Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Sketches of Virginia
Chapter XXXIX. - Going into the Convention

From the time of the Inauguration of Dri Baxter the attention of the Virginia Synod, and the Synods further south, was turned with increasing earnestness, and deepening interest, to the questions that were agitating the more northern portions of the church. It became from time to time manifest that the tendencies exhibited by the two speakers at the Inauguration were becoming currents, whose direction and power might not be easily defined. Delegates from the Presbyteries to the Assembly were compelled by virtue of their office to hear the overtures, and complaints, and appeals laid before the highest court in the Presbyterian Church, and pass sentence as responsible officers of the Church of Christ. And, in some of the ways recognized in the form of government, all these subjects in dispute were laid before the assembled delegates.


In the General Assembly of 1832, the month succeeding Dr. Baxter’s inauguration, a reference from the Synod of Philadelphia, in, relation to the right of Presbyteries to require every minister or licentiate, coming to them by certificate from another Presbytery, or other ecclesiastical body, to submit to an examination before he could be received, was presented and read, and after considerable discussion was committed to Dr. Hill, Dr. Spring, Mr. Baird, Dr. M’Pheeters, and Mr. Wisner. Drs. Green and Beman, were afterwards added. This committee reported and re-reported, and after much discussion the matter was indefinitely postponed. On the one side it was claimed that such examination was the inalienable right of Presbytery in order to know the doctrinal opinions of those offering to become members; and that its exercise was peculiarly necessary at a time abounding in innovations in the doctrines, and forms, and practices of the church. On the other side it was replied, that a certificate of membership and good standing had hitherto been a passport from one Presbytery to another, and a change now would be an assumption of authority, and an expression of suspicion not called for by any of the circumstances of the church. In 1834, this matter was brought again to the notice of the Assembly, by a memorial sent up by sundry Presbyteries and Sessions, and signed also by about 18 ministers, and 100 elders in their individual capacity. The report of the committee, of which the Rev. James H. C. Leach was chairman, was adopted, declaring — “that a due regard to the order of the church and the bonds of brotherhood, require that ministers dismissed in good standing by sister Presbyteries, should be received by the Presbyteries they are dismissed to join, upon credit of their testimonials, unless they shall have forfeited their good standing subsequently to their dismissal.” In the succeeding year, 1835, the same subject was brought before the Assembly by memorial and petition, and the report of the committee of which Dr. Miller of Princeton, was chairman, was adopted, by yeas 130, nays 78, affirming “the right of every Presbytery to be entirely satisfied of the soundness in the faith, and the good character in every respect, of those ministers who apply to be admitted into the Presbytery, as members, and who bring testimonials of good standing from sister Presbyteries, or from foreign bodies with whom the Presbyterian Church is in correspondence. And if there be any reasonable doubt respecting the proper qualifications of such candidates, notwithstanding their testimonials, it is the right, and may be the duty of such a Presbytery to examine them, or to take such other methods of being satisfied in regard to their suitable character, as may be judged proper; and if such satisfaction be not obtained, to decline receiving them.” This discussion renewed from time to time had the form of an abstraction, but the effect was practically evincing the existence of different views of theological subjects in the Presbyterian Church, and a growing conviction of the necessity of drawing the line of distinction.


The plan of union between Presbyterians and Congregationalistg in the new settlements adopted in 1801, by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, and the General Association of Connecticut, for the convenience of the new settlements, in forming churches and obtaining pastors, after having been in operation about thirty years, became the subject of enquiry and discussion in connection with the disputed matters already agitating the Church. In 1831, the committee on commissions reported, “a commission from Grand River for a member of a standing committee instead of a Ruling Elder.” After considerable discussion the person named in the commission was enrolled among the list of members. Mr. Robert J. Breckenridge, a Ruling Elder from West Lexington Presbytery, on the ninth day of the session, entered a protest against the decision of the Assembly, by which the standing committee-man was admitted as a regular member of the Assembly, and also against the right of said committee-man to sit in that body.

This plan of union was contained in four articles prepared for the convenience of new settlements on the frontiers, now the heart of the State of New York; and as the frontiers moved westwardly, by tacit consent the plan of union, having been expressed in general terms, was applied to the congregations gathered among emigrants, from different sections of country, settling in the same or convenient neighborhoods.

Article 1st. It is strictly enjoined on all their missionaries to the new settlements, to endeavor, by all proper means, to promote mutual forbearance and accommodation, between those inhabitants of the new settlements who hold the Presbyterian and those who hold the Congregational form of Church Government.

Article 2nd. In the new settlements, any Church of the Congregational order shall settle a minister of the Presbyterian order, that Church may, if they choose, still conduct their discipline according to Congregational principles, settling their difficulties among themselves, or by a council mutually agreed upon for that purpose; But if any difficulty shall exist between the minister and the Church or any member of it, it shall be referred to the-Presbytery to which the minister shall belong, provided both parties agree, to it; if not, to a council consisting of an equal number of Presbyterians and Congregationalists, agreed upon by both parties.

Article 3d. If a Presbyterian Church shall settle a minister of Congregational principles, that Church may still conduct their discipline according to Presbyterian principles; excepting that if a difficulty arise between him and his Church, or any member of it, the cause shall be tried by the Association, to which the said minister shall belong, provided both parties agree to it; otherwise by a council, one half Congregationalists and the other half Presbyterians, mutually agreed on by the parties.

Article 4th. If any congregation consist partly of those who hold the Congregational form of discipline, and partly of those who hold the Presbyterian form, we recommend to both parties, that this be no obstruction to their uniting in one Church and settling a minister; and that in this case the Church choose a standing committee from the communicants of said Church, whose business it shall be, to call to account every member of the Church, who shall conduct himself inconsistently with the laws of Christianity, and to give judgment on such conduct; and if the person condemned by their judgment be a Presbyterian, he shall have liberty to appeal to the Presbytery''; if a Congregationalist, he shall have liberty to appeal to the body of the male communicants of the Church; in the former case the determination of the Presbytery shall be final, unless the Church consent to a further appeal to the Synod, or to the General Assembly ; and in the latter case, if the party condemned shall wish for a trial, by a mutual council. And provided the said standing committee of any Church, shall depute one of themselves to attend the Presbytery, he may have the same right to sit and act in the Presbytery, as a Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church.

The protest of Mr. Breckenridge affirmed that the articles of agreement on which this committee-man claimed a seat, stipulated for a seat for such a person only in the Session and Presbytery; and as these persons were not Elders or Bishops, they could have no constitutional right to a seat* in any judicatory, nor any conventional right farther than the strict import of the terms of the agreement. Without discussing the constitutionality of the articles as interpreted — the protest declared—“if, however, they are so construed as to place members here, who are by our constitution forbidden to be here, or as in any degree to affect the principles of the organization of this house as clearly defined in our books, then it is manifest that the articles must be considered utterly null and void.” Sixty-six members of Assembly united with Mr. Breckenridge in this protest. Two days after, the assembly resolved, 44 That in the opinion of the General Assembly, the appointment by some Presbyteries, as has occurred in a few cases, of members of standing committees to be members of the General Assembly, is inexpedient, and of questionable constitutionality, and therefore in future ought not to be made.”

