Chapter III b

Strict Ministerial Subscription Was Practiced by the Early PCUSA

The second question proposed was, what is, and ever has been, the condition of ministerial communion in our Church, as it relates to points of doctrine? This, as before remarked, is a very distinct question from the one already considered. It may be admitted, though it is distinctly denied, that the act of 1729 was intended to require of new members nothing more than assent to the essential doctrines of the gospel, and yet the doctrinal standard of the Church might be something very different and far higher. Those who are enamored with what they take to be the meaning of that act, forgetful of their low opinion of the power of Synods, seem to regard it as unalterable. They speak as though the Synod of 1729 had authority not only over inferior judicatories, but over all succeeding Synods. This is certainly a strange assumption. Had the Synod of 1729 made the reception of the apostles’ creed the condition of ministerial communion, that of 1730 had as good a right to require assent to every proposition in Calvin’s Institutes and Commentaries.

Let the act of 1729 mean what it may, what does it prove as to the doctrinal standard of our Church, unless it can be shown that the said act has never been modified or repealed? What prerogative had the Synod of 1729, which was not possessed by those of 1730 and 1736? If, therefore, the original act was ever so latitudinarian, it was repealed by the act of 1730, which required all new members to receive, as the Synod itself had done, the whole Confession of Faith and Catechisms, a few specified clauses excepted. Where is there any repeal of this latter act? Where is there any official explanation lowering its demands? None such is to be found on the records of the Church, at least until the formation of the General Assembly. The act of 1736 reaffirmed the same standard with even still greater emphasis; greater plainness was unattainable. It remains now to be shown from subsequent official declarations, and from the administration of the discipline of the Church, that the standard thus fixed was unaltered, from 1730 to 1788, and that at no period of our history and in no section of the Church has assent to the essential doctrines of the gospel been made the condition of ministerial communion.

The period from 1741 to 1758, during which the church was divided, might perhaps be omitted in a review, the design of which is to ascertain the doctrinal standard adopted by the whole church. The opinions, however, of the separate portions of the church, during this period, in relation to this subject, are a matter of too much interest to be passed over in silence. It is not necessary to raise the question, which of the two Synods was the proper repre­sentative of the Presbyterian Church, though there can be no doubt how it should be answered. However irregular or unjust the exclusion of the New Brunswick Presbytery in 1741 may have been, their rejection did not destroy the character of the Synod. That Presbytery and their early associates were a small portion of the whole body. Those who subsequently joined them, as for example the large Presbytery of New York, continued for several years after the separation, to meet with the old Synod, and to recognize its character. They finally peaceably withdrew, and with the excluded members formed a new Synod.

It will hardly be doubted that the old Synod, after the schism, continued to adhere to the Westminster Confession, or that they regarded the adopting act in the light in which it had previously been viewed. The separation took place at the meeting of Synod in 1741. After the New Brunswick brethren had withdrawn, an overture was introduced to the following effect: “That every member of this Synod, whether minister or elder, do, sincerely and heartily receive, acknowledge, or subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as the confession of his faith; and the Directory, as far as circumstances will allow in this infant church, for the rule of church order. Ordered, that every session do oblige their elders at their admission to do the same. This was readily approved nem. con.” It is a little remarkable that this Synod, when all the members of the Presbytery of New York were absent (none of whom attended this year), and when the New Brunswick Presbytery and their associates were out of the house, avowed their adherence to the Confession and Directory in terms much less explicit and binding than those which had previously been unanimously adopted, when the members of both those bodies were present.

That the old Synod should adhere strictly to the Confession, is what might be expected. But how was it with the new Synod? It has already been shown, not only from the testimony of the Rev. Samuel Blair, who was one of their number, but from their own official statement, that all the excluded members and their associates adhered “as closely and fully to the Westminster Confession, Catechisms, and Directory, as the Synod of Philadelphia, in any of their public acts.” The Synod of New York was formed in 1745, and consisted of the Presbyteries of New York, New Brunswick, and New Castle. At their first meeting they adopted certain articles “as the plan and foundation of their Synodical union.” The first of these articles is as follows: “They agree that the Westminster Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, be the public confession of their faith, in such manner as was agreed upon by the Synod of Philadelphia in the year 1729 (and to be inserted in the latter end of this book), and they declare their approbation of the Directory of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as the general plan of worship and discipline.”

