme, and Steward do each of them severally visit said people, and preach four Lord’s days before next Synod to that people; and it is recommended to Mr. Jonathan Dickinson, to preach to the said people some Sabbath-days before next Synod; and in case he goes thither, that then Mr. Pierson, Mr. Webb, and Mr. Moses Dickinson, do supply his congregation with preaching. … And it is further ordered, that Mr. Hucheson supply Mr. Steward’s congregation during his absence in Virginia.” It need hardly be remarked that the Synod exercised constantly the general authority over its members of sending them to supply particular congregations or destitute places, and that an account was always demanded how the duty had been performed, and neglect was uniformly censured.

It thus appears that the original Synod of our church exercised the power of review and control over Presbyteries and congrega tions, of receiving and deciding appeals, references, and complaints, and of general supervision and direction. It exhibits as perfect an example of regular Presbyterian discipline, as is presented by any body of Christians at the present day. There are, however, several respects in which that Synod differed, in its modes of action, from what is now common among us. In the first place, it had a commission annually appointed, which was clothed with all the powers of the Synod. To this commission all items of business which could not be dispatched during the sessions of Synod, were referred. To them all applications were made which required immediate attention. They could suspend, censure, or dismiss ministers; decide appeals and references; and, in short, do all that the Synod itself could do; and from their decisions there was no ap peal. Their records were regularly presented to Synod, and that body could correct anything which they thought had been done amiss. Everyone knows that this was in imitation of the com mission of the General Assembly in Scotland, as it continues to the present time. Whatever may be thought of the wisdom of this arrangement, there can be but one opinion as to the tone of Presbyterianism which it indicates. If Congregationalists refuse to a whole Synod a definitive voice in their ecclesiastical affairs, how much less would they grant such authority to a mere committee of such a body! The fact that no such commission has been appointed since the adoption of our present constitution is one of the many proofs that the Presbyterianism of the present day is much less strict and European than that of our fathers. They had no objection to this feature of the Scottish system. It continued uninterruptedly from 1720 to 1788. It was adopted by the old Synod before the schism, by both parties during the Separation, and by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia after the union. The original minute on this subject, as adopted in 1720, is in these words: “Overtured that a commission of Synod be appointed to act in the name, and with the whole authority of the Synod in all affairs that come before them; and especially that the whole affair of the fund be left to their conduct, and that they be accountable to Synod. Which overture was approved by the Synod. Masters Jones, Andrews, McNish, Anderson, Dickinson, and Evans, appointed for said commission; any three whereof to be a quorum.”

A second particular in which the first Synod differed from ours was the frequent appointment of plenipotentiary committees. In 1717, when the call from New York was presented to the Presby­tery of New Castle for Mr. Anderson, it was referred by that body to the Synod, who appointed a committee to meet at New Castle, to receive and consider the reasons of that people against the removal of their pastor, and “to fully determine in that affair.” The following year that committee reported “that they had trans ported him [Mr. Anderson] to New York, having had power lodged in them by the Synod to determine that affair.” In 1720, some of the elders of the church of Rehoboth having forwarded a complaint against their pastor, it was determined, nem. con., “that a committee be sent to Rehoboth, with full powers from the Synod to act in their name and by their authority, in the affair between Mr. Clement and that people, and that Mr. Clement be suspended from the exercise of his ministry until the determination of that committee.” On the same page there is a record of a committee’s being appointed to proceed to Snowhill, “with full powers to hear, examine, and determine about the complaints” made against the pastor.

In 1722, the Presbytery had suspended a Mr. Walton, a licentiate, who thereupon complained to Synod. The Synod in consequence of his concessions modified the sentence, suspending him for three Sabbaths, and directing his acknowledgments to be read, at the ex piration of that time, before the congregation of Newark. If Mr. Walton should then “own” those acknowledgments, Mr. Pumry, who was appointed for the purpose, was to remove the suspension. As the gentleman, however, seemed rather refractory, it was resolved “that the Synod do appoint Messrs. George McNish, James Anderson, and Samuel Pumry, or any two of them, do, in the Synod’s name, judicially deal with him upon information, as they shall see proper.” It appears from the minutes of the following year that Mr. Pumry was prevented by illness from attending at Newark at the appointed time, and that Mr. Walton read his own acknowledgment “and absolved himself.” Whereupon the Synod determined that the suspension was not thereby removed, and appointed “the Presbytery of Long Island, together with Mr. J. Dickinson, Mr. Morgan, and Mr. Pierson, to be a committee to transact in the whole affair relating to Mr. Walton, and to remove or continue the suspension, as they shall see cause.” This committee, as appears from their report, met according to appointment, and unanimously decided that the suspension should not be removed. This is an in structive record, as it shows not only the authority of the Synod in modifying the sentence of a Presbytery, but the peculiarity of their mode of proceeding, in appointing, in the first instance, a committee of three to proceed judicially, should occasion require it, and then naming several ministers to be associated with a Presbytery in deciding the whole affair.