A fruitful subject of discussion was now opened, involving deep feeling, and important consequences to the Presbyterian Church. In 1852, a motion was made to cite the Western Reserve Synod, to appear before the next Assembly to answer to the charge of neglecting the Confession of Faith; that persons were licensed to preach, and were ordained as pastors and evangelists without being required to receive the Confession of Faith; — and for suffering the office of Ruling Elder to go into disuse to a great extent throughout the bounds of that Synod. "The Assembly directed that Synod to review and examine the state of the Presbyteries and churches under its care, and make a report to the next General Assembly, with a special reference to these points.” The Synod reported next year that there was no ground of complaint. In 1884, the Report of a committee, on a memorial declaring, “ that it is deemed inexpedient and undesirable to abrogate or interfere with the plan of union between Presbyterians and Congregationalisms in the new settlements entered into in 1801,” was adopted. And with regard to the habit of sending out young men to the west and other places, to labor in the bounds of existing presbyteries, with ordination sine titulo, the Assembly recommended earnestly to the presbyteries to refrain from such procedure; and the ecclesiastical bodies in connexion with the Assembly were respectfully invited to concur.

In 1835, the committee on a memorial, Dr. Miller, of Princeton, chairman, proposed, that—"This Assembly deem it no longer desirable that Churches be formed in our Presbyterian connexion, agreeably to the plan of union of 1801.—Wherefore Resolved, That our brethren of the General Association of Connecticut be, and they hereby are, respectfully requested to consent that said plan be, from and after the next meeting of that Association, declared to be annulled. And Resolved, That the annulling of said plan shall not in any wise interfere with the existence and lawful operation of Churches which have been already formed on this plan.”


In the spring of the year 1830, the Rev. Albert Barnes, pastor of the Church in Morristown, New Jersey, was elected pastor of the 1st Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, to succeed Dr. J. P. Wilson, resigned. The commissioner of the Congregation appeared before the Presbytery of Philadelphia, on the 30th of April, and asked leave to prosecute the call, in the usual way. Dr. Ashbel Green declared that before he could give consent, he must have some satisfactory explanation. He had read a sermon recently published by Mr. Barnes, entitled u The Way of Salvation,” and to the views of the doctrines of Original Sin, and of Atonement, he objected; and also to the want of the doctrine of Justification by Faith, in a sermon which professed to show the whole scheme of Salvation. The discussions that followed were, in various forms^ protracted through four days. Leave to prosecute the call was finally granted, by a vote of 21 to 12. On the 18th of June, Mr. Barnes was present at an intermediate meeting of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and presented his certificate of good standing, and dismission, and recommendation, from the Presbytery of Elizabethtown. A protracted discussion on his reception, embracing various points of order and opinions, as to the proper method of procedure in the present case, was decided by yeas 30, nays 16; the charges presented against the soundness of faith of the applicant, intended to arrest his entering on the proposed pastoral office, being pronounced out of order, at a meeting of Presbytery called for a special purpose; and a time was appointed, and preparations made for Mr. Barnes’ installation. At the appointed time he was inducted to the pastoral office.

The minority complained to the Synod of Philadelphia, of the proceedings of the Presbytery, particularly in refusing to hear the charges against Mr. Barnes. The Synod directed the Presbytery to hear and decide upon the objections which the minority had to the orthodoxy of a sermon of Mr. Barnes. In obedience to the order of Synod, the Presbytery met on Tuesday, the 30th of November, 1830. After much discussion, a minute condemnatory of the sentiments of the sermon was passed by a small majority; and a committee appointed to converse with Mr. Barnes on the subject matter of the sermon. The whole case was carried up to the General Assembly of 1831, by appeal, by reference, and by complaint. On Thursday, the 26th of May, Mr. Barnes’ case came before the Assembly, on the 27th—“ the whole proceedings of the Presbytery, in the case complained of, and the printed sermon of Mr. Barnes, entitled ‘The Way of Salvation,’ which led to these proceedings, were read. In the P. M.—the considerations of the complaint of the minority of the Presbytery of Philadelphia was resumed; and their complaint was read. The parties then agreed to submit the case to the Assembly without argument, when it was Resolved, to refer the whole case to a select committee.” Dr. Miller, of Princeton, was chairman; and on Monday, 30th, in the afternoon, the committee made report— “that after bestowing upon the case the most deliberate and serious consideration—they would recommend the adoption of the following resolutions:”—In the first the committee say—“While it judges that the sermon by Mr. Barnes, entitled ‘ The Way of Salvation,’ contains a number of unguarded and objectionable passages; yet is of the opinion, that, especially after the explanations which were given by him of those passages, the Presbytery ought to have suffered the whole to pass without further notice.” The second suspends further action in the case—and the third recommends a division of the Presbytery. These resolutions adopted by the Assembly, appeared satisfactory to both parties generally:—on the one side, it was thought the rebuke of the erroneous passages in the sermon was sufficient; and on the other that the main bearing of the sermon was sustained, and the reproof fell on unguarded expressions. And such was the harmony, that the minutes say—“ The Assembly having finished the business in relation to Mr. Barnes, united in special prayer, returning thanks to God for the harmonious result to which they have come; and imploring the blessing of God on their decision.” The division of Presbytery which followed, gave rise to the vexed question of “Elective Affinity,” which in succeeding years found its way to the Assembly in various forms.

Mr. Barnes, in the course of his pastoral labors, prepared and published, for the use of Bible Classes and Sunday-schools, a short Commentary on the Gospels in succession, and on the Acts of the Apostles. These were popular, and widely circulated. No particular objection was made to the doctrine of his commentaries, until the volume on the Epistle to the Romans appeared. Great dissatisfaction was speedily expressed from various quarters, and the proposition was earnestly discussed in every direction, whether a book containing objectionable doctrine should be condemned as unsound, before the author was arraigned for unsoundness; or whether, on the other hand, the author should be judged by the sentiments of his book, and should alone be condemned or acquitted. After much had been said and written on the subject of the sentiments contained in the Commentary on the Romans, Rev. George Junkin, President of the College in Easton, Pennsylvania, under date of March 18th, 1835, sent to the Second Presbytery of Philadelphia a letter, stating his feelings and views generally, on the subject of difference between the opinions of Mr. Barnes, and what he understood as the orthodox meaning of the standards of the Presbyterian Church, and with it a series of charges against Mr. Barnes, as teaching false doctrine; having previously invited him to a friendly discussion on the subject, and adjudication by Presbytery, which invitation had been respectfully declined. The charges were ten: First. What he teaches wrong. “Rev. Albert Barnes is hereby charged with maintaining the following doctrines, contrary to the standards of the Presbyterian Church. That all sin consists in voluntary action; that Adam, before and after his fall, was ignorant of his moral relations to such a degree, that he did not know the consequences of his sin would or should reach any further than to natural death; that unregenerate men are able to keep the commandments, and convert themselves to God; that faith is an act of the mind, and not a principle, and is itself imputed for righteousness. Second. The doctrines he denies, which are taught in the standards of the Church: he denies that God entered into covenant with Adam, constituting him a federal or covenant head, and representative of natural descendants; that the first sin of Adam is imputed to his posterity; that mankind are guilty, i. e. liable to punishment, on account of the sin of Adam; that Christ suffered the proper penalty of the law, as the vicarious substitute of his people, and thus took away legally their sins, and purchased pardon; that the righteousness, i, e. the active obedience of Christ to the law, is imputed to his people for their justification, so that they are righteous in the eyes of the law, and therefore justified; and Mr. Barnes also teaches, in opposition to the standards, that justification is simple pardon.” Mr. Junkin gave specifications from the work on the Romans, and added that Mr. Barnes taught the first, second, third, fourth and tenth, contrary to the Scriptures, and denied the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, contrary to the word of God.