This of course, by itself, proves nothing as to the manner in which the Synod adopted the Confession, unless it can be known how they understood the act of 1729. The opinions of Messrs. G. Tennent, William Tennent, Pierson, Pemberton, Samuel Blair, and John Blair, who were all present when these articles were formed, on this subject, have already been given, either in those explanatory acts of the Synod to which they assented, or in the citation of their own words on this point. Still, were this all we knew of the ground taken by this Synod in relation to this subject, it would at least remain doubtful how far they, as a body, required adherence to the Westminster Confession. It happened to them, however, as it did to the Synod of Philadelphia. The public were not satisfied with this ambiguous statement, and they were called upon to explain themselves. Within a few years, the Synod, in order to allay the jealousies of their neighbors, among the Dutch, say, “We do hereby declare and testify our constitution, order, and discipline, to be in harmony with the established Church of Scotland. The Westminster Confession, Catechisms, and Directory adopted by them, are in like manner adopted by us.” Again, in 1754, when writing to the Scottish General Assembly, they say “that they conform to the constitution of the Church of Scotland, and have adopted her standards of doctrine, worship, and discipline.” What can be more explicit than this? It would be a poor service to the authors of these declarations to prove their liberality or latitudinarianism, as the reader may consider it, at the expense of their moral character. No honest man could adopt the language just quoted, unless he used it in the sense in which we know that those to whom it was addressed would understand it. For the Synod of New York to tell the Church of Scotland that they had adopted her standards of doctrine, if they required nothing more than assent to the essential doctrines of the gospel, would have been a palpable untruth. Could any man, to repeat an illustration already employed, say that he adopted the standards of the Church of Rome, who assented to nothing but the doctrines of the trinity, incarnation, and atonement? It is not possible to reconcile the above-cited declarations of this Synod with candor and fair dealing, on any other assumption than that they required a strict adherence to the system of doctrines which they professed to adopt.

Another proof that the Synod of New York did not sanction the loose interpretation which has been put upon the adopting act is that, in the long negotiations between them and the Synod of Philadelphia, in reference to a union, there is no evidence of any difference of opinion as to the manner in which the Confession of Faith was to be received. These negotiations were continued through many years, and the papers which passed between the two bodies are very voluminous. The great difficulty in the way of a reconciliation, was the protestation which led to the exclusion of the New Brunswick Presbytery, and the testimony which the New York Synod wished should be rendered to the genuineness of the revival. The former was the main obstacle. The Confession of Faith, or the mode of its adoption, was not a matter of dispute. In the communication made by the Synod of New York in 1749 to that of Philadelphia, they say, “We esteem mutual forbearance a duty, since we all profess the same Confession of Faith and Directory.” The Synod of Philadelphia in their communication of 1751, use precisely the same language. “Upon these terms (viz. the terms specified in their letter) we heartily agree with the Synod of New York, that since we profess the same Confession of Faith and Directory for worship, all our former differences be buried in perpetual oblivion.” One of the articles proposed in 1749 by the Synod of New York was “that every member assent unto and adopt the Confession of Faith and Directory according to the plan formerly agreed to by the Synod of Philadelphia in the years _____.”1 This article is repeated in nearly the same form in all the subsequent proposals. Thus in 1751 the Philadelphia Synod proposed, as their second article, “That every member give his consent to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Directory, according to the plan agreed on in our Synod, and that no acts be made but concerning matters that appear to be plain duty, or concerning opinions that we believe relate to the great truths of religion, and that all public and fundamental agreements of this Synod stand safe.” In their reply, the Synod of New York do not make the slightest objection to the mode proposed of assenting to the Confession and Directory. But as the schism had arisen from the refusal of the New Brunswick Presbytery to submit to an act of Synod, which they said they could not in conscience obey, it was proposed that “no member or members should be obliged to withdraw from our communion upon his or their not being ably actively to concur or passively submit, unless the matter be judged essential in doctrine or discipline.” To this the other party assented; a similar provision being incorporated in the terms of union finally adopted.2 With regard to the proposal by the Synod of Philadelphia, that “all fundamental agreements by this Synod stand safe”; the Synod of New Fork very properly said they could not agree to it, if it was “understood to refer to agreements made by said Synod [of Philadelphia] since the rupture happened.” In making such agreements they had not concurred; it was therefore unfair that they should be bound by them. This very limitation, however, shows that they were willing that such as had been made before the schism, should remain. This would leave the important acts of 1730 and 1736, relating to the mode of adopting the Confession of Faith, in full force.

