Chapter V d

The Synod and Schism of 1741

The Synod met in Philadelphia, May 2, 1741. Mr. Pierson, the moderator for the preceding year, being absent, the sessions were opened with a sermon by Mr. Andrews, who was elected moderator, and Mr. Boyd was appointed clerk. The following ministers were in attendance, viz.: From the Presbytery of New Castle, George Gillespie, Robert Cathcart, Charles Tennent, Francis Alison, Alexander Hucheson, and Samuel Blair. From the Presbytery of Philadelphia, Jedediah Andrews, Robert Cross, Daniel Elmer, Francis McHenry, Richard Treat, and William Tennent, Sen’r. From the Presbytery of Lewes, James Martin, and Robert Jamison. From the Presbytery of New Brunswick, Eleazar Wales, Gilbert Tennent, and William Tennent, Jun’r. From the Presby­tery of Donegal, John Thompson, Adam Boyd, John Elder, Rich­ard Sanchy, Samuel Cavin, Samuel Thompson, Alexander Creag­head, and David Alexander. All the members of the Presbytery of New York were absent.

The first matter which occasioned difficulty was the case of Mr. Alexander Creaghead. Having been suspended by his own Presbytery, it would appear to be a matter of course, that he should not take his seat as a member of Synod, until that sentence was reversed. He seems, however, to have been enrolled from the first as a regular member. As he had not submitted to a trial before the inferior judicatory, according to ordinary rules of proceeding, he had no right to appeal to a higher. This point, however, appears to have been waived in his favour, and the Synod took up the question of his right to a seat, “and after much discourse upon it, and a paper of Mr. Creaghead being read, the Synod deferred the further consideration of it.” In the afternoon the case was resumed, when “Mr. Creaghead presented another paper, which was read, and after debating on that business, the Synod agreed that this and the former paper be perused by the Donegal Presbytery, in order for trial against tomorrow afternoon.” The next minute in relation to the subject, states, that “the Presbytery of Donegal, as appointed, began their reply to Mr. Creaghead’s papers, in several particulars, but being late it was deferred.” The next morning “the above affair continued, and a great deal of discourse maintained upon it, when the Synod deferred the further consideration of it.” This was on Saturday the 30th of May; on Monday the 1st of June the schism occurred, and of course the subject was dropt.

It appears there were two points which occupied the attention of the Synod. The one was the difficulty between Mr. Creaghead and his Presbytery, and the other the complaint of Mr. Alison against Mr. Creaghead for intruding into his congregation. As to the former there seems to have been little progress made in adjust­ing the matter. It was proposed that a committee should be sent down to try the case. Mr. Creaghead insisted, if that were done, the majority of the committee should be of the “New Brunswick party.” To this the other side objected, and in their turn opposed the appointment of certain individuals who had been nominated.

The other point was most disputed, and seems to have brought matters to a crisis. Mr. Alison contended, that as he had regularly tabled charges against Mr. Creaghead before the Presbytery of Donegal, for intruding into his congregation, “to rend and divide it against his mind, the mind of the session, and the declared opinion of the congregation in general;” and as Mr. Creaghead had refused to submit to a trial before the Presbytery, it was his undoubted right to bring the complaint before the Synod and have the matter tried there. He urged this the rather because there was no need of testimony in the case, as “Mr. Creaghead publicly acknowledged the whole fact” complained of; and because an opportunity would thus be offered to the Synod, and especially to the New Brunswick party, to show how far they were willing to condemn this disorderly intrusion into settled congregations, and to make proposals for peace. Mr. Tennent and his friends resisted the complaint’s being entertained “merely because Donegal Presbytery did not enter it on their records as a prime article.” It is difficult to see the force of this objection. The complaint did not come to the Synod through the Presbytery of Donegal, but directly from Mr. Alison. The complaint as presented to the Presbytery had proved inoperative, for though the disorder complained of was one of the several grounds on which the Presbytery suspended Mr. Creaghead, yet he not only refused to answer the charge, but had disregarded their sentence. It seems rather unfair that the action of the Presbytery should be considered a nullity as it re­garded Mr. Creaghead, and as valid in satisfying Mr. Alison’s complaint. He had applied to the Presbytery for redress and had ob­tained none ; for its authority had been denied and its sentence disregarded. When, therefore, in due course he applied to the Synod, he had reason to expect to be heard. Resisting this course on technical grounds was certainly very unfortunate, as an opportunity was thus lost of satisfying the minds of the aggrieved mem­bers, that the New Brunswick brethren would not deliberately sanction “the practice of breaking in upon and dissolving pastoral relations in such an unscriptural and anti‑presbyterial way.” The result of this attempt to bring up the matter in complaint, the majority of the Synod say, “put us out of all hopes of obtaining peace with our brethren upon such terms as are founded on the word of God, and our Presbyterian constitution.”