In 1727, “Messrs. Andrews, Morgan, Jon. Dickinson, Pierson, and Webb, were appointed a committee to meet in New York, to accommodate matters of difference between that congregation and the Presbytery of Long Island, and also any other differences that may be among themselves about their church settlements, and espe cially to receive Mr. Pemberton as a member of the Synod or not, as they shall see cause.” The following year that committee reported, among other things, “that Mr. Pemberton appearing before this committee, and desiring admission as a member of the Synod of Philadelphia, promised upon such admission, all subjection to the Synod in the Lord, the committee can see no cause why such admission should be refused or delayed, and do therefore admit him as a member of the said Synod.” There seems to have been some mis apprehensions as to the authority meant to be conferred on this committee, for when their report was presented, the following questions were proposed to the vote of Synod:

  1. “Whether the committee had authority from the Synod to consider the admission of Mr. Pemberton as a member of the Synod, without previously considering what the Presbytery of Long Island had to offer in that affair. Carried in the negative by a great majority.

  2. “Whether the Synod approve of the conduct of the committee with relation to the divisions of the said congregation. Carried in the affirmative, nem. con.4

  3. “Whether Mr. Pemberton be allowed as a member of this Synod, by virtue of what the committee has done. Carried in the negative.

  4. “Whether, notwithstanding of all the irregularity that was in the accession of Mr. Pemberton to New York, the Synod do now accept him as a member. Carried in the affirmative, nem. con. And it is left to Mr. Pemberton and the congregation to join what Presbytery they shall think fit.”

These instances of plenipotentiary committees are all selected from the minutes of the years 1717 to 1728, the limit of the period now under consideration. Many examples of a similar kind might be taken from the records of subsequent years. It has already been shown that this mode of proceeding, though so different from our method of conducting Synodical business, is in perfect accordance with that in vogue in Scotland.

The great distinction, however, between the original Synod and ours, is that the former exercised all Presbyterial powers. They examined and received new members; ordained, dismissed, suspend ed, or deposed ministers; regulated the affairs of congregations; and, in short, did everything within their whole limits that any Presbytery might properly do within its own. Thus, in 1718, it is recorded that “Mr. Wm. Tennent’s affair being transmitted from the committee [of bills and overtures] to the Synod, was by them fully considered; being well satisfied with his credentials, and the testimony of some brethren here present, as also they were satisfied with the material reasons which he offered concerning his dissenting from the established church in Ireland; being put to a vote, it was carried in the affirmative to admit him a member of Synod.” On the following page it is stated, that “Mr. Samuel Young, minister of the gospel, presenting his credentials from the Presbytery of Armagh, met at Donaghmore, in the county Down, in the kingdom of Ireland, to this Synod, they were cordially approved, and he admitted a member, nem. con.” In the same year Messrs. Clement and Steward, probationers, presented their credentials, which were approved; and calls having been handed in for them from the East ern Shore of Maryland, the Synod appointed Messrs. Davis, Hamp ton, and Thompson, and such members of the Presbytery of New Castle as they might choose to call to their aid, to ordain them. The same year Mr. Hampton petitioned to be dismissed from his pastoral charge, which was granted, and his church declared vacant by the Synod. In 1720, Mr. Orme presented his testimonials, and was admitted a member of Synod; Mr. John Morehead applied for admission, and was refused. The complaints made by the elders of the church of Rehoboth against their pastor were entertained, and he suspended by the Synod ad interim, and the whole matter referred to a committee of their own body. In 1726, a call from Donegal for Mr. Anderson was presented to the Synod, and by them handed to him for his acceptance. In 1728, various charges were presented by a people against their pastor, which were examined; from most of them he was acquitted, while others were referred to his Presbytery for further examination. These are only a few of the examples which might be selected of the exercise of Presbyterial powers by the Synod. All this is very different from any thing we are accustomed to, but it is in perfect accordance with the Scotch system. The explanation is to be found in the following provision of the Book of Policy: “These assemblies (viz. Synods), have the whole power of the particular elderships (Presbyteries) of which they are collected.” It appears, then, that the original Synod of our church not only exercised all the powers which are now recog nized as belonging to such bodies, but that it went much further, conforming in various respects to the Scottish model, in points in which we have long differed from it.