It is in strict accordance with the spirit of the above article that our present book of discipline, chapter V, section 13, &c., says, “Heresy and schism may be of such a nature as to infer deposition; but errors ought to be carefully considered; whether they strike at the vitals of religion, and are industriously spread, or whether they arise from the weakness of the human understanding, and are not likely to do much injury.” This direction as to the administration of discipline has been strangely appealed to in proof that a church which requires every candidate for the ministry to declare that he receives the “system of doctrine” taught in the Confession of Faith, does notwithstanding require nothing more than assent to the essential doctrines of the gospel. This passage, however, has no relation to the admission of new members. It simply says what it is presumed no one ever has denied, that deposition, the highest ecclesiastical censure, ought not to be inflicted for slight aberrations from our standards. All offenses against the truth, morals, or order should be punished according to their nature. It would be hard to visit a man with the same penalty for a hasty word, as for habitual drunkenness; and it would be equally preposterous to depose a minister who would deny that the Pope was antichrist, when you could inflict no higher penalty upon him for the avowal of complete infidelity. How a rule which inculcates this plain principle of justice can prove that every candidate should be admitted to the ministry who does not deny some essential doctrine of Christianity, it is difficult to perceive.

The decisive evidence that there was no material diversity of opinion between the two Synods in reference to the point under consideration, is the fact that both bodies unanimously adopted and ratified the following article as one of the terms of their union: “Both Synods having always approved and received the Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as an orthodox and excellent system of Christian doctrine, founded upon the word of God; we do still receive the same as the confession of our faith, and also adhere to the plan of worship, government, and discipline, contained in the Westminster Directory: strictly enjoining it on all our ministers and probationers for the ministry, that they preach and teach according to the form of sound words in the said Confession and Catechisms, and avoid and oppose all errors contrary thereto.” How decisive would this be considered if an enemy were endeavoring to fix on the two Synods the imputation of rigid Calvinism! Both bodies declare that they always have received, and do still receive the Westminster Confession as the confession of their faith, the very form of adoption in use in the strict Presbytery of New Castle in the palmy days of Mr. Thompson and Mr. Gillespie. Every minister and probationer is strictly enjoined to avoid all errors contrary to the standards thus assumed. There must be an end of all confidence among men if such language can be used by those who make assent to the essential and necessary doctrines of the gospel, the term of ministerial communion; if an Arminian, Pelagian, Roman Catholic, or Quaker can say that he receives a strictly Calvinistic creed as the confession of his faith!

That the doctrinal standard of our church has not been changed since the time of the union of the Synods of New York and Phila­delphia appears from the following official acts and declarations. In 1763 application was made by a Presbytery in New York, to the East of the North River, to be incorporated with the Synod. “It was agreed to grant their request, provided that they agree to adopt our Westminster Confession of Faith, and engage to observe the Directory as a plan of worship, discipline, and government, according to the agreement of this Synod.” The last clause can refer to nothing but the first article of the plan of union just quoted, in which the united body adopt the Confession of Faith as the confession of their faith!

In 1770 a letter was written to the Presbytery of South Carolina, in answer to an application for a union between the two bodies, in which the Synod say, “The conditions which we require are only what we suppose you are already agreed on, viz.: That all your ministers acknowledge and adopt as the standard of doctrine, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, and the Directory as the plan of your worship and discipline. The Church of Scotland is considered by this Synod as their pattern in general, but we have not as yet expressly adopted by resolution of Synod, or bound ourselves to any other of the standing laws or forms of the Church of Scotland, than those above mentioned, intending to lay down such rules for ourselves, upon Presbyterian principles in general, as circumstances shall, from tine to time, show to be expedient.” Such were the conditions which our Church used to in­sist upon in all cases of union with foreign bodies—adherence to her standards, both as to doctrine and order. In the above record, it is not only stated that the Westminster Confession and Catechisms were the standard of doctrine in our Church, and the Directory the plan of worship and discipline, but still farther, that as the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland had made many standing laws suited to the circumstances of the Church in that country, so the Synod proposed to lay down rules suited to our circumstances. The right to make such rules is assumed as perfectly familiar and undoubted.