This last effort at accommodation having failed, the Rev. Robert Cross, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, rose and read the following PROTESTATION, viz.:

“Rev. Fathers and Brethren “We, the ministers of Jesus Christ, and members of the Synod of Philadelphia, being wounded and grieved in our very hearts, at the dreadful divisions, distractions, and convulsions, which all of a sudden have seized this infant church to such a degree that, unless He who is king in Zion, do graciously and seasonably interfere for our relief, she is in no small danger of expiring outright, and that quickly, as to the form, order, and constitution of an organized church, which hath subsisted for above thirty years past, in a very great degree of order and perfect harmony until of late; we say, we being deeply grieved with these things, which lie heavy on our spirits, and being sensible that it is our indispensable duty to do what lies in our power, in a lawful way, according to the light and directions of the inspired oracles, to preserve this swooning church from a total expiration; and after the deliberate and unprejudiced inquiry into the causes of these confusions, which rage so among us, both ministers and people, we evidently seeing, and being fully persuaded in our judgments that, besides our misimprovement of, and unfruitfulness under, gospel light, liberty, and privileges, the great decay of practical godliness in the life and power of it, and many abounding immoralities; we say, besides these our sins, which we judge to be the meritorious cause of our present doleful distrac­tions, the awful judgments we now suffer under; we evidently see that our protesting brethren and their adherents are the direct and proper cause thereof, by their unwearied, unscriptural, anti­-presbyterial, uncharitable divisive practices, which they have been pursuing with all the diligence they were capable of, with any probability of success, for above these twelve months past especially ; besides too much of the like practices for some years before, though not with such barefaced arrogance and boldness

“And being fully convinced in our judgments, that it is our duty to bear testimony against these disorderly proceedings, according to our stations, capacity, and trust reposed in us by our exalted Lord, as watchmen on the walls of his Zion, we having endeavoured sincerely to seek counsel and direction from God, who hath pro­mised to give wisdom to those who ask him in faith, yea, hath promised his Holy Spirit to lead his people and servants into all truth; and being clearly convinced in our consciences, that it is a duty we are called upon in this present juncture of affairs, reverend fathers and brethren, we hereby humbly and solemnly protest, in the presence of the great and eternal God and his elect angels, as well as in the presence of all here present, and particu­larly of you, reverend brethren, in our own names, and in the names of all, both ministers and people, who shall adhere to us, as follows

“1. We protest that it is the indispensable duty of this Synod to maintain and stand by the principles of doctrine, worship, and government of the church of Christ, as the same are summed up in the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and Directory composed by the Westminster Assembly, as being agreeable to the word of God, and which this Synod have owned, acknowledged, and adopted, as may appear from our synodical records of the years 1729, 1730, 1736, which we desire to be read publicly.

“2. We protest that no person, minister or elder, should be allowed to sit and vote in this Synod, who hath not received, adopted, or subscribed the said Confessions, Catechisms, and Directory, as our presbyteries respectively do, according to our last explication of the adopting act; or who is either accused or convicted, or may be convicted before this Synod, or any of our presbyteries, of holding any doctrine, or who acts and persists in any practice contrary to any of those doctrines or rules contained in said Directory, or contrary to any of the known rights of presbytery, or orders made and agreed to by this Synod, and which stand yet unrepealed ; unless, or until he renounce such doctrine, and being found guilty, acknowledge, confess, and profess his sor­row for such sinful disorder, to the satisfaction of this Synod, or such inferior judicatory as the Synod shall appoint or empower for that purpose.