There is still one very important record belonging to the period under review, which remains to be considered. In 1721, the Rev. Mr. Gillespie, who had been nine years a member of the Synod, and was not, therefore, a young man just from Scotland, as has been represented, brought forward the following overture: “As we have been for many years in the exercise of Presbyterian government and church discipline, as exercised by the Presbyterians in the best reformed churches, as far as the nature and constitution of this country will allow, our opinion is, that if any brother have any overture to offer to be formed into an act of Synod, for the better carrying on the matters of our government and discipline, he may bring it in against next Synod.” This overture was carried by a majority of votes, and ordered to be recorded.

“Mr. Jon. Dickinson, Mr. Malachi Jones, Mr. Joseph Morgan, Mr. John Pierson, Mr. David Evans, and Mr. Joseph Webb, entered their protestations against the above‑mentioned act, and the recording of it, and gave the reasons of their protest, which are in retentis. Ordered, that Mr. Magill and Mr. McNish draw up answers to the above-said protest.”

At this meeting of Synod there were twenty-one ministers present, viz. Messrs. Magill, Andrews, Gillespie, Anderson, Orme, Wm. Ten nent, Thompson, Hook, Pumry, Davis, Cross, Steward, Gelston, McNish, Conn, and the six protesting brethren just mentioned. Of these six, Messrs. Dickinson, Pierson, and Webb were from New England, and Messrs. Morgan, Evans, and Jones were pro­bably all of Welsh origin. Though it cannot be certainly inferred that all who did not join in the protest voted for the overture, yet it is highly probable that the above division gives a fair view of the state of parties, so to speak, in the Synod. This was a subject which evidently excited much interest, with regard to which there were not likely to be many non liquets, and in the following year, we find no additional names attached to Mr. Dickinson’s articles relating to this subject.

No one at all familiar with the history either of our own church, or of that of Scotland, can be at a loss as to the meaning of the phrase, “an act of Synod,” as used in Mr. Gillespie’s overture. Any pro position containing a rule of action, enacted by an ecclesiastical body, obligatory on its members or inferior judicatories, is called an act. The records of the church of Scotland are full of such acts, which are rules remaining in force until properly repealed. The records of our own church abound with similar rules, which, especially in the earlier periods of our history, are called acts. The rule that ministers and elders should regularly report on the state of their congregations was such an act; the rule that every church should keep sessional records, and present them annually for revision, was such an act, and is so called in the minutes already quoted. Such also was the order that Presbyteries should bring their minutes to be examined in Synod. All these were adopted prior to the year 1717. Even the order that no minister should preach in a particular church, is called, as we have seen, “an act of Synod.” Mr. Gillespie’s pro position, therefore, was in strict accordance, not only with the usage of other Presbyterian churches, but with the customs of our own. It was, moreover, perfectly reasonable. The church was now divided into several Presbyteries. If it was to remain one body, it was evidently desirable that it should have some common rules of action with regard to the qualifications of candidates, the admission of members, &c., such as we have now embodied in our written consti tution, and such as not only Episcopalians and Methodists have in their canons and books of discipline, but even Congregationalists possess in the Cambridge and Saybrook Platforms. The propriety and even necessity of this measure were so obvious that, after a little temporary opposition, arising as is evident from misapprehension, it was cordially acquiesced in by all parties, and has been from that day to this the common understanding of the church.