In 1786 a committee was appointed to meet similar committees from the Synods of the Dutch and Associate Reformed Churches, with the view of negotiating some plan of union between the several bodies. When this convention met, it directed the several committees of which it was composed to state explicitly “what the formulas of doctrine and worship are, to which each of the Synods respectively adheres, and the mode in which they testify their adherence, and prevent and punish any departure from them.” “On the part of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, the reply is contained in the representation given in by their committee, articles first and fifth; viz.:

“The Synod of New York and Philadelphia adopt, according to the known and established meaning of the terms, the Westminster Confession of Faith as the confession of their faith; save that every candidate for the gospel ministry is permitted to except against so much of the twenty-third chapter as gives authority to the civil magistrate in matters of religion. The Presbyterian Church in America considers the Church of Christ as a spiritual society entirely distinct from the civil government; and as having the right to regulate their own ecclesiastical polity independently of the interposition of the civil magistrate.

“The Synod also receives the Directory for public worship, and form of Church government recommended by the Westminster Assembly, as in substance agreeable to the institutions of the New Testament. This mode of adoption we use because we believe the general platform of our government to be agreeable to the sacred Scriptures; but we do not believe that God has been pleased so to reveal and enjoin every minute circumstance of ecclesiastical government and discipline as not to leave room for orthodox churches of Christ in these minutæ, to differ with charity from each other.

“The rules of our discipline and the form of process in our church judicatures are contained in Pardevan’s, alias Stewart’s Collections, in conjunction with the acts of our own Synod; the power of which, in matters merely ecclesiastical, we consider as equal to the power of any Synod or General Assembly in the world. Our church judicatories, like those in the Church of Scotland, from which we derive our origin, are church sessions, Presbyteries, and Synods, to which it is now in contemplation to add a national or General Assembly.”

This document, considered merely as containing the testimony of competent witnesses as to the constitution of our church, is of the highest authority. It was delivered under circumstances which rendered both accuracy and fidelity indispensable. Its authors were negotiating a treaty with other churches, who had a right to know the opinions and principles of those with whom they contemplated a union. Any ambiguity of statement or want of candor would, under such circumstances, be an unpardonable offense. The above document, however, is something more than the testimony of a committee. It is that testimony approved and sanctioned by the Synod. This report was presented and accepted, it was spread out upon the minutes, the conduct of the committee approved, no one of their acts or statements disallowed, and the efforts for a union still farther prosecuted.

As to the document itself, it is impossible for language to be more explicit as to all the points to which it relates. The Confession of Faith is said to be the confession of the faith of the Synod, save that new members were allowed to object to certain clauses in the twenty-third chapter. The very exception greatly strengthens the case. That the new members were required to adopt the Confession, except those clauses, shows that nothing else was allowed to be rejected. This is precisely what the old Synod twice, unanimously and authoritatively, in 1730 and in 1736, declared was the mode in which the Confession was to be adopted. This was the condition of ministerial communion then established, and which the Synod in 1786 declared they still adhered to. The evidence as to this point is the stronger from what is said of the manner in which the Directory was adopted. The Confession of Faith was received entirely, with the single exception specified, according to the known and established meaning of the words, but the Directory was received only for substance, and the reason is given for this mode of adoption. It has already been stated that the Directory was of such a nature, abounding so much with prescriptions relating to local and temporary circumstances, that the strict Presbytery of Donegal could not adopt it more fully than the whole Synod did.

It is to be remarked farther on this document that the “acts of Synod” are declared to be standing rules, regulating the adminis­tration of discipline, and the power of that body in matters merely ecclesiastical is declared to be equal to the power of any Synod or General Assembly in the world. If this is not full-grown Presbyterianism, it would be difficult to know where to find it. The committee which drew up these declarations, were Dr’s. Rodgers, Witherspoon, McWhorter, and Samuel Smith, and Messrs. Nathan Kerr, and John Woodhull. There is no obnoxious Mr. Thompson, Anderson, or Gillespie here, to be upbraided for “swallowing the Confession whole.” Yet which of the last‑named gentlemen ever uttered such sweeping declarations as are here made by Dr’s. Rodgers and McWhorter?