” 3. We protest that our protesting brethren have at present no right to sit and vote as members of this Synod, having forfeited their right of being accounted members of it, for many reasons, a few of which we shall mention afterwards.

“4. We protest, that if, notwithstanding this our protestation, those brethren be allowed to sit and vote in this Synod, without giving suitable satisfaction to the Synod, and particularly to us, who now enter this protestation, and to those who shall adhere to us in it, that whatsoever shall be done, voted, or transacted by them contrary to our judgment, shall be of no force or obligation to us; being done and acted by a judicatory consisting in part of members who have no authority to act with us in ecclesiastical matters.

“5. We protest, that if, notwithstanding this our protestation, and the true intent and meaning of it, those protesting brethren, and such as adhere to them, or support or countenance them in their anti-presbyterial practices, shall continue to act as they have done this last year, in that case we, and as many as have clearness to join with us and maintain the rights of this judicatory, shall be accounted in no wise disorderly, but the true Presbyterian church in this province; and they shall be looked upon as guilty of schism, and the breach of the rules of Presbyterian government, which Christ has established in his church, which we are ready at all times to demonstrate to the world.

“Reverend and dear brethren, we beseech you to hear us with patience, while we lay before you as briefly as we can, some of the reasons that move us thus to protest, and more particularly, why we protest against our protesting brethren being allowed to sit as members of this Synod.

“1. Their heterodox and anarchical principles expressed in their Apology, pages twenty-eight and thirty-nine, where they expressly deny that presbyteries have authority to oblige their dissenting members, or that synods should go any further in judging of appeals or references, &c., than to give their best advice ; which is plainly to divest the officers and judicatories of Christ’s kingdom of all authority, (and plainly contradicts the thirty-first article of our Confession of Faith, section three, which those brethren pretend to adopt,) agreeable to which is the whole superstructure of arguments which they advance and maintain against not only our synodical acts, but also all authority to make any acts or orders which shall bind dissenting members, throughout their whole Apology.

“2. Their protesting against the Synod’s act in relation to the examination of candidates, together with their proceeding to license and ordain men to the ministry in opposition to, and in contempt of the said act of Synod.

“3. Their making irregular irruptions upon the congregations, to which they have no immediate relation, without order, concurrence, or allowance of the presbyteries, or ministers to which such congregations belong; thereby sowing the seeds of division among the people, and doing what they can to alienate and fill their minds with unjust prejudices against their lawfully called pastors.

“4. Their principles and practice of rash judging and condemning all who do not fall in with their measures, both ministers and people, as carnal, graceless, and enemies of the work of God, and what not; as appears in Mr. Gilbert Tennent’s sermon against unconverted ministers, and his and Mr. Blair’s papers of May last, which were read in open Synod; which rash judging has been the constant practice of our protesting brethren and their irregular probationers, for above these twelve months past, in their disorderly itinerations and preaching through our congregations, by which, alas for it! most of our congregations, through weakness and credulity, are so shattered and divided, and shaken in their principles, that few or none of us can say we enjoy the comfort, or have the success among our people, which otherwise we might, and which we enjoyed heretofore.

“5. Their industriously persuading people that the call of God, whereby he calls men to the ministry, does not consist in their being regularly ordained and set apart to the work, according to the instruction and rules of the word; but in some invisible motions and workings of the Spirit, which none can be conscious or sensible of, but the person himself, and with respect to which be is liable to be deceived, or to play the hypocrite. That the gospel preached in truth by unconverted ministers, can be of no saving benefit to souls; and their pointing out such ministers whom they condemn as graceless, by their rash judging spirit, they effectually carry the point with the poor credulous people, who, in imitation of their example, and under their patronising, judge their ministers to be graceless, and forsake their ministry as hurtful rather than profitable.

“6. Their preaching the terrors of the law in such a manner and dialect as has no precedent in the word of God, but rather appears to be borrowed from a worse dialect; and so industriously working on the passions and affections of weak minds as to cause them to cry out in a hideous manner, and to fall down in convulsion-like fits, to the marring of the profiting both of themselves and others, who are so taken up in seeing and hearing these odd symptoms, that they cannot attend to, or hear what the preacher says, and then after all, boasting of these things as the work of God, which we are persuaded do proceed from an inferior or worse cause.

“7. Their, or some of them, preaching and maintaining that all true converts are as certain of their gracious state, as a person can be of what he knows by his outward senses; and are able to give a narrative of the time and manner of their conversion; or else they conclude them to be in a natural or graceless state; and that a gracious person can judge of another’s gracious state, otherwise than by his profession and life: that people are under no sacred tie or relation to their own pastors lawfully called, but may leave them when they please, and ought to go where they think they get most good.

“For these and many other reasons, we protest before the eternal God, his holy angels, and you, reverend brethren, and before all here present, that these brethren have no right to be acknowledged as members of this judicatory of Christ, whose principles and practices are so diametrically opposite to our doctrine and principles of government and order, which the great King of the church hath laid down in his word. How absurd and monstrous must that union be, where one part of the members own themselves obliged in conscience to the judicial determinations of the whole, founded on the word of God, or else relinquish membership ; and another part declare they are not obliged and will not submit, unless the determinations be according to their minds, and conse­quently will submit to no rules in making of which they are in the negative. Again, how monstrously absurd is it, that they should so much as desire to join with us, or we with them, as a judicatory made up of authoritative officers of Jesus Christ, while they openly condemn us wholesale, and where they please apply their con­demnatory sentences to particular brethren by name, without judi­cial process, or proving them guilty of heresy or immorality, and at the same time will not hold Christian communion with them. Again, how absurd is the union, while some of the members of the same body, which meets once a year and join as a judicatory of Christ, do all the rest of the year, what they can openly and above­board, to persuade the people and flocks of their brethren to sepa­rate from their own pastors as graceless hypocrites, and yet they do not separate from them themselves, but join with them once every year, as members of the same judicatory of Christ, and oftener when presbyteries are mixed. Is it not unreasonable stupid indolence in us to join with such as are avowedly tearing us to pieces like beasts of prey?

“Again, is not the continuance of union with our protesting brethren absurd, when it is so notorious that both their doctrine and practice are so directly contrary to the adopting act, whereby both they and we have adopted the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and Directory, composed by the Westminster Assembly? Finally, is not continuance of union absurd with those who arrogate to themselves a right and power to palm and obtrude members on our Synod, contrary to the mind and judgment of the body? In sum, a continued union, in our judgment, is most absurd and inconsis­tent, when it is so notorious that our doctrine and principles of church government, in many points, are not only diverse, but directly opposite. For how can two walk together, except they be agreed?

“Reverend fathers and brethren, these are a part and but a part of our reasons why we protest as above, and which we have only hinted at, but have forborne to enlarge upon them as we might, the matter and substance of them are so well known to you, and to the whole world about us, that we judged this hint sufficient at pre­sent, to declare our serious and deliberate judgment in the matter; and as we profess ourselves to be resolvedly against principles and practice both of anarchy and schism, so we hope that God, whom we desire to serve and obey, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose minis­ters we are, will both direct and enable us to conduct ourselves in these trying times, so as our consciences will not reproach us as long as we live. Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; but let the righteous be glad, yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. And may the Spirit of life and comfort revive and comfort this poor swooning and fainting church, quicken her to spiritual life, and restore her to the exercise of true charity, peace, and order.

“Although we can freely and from the bottom of our hearts justify the divine proceedings against us in suffering us to fall into these confusions for our sins, and particularly for the great decay of the life and power of godliness among all ranks, both ministers and people ; yet we think it to be our present duty to bear testi­mony against these prevailing disorders; judging, that to give way to the breaking down the hedge of discipline and government from about Christ’s vineyard, is far from being the proper method of causing his tender plants to grow in grace and fruitfulness. As it is our duty in our stations, without delay, to set about a reforma­tion of the evils which have provoked God against ourselves, so we judge the strict observation of his laws of government and order, and not the breaking of them, to be one necessary means and method of this necessary and much to be desired reformation. And we doubt not, but when our God sees us duly humbled and penitent for our sins, he will yet return to us in mercy, cause us to flourish in spiritual life, unity, and order; though perhaps we may not live to see it, yet this testimony that we now bear, may be of some good use to our children yet unborn, when God shall arise and have mercy upon Zion. Signed, Robert Cross, John Thompson, Francis Alison, Robert Cathcart, Richard Sancky, John Elder, John Craig, Samuel Cavin, Samuel Thompson, Adam Boyd, James Martin, and Robert Jamison, ministers; and Robert Porter, Ro­bert McKnight, William McCullock, John McEwen, Robert Craig, James Kerr, Alexander McKnight, elders.”

