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John Witherspoon
The Presbyterian Church


IN quaint phrase the clerk of New Brunswick Presbytery records that when Witherspoon presented his credentials from Paisley Presbytery and asked to be received " the Presbytery did with the greatest cheerfulness receive him as a member with them." His first duty in the Presbytery was to urge the claims of Princeton College which he did with such force that the Presbytery pledged its members, in a long and earnest series of resolutions, to exert themselves in collecting money. With what success they did so, we have already seen. Except at an adjourned meeting held in Philadelphia a few days later, during the session of the Synod, Witherspoon did not attend Presbytery again until the spring of 1771. Such meetings required more time than the busy president could well spare so early in his connection with Princeton. The necessary journeys were made on horseback and Witherspoon made it a rule never to ride faster than a walk, for he was too corpulent for rapid riding. Until 1777 he was absent from Presbytery almost as often as he was present, and he did not attend a single meeting from October, 1777, until October, 1781, being engaged at the Continental Congress during those four years. Of the twenty-six subsequent meetings he was present at twenty- four. These seemingly unimportant details I mention as showing how intimately he was identified with the work of his church. As a member of Presbytery he served upon several important committees, such as were appointed to straighten out the tangled affairs of churches at Trenton, Nolton and elsewhere, to install ministers, some of them young men from Scotland, for whose orthodoxy he became sponsor. He supplied vacant churches even during the four years of his absence from Presbytery, not only within the bounds of his own Presbytery, but beyond those, in New York and Pennsylvania. Twice he visited David Brainerd's school for the Indians and agreed to look after the education of those Indians who might be sent to Princeton. Although not the regularly installed pastor of the Princeton church he attended to all the duties of such an office in the town. Indeed until 1784 the Presbyterians worshipped in the college chapel, some of them having regularly assigned pews for which they paid rent, and one of them, Mrs. Stockton, was permitted to build a pew to her own liking. After the people of the town had built a church for themselves upon land donated by the college, he continued to act as their pastor, as has already been stated. The difficulties faced by the church of that time were those ordinarily found in newly settled lands and were shared by government, cornmerce, education and society. Intercourse was necessarily slow. The postmaster's duties were light. The roads were soft and heavy. There was little money and its circulation sluggish. Populations shifted unsteadily so that a church which was hopefully strong one year went to pieces the next as the people followed the rumours of better lands to be had practically for the asking. The numbers of ministers could not at first keep pace with the number of settlements, some of which called earnestly for preaching, while others were indifferent; but all appealed to the church which made strenuous self-sacrificing and devoted efforts to follow the ramifying roads which penetrated the dangerous and difficult, but alluring, fascinating wilderness of rich soil. With what fidelity, even enthusiasm, the Presbyterian ministers laboured cannot be told within the limits of this sketch. Witherspoon's most effective work for his church was done, of course, at Princeton where he lectured on Divinity and taught Hebrew to those students who intended to become ministers. But from New England to Virginia he preached by appointment of Synod, not merely to present the educational advantages and financial needs of the college, but in the discharge of his duties as a supply. In the cities large audiences greeted this "strong and sensible preacher " as John Adams called him, and in the country churches his visits were proportionately appreciated.

At that time the government of the Presbyterian Church was not so tight as it afterwards became The Synod of New York and Philadelphia included most, but not all, of the Presbyteries in America. No formal declaration of principles of government or of creed had yet been made. The creed, to which every minister was obliged to assent, was the Westminster Confession of Faith, which was accepted also by the New England Congregationalists. Each Presbytery was independent of every other, and sometimes defied the Synod, reserving to itself the right to ignore it. The Synod was not a delegated body but was composed of all the ministers of all the Presbyteries with a layman from each church. So that when the Synod met it not only represented the entire church; so far as the clergy were concerned it was the entire church, although the complaint was often made that many of the ministers absented themselves.
Witherspoon's first appearance in the Synod was at Philadelphia in May, 1769. He was more diligent in his attendance upon the meetings of Synod than upon those of Presbytery, missing only five of a possible twenty-seven, but being invariably late. Probably his horse did not walk at a very rapid gait. That was not an age of fret and haste. None the less was it an era of earnestness and intensity of conviction. Most tenaciously those ministers clung to their orthodoxy, but just as charitably did they regard other Christian churches, with the exception of the Roman Catholic and, possibly, the Episcopalian. They were alert to discover any sign of Roman encroachment, or any threat of Episcopal domination. Of the former there was never any great danger, even when George III confirmed the Catholic Church in its long established rights in Canada. But of Episcopal supremacy there was no little dread, if no great danger. Other writers have called attention to the attempts of the established Church of England to include the colonies in its jurisdiction, as Gladstone a century later partially enabled it to accomplish in other English colonies. The feeling on this point is made clear in a hitherto unpublished letter of Witherspoon, written in 1772 to secure the aid of a Scotch peer in obtaining a charter for a corporation fostered by the Presbyterians of America. Its story may be told here. The corporation was known at that time as the Widow's Fund and was in its essential features a life insurance society, which, if I am not mistaken, afterwards became what is claimed to be the oldest life insurance company in America, The Presbyterian Minister's Fund. Its affairs came before the Synod almost every year, Witherspoon being frequently a member of the committee appointed to examine its accounts. The ministers and laymen who composed the corporation, Witherspoon being one of them, had endeavoured in vain to secure a charter from the royal governor of New Jersey, William T. Franklin. One had been granted by Pennsylvania early in 1759, but a charter granted by one province did not entitle a corporation to the benefit of the laws of another. It was necessary to obtain a charter in New Jersey. The letter, which follows, entire, throws light upon the ecclesiastical rivalries of the time.