Again, in 1787, the committee previously appointed for the purpose presented the draught of a Form of Government and Disci­pline for the Church. The same year the Synod made some slight alterations in the twentieth and twenty-third chapters of the Westminster Confession, and, in the following year, “the Synod having duly considered the draught of the Form of Government and Discipline, did on the review of the whole, and hereby do ratify and adopt the same, as now altered and amended, as the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, and order the same to be considered and strictly observed as a rule of their proceedings by the inferior judicatories belonging to this body. And they order that a corrected copy be printed, and the Westminster Confession of Faith, as now altered, to be printed in full along with it, as making part of the Constitution. Resolved, that the true intent and meaning of the above ratification of Synod is that the form of Government and Discipline, and the Confession of Faith, now ratified, is to continue to be our constitution, and the con­fession of our faith, unless two thirds of the Presbyteries under the care of the General Assembly propose alterations or amend­ments, and such alterations and amendments shall be agreed to and enacted by the General Assembly.”

In this dying act of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, that body put forth all its power. There is not on the records of the church, unless in the analogous cases of the several adopting acts, such an illustration of the power assumed by the supreme judicatory of the church. The constitution was the work of their own hands; it was revised, corrected, adopted, and imposed by them, and made unalterable without the concurrence of two thirds of the Presbyteries and the sanction of the General Assembly. Though the draught had been circulated among the Presbyteries and churches for their suggestions and advice, it was of no form but as ratified by the Synod, who ordered all the inferior judicatories to make it the rule of their proceedings. It is not to be supposed that the General Assembly has fallen heir to all the power of the old Synod. Far from it. The acts of the latter body were part of the constitution of the church. They adopted the Westminster Confession, and it was ever afterwards, unless the rule was repealed, to be adopted by all new members. When they saw fit, they altered that Confession, and it became, as altered, part of the constitution of the church. The Assembly has no such power. It acts under a constitution which greatly limits its authority. It cannot alter or add to that fundamental code. Its great office is to see that the constitution is faithfully adhered to, both as to doctrine and order, in all parts of the church. Its acts and decisions, when they do not transcend the limits set to its authority, are of general obligation, until properly repealed or reversed. But it stands in a very different relation to the church, from that sustained by the old Synod.

The present object of inquiry, however, is the doctrinal standard of our church. What light is thrown upon this point by the document just quoted? What is meant by the Westminster Confession of Faith being a part of our constitution? Who ever heard of adopting a constitution for substance? Is the constitution of the United States thus adopted or thus interpreted? It is on the contrary the supreme law of the land, and all who take office under it are bound to observe it in all its parts. If then the Westminster Confession is a part of our constitution, we are bound to abide by it, or rightfully to get it altered. Ever since the solemn enactment under consideration, every new member or candidate for the ministry has been required to give his assent to this confession, as containing the system of doctrines taught in the word of God. He assents not merely to absolutely essential and necessary articles of the gospel, but to the whole concatenated statement of doctrines contained in the Confession. This, whether right or wrong, liberal or illiberal, is the constitutional and fundamental principle of our ecclesiastical compact.

Besides the above official and authoritative declarations, the actual administration of discipline in our church proves what standard of doctrine has been assumed and enforced. Ministerial communion has been repeatedly refused to those who, though they denied no one of the essential and necessary doctrines of the gospel, yet rejected some of the doctrinal articles of the Confession of Faith. Thus, as already stated, the Rev. Mr. Harker was long under process and finally disowned for teaching “that, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, God has bound himself by promise to bestow saving blessings upon the faith and endeavors of unregenerate men; and that God has predestinated persons to salvation on the foresight of faith and good works, or compliance with the terms of the covenant.” Mr. Blair, in his above cited defense of the Synod against Mr. Harker’s appeal to the public, says, “Mr. Harker makes no distinction between ministerial and Christian communion. ‘To admit me,’ says he, ‘to stand well in the communion with the Christian church, and at the same time to expel, and exclude me communion with the Synod (as a minister, as I suppose he means), would in my opinion involve the consequence, that the Synod were no Christians.’ That is, the Synod must admit every one (male and female I suppose), into the pulpit, whom they would admit to the Lord’s table.”