It is by no means clear bow this protest was intended to operate, even by its authors. They state, 1. That those who will not con­form to the constitution of the Synod have no right to sit and vote as members. 2. That the New Brunswick, or former protesting brethren, had violated that constitution, both by the avowal of prin­ciples inconsistent with it, and by their practice. 3. This being the case they demanded that such brethren should not any longer be recognised as members. It is evident that this cannot be re­garded as a regular judicial process. The accused were not even named. They are sometimes designated as the “protesting bre­thren;” but that phrase would not include either Mr. Treat, or Mr. David Alexander, who were both included in the accusation. Besides this, the protest not merely presented charges, it declared the persons implicated to be guilty and determined the punishment. It could not, therefore, have been intended as the commencement of a regular process. Perhaps the protestants expected that, after this solemn declaration of their sentiments, the Synod would by a formal vote exclude the accused brethren. And this, according to Mr. Alison, was actually done. Of such vote, however, there is no record. The minutes merely state, “A protestation was brought in by Mr. Cross, read and signed by several members, which is kept in retentis. Upon this it was canvassed by the former protesting brethren, whether they or we were to be looked upon as the Synod. We maintained that they had no right to sit, whether they were the major or minor number. Then they motioned we should examine this point, and that the major number was the Synod. They were found to be the minor party, and upon this they withdrew. After this the Synod proceeded to business.” This counting of the roll Mr. Alison seems to understand as a formal vote. But it was clearly no such thing. There was no motion and no vote, but an irregular mustering of parties; after which the weaker withdrew.

It is probable that the authors of the protest had no fixed plan as to ulterior measures; that they meant merely to bring the controversy to a point, some way or other. They, therefore, made a formal declaration of their complaints, and an avowal of their purpose, that unless the New Brunswick brethren gave them satisfaction, one party or the other must leave the Synod. By what process this separation was to be effected, they left to be determined by circumstances. This seems to be implied in what is said by the authors themselves. “After reading the protest,” they say, “the rejected members offered nothing like a pacific overture, or a satisfaction for said grievances, but instead of this we had unchristian reproaches. This brought the affair to that crisis that both could not sit together in one body, but one of them must withdraw,” and the counting the roll was resorted to in order to determine which party was the stronger.

The actual course which matters took was not foreseen nor provided for. As far as can be gathered from the brief and contradictory accounts of this eventful meeting, which are still extant, it appears that the reading of the protest, avowing as it did a fixed determination to have either a redress of grievances, or a separa­tion, produced a great excitement. As soon as the paper was read, it was laid on the table for the signature of the members. This threw the assembly into disorder. The Brunswick brethren considering the signing the protest as of itself the act of rejection, were loathe to be cast out hastily, without speaking any thing in their own defence; but their efforts to speak were repulsed, the house being confused, one spoke one thing, and another another, and sometimes two or more at once, so that it is hard to tell what was said.” Some cried out that the brethren were “solemnly protesting gross lies before Almighty God;” others, that the “elders were subscribing what they had never heard nor considered.” In the midst of this confusion the moderator left the chair. As soon as it was ascertained that less than a majority of the whole Synod had signed the protest, some of the New Bruns­wick brethren demanded that as the protestors were dissatisfied they should withdraw, and the galleries, (for the church was crowded,) rang with the call to cast them out; for this purpose, they, (the Brunswick brethren,) counted the roll to see if they had a majority; when it appeared that they were the minor party, they withdrew, followed by a great crowd.