The Presbytery declined acting on this letter and the charges, in the^ absence of Mr. Junkin; and an adjourned meeting was commenced, June 30th, for the purpose of disposing of the business. After many preliminary discussions, the case was argued in full, by Mr. Junkin and Mr. Barnes; Mr. Junkin arguing that Mr. Barnes was culpable, for publishing in his book errors on those ten particulars ; and Mr. Barnes explaining some things as having a very legitimate meaning, in consonance with the standards; defending others, as having no departure from sound words; and on the subject of imputation, explaining and showing that he had made some alterations in his book, which removed all mistake or misapprehension. The decision of the Second Presbytery of Philadelphia was in favor of Mr. Barnes, eighteen voting him not guilty on any of the charges, and three voting him guilty on part, or all. “ The Presbytery therefore judge, that the charges have not been maintained ; and they moreover judge that the Christian spirit manifested by the prosecutor, during the progress of the trial, renders it inexpedient that the Presbytery should inflict any censure on him.”

From this decision, Mr. Junkin appealed to Synod. In October of the same year, the case came up regularly, and, after much preliminary discussion, the whole subject of error and defence was gone over before Synod. The decision of Synod was against Mr. Barnes; and consequently he was suspended from the office of the ministry.

The case came before the General Assembly in May, 1836, at Pittsburg, by appeal and complaint of Mr. Barnes, and also by appeal and complaint of some others; all of which were taken up together, as requiring but one discussion. The trial was protracted through a large portion of the session, being discussed, more or less, eleven days. The appeal was sustained by 134 to 96; and the decision of the Synod of Philadelphia, suspending him from the office of the gospel ministry, was reversed —145 to 78. The Rev. Dr. Miller, of Princeton, proposed a resolution, the purport of which was, that Mr. Barnes’ Notes on the Romans were at variance with the Confession of Faith, on the subjects of original sin, the relation of man to Adam, justification by faith, and the atoning sacrifice and righteousness of the Redeemer; that he had controverted the language of our standards in a reprehensible manner ; that, although he had removed fr«m his book, or modified many reprehensible passages, Mr. Barnes be admonished to review the book, to modify still further the statements which have grieved his brethren, and be more careful, in time to come, to study the purity and peace of the church. This resolution was rejected by 122 to 109: three declined voting.

During the progress of Mr. Barnes’ case before the different tribunals, the trial of Dr. Beecher before the Presbytery of Cincinnati, on the charges brought by Dr. J. L. Wilson, of Cincinnati, for heresy, slander, and hypocrisy, took place, and the same general ground of doctrine was gone over there in an extended discussion. Reports of these trials were widely circulated and carefully read, and the community was deeply agitated, if not fully informed on the doctrines involved. In the course of these trials all the questions of order, or discipline, or doctrine, that agitated the church, were involved, either as circumstantials or essentials. The spirit of discussion and division, of excitement and jealousy, spread over the whole church with more or less bitterness, and were found in the prayer-meeting, the lecture-room, the pulpit, and the revival. It began to be apparent to all that there must be a cessation of hostilities by compromise and concession, or by triumph in debate, or by division. Of the first there was little prospect; of the other two, the latter was more probable, though difficult. Compromise, with thanksgiving to God, in the Assembly, had been tried in vain; decision, after debate, in Synod, had been followed by a counter decision in Assembly, and in that highest judicatory the decision of one year, by the delegates of the church, was followed by a counter decision, by other delegates, in a succeeding Assembly. The discussions seemed to be ended, or continued only in vain repetitions, and peace was looked for in vain except in the submission of one party, or by elective affinity divisions.


From an early period of her existence the Presbyterian Church was engaged in preaching the gospel to the heathen tribes in America. At. times she had cause to rejoice greatly over the measure of success granted to her efforts, which were never equal to the importance of the cause or her own dignity. The Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assembly, particularly the Synod of Virginia, had taken order on the subject, and pious individuals had come cheerfully to the work. There are many names on the list of Indian missionaries that ought not to pass from the memory of the church. Private associations had been formed, embracing churches, and members of churches, of the Presbyterian denomination, in some of its numerous divisions, whose efforts to evangelize the Indian tribes were energetic, but not under the supervision of any judicatory of the Presbyterian Church. The formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, by the Congregationalists of New England, was an epoch in the history of the Church of Christ. It was the first organized effort of the American churches to send the gospel to the heathen of the eastern continentlv It met with great favor. Some felt their obligations to preach the gospel to every creature, and made donations to the Board that was sending messengers to the land of darkness; others sympathized with what seemed a>heroic effort of benevolence for the civilization of the race, and gave money. The operations of the Board were enlarged, and the feelings of the church were more deeply enlisted. The united efforts of Christian people were called for, and given cheerfully, to carry on the annually enlarging labors of that active and prudent Board. Wisdom in council, and energy in action, and success in effort, marked the progress of the foreign missionary enterprise, and won the confidence of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches. In a series of years, there was so much to admire, and so little to blame, in the management of the Board, that all contributions from the Presbyterians, or nearly so, made for the spread of the gospel in heathen nations and tribes, were sent to the American Board. The children of the Presbyterian Church that desired the life of a missionary, were sent forth under her direction. The different foreign missionary associations were either dissolved or had become its auxiliaries, and the missions among the aborigines generally committed to its supervision.

The spirit of nationality pervaded the Presbyterian Church in all its benevolent efforts. She united heartily in the Bible Society, and hailed every association formed for its aid, and shared with entire confidence the management of its concerns with all denominations that desired to be engaged. She took a leading part in the Colonization Society, and united on the broadest principles with all associations for its support. She did the same with the Tract Society, and the Sunday School. For some years this union of effort added strength to the cause, and was a blessedness to all engaged. The question was proposed, Could there not be a union, at least with the Congregational and Presbyterian churches, in the cause of education for the ministry, and in domestic missions? There were many advocates. There were many objectors. The Assembly never relinquished the oversight of those Christian labors, though she pursued them languidly for some years. The American Education Society, under its admirable secretary, Cornelius, had many warm supporters in the Presbyterian Church; and the Home Missionary Society, under the skilful management of an able Board in New York, aspired to be the channel of domestic missions, as the American Board was of foreign missions. After full discussion, the General Assembly resolved to pursue the education cause and the domestic missionary effort with renewed zeal, and took the proper steps to ensure success. In both these causes her progress has been in some measure becoming the magnitude of the interests involved, and other names besides the departed Breckenridge and M’Dowell are embalmed in the heart of the church for everlasting remembrance.

In the progress of events the enquiry arose, Ought not the Presbyterian Church, with her extensive borders, her strength of numbers, and her abundant resources, to engage in the work of preaching the gospel to every creature, in a manner more fitting her accountability? and the universal answer from every quarter, within and without the church, reproved her sluggishness. The next enquiry s was, Could sha ever accomplish as much through the American Board, with all its acknowledged excellences, as by an independent organization ? This question was debated, with intense earnestness, by the best, the wisest, and the weakest in the church. It became intermingled with the excitements about doctrines, and practice, and revivals, which were agitating the Christian community everywhere. And the discussion about foreign missions was carried on with a temper and spirit sufficiently energetic, but not always becoming the gospel of love.