In 1798 a reference was made to the General Assembly, by the Synod of the Carolinas, in relation to a creed published by the Rev. Hezekiah Balch. The most important errors contained in that creed, as specified by the committee to whom it was referred, were the following: First, his “making disinterested benevolence the only definition of holiness or true religion.” Second, his “representing personal corruption as not derived from Adam; making Adam’s sin to be imputed to his posterity in consequence of a corrupt nature already possessed; and derived,” say the committee, “from we know not what; thus in effect setting aside the idea of Adam’s being the federal head and representative of his descendants; and the whole doctrine of the covenant of works.” Thirdly, “asserting that the formal cause of a believer’s justification is the imputation of the fruits and effects of Christ’s righteousness, and not the righteousness itself.” The Assembly condemned these and other minor errors, and decided that Mr. Balch could retain his ministerial standing in the church, only on the condition that he publicly renounced them.

In 1810 another reference was made by the Synod of the Carolinas, to the General Assembly, requesting their attention to a late publication, entitled “The Gospel Plan,” by the Rev. William C. Davis. The book was referred to a committee, who reported the following, among other propositions, as contained in it. First, that the active obedience of Christ constitutes no part of the righteous­ness by which a sinner is justified. Second, that obedience to the moral law was not required as the condition of the covenant of works. Third, that God could not make Adam, or any other creature, either holy or unholy. Fourth, that regeneration must be a consequence of faith. Faith precedes regeneration. Fifth, that faith, in the first act of it, is not an holy act. Sixth, that if God has to plant all the principal parts of salvation in a sinner’s heart, to enable him to believe, the gospel plan is quite out of his reach, and consequently does not suit his case; and it must be impossible for God to condemn a man for unbelief; for no just law condemns or criminates any person for not doing what he cannot do. The Assembly declared all these doctrines to be contrary to the Confession of Faith of our Church. Other parts of the work are censured as incautiously expressed and as of dangerous tendency. They further judged that the preaching or publishing the doctrines above stated “ought to subject the person or persons so doing to be dealt with by their respective Presbyteries, according to the discipline of the Church relative to the propagation of error.”

If then, explicit official declarations and the actual administration of discipline can decide the question, it is clear that our church has always required adherence to the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith as a condition of ministerial communion. From the adopting act of 1729 to the present hour, there is not a line upon our records which, either directly or indirectly, teaches that nothing beyond the essential and necessary doctrines of the gospel was to be required of its ministers. On the contrary, the very ambiguity of the adopting act was the occasio­n of that doctrine being repudiated, and a strict adherence to the Confession enjoined with a frequency and clearness which other­wise would not have been called for. Thus, in 1730 it was declared that every new member must adopt the whole of the Confession except certain clauses relating to the power of the civil magistrate.

The same declaration was made with like unanimity and still greater emphasis in 1736. In 1741, the Synod repeated their unqualified adoption of the Confession, and the ejected members declared that they also adhered to it with equal strictness. The Synod of New York, during the schism, declared that they had the same standards of doctrine, worship, and discipline, as the church of Scotland; and the two Synods, at the time of the union, unanimously declared, without limitation or qualification, the Westminster Confession to be the confession of their faith. In 1786 a committee of Synod, in negotiating with two other Christian bodies, inform them that the Synod of New York and Philadelphia receive the Westminster Confession, save that every candidate is allowed to object to certain parts of the twenty-third chapter. When the General Assembly was formed, the Confession was then altered, and as it now exists, was declared to be a part of the constitution of the Church. Had these facts and documents been known and regarded, the assertion that it is a constitutional principle of our church to demand of its ministers nothing more than assent to the essential doctrines of the gospel, never could have been made. If they do not ascertain and prove the condition of ministerial communion in the Presbyterian Church in the United States to be adherence to the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession, no set of men can, in future, hope to make their intentions understood.

This question about the conditions of ministerial communion has been so much connected with the exposition of the adopting act of 1729, that it was deemed expedient to disregard, in this case, a mere chronological arrangement, and to bring together in one view all the documents which serve either to fix the meaning of that act, or to decide what is the doctrinal standard of our church. It is hoped that the importance of the subject will be considered a sufficient apology for the length of the discussion. It is now time, however, to return to the consideration of the period which is more particularly under review.

