Willison’s Testimony: Prefatory Statement by the Transcriber

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under it, as finding their rights safe, their consent always necessary, and no intrusions made upon them. This consent of the people, in settlements, hath been judged necessary by this church in all periods since the reformation.

Obj. These who favour intrusions object,

That, by act of ass., 1649, settlements might sometimes be made contrary to the inclinations of the ma­jority of the people, if their dissent arose from causeless prejudices; and consequently that min­isters might be settled against the mind of congregations, in case they had nothing to object a­gainst their life and doctrine.
Ans. We must certainly understand and explain the act 1649 by the known principles and practice of the church at that time, and by the 2nd book of Discipline, which the assembly 1649 and the whole church had several times sworn to in the national covenant. In that 2nd book our church doth three or four times declare for the consent of the congre­gation as necessary in settling of ministers, as also against intruding any man upon them contrary to their will; and doth affirm, that this order of settlement is according to the word of God, and the practice of the apostolical and primitive kirk. And that famous assembly 1638, which abolished Pre­lacy and restored Presbytery, did explain the na­tional covenant as binding us to maintain the 2nd book of discipline, December 8th. Likewise the assembly did, within ten days after, expressly re­new their declaration for the people's rights, by their act December 18th, viz. That no person be intruded in any office of the kirk contrary to the will of the congregation to which they are appointed.—­And that the Presbyterians of that period were of the same mind, appears from the 8th act of parliament
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1640, by which they restored to presbyteries the patronages of these parishes which the bishops had possessed, but with this salvo of the interest of the parishes, That they be settled upon the suit and calling of the congregations, according to the acts and practice of this church.—And from the assembly 1642 their act, August 3d, for making lists of probationers for patrons to chuse upon; they ap­pointed, that Presbyteries, with the consent of the most or best part of the congregation concerned, shall make up the list of six willing to accept.—And by the directory for the ordination of ministers, a­greed upon by the assembly at Westminster, and approven by the general assembly 1645, the candi­date is appointed to preach three several days, and to converse with the people among whom he is to serve, for the end that they may have trial of his gifts for their edification; and afterwards they were to signify their consent to the Presbytery as they found cause. From which it is evident, that church judicatories then allowed the people to judge of the suitableness of the candidate's gifts for their edification, and held their consent necessary to his ordination.—And that the assembly 1649 were of the same mind, is plain from their swear­ing to the 2nd book of discipline, which declares so strongly for the consent of congregations in settle­ments, which surely they would be careful not to contradict by their act. They indeed lodged the election in the hands of the session; but at the same time appointed them to use all possible ten­derness for obtaining harmony in the congregation, and to proceed to a new election in case the major part of the congregation dissented from their choice, if their dissent was not grounded on cause­less prejudices. Now these elders, who were the
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electors being the representatives of the people, and the most eminent in the parish for piety and know­ledge, would doubtless previously consult the inclinations of the better sort, particularly the communicants, who are properly the members of the congregation; and, if they found that the most knowing and religious part of the congregation was

for the settlement, they might reckon that the causeless prejudices of others, not complete members of the congregation, were to be less regarded. We are firmly persuaded the church in that period were far from reckoning it a causeless prejudice against a man, if the most religious or knowing part of a congregation declared their dissent from the session's choice, because they found the preacher's gifts unsuitable for their edification; no, in that case, the session would have been appointed to make a new election. The people then were not confined to objections only against the life and doctrine of the candidate, but allowed to dissent from and object against the election itself, and give what reasons or grounds for it they thought proper; and, if the session could not satisfy them after all pains taken, they proceeded to a new election. All

this appears from a known pamphlet, printed anno 1733, intituled, Account of the Method of electing a minister to the parish of Strathmiglo, in two in­stances in the years 1654 and 1655, in a letter to the minister there.—If it be asked, What is then to

be meant by causeless prejudices mentioned in the act 1649? Ans. Any groundless or trifling objection against a man, because of his mean extract, low stature, bodily infirmity or blemish; or be­cause of some groundless report, or the strictness of his walk, zeal for his principles, or the like: in which groundless prejudice the assembly might

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judge that ignorant and unreasonable people were not to be too much indulged; though at the same time they enjoin all possible tenderness in dealing with parishes to bring them to harmony, even then when a lesser part of the congregation dissent from the election without relevant objections.

But, lastly, Seeing this objection from act 1649 is commonly brought to countenance the intruding of men who force themselves in upon reclaiming pa­rishes, by accepting and holding fast by presentations; we take this occasion freely to own, that a congregation's offence against a man for evident to­kens of earthly mindedness, greed of filthy lucre, and unconcernedness for the success of the gospel, is not a causeless prejudice; as for instance, when there is a gospel door open for preachers to get access to parishes, for a man to despise that door, and chuse rather to enter by the door of a presen­tation and violence, and thereby endeavour to thrust himself in upon a congregation against their will, secure a title to their stipend so as no man else can have it, keep fast his hold against all persua­sions and intreaties, keep the people long without gospel ordinances, bind the heavy yoke of patron­age upon their neck, and hinder them from getting a minister whom they love and desire; now, when a man acts so directly against the interest of the gospel, the advantage of precious souls, and his own professed principles and engagements; and when a congregation dissents from his settlement upon these grounds; we cannot say their dissent is grounded upon causeless prejudices: nay, they are so well grounded, that the day hath been, when church judicatories would have stopt their mouths who would be guilty of such things.

Object. “Though it be wrong for preachers to
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take such methods, yet judicatories are under necessity by the law to settle them, or keep pa­rishes vacant.”—Ans. 1mo, Seeing intrusions into churches are contrary to Scripture, reason, and our professed principles, no laws or commands of men can oblige us to be accessary to them: for, seeing Christ commands us to do all for the edifi­cation of his flock, we must never act for its destruction, as intrusions manifestly are. Whenever human laws do clash with the Divine, it is indispu­tably better to obey God than man.

2do, There is no law yet in being, that obligeth us to intrude men into churches: for though there be an act past in 1712 for restoring patronages, yet it doth expressly reserve to the Presbytery and church judicatories the power of judging of the

Presentee’s qualifications and fitness for the charge to which he is presented. Now, the power of judging of a man’s qualifications must not be re­stricted to these which render him fit for the min­istry in general, but must be extended to qualifica­tions necessary to make him fit for being minister of the parish to which he is presented; because a man may be fit and qualified for one charge, that is not so for another. Now, if a Presbytery do find that a Presentee is incapable of answering the design of a gospel-minister to a parish, and is in no condition to instruct or edify their souls, by reason of his offending them, or their incurable aversion to hear him, or submit to his ministry; they may safely judge that such a man is not qualified nor fit to be settled in that parish, and therefore may set him aside. And if in case of an appeal, the as­sembly affirm the presbytery's sentence, the law is most express and clear, that the cause must take end as the assembly doth discern, according to act 7.
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parl. 1567, which act is confirmed by act 1. parl. 1581; and this act is again ratified by act 1. parl. 1592, which act is ratified by act 5. parl. 1690, and stands still in force, being not only ratified by the union, but also confirmed by queen Anne's law in 1712 for establishing patronages. And as the ge­neral assemblies of this church have been always before 1612 in Possession of the foresaid power, so well secured to them by law; so also, since that time their sentences concerning all presentations have been submitted to and held as final. From which it is evident, that judicatories are under no force by law to make intrusions or violent settle­ments. Why then should church‑men, who ought to be guardians of the church's liberties, go about to destroy them by violent proceedings? Is it not soon enough for church courts to take such de­structive courses, when the parliament makes new laws obliging them to it?

But, to return to the state of the church anno 1732: this was a very critical time to her, and most afflicting to many of her best friends, by reason of the stretching of church authority; the intrusions made upon parishes; the disregarding of remon­strances and petitions of a godly remnant both of ministers upon many parishes: and the refusing to record ministers’ dissents with their reasons against such deeds. These proceedings were grieving to the hearts of honest ministers, and provoked many to go to pulpits and testify a­gainst them, particularly at the opening of synods, and other occasions; and severals of them printed their sermons, as a testimony against these prevail­ing evils. Though this was very offensive to many of

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our leaders, and to the court chaplains (whose number was then increased) yet none was so much noticed as the reverend Mr. Ebenezer Erskine minister of Stirling, whose turn was to preach at the opening of the synod at Perth in October 1732. The synod judged him censurable, and appointed him to be rebuked for his sermon, because in it he had impugned the acts and proceedings of the as­sembly, and had used some strong expressions against the judicatories and ministers of this church, which they reckoned indecent. Upon which Mr. Erskine appealed to the assembly 1733, who affirm­ed the synod's sentence, and rebuked him at their bar. Whereupon Mr. Erskine, with three other ministers, gave in a paper protesting against the assembly's sentence, viz. Mr. Wilson at Perth, Mr. Moncrieff at Abernethy, and Mr. Fisher at Kinclaven; and they all protested for liberty to testify against the act of assembly 1732, or the like defections. This protestation the assembly 1733 could not bear with.

As it was very unwise in the synod to proceed a­gainst Mr. Erskine for his sermon in such a judicial manner, so it was in the assembly to resent the pro­testation as they did. Informer times such protesta­tions were not reckoned so criminal as now. Mr. Hunter minister protested against the assembly at Edinburgh 1586, for relaxing Mr. Patrick Adam­son from the sentence of excommunication without signs of repentance; and Mr. Andrew Melvill and Mr. Thomas Buchanan adhered to his protest, Mr. John Davidson minister at Prestonpans pro­tested against the assembly at Dundee 1598, for allowing ministers to vote in parliament in name of the kirk, where the king was present. Mr. James Melvill protested against the assembly their meeting

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at Holy rood house 1602, where the king was present. Mr. David Calderwood protested a­gainst assembly 1649, for enacting the directory for election of ministers. Yet none of all these were censured for their protestations: neither do the house of peers censure these who protest against their proceedings. Likewise, the Twelve brethren, who were rebuked by assembly 1720 for impugning the act of assembly 1720 against the Marrow, offered their protestations against the censure; as did Mr Gabriel Wilson against the admonition of assembly 1723: yet none of these were censured for their protestations. And doubt­less it had been greatly for the interest and peace of the church, that assembly 1733 had followed the example of their wise predecessors. But now their authority must be screwed up higher than at former times: wherefore the assembly, without hearing the four protesting ministers any further before them, did summarily proceed to appoint their commission in August thereafter to suspend them, if they did not retract their protestation, and show their sorrow for the same; and to proceed to a higher censure, if they disobeyed the said sen­tence.

Accordingly the commission in August did suspend all the four brethren for adhering to their foresaid protestation. And, upon their acting contrary to the suspension, the commission in No­vember determined to proceed presently to a higher censure against them, and would not delay it until March, though the assembly's act allowed it. This decision was carried only by Mr. Goudie the moderator his casting vote.—And it is to observed, the commission went on in this forward and hasty procedure against the four brethren,

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notwithstanding of the earnest applications and in­tercessions of many synods presbyteries, kirk ses­sions, magistrates and others through Scotland in their behalf, pleading that the commission might delay them, spare them, or deal tenderly with them. The sentence which the commission came to a­gainst the four protesting ministers was, to loose their relation from their respective parishes, and declare them no longer ministers of this church, and prohibit all ministers of this church to employ them. And they declared their charges vacant from the date of this sentence.

As the judicatories at this time seemed to act with much heat and severity, in order to support or screw up their authority; so we must own that the four brethren seemed to shew no little humour and stiffness in opposing their authority, and des­pising their sentences: for they would give no ear to their friends, who dealt with them to show some subjection to the judicatories as to their fathers and superiors; and though they were just now a­busing their church power, and unwarrantably pro­voking their children, yet some regard is to be shewn to their authority, even when so doing, as we to our natural parents, though correcting us in an arbitrary way; according to Heb. xii. 6.—As to Mr. Erskine, though he was contending for the truth, many of his friends wished that he had not used such asperity and tartness of expression about the ministers and judicatories of the church as he did; and many of the leading men in judicatories said, This was the only thing they quarreled in his sermon: but Mr. Erskine would make no ac­knowledgment or submission of any sort, though even Mr. Wilson and Mr. Moncrieff said in their reasons of dissent, that they do not pretend to justify

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his modes of expression in that sermon; and they grant that in several cases it is most proper to use soft and modest expressions in maintaining of truth.—We do not see that it would have been any loss to the truth the four brethren appeared for, that they had all shewed more respect to the supreme authority of the church in their conduct than they did; particularly, though they had forborn to protest, as they did in express words, against the sentence of the assembly as Unjust, and against and censure they should inflict on them as null and void of itself; and if, upon their being suspended, any minister or probationer should preach in their parishes, the same should be held as intrusion upon their charges. And as they protested, so they submitted not to the sentence for one day; though many worthy ministers have formerly submitted to unjust sentences of this sort, to shew their regard to the authority of lawful judicatories of a church, which they owned as a true church: and this is approven by the most orthodox and judicious divines of the Presbyterian persuasion. Again, the brethren had the more encouragement to have submitted for a time, that they had reason to expect the next assembly would take off the sentences, consider their complaints, and do them all manner of justice; and this they might have looked for, from the interposition of so many synods and presbyteries with the commission of their favours.—And though offended at them for their contemning the authority of the church, yet there was a great plurality in the assembly 1734 for restoring them to their charges and the communion of the church; and neither that nor any subsequent assembly did ever approve the commission who past the hard sentences against them.
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When the sentence of the commission in November 1733, loosing the relation of the four brethren from their charges was past; many protested against it, as did the four brethren themselves, who also appealed to the first free, faithful and reforming general assembly of the church of Scot­land. Had they sisted [stayed the proceedings] here, they had done well! but they went a great deal further, by making secession from the judicatories of this church, and in a short time after constituting themselves into a distinct judicatory for licensing preachers, and ordaining ministers, wherever they should find encouragement. At the same time they pro­tested they would still hold communion with all who were true Presbyterians, and groaned under, and wrestled against, the evils they had been complaining of. This was then their declared resolution, though, alas! they soon departed from it. At first they seemed to be determined to continue in ministerial communion with many worthy ministers they had been formerly intimate with, though

these had not freedom to secede as they had done, nor go all their lengths: and Mr. Erskine, in his answers to the synod, owned that there was still a body of faithful ministers in the church of Scotland, with whom he did not reckon himself worthy to be compared. Which body had the truths contended for heart, together with the peace of the church, as well the four brethren. And, seeing the case was such, the brethren ought in justice to have communicated counsels with that faithful body of ministers, who were willing to meet with them at the ensuing assembly, before they had taken two

such strong steps as their secession and constitution: which uncommon steps, they might easily see, tended greatly to affect that whole body, yea,
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even to divide and rend them asunder, together with the people who should adhere to them respec­tively, in case that faithful body should not have light to go into all the measures of the four bre­thren. Whatever thoughts the brethren might have about the union of the church in general, it might have been expected they would have shewed something of concern for the union of that faithful body of ministers, for whom they did then profess a great regard.—Moreover, since they had appeal­ed for redress to the first faithful general assembly they should have delayed any such extraordinary steps until the meeting of the next assembly then approaching, and so have kept the matter entire un­til the whole case was laid before them; which the brethren themselves should have been ready to do. For, considering how sensibly touched the whole church was with their case, and what preparations were making for the approaching assembly, the brethren could not be sure but it might prove the refor­ming assembly they had appealed unto. O what dreadful calamities to the church might have been prevented, had the four brethren continued praying, and deliberating upon the foresaid two steps until the meeting of the assembly in May 1734; and not have so precipitantly seceded from the national church, and constituted themselves into an Anti presbytery, by which means, alas! they became too much engag­ed in honour to persist in their separation, whate­ver steps the assembly should take to redress their grievances; and we know not if there was an as­sembly since the revolution, more willing to do it than the assembly 1734, had the brethren applied to them for it, as they were urged by many to do.

The whole church had been so much alarmed by the arbitrary proceedings of former years, and the

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present threatened confusions, that there came up to the assembly 1734 from all parts, and even the remotest, many pious and experienced ministers, with sincere intentions to have matters settled up­on a better footing if possible. And, upon trial, the plurality of the assembly was found to be upon their side, to the great joy of the friends of peace and truth. Now, it would have exceedingly strengthened their hands in their good designs to redress grievances and advance reformation, if the four brethren had tabled their complaints before them, and represented what they would have the assembly to do for to satisfy them; but this they declined to do, though they were all in the town at the time. But notwithstanding of this discour­agement from the brethren, and the mighty oppo­sition of great men, ruling elders, who had a strong party in the house to support them; the assembly, in the short time they had, did all that was in their power to satisfy the friends of reformation, and to put a stop to violent settlements and the prevailing evils of the time; and they were zealously inclined to have done much more, if their time and the situation of their affairs could have allowed. Parti­cularly, they renewed and strengthened the old acts of assembly, which were made to be barriers and fences of our constitutions against innovations such as these made by ass. 1639, ass. 1697, ass. 1700, and ass. 1705. And they rescinded the 7th act of ass. 1730, which hindered members to testi­fy against wrong deeds of judicatories, by record­ing their reasons of dissent; because the said act was not made according to the foresaid rules and barrier‑acts. And, upon the same account, they repealed the 8th act of ass. 1732, anent [regarding] the method of planting vancant churches; and because it gave
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too much countenance to violent settlements, and too much power to disaffected heritors, and was unfavourable to the liberties of the people. They re­versed the settlement of a minister made by the com­mission, at Auchtermuchty, against the will of the congregation, and of the Presbytery of the bounds; and by that decision they declared the commission's sentences reversible. Also they brought the com­mission under several new regulations, and dis­charged them to execute any settlements of church­es when the presbytery or synod of the bounds de­clined to do it. They impowered their commis­sion to address the king and parliament for relief from patronages; which they did, though in vain. Also they impowered the synod of Perth and Stir­Iing to restore the four ejected brethren to their charges and the communion of this church; Which they did very soon after the assembly, without re­quiring any acknowledgments from them. And, to facilitate their return, the assembly sincerely designed in act for removing their apprehensions, that, by the late sentences past against them, they were laid under greater restraints than before as to their ministerial freedom in testifying against acts and deeds of the church: wherefore, for the satisfaction of the four brethren, and all others, the assembly made an act, declaring, That due and regular ministerial freedom is still left entire to all ministers. They also appointed a com­mittee to draw up an overture for an act to give directions as to the right preaching of the gospel, and to restrain the legal preaching and moral harangues

of many not so agreeable thereto. This had been several times attempted in former years, but still dropt, till now that the assembly formed and referred the overture to their commission to ripen it

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