It seems, however, that some members of the Synod were startled at the assertion of a power in the abstract, which they had them selves already exercised, and were afraid of its being carried to an extent to which they could not willingly submit. They therefore protested. The minutes of the next year contain the following record relating to this subject: “The brethren who entered their protestation against the act for allowing any brother or member of this Synod to bring in any overture to be formed into an act by the Synod, for the better carrying on in the matters of our government and discipline, &c. The said brethren Protestants brought in a paper of four articles, testifying in writing their sentiments and judgment concerning church government, which was approved by the Synod, and ordered by the Synod to be recorded in the Synod book. Likewise the said brethren being willing to take back their protestation against said act, together with their reasons given in defence of said protest, the Synod doth hereby order the protest, together with the reasons of it, as also the answers at the appointment of the Synod given to the reasons alleged by Mr. Daniel Magill and Mr. George McNish, be all withdrawn, and that the said act remain and be in all respects as if no such protest had been made. The articles are as followeth:

  1. “We freely grant that there is full executive power of church government in Presbyteries and Synods, and that they may authoritatively, in the name of Christ, use the keys of church discipline to all proper intents and purposes, and that the keys of the church are committed to the church officers and them only.

  2. “We also grant that the mere circumstantials of church discipline, such as the time, place, and mode of carrying on the government of the church, belong to ecclesiastical judicatories to determine as occasions occur, conformable to the general rules in the word of God, that require all things to be done decently and in order. And if these things are called acts, we will take no offence at the word, provided that these acts be not imposed on those who conscientiously dissent from them.

  3. “We also grant that Synod may compose directories, and recommend them to all their members respecting all the parts of discipline, provided that all subordinate judicatories may decline from such directories, when they conscientiously think they have just reason so to do.

  4. “We freely allow that appeals may be made from all inferior to superior judicatories, and that superior judicatories have author ity to consider and determine such appeals.

Malachi Jones,

Joseph Morgan,

Jonathan Dickinson,

David Evans.

“The Synod was so universally pleased with the above-said com posure of their difference, that they unanimously joined together in a thanksgiving prayer, and joyful singing the 133rd Psalm.”5

That this is the true solution of this problem in our history, is evident, in the first place, from the very facts of the case as they appear on the record. A proposition is introduced asserting the right of the Synod to make rules for the government of the church. This proposition is adopted. Certain members protest, but the following year they withdraw their opposition, and acknowledge that Synod may make such rules, “provided such acts be not im posed upon those who conscientiously dissent from them.” The question is, what is the meaning of this proviso? It is certainly ambiguous. It admits of one interpretation, which involves both parties to this transaction in glaring contradictions; but also of another, which makes them both act consistently. If by “conscientious dissent” is meant dissent on conscientious grounds, all is plain and satisfactory. The Synod never pretended to the right to impose anything upon any man contrary to his conscience. But if by conscientious dissent is meant merely honest dissent, in op position to what is feigned or factious, then the whole history is a riddle. The Synod declare their right to make rules, and yet ad mit they may be regarded or disregarded at every man’s pleasure! Is it to be credited that a set of Scotch and Irish Presbyterians would have assented to such an exposition of a Synod’s power, or have joined in thanking God for its acknowledgment? It is not to be believed that any sane men would have insisted that the assertion of this right of the Synod should stand uncontradicted upon the minutes, and upon the next page admit that Synodical rules had no binding force; the two assertions are contradictory, and could not have received the assent of the same men. The record itself, therefore, forces us to understand, by conscientious dissent, dissent on conscientious grounds. This interpretation does no vio lence to the words, and renders the different parts of the minutes perfectly consistent.

That this is the true meaning of these articles is further proved by the uniform action of the church under them. This argument can be fully appreciated by those only who are aware of the fact that our records abound with rules, or acts of Synod, many of them passed by mere majorities, to which the minorities uniformly submitted, except when they could plead conscientious scruples. To take a single example: What was the famous adopting act of 1729? Was this a mere recommendation on the part of the Synod that the reception of the Westminster Confession of Faith should be demanded by the Presbyteries from all candidates for the ministry? Far from it. It was an obligatory act, so regarded at the time, and so regarded, by friends and foes of the measure, from that day to this. This indeed is evident from the very form of it, as well as from the contention about it, and from the uniformity with which it was enforced. An act of Synod, therefore, in the view of those who assented to these articles, was not a mere recommendation, but an authoritative rule.