"My Lord, though I have not the honour of being personally known to your Lordship, I am encouraged to this application by your character which has been long known to me. As to myself, I shall only say that after having been twenty-three years in the ministry of the Church of Scotland, I was persuaded to remove to America to take the charge of a college with a royal charter in this province. By the goodness of God, the friends of the college and the number of scholars have increased since I came here beyond even our most sanguine expectations. There are at this time under my tuition young gentlemen of the first fortune and expectations from almost every province on the continent, as well as several of the West India Islands.

"This I only mention briefly by way of introduction to the chief subject of my address. Your Lordship may please therefore to know, that in all the middle colonies from Maryland northward, the Presbyterians are a great majority 'and including the other subdivisions of non-Episcopals, Baptists, Quakers, etc., are to the Episcopalians at least ten to one in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, and possibly twenty to one in New England. Yet in all the royal governments the most illiberal and unjust partiality prevails in favour of the Church of England. This is the more shameful that Pennsylvania is before their eyes, which though the last settled of any of them is already greatly superior to them, not in numbers and value of land merely, by the principles of its settlement and in a particular manner by the equal and impartial support it gives to every religious denomination. Every religious society there has the rights, including property, of a corporation.

"In this province though the non-Episcopals are so great a majority and though the lower house of assembly consists of a majority of Presbyterians, yet it is impossible to obtain a charter for any Presbyterian society. While any inconsiderable number of Episcopalians, though utterly unable to maintain a minister, but having a minister from the London Society, can obtain everything of that kind they see proper to ask, and though they sometimes grant such favours even to small societies of Baptists and Dutch with the politic view of alienating them from the Presbyterians with whom by principles they are otherwise connected.

"To get charters for houses of worship we have long despaired of, but lately applied to the governor for a charter of incorporation to raise a fund for the support of the widows and children of Presbyterian ministers; the council recommended to him to pass it on two conditions, that it should be wholly confined to the charity and made accountable to the governor and council. These we readily complied with, never having had any other view but the charity, and being of opinion that any manager of a charity should be willing to account to the whole world. Yet though the governor at first seemed to be friendly he has all along put it off, and not daring, we suppose, to refuse it himself lest he should provoke the assembly of the province, he has sent it over by the last packet to ask advice in England upon the subject. As it is possible, a partial representation may accompany it and by party influence it may be rejected at home, as was done in a similar case of a charter to a Presbyterian church in New York, I could not think of any person so proper to apply to as your Lordship, of whose regard for religion in general, and attachment to the Church of Scotland, I have had so many proofs.

"May I therefore beg the favour of your Lord ship if it can possibly comport with your conveniency to attend the Privy Council when this matter comes before them. The equity and justice of the demand is such that I cannot easily divine what will be offered against it. I can know of nothing on this side of the water but resentment against the Presbyterians for opposing the coming over of a bishop. As to this province there has not been to my knowledge any disturbance upon this subject, but whatever has been said or written in any other province, I can assure your Lordship, arises entirely from an apprehension of its influence upon these our civil and religious liberties, and not from any narrowness of mind in matters of faith or worship. This may be clearly seen from the late transactions in Virginia, where the laity of the Episcopal persuasion are making a fiercer opposition to the measure than ever was made in colonies consisting chiefly of Presbyterians. But supposing improper liberties to have been taken in speeches or writing by a few particulars, in which they have been far outdone by their adversaries. Can it have any other effect. than to exasperate the evil to treat so great a body with partiality and injustice?

"In the government of Pennsylvania the Episcopalians and Presbyterians have each of them such charters as are desired, and the Episcopalians have in this government, and in New York, and indeed wherever they have applied for it.

"I am unwilling to detain your Lordship by long reasoning or tedious narratives unless I knew beforehand that it were agreeable; but as American affairs seem now to be of some importance in the government of Great Britain, if your Lordship desires information on the state of this country with respect to politics, religion, professions, trade or cultivation, as I live in the centre of it, equally distant from the cities of New York and Philadelphia, and have now a very considerable connection with many gentlemen of weight in all the provinces, I flatter myself I am able and shall certainly be very willing to inform you.

"There are now under my care many who in a very short time will be at the head of affairs in their several provinces, and I have already and shall continue to temper the spirit of liberty which breathes high in this country, with just sentiments, not only of loyalty to our excellent sovereign, in which they do not seem to be defective, but with a love of order, and an aversion to that outrage and sedition into which the spirit of liberty, when not reined, is some-times apt to degenerate.

"If your Lordship should be in Scotland when this letter reaches you it will certainly be in your power by a letter to prevent the prohibition of our charter by the influence of party and the inattention by persons of high rank to things of this nature. I have written the above entirely of my own proper motion, and shall not communicate it to any person whatever till I know of its effects."

Witherspoon and Elihu Spencer, pastor at Trenton, were the applicants for the charter, the trustees named including other Presbyterians and, as he says in his letter, Governor Franklin himself. The application was successful, in spite of the half-hearted letter of Governor Franklin, and his slurs at the Presbyterians which might have defeated it. In November, 1774, Witherspoon thanked the noble earl for his influence in another letter, entreating Lord Marchmont to exert it again in securing a charter for a church in New York, which was likewise successful, although Franklin had written that it was inexpedient to grant the Presbyterians any further privileges.