The Rev. John II. Rice, Professor in Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, a man by the habits of his mind, and his opportunities of observation while agent for the seminary, the best qualified to understand the geographical and doctrinal divisions prevailing, or commencing in the church, felt it necessary to do something for the peace and unity of the professing family of Christ. Writing to Dr. Wisner, of Boston, under date of November 22d, 1830, he says — “But the most fearful sign of the present times is the rising of the spirit of controversy and disputation, much like that which broke out in the time of the Reformation. In all the strong parts of both the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches we see. the existence of the evil. My last journey made me sick at heart. Both in New York and Philadelphia I was in continual pain and mortification. I regard the human race as at this moment standing on the covered crater of a volcano, in which elemental fires are raging with the intensity of the Prophet ordained of old. What shall we do ? Nothing but one strong feeling can put down another. The. church is not purified by controversy, but by love. By knowing Christ crucified we know enough to kindle up holy love. I have therefore brought my mind to the conclusion that the thing most needed at this present time is a revival of religion among churches, and especially a larger increase of holiness among ministers.” He thus expresses his desire of accomplishing something at the next Assembly, May, 1831, and desires his friends from Boston to be there not to argue, but to strive to kindle a flame of love. He proposed that something should be done in the cause of missions to get the whole Presbyterian Church engaged. He passed through a suffering winter, and as the time of the Assembly drew near he felt himself approaching the grave. Turning all the energies of his mind, in his position of solemnity and interest, to devise something for the peace and welfare of the Presbyterian Church, as preparatory to preaching the gospel to every creature; and believing that hearty engagedness in that blessed work would do wonders in promoting the peace and extending the borders of the church, he dictated his memorial to the General Assembly on the subject of foreign missions ; a paper becoming the closing pages of the history of his life — his last effort of thought and affection for the church he loved, and worthy of a place in any history of the Presbyterian Church. The fate of this memorial was unknown to its author: he had passed to a better world. He knew that it was read before the Assembly, and sent forward for consideration to the American Board; but hovering on the confines of two worlds filled with immortals that he loved, he could not ask its fate.

On the third day of the session, May 21st, 1831, the memorial, having received the approbation of the brethren in Princeton, was read and committed to Rev. Messrs. Armstrong, of North River, Calvert, of West Tennessee, Goodrich, of Orange, J. M’Dowell, of Elizabethtown, and Dr. Agnew, Elder, from Carlisle. On Tuesday, the 31st, a committee was appointed “to attend the next annual meeting of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, and confer with that body in respect to measures to be adopted for enlisting the energies of the Presbyterian Church more extensively in the cause of missions to the heathen ; and that said committee report the results of this conference, and their views on the whole subject to the next Assembly.” The gentlemen chosen by ballot on nomination were — Rev. Messrs. John M’Dowell, of Elizabethtown, Thomas M’Auley, of Philadelphia, and James Richards, Newark, the principals; and Rev. Messrs. A. Alexander, John Breckenridge and Elisha Swift alternates. When Dr. Rice heard the names of the committee read to him on his sick bed, he said smilingly, that some of the alternates he thought understood his views better than some of the principals.

This memorial, from its source, its author and its weighty thoughts, made an impression upon the Assembly. The person, manner, voice and spirit of its author were wanting to give it the thrilling influence. One expression in the memorial— “the Presbyterian Church a Missionary Society,” fixed upon in the study of Mr. Nevins, in Baltimore, the last visit made there by Dr. Rice, has, from that Assembly, been the rallying call to the church. The active young brethren of Baltimore Presbytery had resolved their Presbytery into a foreign missionary society. And about the time the memorial was sent to Princeton for consideration, a circular from the Presbytery of Baltimore called the attention of the Presbytery of Lexington to the same subject. The records of the meeting at Fincastle, April 29th, 1831, soy — “whereas this Presbytery has received a communication from the Presbytery of Baltimore informing us of their purpose to engage more efficiently in the promotion of foreign missions ; and likewise urge a number of weighty considerations to show that the Presbyterian Church generally, and Presbyterians individually, should unite with them in this good work, in which this Presbytery fully concur, Therefore, Resolved, That this Presbytery highly approve of the resolutions adopted by the Presbytery of Baltimore. 2d. Resolved, That as soon as practicable this Presbytery will engage in foreign missions.”

The memorial of Dr. Rice was laid before the Board of Commissioners, that held its annual meeting, in October of that year, in New Haven, Connecticut, by Messrs. M’Dowell, McAuley and Richards. A committee of conference was appointed by the Board consisting of Rev. Messrs. Jeremiah Day, Lyman Beecher and B. B. Wisner. Their joint report was adopted and sent to the Assembly of 1832. The final action of the Board, as expressed in Dr. Miller’s notice, was not known at the South, or generally any where till some years after.

In November of the same year, the ministers of the Synod of Pittsburg organized the Western Foreign Missionary Society. The movement seemed to many East of the mountains as hasty and uncalled for. To others it appeared a work of Christian prudence and decision. Leading men in the Church East and West of the mountains favored the formation of the Western Society, and gave liberally to its funds; among the contributors were the Professors of the Theological Seminary at Princeton. The reasons given by the Western brethren for their speedy action were, that they received the great truth, “The Presbyterian Church Missionary Society” and that the General Assembly had not entered upon the work; that the American Board discouraged, both in principle and in action, a separate organization for the Presbyterian Church; and besides, that Board would not promise “to regard with fraternal feelings,” any association formed by the Assembly or any inferior judicatory to carry on the work of Foreign Missions; and the churches of that Synod, and many other churches would not any longer act cheerfully, if at all, through the American Board. The Rev. E. P. Swift entered with great activity upon the duties of Secretary of the new Society ; and the churches West of the Alleghany commenced making collections and donations more liberal than those made in the early days of the American Board.

In May 1832, the joint report adopted by the American Board was laid before the Assembly; and after discussion, resolved, “ That while the Assembly would express no opinion in relation to the principles contained in the report, they cordially recommend the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to the affection and patronage of the churches.” This report was widely circulated both in the annual report of the Board, and in other ways; and was generally read. An able document, it presented in clear, strong language the principles of the American Board, and the reasons why they discouraged a separate organization by any ecclesiastical judicatory. The main points of the report were, 1st. That the American Board is, in the opinion of the committee, properly a national institution; 2nd. The board sustains the same relation to the Congregational, Presbyterian and Reformed Dutch Churches; and fairly represents each of these religious denominations ; 3d. The proceedings of the board and of the prudential committee have uniformly been in strict accordance with that relation; 4th. There are very high responsibilities, securing the purity and efficiency of the board and its missions. These responsibilities are 1st. The prudential committee is responsible to the board; 2nd. It is also responsible to the public; 3d. The board is under obligation to supply the highest ecclesiastical bodies of the three denominations with copies of its annual report; 4th. Missionaries in connection with presbytery, classis, or association, are not affected in their ecclesiastical relations by coming into connection with this Board; 5th. In raising funds, regard is had to the ecclesiastical habits of the people. Also previous to the union of the. United Foreign Missionary Society with the American Board in 1826, an address was sent forth giving reasons why there should be but one institution for foreign missions for the three denominations, Presbyterian, Reformed Dutch and Congregational. They were, 1st. It will save time and labor; 2nd. It will save expense; 3d. There is no necessity for more than one institution; 4th. It will remove the danger of collision; 5th. A single institution will greatly promote Christian affection; 6th. A great saving of toil, expense and life, in the research and explorations indispensable to a successful prosecution of the work; 7th. In missions as in every important concern, experience is the safest guide, often leading to modifications in methods of procedure, and greatly augmenting the efficiency and success of the enterprise; 8th. To which may be added that constitution of human nature by which interest and motives and effort and reward correspond with the magnitude and sublimity of the object presented.

In view of these facts the committee of conference, “ are fully satisfied that it is wholly inexpedient to attempt the formation of any distinct organization within the three denominations, for conducting foreign missions; and that it is of the highest importance to their own spiritual prosperity, and to the existence of the Redeemer’s kingdom on the earth, that the ecclesiastical bodies and the individual churches in these connections should give to the American Board their cordial, united and vigorous support.” And in regard to “measures to be adopted for enlisting the energies of the Presbyterian Church, but two things are wanting to secure the desired results—1st. That the prudential committee of the American Board should take prompt and effectual measures by agencies and in other ways to bring the subject of foreign missions, in its various relations, before the individual congregations and members of the Presbyterian body; and 2nd, that the General Assembly and subordinate judicatories of the Church, give their distinct and efficient sanction and aid to the measures that shall be adopted for that purpose.” In consequence of this report and the recommendation of the Assembly, Rev. B. B. Wisner, Secretary of the Board, in the fall of 1832, visited the Synods of Virginia and North Carolina, and was instrumental in forming the Central Board of Foreign Missions, embracing the two Synods. Rev. Wm. J. Armstrong, successor of Dr. Rice as pastor of the Church in Richmond, was made the corresponding secretary and general agent. By his zealous labors the churches were awaked to their duty with the happiest results. Mr. Armstrong became a secretary of the American Board, and was succeeded by Rev. J. D. Mitchell; he, retiring to a pastoral charge in a few years, was succeeded by Rev. Wm. Henry Foote, on whose resignation, after seven years’ service, the Central Board was dissolved and the churches commenced acting directly through the Assembly’s Board.