Agreeably to the settled principle and common understanding of Presbyterian government, such an act as that of 1729, when once passed, remains obligatory upon all the inferior judicatories until properly repealed. We accordingly find that, after 1729, the adoption of the Confession of Faith by all new members was regularly required by every Presbytery and regularly reported to the Synod. Thus, in 1730, it is recorded that “Mr. Elmer desiring time last Synod to consider of the Synod’s declaring to the Westminster Confession, Catechisms, &c.; and Mr. Morgan and Mr. Pemberton being absent, do all now report that they have declared before the Presbytery, and desire their names be inserted in our Synodical records.” In the following year, Mr. Cross, who had been absent from the two preceding meetings of Synod, was called upon to signify his opinion of the Synod’s acts, &c.; “the said Mr. Cross did declare his hearty concurrence with all that the Synod had done in that affair, and that he did adopt the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms as the confession of his faith.” In 1732, it is said of Mr. Bertram, of the Presbytery of Bangor in Ireland, “after declaring his full and free assent unto the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, the Synod did unanimously and cheerfully comply with his desire of admission as a member of this Synod.” On the same page it is recorded that “the Moderator [Mr. Steward] and Mr. Orme, not having opportunity before, either in Presbytery or Synod, did now declare their hearty assent unto the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, and adopted them as the confession of their faith.” In 1734 it was ordered that the Synod make a particular inquiry during the time of their meeting every year, whether such ministers as have been received as members since the foregoing meeting of the Synod have adopted, or been required by the Synod, or by their respective Presbyteries, to adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with the Directory, according to the acts of the Synod made some years since for that purpose, and also, that the report made to Synod in answer to said inquiry, be recorded on our minutes.

“Mr. Samuel Pumry, Mr. James Martin, Mr. Robert Jamison, Mr. Samuel Hemphill, declared for and adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and Directory commonly annexed; the former as the confession of their faith, the latter as guide of their practice in matters of discipline as far as may be agreeable to the rules of prudence, &c., as in the adopting acts of Synod is directed.

“Pursuant to the act of Synod found upon inquiry, Mr. William Tennent, Jun., Mr. Andrew Archbold, ordained, and Mr. Samuel Blair, licensed, did each and every of them declare their assent and consent to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and Directory annexed, according to the intent of the act of Synod, in that case made and provided.”

In the minutes for 1735, it is recorded that “inquiry being made according to the order of last Synod, whether those admitted into any of our Presbyteries since last Synod, have adopted the Westminster Confession, Catechisms, &c., according to the adopting act of the Synod, it was found that Messrs. Isaac Chalker, Simon Horton, and Samuel Blair, ordained by the Presbytery of East Jersey, and Mr. Hugh Carlisle, admitted into the Presbytery of New Castle, have done it, according to the order aforesaid.” Similar entries appear after this almost every year.3

  1. Minutes, p. 16. The years are not mentioned, but the only years in which the Synod of Philadelphia acted on the subject were 1729, 1730, and 1736. 

  2. This article does not relate to the adoption of the Confession, or to the admission of new members, but to submission to the decisions of ecclesiastical judicatories. All their acts and determinations were to be concurred in or submitted to, unless conscience forbad it. In that case the dissentients should not be disowned, unless the Synod should think the matter essential to their doctrines or discipline. 