Both of these letters give us an inside view of the ecclesiastical situation in America, where the coming of a bishop was eagerly demanded by the Episcopalians and as ardently opposed by the Presbyterians.

As a member of the Synod, Witherspoon took a foremost place, willingly performing such duties as were assigned to him. The mission to the Indians received attention every year. This was in charge of John Brainerd, a brother of the celebrated David Brainerd, whose untimely death, in 1747, had been a severe loss to the church in its work among the savages. John Brainerd did not show the hot enthusiasm of his brother, but he laboured faithfully as long as he lived, not only among the Indians, but also among the white settlers, having seven regular preaching stations. He conducted a school for the Indians every summer, and often throughout the year. Wither- spoon's interest in work among the Indians had been shown long before in Scotland. In America it was not diminished. He inspected the school, and later, as treasurer of the Synod, an office which he held from 1773 till 1789, he transmitted the money annually voted for Brainerd's support. Even in the exciting year of 1776 he was made chairman of the committee on the Indian school, although he had leave of absence from Synod, sitting at Philadelphia, May 22d, to attend the meeting of the Assembly of New Jersey, which a few weeks later sent him to the Continental Congress.

At that time the American Presbyterian church followed a custom of the Church of Scotland in appointing a commission to attend to the business of the Synod, carrying out its orders, hearing complaints, settling difficulties and acting with all the authority of the Synod itself. Witherspoon often served on this com-mission. By some of the ministers its useful-ness was questioned. These brought in a motion designed to test its continuance in 1774, but the Synod voted to continue it. It appears, however, to have been permitted to die, none having been appointed after 1783.

The session of the Synod usually began at nine o'clock. About one adjournment was taken for dinner, a function so important that the afternoon session did not begin until three, but lasted until candlelight. The luckless committee on overtures, annually appointed after 1769, was ordered to meet at six o'clock in the morning, to prepare whatever might be submitted to it for the meeting of the Synod at nine. This committee, which saved so much time to the Synod, was the beginning of a method followed by the church assemblies with great success, and is an essential adjunct of deliberative bodies when speedy work is desired.

With other Protestant churches in the colonies, the Presbyterian was on the best of terms. As yet there were few Methodists. The eloquent fervour of Whitfield had roused the slumbering fire of the Presbyterians twenty years before Witherspoon's arrival in America, and the preaching of Jonathan Edwards was not yet forgotten. The Congregationalists of New England differed from the Presbyterians in only one particular, that of church government. Both churches received the Westminster Confession of Faith. Delegates from the Presbyterian Synod sat in the general convention of the New England church. Witherspoon was frequently a delegate to this gathering. He was thus brought into touch with the men of New England, and we have already learned that some of them gave him money for the college, and others sent their sons to Princeton. This close intercourse between the two churches was kept up for many years. Four or five times Witherspoon was a delegate to the general convention. In 1792 the committee of correspondence, of which he was a member, reported a suggestion of the joint convention which tended to relieve friction, and even to promote union. As a result of this, each church appointed three members to sit in the highest court of the other without the right to vote, although this right was mutually conceded in 1795. Witherspoon, ever active in any plan to promote union, was one of the first three delegates chosen, and attended the meeting, co-operating heartily with Timothy Dwight, whose efforts among the Congregationalists equalled his own among the Presbyterians. The mutual arrangement continued in operation until the division of the Prebyterian Church, in 1837, into the Old and New School branches.

This is not the only evidence of his desire to bring about a union of the Reformed churches in America. In 1784 a committee had been appointed to meet the classis of the Dutch Reformed church at New Brunswick to compromise some differences. The Dutch brethren were uneasy about the orthodoxy and conduct of some ministers of the New York Presbytery. This church was at that time one of the strictest Protestant churches. Witherspoon had many friends among its ministers and members, some of whom were trustees of Princeton college. Before coming to America he had visited Holland, where he received a gift of books for the library, and on his less fortunate visit in 1783, he enlisted the sympathy of his friends in the Low Countries. It will be remembered that he had been invited to become pastor of a church in Rotterdam. He was just the man to bring about closer relations. The conference, which met at New York October 5, 1785, was joined by representatives of the associate Reformed Church with which, through Witherspoon, some correspondence had been irregularly kept up since 1769, the year after his arrival in America. Much was done to bring about closer relations. Each church agreed to maintain its creed for the sake of the other two, so that no unworthy minister might pass from one to either of the others. A later agreement brought about that mutual confidence which has continued ever since, by which the ministers and members of the several churches are cordially and freely recognized on the common basis of Christian faith. It is to be regretted that the devoted ef-forts of such men as Witherspoon and his associates did not result in a formal union which at this distance of time would seem to have been so easy and desirable.

For many years whatever could be done to preserve the union of Protestantism and maintain close relations with foreign churches, was entrusted to certain members of the Synod. Witherspoon was usually one of the committee to prepare the draft of the letter sent almost every year, and he looked after the letters to Scotland and France, sometimes also that to Holland.