The Western Board of Foreign Missions pressed on with vigor. An African mission was speedily organized with two missionaries, Messrs. Barr and Pinney. Mr. Barr, while making the necessary preparations for departure, suddenly died in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Pinney proceeded on the mission, and still lives, having done good service for the Board, and conferred immeasurable benefits on Africa. In 1833, the Lodiana mission embarked. One of the members of that mission, Dr. John C. Lowrie, is now a secretary of the Assembly’s Board, having returned from India on account of ill-health, after some years of service in heathen lands. The sympathies of the public were enlisted, and Presbytery after Presbytery sought connection with the Western Board ; and the Synod of Philadelphia united with the Synod of Pittsburg in its management. Its prosperity in collections, and usefulness in labor went on hand in hand, and every annual report gave richer and richer evidences of divine favor, and the necessity of the institution became as apparent as its success. In 1834, the advantage of having the seat of its operations on the seaboard became apparent. And in May, 1835, the General Assembly appointed a Committee to negotiate a transfer of the Western Board to the Assembly. Before the close of the session, the Assembly empowered the Committee to conclude the transfer should the way be clear, and the terms satisfactory; and make report. At the meeting of the Synod of Pittsburg in the fall, the terms were negotiated, and the transfer completed according to act of Assembly. The missionaries were informed of the transfer, and directed to expect their supplies from the Assembly’s Board after May, 1836. All necessary preparations were made for removing the seat of the Board; and Mr. Swift resigned his office as secretary, choosing to remain with his congregation. At this time there were about twenty missionaries connected with the Board; and the treasury was entirely unembarrassed.

The anticipations of the friends of the new Board were overthrown at the meeting of the Assembly, in 1836. When the transfer was reported, it was committed to Rev. Messrs. Phillips, Scovil, Skinner, Dunlap, and Mr. Ewing, “who were authorized to review the whole case, and present it to the consideration of the Assembly.” The majority reported in favor of accepting the transfer, appointing a Missionary Board, and making New York the centre of operations. The minority reported, that in consideration of the intimate union existing between the American Board and the Presbyterian Church, and to avoid collision — “it is inexpedient that the Assembly should organize a separate Foreign Missionary Association.” The yeas and nays were, for majority report, 106; for minority report, 110. This result, connected with the agitations and discussions then afflicting the church, was less surprising than arousing. The Western Board was immediately reorganized; and preparations were made to carry on the work of missions with increased vigor. Walter Lowrie, Esq., Secretary of the United States Senate, the father of one of the missionaries to Lodiana, was elected Secretary of the Board, and on becoming free from the obligations of his office in Washington, entered on his duties in Pittsburg.

Some extracts from a letter from Dr. Miller, of Princeton, are pertinent in this case. The letter is dated, April 15th, 183T, and appeared in the Presbyterian of the 22d of that month, and is in reply to a communication from Rev. John M’Uhenny, of Lewisburg, Virginia. After saying that he had been charged with inconsistency in maintaining, in 1833, that it was better for the Western Society not to be under the care of the Assembly, and, in 1836, in defending the contrary opinion, he says, “ These brethren themselves, (the New School), have had more agency in bringing about the change of opinion of which they complain than all others combined.” In reply to some enquiry respecting matters in which he had taken a part, he says further, “The overture of Dr. Rice has been grievously misrepresented. It is well known that excellent and lamented man was a warm friend to the American Board, and yet it is manifest from the overture itself, that he wished and expected the General Assembly as such, in some form, to undertake and conduct Foreign Missions. I so understood the paper when it reached Princeton, and so understanding it, gave it my hearty support in the General Assembly of 1831, of which I happened to be a member, and to which it was presented. It was that overture, no doubt, which gave rise to the appointment of a Committee on the part of the Assembly, to confer with the American Board, at New Haven in the autumn of the same year. I was present as a member of the Board, when the Joint Committee of the Assembly and the Board laid before the latter a report, expressing the opinion that the General Assembly ought not to undertake any separate action in the missionary field. When the question on this report was about to be taken, I arose and remarked, that I could not give an unqualified vote in favor of that report, that I was persuaded there was a large portion of the Presbyterian Church that earnestly wished a Board of Missions of our own church to be formed, and that, in all probability, would ultimately form one. But that I would cheerfully vote for the original report, provided the following addition to it could be made, which I moved as an amendment, viz., While this Board accept and approve the foregoing report, as expressing their firm opinion on the subject referred to the Committee of conference: — Resolved, That if the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, or any of its subordinate judicatories, shall eventually think proper to form any association for conducting Foreign Missions separately from the American Board — this Board will regard such associations with fraternal feelings, and without the least disposition to interfere with its organization or proceedings.’ This amendment, however, was very unceremoniously negatived, two other members of the Board only, as far as I recollect, viz., Dr. Spring, of New York, and Dr. Carnahan, of Princeton, rising in its favor.”


One other event, caused by the divisions and distractions in the church, gave intensity to the discussions that for about four years convulsed the church, and made its division inevitable, the issuing of the Act and Testimony in May, 1834. A memorial had been presented to the Assembly of 1834, signed in whole, or in part, by about nine Presbyteries, and eight Sessions, eighteen ministers, and ninety elders; “asking of this Assembly to apply such remedies as may be necessary to correct the evils of which they complain.” The committee for consideration made report nullifying the positions of the memorial and affirming the contrary, which was adopted by the Assembly. In consequence of this act of Assembly, which affected many minds in a similar manner, it was thought best to address the churches in a solemn and decisive manner. Mr. Engles proposed the laying the matter before the ministers, and calling upon the friends of truth to rally. Mr. Hodge, of Princeton, drew up the list of errors. Mr. R. J. Breckenridge drew a paper which he named the Act and Testimony, embracing his own views often expressed, and the suggestions of Mr. Engles, and the list of errors presented by Dr. Hodge. No paper since the protest, drawn up nearly a century before, addressed the judgment of men with equal power to fasten attention and lead to decision.

The following extracts contain the substance of the paper—“We adopt this Act and Testimony first as it regards doctrines. 1st. We do bear our solemn testimony against the right claimed by many of interpreting the doctrines of our standards in a sense different from the general sense of the church for years past, whilst they still continue in our communion; on the contrary, we aver that they who adopt our standards are bound by candor, and the simplest integrity, to hold them in their obvious accepted sense. 2d. We testify against the unchristian subterfuge to which some have recourse when they avow a general adherence to our standards as a system, while they deny doctrines essential to the system, or hold doctrines at complete variance with the system. 3d. We testify against the reprehensible conduct of those in our communion who hold, and preach, and publish Arminian and Pelagian heresies, professing at the same time to embrace our creed, and pretending that these errors do consist therewith. 4th. We testify against the conduct of those who while they profess to approve and adopt our doctrines and order, do nevertheless speak and publish, in terms, or by necessary implication, that which is derogatory to both, and which tends to bring both into disrepute. 5th. We testify against the following as a part of the errors which are held and taught by many persons in our church.”