This interpretation of these articles is confirmed by what took place at the time of the schism. This question was involved in that controversy. The ostensible occasion of the whole difficulty was an act of Synod. That body had passed an order that candidates for the ministry, before being taken on trial by a Presby tery, should be furnished with a diploma from some European university, or from some college in New England, or, wanting these, that they should be provided with a certificate of competent scholar ship by a committee of the Synod. This act the Presbytery of New Brunswick disregarded. Their reason was not the denial of the right of the Synod to make such rules, but the plea that they could not conscientiously obey that particular rule. Their con scientious dissent was a dissent for conscience’ sake.

And finally, the true interpretation of these articles, or the manner in which they were understood, is manifest from the manner in which this matter was arranged upon the reunion of the two Synods. As the right of the Synod to make such acts had been drawn into the controversy, it was necessary that there should be some distinct agreement on the subject. Though the negotiations for a union were protracted through several years, and though much difficulty was experienced in arranging other points, that respecting the power of Synod seems to have been settled at once. The reason was, there was no real difference of opinion on the subject. Both parties agreed “that when any matter is determined by a major vote, every member shall either actively concur with, or passively submit to such determination; or, if his conscience permit him to do neither, he shall, after sufficient liberty modestly to reason and remonstrate, peaceably withdraw from our communion, without attempting to make any schism. Provided always that this shall be understood to extend to such determinations only as the body shall judge in dispensable in doctrine or Presbyterian government.” This is precisely the meaning of Mr. Dickinson’s article on the same subject. The decisions of Synod were to be binding on all those who could obey them with a good conscience.6 This interpretation is the only one consistent with the facts in the case, with the known and vowed opinions of those who assented to the articles, with the uniform practice of the church after their adoption, and with the more explicit declarations of the Synod relating to the same subject. On the opposite interpretation these articles are completely iso lated, inconsistent with all that precedes and with all that follows them, like a dead tree in a long avenue of living ones.

Such then was American Presbyterianism during the forming period of our church, from 1705 or 1706 to 1728. When the Pres bytery was organized, there was but one congregation in New Jer sey, the Scotch church at Freehold, in connection with it. Those in Pennsylvania and Maryland were strictly Presbyterian, unless the church in Philadelphia was an exception. All the original members, except Mr. Andrews, were, as far as can be ascertained, educated and ordained in Scotland or Ireland. Such was the original body around which, as a nucleus, other churches and ministers were rapidly collected. This Presbytery exercised all Presbyterial functions as fully as any similar body at the present day; reviewing and controlling the exercise of discipline in the several churches; examining, ordaining, installing, and dismissing pastors, and judging their own members. The Synod, after its formation, exercised a similar review and control over the Presbyteries and congregations; received and decided appeals, and references, and complaints from the lower judicatories, and not only exercised the various powers now recognized as belonging to Synods, but, in strict accordance with the Scottish system, all those which more imme diately pertain to Presbyteries. In all the particulars in which the original Presbytery and Synod differed from such bodies among us, they conformed to the usages of the church of Scotland. Our church was, therefore, more strictly Presbyterian during the first five and twenty years of its history, than it has been at any period since the formation of the General Assembly.

  1. “As far as the nature and constitution of this country would allow.” This is a limitation, and it is the only one of the analogy between American Presbyterianism and that of the best reformed churches. How did the nature or constitution of this country prevent the carrying out the Presbyterian form of government? Did it forbid the government of the church by Sessions, Presbyteries, and Synods? Did it prevent a subordination of one of these courts to another? Did it forbid the church to form rules for the manage ment of its own affairs? It clearly did none of these things. As the Synod declare, they conformed to the Presbyterianism of Europe, so far as the con stitution of the country would allow; they do thereby declare that they con formed in every thing which did not arise out of the peculiar local circum stances of the foreign churches, either as civil establishments, or as controlled and fettered by the state. This is all the difference which, in 1721, a man educated in Scotland, and who had been for nine years a member of the Synod, declared he could see between our Presbyterianism and that of his native Country. Surely he is a better judge, and a more competent witness than those who, at a distance of more than a century, pronounce so confidently on the early character of our church. 

  2. “Ruling elders,” says the Cincinnati Journal, July 30, 1838, “are frequently called assistants, and this settles the question, that Dr. Hill is right in supposing that the order of the mother Presbytery in 1715, to their churches to choose assistants, meant elders, and that elders had not been elected previously.” A statement so much at variance with notorious facts, ought not to be imposed upon Dr. Hill. The Doctor so far from saying that elders were not elected before 1715, says the very reverse: “The impression has been taken up by some, that I denied that there were any such officers as ruling elders in those early times. I never meant to convey this idea.” (Sketches, No. 6.) In the same No. he says, “I have no doubt there were ruling elders regularly inducted into office in Rehoboth and Accomac congregations under the pastoral care of Mr. Makemie, and at Monokin and Wicomico, in Somerset, Maryland, and also in Snowhill, and the meeting‑house on Venable’s land.” All these congregations were formed before 1705. If there is no doubt that there were ruling elders in these churches, what reason is there to doubt that there were similar officers in the other Scotch and Irish churches, i.e., in all originally connected with the Presbytery, with one exception? Dr. Hill makes a great mistake, when he says that “these elders are no where spoken of as elders, under that distinctive title but in the opening minute at the commencement of each session.” This is very far from being correct. (See the memorandum quoted on the next page of the admission of three additional elders, after the commencement of the meeting in 1709.) In 1710, there is this minute: “Ordered that the ministers and elders of this meeting come prepared,” &c. In 1711, Mr. Van Cleck’s absence was excused “by one of his elders sent for that purpose.” In the same year, “inquiry was made of the ministers. … then of the several elders,” &c. These are only examples. Dr. Hill adds, “Whenever they are spoken of or alluded to after wards, they are called representatives of the people, and sometimes the minister’s assistants.” That this is incorrect as far as it asserts that the elders are always so called, has just been shown. They are sometimes so called. And are not our elders the representatives of the people, and minister’s assis tants? And are they not so called? Everyone knows that these were com mon designations for elders, but no one has supposed that they were thereby proved not to be elders. These forms of expression are sometimes interchanged on the same page. For example, on page 30, it is said, “Mr. Henry’s representative of his congregation being absent,” &c. and then in the next sentence, “The reasons of Pumry’s elder’s absence were inquired into and sustained.” It may be supposed that this diversity of form was intentional, and that some congregations sent representatives, and some elders. It happens unfortunately for this hypothesis that Mr. Henry, whose elder is called a representative, was the pastor of Mr. Makemie’s favorite church of Rehoboth, where Dr. Hill says he doubts not there were regular ruling elders; and that Mr. Pumry was minister of Newtown, Long Island, where, if anywhere, we should expect committee‑men. Besides, on p. 29, we find Mr. Edmunson mentioned “as the representative of the church at Patuxent.” This was the Scotch congregation, elsewhere called Upper Marlborough. Nothing can be gained, therefore, from this source, to prove that representatives were not elders. 

  3. It is somewhere noticed as a great departure from Scottish Presbyteri anism, that in one or more of our early churches, elders were elected annually. In the Scotch church, however, this was originally the rule. “The election of elders and deacons ought to be made every year once, which we judge most convenient to be done the first of August yearly, lest men by long continuance in those offices, presume on the liberty of the church.” (Spotswood’s History of the Church of Scotland, p. 167.) 

  4. The substance of the arrangement effected by the committee, in reference to the difficulties in the congregation, was as follows: 1. Messrs. Liddel, Blake, and Inglis were to make over all their interest in the meeting‑house, &c., to certain ministers in Edinburgh, and to Dr. Nicoll, “for the use of the Presbyterian Church in New York,” and they were to empower the Presbytery of Edinburgh to supply the vacancies in the above-named trustees, as they might occur. Dr. Nicoll was to cancel all bonds given by Messrs. Liddel, Blake, and Inglis, on account of the said meeting-house. 2. Dr. Nicoll was to give a bond for £2,000, to the ministers of Edinburgh, that neither he nor his heir would ever alienate their interest is the above‑mentioned property, and that, as soon as he was paid what was due to him, he would make over to those ministers all his interest in the property. 3. No repairs were to he made or expenses incurred without the consent of the majority of the congregation. 4. It was agreed that the congregation might choose five men as public managers or representatives. And Dr. Nicoll agreed, that whoever wished might have copies at their own expense, of any of the papers in his hands re lating to the congregation. These articles were signed by John Nicoll, John Blake, Thomas Inglis, and Joseph Liddel. 