The American Church found it necessary to guard its congregations against unworthy ministers from abroad. Scotland and Ireland seem to have furnished the larger share of these. Clergymen who had been deposed for heresy, immorality, drunkenness or conduct unbecoming the calling, or any other for that matter, came to the colonies, told a smooth story of having lost their credentials or even presented forged credentials. Sometimes a foreign Presbytery was suspected of having given a good character to some pestiferous fellow merely to get rid of him, although that was never proven. It was necessary to examine these men, and as Witherspoon was fairly well acquainted with the clergy of the Scotch church, this duty often fell to him. Occasionally a young licentiate brought letters of introduction from Wither- spoon's friends. The house at Princeton was a mecca for many a Scotch lad. For some of these he secured churches and, as in the case of Rev. Walter Monteith, who became pastor at New Brunswick, he preached the installation sermon. Once during the confusion of the war, when he could not wait upon the uncertainty of a meeting of the Synod or Presbytery, he gave a letter of general good standing to a young minister who went to the Carolinas and proved himself worthy of Witherspoon's good words in his favour. It may seem strange to us that clergymen from abroad applied in the first instance to the Synod. But the Synod frequently acted in a Presbyterial capacity, assigning supplies to vacant churches, as when Witherspoon was ordered to preach for Mr. Azel Roe in New York. Another time he was sent to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to preach and collect money for the college. Ministers who offered their credentials to the Synod were ordered to connect themselves with a Presbytery, but were frequently sent on evangelistic journeys through the territory covered by several of the frontier Presbyteries. Some members of Synod were so fearful of unorthodox and unworthy ministers that in 1773 an overture was passed forbidding the Presbyteries to receive a minister or give him any appointment until the Synod should pass upon his credentials. Some members dissented against the overture, but their objections were withdrawn when Synod agreed that it should not apply to ministers from any part of America, and was later amended so as to permit Presbyteries to employ the foreign clergymen in vacant churches, but not to admit them to full membership until Synod approved. Witherspoon fully approved of these watchful measures. When the Synod reversed itself on the question the next year, he with six others protested against the reversal so strongly that a new overture, covering the disputed points, was adopted. It urged Presbyteries to be very careful in receiving ministers from abroad, and not to be satisfied with formal credentials, but to re-quire also personal letters, and further directed the Presbyteries to bring these credentials and letters to the Synod following the reception, that they might be fully examined by the Synod. This overture saved the authority of the Presbytery of which many ministers were jealous, but guarded the church against the danger so much dreaded by men like Witherspoon. His zeal for orthodoxy almost made him forget the freedom for which he had contended in Scotland.

When the Synod met at New York, May, 1775, the colonies had already entered upon the struggle which has ever since been called the American Revolution. Presbyterians, almost to a man, sided with the colonies. The exceptions we shall have occasion to note as we follow Witherspoon's course in the struggle. It may be said here, however, that those exceptions did not include a single Presbyterian minister. All of them espoused the cause of the colonists, many of them became chaplains and a few raised companies of troops which they led to battle. In view of the serious aspect of public affairs the Synod thought it prudent to issue a pastoral letter to their people. Its preparation was committed to seven ministers of whom Witherspoon was the first mentioned. While it is fatuous praise to attribute the whole composition of the letter to him, it is equally impossible to overlook the many instances of entire sentences which are duplicated in sermons and addresses by him written before this time.

After urging the people to remember their dependence on God and to turn to Him with sincere repentance, the letter, noting the fact that "hostilities, long feared, have now taken place," declares that "if the British ministry shall continue to enforce their claims by violence, a lasting and bloody contest must be expected." Ardently had the ministers hoped that the unhappy differences might have been accommodated; none of them had ever, either in the pulpit or public press, inflamed the minds of the people. But protestations of this sort could not conceal the real sentiments of Witherspoon and his associates, he especially being already known as "an ardent friend of liberty" in America, and suspected of being "a turncoat and traitor" in England. The letter itself goes on to say, "Let every one who from generosity of spirit or benevolence of heart offers himself as a champion in his country's cause, be persuaded to reverence the name and walk in the fear of the Prince of the kings of the earth." Then they offer some further advices. First that every opportunity be taken to express their "attachment and respect to our sovereign King George, and to the revolution principles by which his august family was seated on the British throne." Here appears that point in the American contention which has so often been emphasized. "It gives us the greatest pleasure to say, from our own certain knowledge of all belonging to our communion, and from the best means of information, of the far greatest part of all denominations in this country, that the present opposition to the measures of administration does not in the least arise from disaffection to the king, nor a desire of separation from the parent state." The people are exhorted "to continue in the same disposition." But when the letter was read in open session of the Synod, Mr. Halsey, one of the committee, dissented from these declarations of allegiance.

Then the people are urged not only to treat with respect the Continental Congress then in session, and to encourage them in their difficult service, but to adhere firmly to their resolutions, "and let it be seen that they are able to bring out the whole strength of this vast country to carry them into execution." To guard carefully their morals, conscientiously pay their just debts, cherish a spirit of humanity and mercy since " that man will fight most bravely, who never fights till it is necessary, and who ceases to fight as soon as the necessity is over," and to continue in the habit of prayer are the suggestions of this pastoral letter. The last Thursday of June was appointed as a general fast day with the proviso that if the Continental Congress appoint another day the congregations should observe it instead. On Friday, May 11th, the day selected by the Congress, Witherspoon preached a sermon which will be noticed in another place.