“1st. Our relation to Adam. — That we have no more to do with the first sin of Adam than with the sins of any other parent. 2d. Native Depravity. — That there is no such thing as original sin ; that infants come into the world as perfectly free from the corruption of nature as Adam was -when he was created; that by original sin nothing more is meant than the fact that all the posterity of Adam, though born entirely free from moral defilement, will always begin to sin when they begin to exercise moral agency, and that this fact is somehow connected with the fall of Adam. 3d. Imputation. — That the doctrine of imputed sin and imputed righteousness is a novelty, and is nonsense. 4th. Ability. — That the impenitent sinner is by nature, and independently of the aid of the Holy Spirit, in full possession of all the powers necessary to a compliance with the commands of God; and that if he labored under any kind of inability, natural or moral, which he could not remove himself, he would be excusable for not complying with God’s will. 5th. Regeneration. — That man’s regeneration is his own act; that it consists merely in the change of our governing purpose, which change we must ourselves produce. 6th. Divine influence.—

That God cannot exert such an influence on the minds of men as ' shall make it certain that they will choose and act in a particular manner without destroying their moral agency; and that in a moral system God could not prevent the existence of sin, or the present amount of sin, however much he might desire it. 7th. Atonement.— That Christ’s sufferings were not truly and properly vicarious. Which doctrines and statements are dangerous and heretical, contrary to the gospel of God and inconsistent with our Confession of Faith.”

After bearing testimony against disorders in discipline,—and disorders in the government of the Church, it proceeds to Recommendations to the Churches. “ Dear Christian Brethren, you who love Jesus Christ in sincerity, and in truth, and adhere to the plain doctrines of the cross as taught in the standards prepared by the Westminster Assembly, and constantly held by the true Presbyterian Church, to all of you who love your ancient and pure Constitution, and desire to restore our abused and corrupted Church to her simplicity, purity and truth, we, a portion of yourselves, ministers and elders of your churches, and servants of one common Lord, would propose most respectfully and kindly, and yet most earnestly :—“1st. That we refuse to give countenance to ministers, elders, agents, editors and teachers, or to those who are in any other capacity engaged in religious instructions or effort, who hold the preceding or similar errors. 2d. That we make every lawful effort to subject all such persons, especially if they be ministers, to the just exercise of discipline by the proper tribunals. 3d. That we use all proper means to restore the discipline of the Church, in all the courts, to a sound, just, Christian state. 4th. That we use our endeavors to prevent the introduction of new principles into our system, and to restore our tribunals to their ancient purity. 5tli. That we consider the presbyterial existence, or acts of any Presbytery or Synod, formed upon the principles of Elective Affinity, as unconstitutional, and all 1 ministers and churches voluntarily included in such bodies as having I virtually departed from the standards of our Church. 6th. We f recommend that all ministers and elders, Church sessions, Presbyteries and Synods, who approve of this act and testimony, give their f public adherence thereto in such manner as they shall prefer, and communicate their names, and when a Church court, a copy of their adhering act. 7th. That inasmuch as our only hope of improvement and reformation in the affairs of our Church depends on the interposition of Him who is the King in Zion, that we will unceasingly and importunately supplicate the throne of grace for the return of that purity and peace, the absence of which we now sorrowfully deplore. 8th. We do earnestly recommend that on the 2d Thursday of May, 1835, a Convention be held in the city of Pittsburg, to be composed of two members, a minister and ruling elder from each Presbytery, or from the minority of any Presbytery, who may concur in the sentiments of this act and testimony, to deliberate and consult on the present state of our Church, and to adopt such measures as may be best suited to restore our prostrated standards.

“And now, Brethren, our whole heart is laid open to you and to the world. If the majority of our Church are against us, they will, we suppose, in the end, either see the infatuation of their course, and retrace their steps, or they will at last attempt to cut us off. If the former, we shall bless the God of Jacob; if the latter, we are ready, for the sake of Christ, and in support of the testimony now made, not only to be cut off,' but, if need be, to die also. If, on the other hand, the body be in the main sound, as we would fondly 'hope, we have here, frankly, openly, and candidly, laid before our erring brethren the course we are, by the grace of God, irrevocably determined to pursue. It is our steadfast aim to reform the Church, or to testify against its errors and defections, until testimony will be no longer heard, and we commit the issue into the hands of him who is over all, God blessed forever, Amen.”

This paper produced great excitement, or rather directed existing excitement into a new channel. In some sections of the Church it received numerous signatures. Very few names were given in Virginia. The general feeling in the Synod was, that however true the paper might be in principle, it was not required in the circumstances. It however called all men to thought and reflection.

The Convention met in 1835, and was fully attended : no delegate from Virginia or North Carolina appeared. A strong memorial was prepared for the Assembly, and handed in the 2d day of the session. The committee, of which Dr. Miller was chairman, with Messrs.. Hoge, Edgar, Elliot, Mcllhenny, Stonetreet, and Banks, reported; and eight resolutions, after long discussion, and some amendments, were adopted by the Assembly:—The 1st, affirming the right of a Presbytery to be entirely satisfied of the soundness of faith of those applying for admission; 2d, affirming the right, and, in some cases, the duty of a judicatory of the Church, to bear testimony against any printed publication, whether the author be living or dead; 3d, affirming that the erection of Presbyteries, or other courts, not on geographical principles, but by diversities of doctrinal belief, is Contrary to the constitution; 4th, the Church courts thus formed in and around Philadelphia to be dissolved; 5th, that the first duty of the Presbyterian Church is to sustain her own boards, without prohibiting the action of voluntary boards in her bounds; 6th, that the annulling of the plan of union of 1801 is desirable; 7th, that correspondence with the associations of the Congregational Churches ought to be preserved; and 8th, that all such opinions as are not distinguishable from Pelagian or Arminian, ought to be condemned.

The same Assembly proposed the transfer of the Western Foreign Missionary Society, and that efforts ought to be made to supply the world with the Bible in twenty years.

The Assembly of 1836, also held in Pittsburg, was of a different complexion from its predecessor, and proceeded to enactments contrary in spirit and letter to the doings of 1835. The decisions of the Synod of Philadelphia, in the case of Mr. Barnes, were reversed, and he was restored to the ministry; the proposition of Dr. Miller to condemn parts of Mr. Barnes’s book was rejected; the transfer of the Western Foreign Missionary Society was set aside; and the principle of carrying on missions in a church capacity voted down. Dr. Wilson withdrew his appeal from the decision of the Synod of Cincinnati, believing a trial would be a needless consumption of time.

The minority appointed a committee of correspondence to act till the next Assembly, with powers to call a convention to be held in May, 1837, should a convention be thought desirable. Such convention was called; and the anxious question in Virginia was, Shall we go into it? Can toe keep back any longer from the contest waging? Can neutrality be preserved?


In some form, this vexed question was before the Assembly and in public prints : an annual firebrand, in form of memorial, or petition, or reference, was thrown into the highest court of the Church. The Southern members could not avoid voting upon it, after hearing much that was offensive. The whole subject was discussed in the various forms and attitudes it might be made to assume — the right to hold slaves 'politically — the right to do so religiously — the advantages and disadvantages, both politically and religiously — the right of slave-holders to church fellowship, as ministers or as private members, and, finally, the necessity of discipline, even to excommunication, of all slave-holders, minors excepted. This exciting subject was mingled with the other causes of irritation, from year to year, till it became exasperating. Neither the attack nor defence could be cool. On the one side was assault, without offer of quarter; and, on the other, a resolute and fiery defence, without compromise. This question alone would have brought the Presbyterian Church to the verge of disruption, as it has done the Methodist Episcopal; and, unless the assailants paused, would have rent it asunder. The Presbyterian Church is but a fraction of the South; and, of that fraction, many are females and- minors. The few Christian men, were they convinced of the necessity of such a move as abolition, could do nothing in the body politic. They must let the subject rest, or emigrate.