  3. Annexed is a list of ministers who entered the Presbyterian Church from 1729 to 1741. The writer has not the means of making this list complete or satisfactory. The records of the Synod rarely state either the place of settleme­nt or origin of the new members, and the minutes of the several Presbyter­ies from which this information might be obtained are, for the most part, defective, lost, or inaccessible.
    • Rev. Daniel Elmer, Fairfield, New Jersey; first mentioned as a member of Synod 1729. He was from Now England, as stated on a previous page.
    • Rev. John Wilson, _____, 1729, from Ireland, as stated above.
    • Rev. John Tennent; licensed by the New Castle Presbytery, and was settled for a short time at Freehold, New Jersey, where he died early in life. He came from Ireland with his father, the Rev. William Tennent, Sen.
    • Rev. Ebenezer Gould, Greenwich, New Jersey, 1730, probably from Long Island or New England.
    • Rev. Eleazar Wales, Allentown, Pennsylvania, afterwards at Kingston, New Jersey, 1731.
    • Rev. Richard Treat, Abington, Pennsylvania, 1732.
    • Rev. Robert Cathcart, _____, 1732, a member of the Presbytery of New Castle, and probably from Ireland.
    • Rev. William Bertram, Derry and Paxton, 1732; received as a minister front the Presbytery of Bangor, Ireland. (Minutes, Vol. II, p. 21.)
    • Rev. John Cross, Baskingridge, 1733; became a member of the New Brunswick Presbytery. He was probably from Ireland.
    • Rev. Benjamin Campbell, _____, 1730. In the minutes of the Presbytery of New Castle, p. 157, it is recorded, “Mr. Campbell and Mr. Legat, students in divinity from Ireland, presented to the Presbytery their respective testi­monials.”
    • Rev. John Nutman, East Hanover, New Jersey, 1733. Probably from Newark, New Jersey, as that was the residence of an extended family of that name.
    • Rev. Samuel Hemphill, _____, 1734; received as a minister from the Presbytery of Straban, Ireland. Me was disowned for heresy in 1735.
    • Rev. Andrew Archbold, _____, 1734; reported to the Synod as ordained, probably by the Presbytery of New Castle. (See minutes, p. 31.)
    • Rev. James Martin, Lewes, Delaware, 1734 From Ireland.
    • Rev. Robert Jamison, _____, 1734. He was a member of the Presbytery of Lewes, and was probably from Ireland.
    • Rev. Samuel Blair, Shrewsbury, New Jersey; Londonderry, Pennsylvania; and principal of the academy at Fagg’s Manor, 1735. Me was a native of Ireland. (See Dr. Miller’s Retrospect, Vol. III, p. 204.)
    • Rev. Simon Morton, 1735. It is believed that he was settled in East Jersey, and that he was from New England.
    • Rev. Isaac Chalker, Wallkill, New York, 1735, from Long Island.
    • Rev. Hugh Carlisle, _____, 1735, probably from Ireland.
    • Rev. William Tennent, Jun., Freehold, New Jersey, 1735. Born in Ireland.
    • Rev. Patrick Glasgow, Monokin, Maryland, 1736; ordained by the Presbytery of Lewes.
    • Rev. Alexander Creaghead, Pequa, 1736; ordained by the Presbytery of Donegal.
    • Rev. John Paul, Nottingham, 1736, from Ireland. (Minutes, Vol. II, p. 43.)
    • Rev. John McDowell was received as a probationer from the Presbytery of Temple Patrick, Ireland. (Minutes, Vol. II, p. 43.)
    • Rev. Francis Allison, Chester county, Pennsylvania; afterwards vice-provost of the University of Pennsylvania, 1737. He was born and educated in Ireland. (Dr. Miller’s Retrospect, Vol. III, pp. 201, 204.)
    • Rev. Samuel Black, Forks of Brandywine, 1737; received as a probationer in Ireland. (See minutes of Donegal Presbytery, p. 117.)
    • Rev. Aaron Burr, Newark, president of the College of New Jersey, 1738. was a native of Connecticut and was ordained by the Presbytery of New York.
    • Rev. John Elder, Paxton, Pennsylvania, 1738; ordained by the Presbytery Donegal.
    • Rev. Walter Wilmot, _____, 1738; ordained by the Presbytery of New York.
    • Rev. Charles Tennent _____, 1738; ordained by the Presbytery of New Castle. Born in Ireland.
    • Rev. Richard Sanckey, _____, 1739; ordained by the Presbytery of Donegal, moved with his congregation to Prince Edward, Virginia, where be died at very advanced age.
    • Rev. David Alexander, Pequa, 1739; ordained by the Presbytery of Donegal.
    • Rev. John Thompson, Jun., _____, 1739; ordained by the Presbytery of Donegal.
    • Rev. Joseph Leonard, Goshen, 1739; ordained by the Presbytery of New York. He was from New England. (MS history.)
    • Rev. James McCrea, Lamberton, New Jersey, 1739. (MS history.)
    • Rev. Samuel Thompson, Carlisle and Silver Spring, 1740. He was from Ireland. (Minutes of Donegal Presbytery, p. 153.)
    • Rev. Samuel Cavin, _____, 1740; ordained by the Presbytery of Donegal. He was from Ireland. (Minutes of Donegal Presbytery, p. 153.)