The next year when the Synod met in Philadelphia, May 22d, Witherspoon did not arrive until half-past three in the afternoon and at nine the next morning was excused, going at once to the meeting of the committee of correspondence of Somerset County by which he was elected a delegate to the Congress of New Jersey. As the Synod met in Philadelphia in 1777, New York being an impossibility because of the presence of the British, Witherspoon, who was attending the Continental Congress, left that body long enough to sit in the Synod, and make his treasurer's report. In 1778 the Synod could sit neither in New York nor Philadelphia, those cities being in possession of the British. By the advice of several ministers the moderator advertised in the newspapers that the Synod would meet at Bedminster, Somerset County, N. J. Witherspoon, at York, Pa., whither the Congress had fled as the British approached Philadelphia, was not able to attend the Synod. But the next year, Philadelphia having finally got rid of the British, and the Congress having returned to the State House in Independence Square, he could easily walk across to the First Church, where he reported that he had "lately received a legacy, left by the Rev. Mr. Diodati Johnson, of New England, to be deposited with this Synod at their disposal, and that there is now in his hands three hundred and thirty-two pounds, twelve shillings, belonging to the Synod." The Synod, whose funds were in gold and silver, still spoke of pounds and shillings, but the Congress spoke of dollars and cents. The exact sum left by Mr. Johnson was not stated by Witherspoon in his report, and the next year Mr. Spencer was ordered to ask the Doctor how much it was and report at the next Synod if the treasurer should not be present. Mr. Spencer reported that according to the treasurer's account the legacy amounted to two hundred and seventy-eight pounds, three shillings and fourpence, and after paying bills by order of Synod he had two hundred and thirty- nine pounds, three shillings and four pence, "together with fifty-four pounds, nine shillings, five and a half-pence, the good money above mentioned" as a balance due the Synod. Dr. Witherspoon, who was present, confirmed the correctness of the report. Little business was trans-acted. Reports of the distressing condition of the country, of a few ordinations and licensures, fill up the brief minutes. Dr. Sproat, pastor of the church in which the Synod was meeting, was ordered to draw upon the treasurer for three dollars specie to pay the janitor. The year before they had paid him two hundred dollars paper money. The stated clerk received forty shillings specie for transcribing the min-utes. These bills were paid out of " the good money above mentioned."

Comparatively few ministers attended the Synod for several years. Entire Presbyteries, as many as four or five at a time were noted as absent. The Synod recommended to the Presbyteries, in view of the scarcity of money and the increased price of living, as well as the meagre salaries of the ministers, that some measures be taken for paying the expenses of those who attend Synod. But the evil was not abated, less than half the ministers being present at any meeting until the formation of the General Assembly. Some of the Presbyteries were too remote for a journey which must be made on horseback and required, in some instances, two weeks at least, and in others more than that. An elder could not leave his business. If he was a farmer he could not afford to be away from the farm at the busiest season of the year. Many of the elders were as poor as their ministers. Not until the Synods covered a smaller territory and met at more convenient places could the members attend with regularity. Witherspoon himself, living midway between New York and Philadelphia, where the Synod met alternately, could better afford to attend than almost any other member. Although usually tardy he was seldom absent altogether. Every year, except in the midst of the war, he was appointed upon the committee to dispose of the funds in the hands of the college for the education of "poor and pious youth," the committee usually meeting at Princeton on commencement day. During the latter part of the war he consented to serve on the commission and even to supply vacant churches.

In 1782, probably at Witherspoon's suggestion, a committee of three, himself the chair-man, brought in a letter to the minister of France. I give here a copy of the original in Witherspoon's handwriting. "The Synod of New York and Philadelphia beg leave to ad-dress your Excellency on the auspicious birth of a Dauphin of France and by your means to communicate to your sovereign the interest which they take in every event with which his honour, or happiness, is connected. They have the rather chosen to embrace the opportunity offered them by their being met at this particular season that they might counteract the insidious designs of the common enemy and defeat the attempts now making to divide in order to destroy us. It is their wish therefore that this address may be considered as a public testimony of their approbation of the French Alliance and their sense of the advantages which America has already derived and still hopes to receive from it. They will not cease to pray to the God of all grace that the illustrious ally of these States and his posterity to the latest ages may be distinguished at home and abroad as the supporters of liberty and justice, as the friends of mankind and deliverers of the oppressed." Witherspoon was one of the committee who accompanied the moderator to present the letter. He was personally acquainted with the French minister, having several times acted as interpreter for the Congress in the negotiations between France and America, and served on the committee of foreign affairs.

An affair of quite another sort engaged the attention of the Synod the next year. It appears that in 1781 a declaration of tolerance had been entered upon the minutes but in 1782, had been expunged. For some reason other denominations, especially the Episcopalian and some Methodists, had accused the Presbyterians of intolerance. The Synod felt called upon to declare that, "It having been represented to the Synod that the Presbyterian Church suffers greatly in the opinion of other de-nominations from an apprehension that they hold intolerant principles, the Synod do solemnly and publicly declare that they ever have and still do renounce and abhor the principles of intolerance; and we do believe that every peaceable member of civil society ought to be protected in the full and free exercise of their religion." It is perfectly absurd to suppose that the Presbyterians had any idea of attempting to urge upon Congress or any state the establishment of Presbyterianism. The mere charge of intolerance is easy to make. Firmness of conviction and maintenance of belief does not prove a man intolerant. It is quite true that what those men of the Synod believed they believed with all their heart and preached with all their might. But they did not dispute the right of others to believe differently.

One notes in the minutes of this year Witherspoon's influence in having the most important actions of Synod printed and sent to the members that thus " the whole body may be brought to operate with concert and vigour and that none may have ignorance as a plea for the neglect of duty." Twice he was on the committee to print these and the custom of issuing the minutes of the General Assembly is due largely to his influence.

More important than anything else acted upon by the Synod of 1783 was the draft of a pastoral letter which Witherspoon helped to make. The immediate reason and the one given in the minutes for preparing it, was found in the difficulties under which gospel ministers labour for want of a liberal maintenance from the congregations they serve, but a pastoral letter may cover more ground than the salaries of the ministers. The war had closed with the triumph of the American arms. Independence had been won after long and severe years. This pastoral letter, like that of 1776, could not avoid reference to the war. It shows the same religious feeling, the same patriotic spirit. "We cannot help congratulating you," say these ministers (of course they couldn't; some of them had fought in the war), "on the general and almost universal attachment of the Presbyterian body to the cause of liberty and the rights of mankind. This has been visible in their conduct, and has been confessed by the complaints and resentment of the common enemy. Such a circumstance ought not only to afford us satisfaction on the review as bringing credit to the body in general, but to increase our gratitude to God for the happy issue of the war. Had it been unsuccessful we must have drunk deeply of the cup of suffering. Our burnt and wasted churches, and our plundered dwellings, in such places as fell under the power of our adversaries, are but an earnest of what we must have suffered had they finally prevailed."

Bibles were very scarce in America in 1783. Before the war efforts had been made by the Synod and several Presbyteries to supply the lack of them. There were few printing houses in America to publish them. As soon after the Declaration of Independence as practicable, Aitken, of Philadelphia, and Collins, editor of the New Jersey Gazette, and state printer, had made impressions of the Bible. The Presbytery of New Jersey, urged by Witherspoon, had recommended the people to patronize Mr. Collins. In 1783 the Synod in session at Philadelphia "Ordered, That every member of this body shall use his utmost influence in the congregation under his inspection, and in the vacancies contiguous to them to raise contributions for the purchasing of Bibles." Three Philadelphia ministers were charged with the duty of obtaining the Bibles with the money collected and sending them to the most needy districts. "And as Mr. Aitken, from laudable motives, and with great expense, bath undertaken and executed an elegant impression of the Holy Scriptures, which, on account of the importation of Bibles from Europe, will be very injurious to his temporal circumstances : Synod further agree, that the above committee shall purchase Bibles of the said impression and no other, and earnestly recommend it to all to purchase such in preference to any other." So far as I know this is the first protective act passed by any American legislative body since the Declaration of Independence, and it is indicative of the temper of the people at the time. How effective it was I cannot say. Two years later the Synod felt obliged to renew the recommendation as to the collection for the purchase of Bibles.

In spite of the war, and in some respects because of it, Presbyterians had increased in America. There was, of course, very little immigration. Statistics are not to be had. But the frontier had been penetrated and pushed further west and south. New Presbyteries had been formed. The Synod was too large and too cumbersome. Members of remote Presbyteries were unable to attend.

There was, however, a spirit of union stronger than ever before. The church had won great prestige for itself as the friend of liberty. Some other churches envied the Presbyterians their popularity, strength and influence. The ministers who came to Philadelphia in 1786 were ready to hear the report of Witherspoon and others who had been appointed to " take into consideration the constitution of the Church of Scotland and other Protestant churches, and agreeably to the general principles of Presbyterian government, compile a system of general rules for the government " of the church, and also to act upon an overture which had been sent to the Presbyteries the year before to divide the Synod into three or more and form a General Assembly. It appears, however, that an overture did not mean then what it means now. It was not sent down for the adoption or rejection of the Presbyteries. It was nothing more than a notice to the Presbyteries that such action was intended at the next Synod. The charge has been made that the Synod acted beyond its just rights. Only a minority were present, it is true, probably less than one- fourth of the ministers, and only about a dozen elders. But every Presbytery had received notice and every minister knew what was going to be done. The Synod of 1786 did not exceed its delegated powers in the case. The very day, Friday, May igth, had been stated in the notice sent to the Presbytery as the time when the question would be considered. Ministers who stayed away probably felt that the work would be done quite as well without them as with them. It was not indifference that kept them away, but a physical inability to attend.

No difference of opinion is mentioned. The only amendment made to the motion that the Synod be divided into three was that it be divided into three or more. The reason given was the number and extent of the churches under their care and the inconvenience of the present mode of government. That inconvenience had been felt for many years, and the new form of governing the church would be heartily welcomed by the hard worked ministers, who would be brought into closer relations with each other under three or more Synods than was possible under one. And the motion appears to have passed without a dissenting vote.

At this time the question of union with the Dutch Reformed and Seceder Churches came up again. The Synod instructed its delegates, of whom Witherspoon was one, to inform the other churches of the proposed action of the Presbyterians to enlarge their form of government and to assure those churches of the continued friendliness of the Presbyterians, but that the question of union could more properly be considered after the proposed changes were made.

The committee appointed to report upon a constitution had not completed their work. As one means of facilitating the work of reorganization each Presbytery was ordered to lay before the Synod the next year an accurate list of their settled ministers in the order of their seniority, with the places of their residence; and also of the probationers, and vacant congregations, under their care. And in order to prevent irregularity, uncertainty and waste of time, that each Presbytery draw up their report in writing and appoint a member to deliver it to the Synod. So began a custom which has continued without any change ever since.

What had been done almost every year and would be done for many years to come was done this year, 1787. It makes one wonder what the members of Synod thought of themselves in acknowledging annually not merely that, in the language of another church, they had done those things they ought not to have done and left undone those things they ought to have done, but to record in their minutes that they viewed with serious concern the decay of vital religion and the prevalence of immorality, and appointed a day of solemn fasting, humiliation and prayer. Yet these sober faced men were not morbid pessimists. They were on the other hand hopeful enthusiasts. They had helped to create a great nation; were soon to assist in forming a strong government upon the deep and eternal foundations of humanity and righteousness. They believed in God and a straight rifle-barrel, especially those who lived on the frontier. Cities grew by their genius, and the face of nature changed under their hands from a wilderness, peopled by savages and wild beasts, to commonwealths of power, learning and enterprise.
When the Assembly met the next year copies of "the draught of a plan of government" had already been distributed to the Presbyteries which had time to act upon it, if they thought proper, and after a few items of routine business had been cleared from the docket the several Presbyteries were ordered to bring in their observations upon the proposed constitution. Each Presbytery in turn gave its report. Witherspoon wrote the Introduction. The time-worn, slightly faded, but easily legible copy of the preliminary principles in his hand, which is before me as I write, differs in very slight verbal particulars from the printed sections which compose the first chapter of the present constitution. The first sentence of the introductory paragraph has been changed, but the few alterations made by the Synod in the seven sections have in no case modified the ideas which Witherspoon conceived to be those for the maintenance of which the Presbyterian Church justifies its existence. They express his personal conviction, having first been drawn up by himself alone, then submitted to his colleagues on the committee and finally passed upon by the church at large. It would be fatuous to claim that Witherspoon originated these ideas, it would be false to deny that he believed them. None the less is credit due to him for the greatness of these truths whose value he recognized and which he expressed so simply and forcibly. He declares that God alone is Lord of the conscience and hath left it free from the doctrines or commandments of men. Therefore he considers the right of private judgment, in all matters that regard religion, as universal and inalienable. Here is none of the intolerance so frequently charged against Presbyterians of Witherspoon's stamp.

He repudiates any desire to see any religion established by the State. He believes in a free church as well as a free State. In perfect consistency with this principle, and, he might have added, because of it, every Christian church is entitled to prescribe the terms of admission into it, even though they may mistake in making the terms too lax or too narrow; but even in this case they do not encroach on the rights of others but err in the use or abuse of their own. Here is frank confession; here is no claim to infallibility, no spirit of absolutism. Such a church, nevertheless has a right, should exercise the duty, of censuring the erroneous and casting out the scandalous. Even the civil government deals thus with its offenders. Witherspoon had contended all his life that, as he expressed it in Scotland, "Truth is in order to goodness." Those doctrines are valuable and true which form good character and lead to right conduct. The connection is inseparable between faith and practice. In conformity with his belief in the right of private judgment he declares that all ecclesiastical authority is derived ultimately from the people. And, on the other hand, no church court ought to pretend to make laws to bind the conscience in virtue of their own authority. Tyranny and absolutism are abhorrent to this high-minded lover of liberty. His last principle is that since all discipline must be purely moral and spiritual in its object and not attended with any temporal effect it can derive no force whatever but from its own justice, the approbation of an impartial public, and the countenance and blessing of Christ.

These are the principles which Presbyterians had advocated from the beginning, which, now so concisely and plainly expressed by Witherspoon, became the unchanged law of the church for its unfolding life of a century and a quarter. So simple and clear are these vigorous sentences that no further explanation of them is necessary.

Following them, in the constitution of the church, are those details of organization known as Presbyterian, which call for no further recital here. The American church followed in the main the constitution of the established church of Scotland, which had been the ecclesiastical law of that land for two hundred and fifty years.

It is interesting to note, in the record of the discussion, that almost the only thing of importance that interrupted the proceedings of the Synod, was a case of discipline appealed from the church of Nola Chuckey in the Presbytery of Hanover, Virginia. It is an example of the workings of the Presbyterian system, and the intricate questions involved were fittingly referred to a committee consisting of the ablest men of the Synod, Witherspoon, author of the principles just enacted into the law of the church, Drs. Sproat, Rodgers, Ewing, Duffield and McWhorter, men whose work for Presbyterianism, and the independence of the colonies, gave to the litigants every confidence in their impartial judgment. Three of these men had been chaplains in the Continental army, one of the Continental Congress, and Witherspoon a prominent member of that body. Into the labyrinth of this story of protest, appeal, mob and riot, political discussion, individual rights, defamation of character and breach of discipline, I do not propose to lead the reader. The parties were present and appeared before this committee whose comprehensive report to Synod shows how wisely and tactfully these experienced men dealt with the question so slight in the historical view, so momentous for the persons concerned. The opponents shook hands, accepted the advice of the committee and the decision of the Synod, and went back to Virginia in peace.

Although there is no record of Witherspoon's personal opinion of slavery, it is fair to infer what he thought from his concurrence in a resolution adopted by this Synod of 1787. The committee of overtures, of which he was not a member, had brought in a resolution stating that "The Creator of the world having made of one flesh all the children of men . . . the Synod recommend, in the warmest terms, to every member of their body, to do everything in their power consistent with the rights of civil society, to promote the abolition of slavery, and the instruction of negroes, whether bond or free." It was late on Saturday afternoon when this was read by the clerk, too late for a full discussion of such an important resolution. It lay over until Monday. On that day a new resolution embodying the same ideas was introduced and passed unanimously, declaring that the Synod highly approve of the interest which many of the states have taken in promoting the abolition of slavery. Then follow those clauses, the sensible principle of which might well have been recognized by the radical politicians who passed the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States. For, had it been recognized, the country might have been saved from the bitterness of sectional rancour and the extreme reaction of disfranchisement which experience has made necessary if the government of the former slaveholding states is to be kept safe and stable and pure. The Synod wisely go on to say, "yet, inasmuch as men introduced from a servile state to a participation of all the privileges of civil society, without a proper education; and without previous habits of industry, may be in many respects dangerous to the community, therefore they earnestly recommend it to all the members belonging to their communion to give those persons who are at present held in servitude, such good education as to prepare them for the better enjoyment of freedom," and they further recommended masters to encourage their slaves' aspiration for freedom and to "use the most prudent measures to procure eventually the final abolition of slavery in America." We know how fatuous was the hope of abolition; nevertheless it was the part of wisdom in those states where abolition was accomplished to bring it about gradually and not to confer the franchise wholesale on people incapable of using the privilege to good advantage.

Of quite another sort was the very next action of the Synod. The doctrines of universal salvation were being propagated. These the Synod viewed with alarm, and expressed their utter abhorrence of such doctrines, which they regarded as subversive of the fundamental principles of religion and morality, and warned their people against the introductions of such tenets. Witherspoon fully shared this abhorrence, and it is not impossible that he was the author of this resolution.

The Westminster Confession of Faith was the creed of the American Presbyterian church. Not the least change in its theology was for a moment contemplated by the Synod. But it was necessary to revise those sections of the confession which set forth the relation of church and state. The confession had been adopted originally by the established church of Great Britain, and had remained, since 1647, the creed of the Church of Scotland. No establishment of religion was intended in America, and the revised sections merely state the well-known principles of religious liberty which Presbyterians have always maintained in America, and for which, in essence, Witherspoon had contended in Scotland.

The next year the whole of the Form of Government, Book of Discipline, Confession of Faith and Catechisms were gone over again, in full, except that chapter of the directory dealing with church censures which was referred to Dr. Witherspoon, Dr. Smith and the moderator to revise and lay before the General Assembly. The same committee were appointed to revise the section relating to public prayer and prayers used on other occasions, without being again considered by the Synod, and to have it printed along with the constitution, so that this may be regarded practically as Witherspoon's work. After finally approving and ratifying their two years' work and attending to some minor items of business the Synod resolved that the first meeting of the General Assembly should be held in the Second Church of Philadelphia, to be opened with a sermon by Dr. Witherspoon, or in his absence by Dr. Rodgers.

The text of Witherspoon's sermon at the opening of the Assembly was i Cor. 37, "So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth: but God that giveth the increase." Then Dr. John Rodgers was chosen moderator. He immediately made Witherspoon the head of a committee to ex-amine the credentials of the members, and likewise appointed a committee on bills and overtures. These two items attended to, the first motion considered by the newly organized Assembly was that an address be presented to the President of the United States. George Washington had been inaugurated just twenty- one days before and the Synod embraced the earliest opportunity to present him a congratulatory address. Other churches did likewise and to all of them he replied. The address of the Presbyterians prepared by Witherspoon is not long, for such a document, recognizing the country's debt to Washington and congratulating the country upon his election. It is the dignified and fitting tribute of a great church to a great man.

Witherspoon was not a member of the Assembly of 179o, but in 1791 was appointed chairman of a committee to devise means to prepare a history of the church. But it does not appear that the committee ever did any-thing. His name is mentioned only three times in the minutes of 1792, first as having, as usual, arrived late, second as being appointed one of the committee to confer with the Congregationalists, and lastly as appointed to supply the pulpit at Elizabethtown the last Sabbath in July, and Mr. Snowden's pulpit the third Sabbath in June. The General Assembly acted in a Presbyterial capacity in this way for several years. In 1794 Witherspoon appeared for the last time at a meeting of the General Assembly. But the minutes do not indicate that he took any part in the proceedings. The last ecclesiastical gathering he attended was a meeting of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia at New York, October 21, 1794. He died less than a month afterwards.

From the notices of his associates one gains the impression that most of them regarded him with a feeling that was more than respect and amounted almost to awe. It was said of him that he had more of what we might call "presence" than any man in America except George Washington. His manner in the pulpit was both impressive and captivating. John Adams, who heard him several times, regarded him as a very fine preacher, although he tells us that a most excellent sermon on redeeming time which he heard in the spring of 1777, was not remembered so well as others. Adams thought the necessity of speaking without formal preparation in Congress had impaired his oratorical powers, for Witherspoon was accustomed to write and memorize his sermons. That he did not write all his sermons is shown by the bare outlines of several among his manuscripts. In later life his eyesight became impaired and the student who was his amanuensis tells us that after he became partially blind, in 1791, he committed some of his sermons to memory as he composed them without writing, although he also dictated others. It is unnecessary to attempt any estimate of his influence as a churchman. The minutes of the Presbytery, Synods and General Assembly show us that he was foremost in all the important work of the church. It was by his influence that the American church followed the model of the Church of Scotland. Yet his sincere efforts to win the Congregational and Dutch Reformed churches, prove that he did not lack a conciliatory spirit. Strong in his belief in the Westminster Confession, and attached to the Presbyterian form of government as a scriptural system, he felt justified in urging their claims with all the force of his vigorous mind. His energy, his virile temper, and his genius for organization largely contributed to the Presbyterian church the spirit and ambition which made it so effective in his life and has carried it steadily forward in its work for humanity.


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