A correspondent of the Southern Religious Telegraph, of June 24th, 1836, speaking of the Assembly of which he had been a member, says: “I hope that such another Assembly will never meet but once again; and then only with full and delegated powers amicably to separate, in order that each party may prosecute its own view’s and plans in its own way. On the slavery question, the Assembly did all that they could do as conscientious men. That is not the body of men to settle, this matter; nor need the South ever look for peace and rest from any of its decisions on this point. And now it becomes a grave and serious question, whether the Southern section of our Church will any more, or again, expose its representatives to the scoffs and taunts, and jeers and misrepresentations, and excommunications and maledictions of the abolitionists, both male and female.”

To this the Editor added: “We fully concur with our correspondent, that a crisis has come; and that if there can be no compromise, division must be tried. If the South cannot look for peace and rest in the Assembly, on the slavery question, is it not time for all the Southern Presbyteries to refuse unanimously to send representatives to that body?”

The Presbytery of Concord, North Carolina, at its fall meeting in 1886, expressed itself strongly: “The friends of orthodoxy throughout our country should, with deliberation and firmness, cooperate in every prudent effort to secure what true Presbyterians cannot surrender; and that to guard against all precipitancy, and afford ample space for the repentance and reformation of erring brethren, it be respectfully recommended to await the decision of another General Assembly. Rather than surrender the truth, or perpetuate the present distracting agitation, we will feel bound to submit to a division of the Church, upon any plan which may be found most conducive to peace and good order.”

The Presbytery of South Carolina resolved, “ That, in the view of this Presbytery, the Old School and the New have got so wide apart, in-sentiment and feeling, that for the future there can be no hope of friendly co-operation united in one body. That for the sake of peace, and the better promoting the interests of Christ’s kingdom, the parties ought to separate. But, in case of separation, we will closely adhere to the standards of the Presbyterian Church.”

Position of the Virginia Synod.

At the meeting of Synod at Petersburg, November, 1836, a paper was presented by George A. Baxter, William Hill, S. B. Wilson, William S. Plumer and James M. Brown, appointed for the purpose, drawn up by Dr. Baxter, expressive of the position the Synod then held.

Act of the Virginia Synod,

Unanimously adopted in Session at Petersburg, Nov. 7th, 1836.

“Whilst,we enjoy, within the bounds of this Synod, a great measure of peace and unanimity, and soundness in theological views, some other parts of our denomination are divided and distracted to such a degree as calls upon the church for deep humiliation and humble prayer to Almighty God for the removal of the evils by which we are afflicted. The prominent causes of our disturbance consist in the tendency to error, the spirit of angry controversy with which that tendency has been met, and the great loss of Christian affection and brotherly confidence between the parties which have arisen in the contest. We believe that the causes, which appear most prominent now, are not the original cause of the evils by which we are surrounded. Our church must have departed from God before He gave us over to the unhappy state of things in which we find ourselves involved; and deep humiliation, repentance, and the doing of our first works, must precede the removal of those things by which we are afflicted.

“One thing which presses with peculiar force on the Presbyterian Church, in the South, is the spirit of abolition, as lately developed in some parts of the country. This spirit, we believe, is entirely contrary to the word of God. It is well known that the apostles ministered and planted churches in countries in which slavery abounded, and that of a more aggravated form than ours; and yet masters and slaves were members of those churches, and equally under the acknowledged authority of the same spiritual teachers. In this way the inspired apostles had the subject of slavery fully before them; and they gave directions, without any appearance of reserve, for the mutual duties of the relation, leaving the whole subject of slavery to the benign and gradual operation of the gospel. These facts should convince us that the apostolic directions in the New Testament ought to form the rules for the government of our conduct in this matter. If, after this, the master is criminal, it cannot be by sustaining the relation of master, according to the rules given by divine inspiration, but by the violation of those rules. There is, however, one passage of Scripture which not only shows the criminality of abolition doctrines, but also so plainly and fully prescribes our duty in relation to them, that we think it proper to quote it at length. It is in 1st Timothy, 6th chapter, 1-5 verses — ‘ Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. We think it is as plain as words can make anything, that modern abolition principles and spirit constitute the case of those men who teach otherwise than the apostle approves, and from the class from which he commanded Timothy to withdraw himself. The apostle’s teaching was, that servants should count their masters worthy of all honor, and do service to believing masters, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. Certainly the modern abolitionist teaches otherwise than Paul taught, and if he cannot be convinced of his error, the only Scriptural remedy is to withdraw from such.

"Another view of the case, which we think important, is this:— When the General Assembly was formed, a large majority, if not all the Churches and Presbyteries out of which it was formed, were in slaveholding states. The attempt to make slaveholding a bar to communion or to fair ministerial standing now, is changing the constitution of our church, and the original terms of communion. This we cannot permit. Therefore, the Synod solemnly affirm that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church have no right to declare that relation sinful, which Christ and his apostles teach to be' consistent with the most unquestionable piety; and that any act of the General Assembly which would impeach the Christian character of any man because he is a slaveholder, would h>e a palpable violation of the just principles on which the union of our church was founded, as well as a daring usurpation of authority, never granted by the Lord Jesus. Lest the sentiments just expressed should be misunderstood, Synod would add that the likelihood of the necessity of any geographical division through the operation of this fanatacism, is not so great as it was some time ago. Yet, on this subject, be the danger small or great, a vigilance corresponding to the exigencies of the times is our manifest duty.

“In the next place, we would observe that certain errors have been lately exhibited, which we think furnish just ground of alarm to the church. We will not undertake to say how much of this error may consist in unusual phraseology, nor how far it may arise from incorrect theological views. The mysticism of words has often been sufficient to raise separatory walls between brethren. Yet whether the error consist principally in words or things, it is not to our churches a matter of indifference. Words are understood to stand for things, and the erroneous phraseology of a writer or speaker is calculated to lead his, readers or hearers wrong, and if generally adopted must subvert the faith of the purest churches. The points of error which we think the most dangerous to us, relate to original sin, regeneration, justification by the righteousness of Christ, and the ability of the creature. The doctrine of the Presbyterian Church touching original sin has always been, that our first parents, by their first act of disobedience, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties of soul and body; and they being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all descending from them by ordinary generation; and that from this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. "We deeply regret to see a phraseology used on this subject which is calculated to subvert the doctrine of our confession of faith, and, as we believe, of the Sacred Scriptures. Such as, original sin is no sin, but a mere tendency to sin, which in itself is not sinful; the posterity of Adam are in no sense guilty of, or liable for, his first sin; and that men are born innocent and without any moral character, &c. Whatever explanations may be given of such language by those who use it, we cannot but view it as calculated to introduce ruinous error into our church, if used by Presbyterian ministers. ,

“On the subject of regeneration, Synod must testify against all modes of expression which imply that regeneration consists in a change of the governing purpose by the creature, or in a holy act, or series of acts of the creature, and not in the mighty working of the exceeding greatness of the divine power in new creating the soul, and enabling it to put forth holy exercises — or that regeneration is in any proper sense the work of any creature but of God only.

“We are very much, grieved by observing a tendency in many modern writings to introduce something like the Unitarian doctrine of justification; a doctrine which supposes that the death of our Saviour made no proper satisfaction to the claims of the divine law, and that the justice of heaven did not require such satisfaction to be made; but that God was always placable, and willing to justify the sinner by a mere act of sovereign pardon as soon as the sinner would turn to him with penitence and submission. We consider this doctrine as one of the most insidious and dangerous errors which has. ever corrupted the Church of Christ. It sometimes assumes the plausible, but deceitful phraseology that Christ has made our atonement; has purchased our redemption, and that we are saved through his merits; while it denies, and is intended to deny the imputation of our Saviour’s righteousness as the vicarious propitiation for our sins.