It is plain from this statement that not even the forms of an ecclesiastical, much less of a judicial proceeding, were observed at this crisis. There was no motion, no vote, not even a presiding officer in the chair. It was a disorderly rupture. A number of the Synod rise and declare they will no longer sit with certain of their brethren, unless they satisfy their complaints. The members complained of, answer, You are dissatisfied and are the minority, therefore you must go out; and then a confused rush is made to the roll to see which was the stronger party. Such was the schism of 1741.

It is presumed there can be but one opinion as to this whole proceeding. There were but two courses which those who felt aggrieved by the conduct of Mr. Tennent and his friends could properly take. The one was to appeal to reason and the word of God, and rely on those means to correct the evils of which they complained. It is true, this would at that time have been like talking to a whirlwind; still, when the storm was over, truth and reason would have resumed their sway. We have seen, in our day, examples here and there of ministers who have stood a much more vulgar, if not more violent storm of defamation, combined with new doctrines and new measures; their people carried away, their congregations broken up, and yet these same men rising in the confidence and esteem of the church, and ultimately reaping the reward of their faith and patience. This course would have required, at the time of which we speak, more self-command and self­denial than can be expected even of most good men. The grievances complained of were real and weighty. These opposing brethren were seriously injured in their reputation; they were regarded as enemies of practical religion, as formalists, hypocrites, or bigots. Their comfort and usefulness were for the time being destroyed. If they found themselves unable to submit to these grievances in silence, their second course was regularly to table charges against the New Brunswick Presbytery. There was the less reason for departing from this course as there was every prospect of its being successful. That Presbytery had already been once censured for its irregular conduct, by a vote of the Synod sustained by a great majority. As they continued their irregular course, the proper method was to repeat and increase the censure. As far as can be ascertained, there were not more than nine ministers out of forty, who approved the conduct of Mr. Tennent and his friends. As to the three great grounds of complaint, disobedience to the decisions of Synod, his rash condemnation of his brethren without a trial, and his intrusion into settled congrega­tions, almost all his brethren were against him. This has been abundantly proved in the preceding pages. There is, therefore, no reasonable doubt that on all these points he and his friends would have been condemned. In Scotland, in consequence of the union between the church and the state, it has been found a difficult matter to discipline a Presbytery. In this country such difficulty does not exist. If a Presbytery persist in violating the constitu­tion, it may, in perfect consistency with our principles, be disowned, as was the case with the Cumberland Presbytery; or dissolved, and its members attached to other Presbyteries. But even if there had been no reasonable prospect of success, this would afford no justification of the aggrieved party for taking the law into their own hands. When men live under a constitution, either in church or state, they are bound to abide by it, and to seek redress only in accordance with its provisions. It is obvious that no society, civil or ecclesiastical, can long exist, whose members assume the prerogative of redressing their own grievances. In this country, more than in most others, it is important that the great duty of abiding by the law, should be graven on the hearts of the people.

The course, then, adopted by the protesting brethren, in 1741, is certainly liable to the grave objection, that it was unconstitu­tional. It was, moreover, inoperative as to the evils it was intended to repress. The invectives under which the authors of the protest had suffered, were only rendered the more severe; and their churches were more than ever open to the intrusion of their rejected brethren. After the schism, those brethren seem to have thrown off all restraint as to that point, and to have established separate congregations wherever the opportunity was afforded. The situation of the protesters was, therefore, in no respect improved by the course which they pursued; on the contrary, it was worse than before. They now suffered the manifold inconveniences of having placed themselves in the wrong. The large and respectable Presbytery of New York, which had hitherto sided with them, after trying for several years to effect a reconciliation, seceded from the Synod and formed a new body. This threw the superiority as to numbers, character, and influence, on the other side, and was a last­ing injury to the prosperity and usefulness of the old Synod. From that time, if it did not actually decline, it with difficulty held its ground, while the other rapidly increased.

This unfortunate protest continued an effectual bar to the union of the parties, long after all the original grounds of difference had ceased to exist. The New Brunswick brethren resented the charges contained in the protest; they denied having held the anarchical principles therein imputed to them. Hence no union was ever effected until the protest was disowned as a synodical act.