  5. The reader cannot fail to notice that these four articles contain the whole system of Presbyterianism. They assert (1) that the government and disci pline of individual churches belong to the church officers, and not to the church members; (2) that full executive power of church government belongs to Presbyteries and Synods; (3) that the higher judicatories have the right to review and control the decisions of the lower. The only other feature of the system is the right of Synods to make acts, or “to set down rules for the government of the church.” How far their authors denied this, remains to be seen. This record is the more interesting, as these articles proceeded from the least Presbyterian part of the Synod, and therefore conclusively prove how little there was of Congregationalism in that body, or rather that there was none at all. It is evident from this record that these brethren, who the year before supposed themselves to differ widely in their views, found, upon mutual explanations, that they perfectly agreed. It is to be remarked that the friends of Mr. Gillespie’s overture did not relinquish the ground which they had assumed. On the contrary, it was expressly stipulated, “that the said act [Mr. Gillespie’s] re main and be in all respects as if no such protest had been made.” The protestation and the reasons for it were withdrawn, and the matter left where it was, as though no objection had ever been urged against it. There was, therefore, no concession inconsistent with the assertion of the principle contained in the overture. There is no reason to suppose that either party was overreached in this matter. It would be a gratuitous and ungracious assumption that there was, on either side, a wish to hoodwink or cajole the other. These brethren, from all that appears or is known of their character, were honest men, and had confidence in each other. This must be presumed, unless we suppose them capable of the basest hypocrisy in thanking God for the success of a stratagem. This is not to be credited of such men as President Dickinson and Mr. Pierson. Besides, the brethren on the other side were not likely to be easily deceived. Most of the oldest, shrewdest, and most strenuous of the Scotch and Irish members of the Synod were present at this meeting, concurred in all that was done, and joined in giving thanks to God for the result. Two things, there fore, are evident—first, that there must have been some misapprehension, on the part of Mr. Dickinson and his friends, of the design of Mr. Gillespie’s overture, against which they at first pro tested, but subsequently allowed to stand as it was; and secondly, that Mr. Dickinson’s four articles must admit of an interpretation consistent with that overture, and satisfactory to its advocates. Otherwise they never would have insisted on the overture’s remaining, and yet have adopted the articles. The protesting brethren seem to have considered the proposition of Mr. Gillespie, asserting as it does in general terms and with little limitation, the right of the Synod to form acts obligatory on all its members, as assuming the power “to make laws to bind the conscience.” The right to make rules for the discipline and government of the church, and to frame directories, they admitted, provided these rules did not tres pass on the domain of conscience. With this the friends of the overture were perfectly satisfied. It was all they ever intended or wished. Thus both parties united in letting the overture stand, in ordering the articles to be recorded, and in praising God for their agreement. 

  6. A still more decisive proof that this is the true meaning of these articles is to be found in the second of the articles agreed upon by the Synod of New York, as “the plan and foundation of their Synodical union.” This Synod was formed in 1745, a few years after the schism. President Dickinson was present when these articles were adopted and was in all probability the framer of them. The members of that body say, “They agree that in matters of discipline and those things which relate to the peace and good order of our churches, they shall be determined according to the major vote of ministers and elders, with which vote every member shall actively concur, or passively acquiesce; but if any member cannot in conscience agree to the determination of the majority, but supposes himself obliged to act contrary there unto, and the Synod think themselves obliged to insist upon it as essentially necessary to the well‑being of our churches, in that case such dissenting member promises peaceably to withdraw from the body, without endeavor ing to raise any dispute or contention upon the debated point, or any unjust alienation of affection from them. (Minutes of Synod of New York, p. 2.) There were twenty-two ministers present when this Synod was constituted and these articles were adopted, among whom, besides President Dickinson, were Messrs. Pierson, Pemberton, Burr, G. Tennent, W. Tennent, Samuel Blair, John Blair, and Samuel Finley. When the circumstances are consi dered under which these gentlemen met, the above article, which goes the whole length of what was contended for by the friends of Mr. Gillespie’s overture, will appear the more decisive. A schism had just occurred in the church, from a refusal of the New Brunswick Presbytery to submit to the determination of the Synod respecting the examination of candidates. To prevent any such disastrous occurrence in future, the members pledged them selves, if they could not conscientiously submit to the majority, peaceably to withdraw. The unanimous adoption of this principle shows how unfounded is the general impression of the lax Presbyterianism of the Synod of New York.