“The ability of the sinner is sometimes rashly and erroneously exhibited, as if he were able to convert himself, and make himself a new heart independently of the sovereign, regenerating and converting grace of God. This doctrine, when carried out, goes to the subversion of our whole creed, and as we believe, to the subversion of the whole system of the gospel. Yet on this point we feel called on to say that there is on the other side an error which leads to an extreme equally dangerous and subversive of the Christian faith. We mean the error of those who assert that the sinner has no power of any kind for the performance of duty. This error strips the sinner of his moral agency and accountableness, and introduces the heresy of either Antinomianism or Fatalism. The true doctrine of our confession, and as we believe of the Scriptures, keeps continually in view the moral agency of man — the contingency of second causes — the use of means, and the utter inexcusableness of the creature; whilst at the same time it places all our dependence for salvation, on the sovereign power and grace of God, in the regeneration and justification of the sinner. Therefore, whilst Synod do constantly affirm that by the fall the human understanding has been greatly darkened, the faculties of the soul greatly impaired, and through the depravity of the heart the human will is entirely deprived of freedom to that which is good, and is free only to that which is evil, and that continually ; yet they do assert that they cannot approve of any language which in its fair interpretation deprives man of his moral agency — denying that his enmity is voluntary, or teaching that it is in any wise excusable.

“Respecting the question, what class of organizations we shall employ for carrying on the great enterprizes of the church in the day in which we live, Synod would state that in the education of young men for the ministry, and in the work of domestic missions, our Presbyteries are now happily united with the Boards of the General Assembly. In the work of foreign missions we are in connection with the Synod of North Carolina, most pleasantly united in the Central Board. All these organizations are ecclesiastical and Presbyterian. In the work of supplying the world with Bibles, evangelical books and tracts, and in some other branches of benevolence, our churches have long co-operated with the national societies instituted for these several objects. Towards these, and every other voluntary association in our country, which has for its object the spread of pure and undefiled religion, the Synod entertains no other than friendly sentiments. The Lord bless them all, and make them all blessings. Synod cannot, however, refrain from expressing their deep conviction that it would be wrong for the more exclusive friends of either mode of organization to refuse to any respectable portion of our Church, facilities which they desire for conducting the foreign missionary enterprize ; it being always distinctly understood that such a^ organization as they desire, should confine its efforts to the bounds of those churches or ecclesiastical bodies which desired cooperation with them; and equally wrong for the friends of either of the particular organizations in any wise to cripple the operations of the other by unkind interferences.

“In the foregoing sentiments we are unanimous. And now we solemnly call on all our members, and the friends of Zion within our bounds, in maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace, to beware of a liberality which in any wise disregards the distinction between truth and error — to cultivate the spirit of fraternal kindness and confidence — to watch against the spirit of angry controversy— to pray for the peace of Jerusalem — to hold fast the form of sound words — to obey the truth and follow holiness, without-which no man shall see the Lord.”

George A. Baxter, D. D.
Wm. Hill, D. D.,
S. B. Wilson,


Wm. S. Plumer,
James M. Brown.

A Convention Called.

In January, 1837, the Committee of Correspondence, after conferring verbally and by letter with brethren in different parts of the Church, sent forth a call, saying—u That the real friends of the doctrines and constitution of our Church are now satisfied that the present state of things ought not longer to continue; and that the time has come when effectual measures must be taken for putting an end to those contentions which have for years agitated our Church.” The committee then recommended — “That Presbyteries friendly to the doctrines and institutions of our Church instruct their Commissioners to the next General Assembly to meet in Philadelphia on the second Thursday of May ensuing, together with such delegates as may be appointed by minorities of Presbyteries, in order fully and freely to compare views, and to unite upon such constitutional measures of remedying exciting evils as it may be judged expedient to submit to the consideration of the Assembly.”

The Virginia Presbyteries determine to go into Convention.

The ministers in Virginia contemplated the appointed Convention, and the succeeding Assembly of 1837, with the anxiety of men caring for the interests of their Lord’s kingdom. It seemed to many, if not all of them, that then and there would be the arena of the final inevitable conflict. They appeared to dread the coming contest more than any other portion of the Church. Baxter, who since the death of Rice and Speece, had no peer in the Synod in theological influence or metaphysical talent, trembled at the crisis. Hill, not accustomed to tremble at any danger or conflict, was all anxiety. Personal friends, and cheerful co-actors in all matters hitherto concerning the Virginia Synod — standing shoulder to shoulder in all conflicts that in the remotest degree endangered her integrity or her honor—all alive to her present position and duty— their sympathies were running in different directions at the present crisis. Agreeing on the principles of the Synod’s paper they had prepared — agreeing on the subject of revivals and ministerial requirements— they began to diverge on the question, What course shall the Virginia ministers now pursue ? The parties agitating the Assembly were so equally divided in numbers, talents, wealth and intelligence, that the Southern vote, hitherto pledged on neither side, would give the desired and decisive majority in the Assembly. Baxter’s sympathies were with the Old school, while he disliked much that he read and heard of their spirit and doings ; Hill sympathized with the New, while he disapproved much that came to his knowledge. But neither Baxter nor Hill wished the Virginia Synod to follow in the wake of either of the dominant parties; both were resolved on some third course yet to be found out.

Baxter, among the bravest of men, trembled for the ark of God. Separation from those he had counted brethren, entangled by their circumstances, or willingly bound to the party he most disapproved, was a strange work, to which he turned his thoughts with sorrow. Hill contemplated separation from other brethren with equal dissatisfaction. The associates in sympathy went with these elder brethren in trembling and prayerfulness. The spring of ’37 had come before Baxter had decided upon his course. Hill was decided from the issuing of the call for a Convention. Late in the winter, a student of Theology at the Seminary asked Dr. Baxter what he, thought of two articles in the Presbyterian, giving the reason for a Convention. He had not read them, and could not answer. The question aroused his mind; he read; he pondered; he decided that the most prudent course for the Virginia brethren, and in fact for all the South, was to be represented in the Convention. His reasons satisfied the brethren of West Hanover; and at the spring meeting he was appointed delegate to the Convention and to the Assembly. This example was followed by the other Presbyteries, and delegates were appointed by all. This was thought to be the best way of uniting the Southern church in her future course.

Until the action of the Assembly of 1836, Dr. Baxter had contended that the expressions used by the New School in setting forth their theological opinions, were capable of a construction harmonizing with the confession as understood in Virginia, and ought, according to their repeated demand, to be so interpreted. The resolutions in the case of Mr. Barnes, caused him to abandon that ground; and he was prepared to go with the Old School in their Theology, excepting that he feared there might be a leaning in some brethren to Antinomian tenets. Hill was not effected by the decisions of that Assembly, and felt confident that the Old School were on the high road to Antinomianism.

While all were anticipating some division, or revolutionary movement to put an end to the difficulties in the church, it is n<3t probable any one thought of a division in the manner it actually took place, or of the division of Virginia Synod in any manner. The great mass of Virginia, it was supposed, would go together. A few, perhaps, "might find themselves a peculiar little secession.” Some were saying, “If Rice were alive we should all go together; his sweet spirit, with the clearness and strength of Baxter, would pilot us through these difficulties by the blessing of God.” The Virginia delegation felt the delicacy of their situation. The peace of the Synod, and of the church at large, the progress of truth, freedom of conscience, were all at stake. How should they maintain them? They hoped, by going into Convention, to agree with the brethren from other parts of the church, upon some decisive movement, that might commend itself to all as the best the condition of the Church permitted.

Return to our Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus