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They also referred it to their commission to appoint a national fast, which had been long neglected, that all ranks might mourn for the prevailing evils and defections of the church and land; which they did immediately after the rising of the assembly. This ass. 1734 was a singularly faithful and reforming assembly, who did very much in a short
time, against great opposition, to rectify what was wrong, and put matters upon a better footing.—They gave remarkable checks to violent settlements, and relief to several parishes oppressed by them; for at this assembly methods were concerted to get
sealing ordinances to these persons who submitted not to them, from other ministers they chused to apply to. As this assembly turned out one minister violently settled, so they were ready to have cast out others, if complaints had been regularly tabled before them. Their time of sitting did not allow them to consider and provide remedies for
every thing amiss, and particularly for that wrong act of ass. 1733, concerning the presbytery of Dunfermline and their behaviour toward the minister that was forcibly settled at Kinross, wherein the said assembly threaten high censures against these who refuse to own him as minister of Kinross, or who admit of any of that parish to sealing ordinances without his consent. This was plainly oppression, and a very high strain of church authority, to settle ministers contrary to the rules of the word and of the church, and then oblige presbyteries to receive them, and people to submit to them. But the assembly 1734 gave a seasonable check to such oppressive courses; and for the people of Kinross, it was afterward referred to the synod of Fife to do what was proper for their relief, who thereupon allowed them the benefit of church‑privileges
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wherever they should think fit to ask them. And letters were written to presbyteries in other places, to indulge people in such circumstances in the like manner.
Thus did the faithful body of ministers (of whom Mr. Ebenezer Erskine did speak) use their utmost strenuous endeavours in the assembly 1734, and in the meetings of their commission, and in after assemblies, to get the door opened, stumbling blocks removed, and the way paved for the return of their four brethren to communion with them as before. Yea, they got ministers sent up year after year to London, to solicit the king and parliament for relief from patronages. And when honest ministers were in this manner travelling, sweating, labouring and struggling, even above their strength, to get things that were wrong, reformed and rectified; it was extremely afflicting to them, that the four brethren, with whom they had formerly taken sweet counsel, would by no means return to their assistance, though invited and pressed to it; but, instead of that, would be still disparaging their actings, and misconstructing their most sincere intentions. Notwithstanding of this discouragement, they continued struggling, and doing all they were able, to promote reformation in the assembly 1735 and assembly 1736: still hoping the four brethren would bethink themselves, and cease from their dividing course. And though that honest body of ministers could not get all done which they designed, yet they got several good things carried; such as an act for better regulating the commission, and limiting their powers; an act against intrusion of ministers, and declaring it to be the principle of this church, That none should be intruded into any parish contrary
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to the will of the congregation. How happy were it if this act were observed, and the foresaid principle maintained and adhered unto! Some things also were done at this time for the relief of those parishes that had been intruded upon; and an excellent overture was agreed upon, with respect to evangelical preaching, which was transmitted to presbyteries, and their consent to it was obtained; so that after long dependence it was got enacted by assembly 1736, May 21st, act 7th, in which
they recommend to ministers and preachers to warn their hearers against any thing that tends to Atheism, Deism, Arianism, Socinianism, Arminianism, Bourignianism, Popery, Superstition, Antinomianism, or any other errors: And that they insist in their sermons upon our sinful and lost estate by nature, the necessity of supernatural grace, and of faith in the righteousness of Christ, without which the best works cannot please God: And that they make it the great scope of their sermons to lead sinners from a covenant of works to a covenant of grace for life and salvation and from sin and self to precious Christ our Surety and Saviour.—And as they are to press the practice of all moral duties, so also to shew the nature and excellency of gospel holiness, without which no man can see the Lord: and, in order to attain it, they are to shew men the corruption and depravity of their nature by the fall, their natural impotence for, and aversion to, what is spiritually good; and to lead them to the true and only source of all grace and holiness, viz. Union with Christ by the holy Spirit's working faith in us, and renewing us more and more after the image of God: and that they must count all their best performances
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and attainments but loss and dung in point of justification before God, and to make it their it great desire only to be found in Christ their Surety, clothed in his righteousness, which is infinitely perfect and law‑biding; and to make gospel subjects their main theme and study, &c. And they recommend to all professors of divinity, to use their best endeavours to have the students under their care well acquainted with the true method of preaching the gospel as directed by this act; and appoint presbyteries at their privy censures to enquire concerning the observation of this act.
—This is a short abstract of that excellennt act, which godly ministers had been intent about for many years past, in order to give some check to the legal way of preaching, and the loose moral discourses of several preachers, to the neglect of the true preaching of Christ and him crucified, introduced by many of the younger clergy.—However long this act had been delayed, yet it was most seasonably past in 1736, when a little before there had been a great noise of Deism spreading among the students of divinity at Edinburgh; and one of them, Mr. William Nimmo, had delivered a discourse in the divinity‑hall, March 1735, to the prejudice of the Christian revelation; for which he was extruded by the masters, and excommunicated by the presbytery of Edinburgh.
But seeing there is no great reason to fear that the foresaid excellent act concerning preaching is but little noticed and observed by many, and that there is in this church and land very much of a legal or moral way of preaching, exclusive of Christ and to the neglect of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity; and seeing the church of God, and the souls of men, to be in the greatest danger
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from this airth: we judge it our duty to give plain and open testimony against this sort of preaching, and to declare for the true gospel way of preaching Christ and him crucified, which ought to be the great study of every gospel minister, as it was of the apostle Paul, I Cor. ii. 2.
We grant that morality, or obedience to the moral law, is an excellent thing, and absolutely necessary to be studied by every true Christian, seeing God requires it, and without morality and true holiness no man can see the Lord; but then it must be preached, otherwise by a gospel‑minister than by a moral philosopher: Why? It must flow from gospel‑principles, be performed in a gospel‑manner, and be pressed mainly, by gospel motives and arguments. But it must be sad indeed, when there is almost as little of Christ or an evangelical strain to be found in the sermons of Christian preachers, as in the discourses of Seneca, Plato, Socrates, or other Heathen moralists.
This Christless way of preaching morality is an inlet to Deism and Infidelity: for, when men are accustomed to hear moral sermons with little of Christ in them, they are apt to think there is but little difference between them and the discourses of moral Heathens; and therefore they may be good enough, and win to heaven by their morality, without Christ or his righteousness.—O how natural it is for men to go about to establish a righteousness of their own, with a view to be saved by it, and to neglect that new righteousness which the eternal wisdom of God hath established as alone sufficient for it! And therefore they need often to be called, after their utmost lengths in moral attainments (which are but poor and wretched at best) to renounce them all, and go to the imputed
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righteousness of Christ, to wit, the obedience of his holy life, and his sufferings unto death, for justification and salvation.
Morality is a desirable thing, when kept in its due place; but, when allowed to
possess the place of Christ's righteousness, imputed to us, it is a soul‑ruining thing, and the greatest hindrance of the soul's coming to Christ, and of its entering into heaven. God will have us come entirely off from the old bottom of a covenant of works, and from resting upon any thing done by us, or wrought in us for acceptance with God; and look only for attaining to it by believing on him whom God hath sent, and resting upon his righteousness only: nothing of ours must be added to it, otherwise we mar it. Though faith be required of us as the mean or instrument whereby we receive and apply Christ and his righteousness, and also true repentance and sincere obedience are required as evidences and fruits of our faith; yet neither faith, repentance or obedience, nor all of them together, are any part of our justifying righteousness in the sight of God, nor are they the foundation of our acceptance, or of our title to eternal life: Christ must be all our righteousness, or nothing. So that none must think to be saved partly by his own obedience, and partly by Christ's in order to make up his defects; but we must be saved wholly by the complete morality and obedience of Christ imputed to us. Our proud natures must be humbled and changed, and must be brought to submit to accept of an entire new clothing, instead of our own righteousness; for the glory of God will not allow the least place to this in our justification, he will have all boasting excluded for ever.
Quest. “Seeing morality and the duties of the
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moral law are to be preached and pressed, in what manner then must we do it?"
Ans. If we would do it in an evangelical strain, and with success, we must 1mo, Press duty as the natural and necessary fruit of faith in a crucified Christ, and love to him, who suffered thus to satisfy for our sins, and to purchase to us the image of God and holiness which we had lost: and therefore let us represent the love mid sufferings of Christ in a lively manner to our people, in order to leave them to abhor all known sin, and to love Christ that thus loved us, and live to him that died for us; and pray earnestly for the Spirit of regeneration and sanctification which he had purchased for us: and this is the most effectual way to promote morality and holiness among them.—2do We must set before the eyes of our people the attractive charms and beauties of a crucified Jesus in all his offices, that they may get a view of his glory, as the Chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, and as the Pearl of great Price; that so the Desire of all nations may come to be the desire of their hearts, and they may count all things but dung and loss in comparison of a crucified Christ. And as we must recommend to them to close with him as their Priest and sacrifice to atone for their sins, so also to subject themselves to him as the lovely King of Zion, whose government is easy, his service pleasant, his commandments not grievous, and his rewards to obedient subjects unspeakably great. The whole precepts of the moral law are the laws of this King; but, to all his willing subjects, he makes his yoke easy and his burden light.—3tio, We must enforce duties from a principle of love, and of gratitude to Christ for his love. It should not be so much authority, as grateful love to Christ, that
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should constrain us to live to his glory, to study holiness and constant obedience to his commands; and this we should do, as we should approve ourselves to be Christ's discipIes, and as we would enjoy communion with him here, and be accepted of him at his appearance to judgment.—4tio, We should direct our people to perform duties by the grace and strength of the Lord Jesus Christ our Head, Surety and Treasurer. We must be united to him by faith, as our Head of influences, and derive all our life and strength for duty out of his fulness. Alas! this direction is little minded by many of our moral preachers, whose discourses generally seem to proceed upon the supposition of the strength of our natural powers, as if we had no natural impotence or enmity to what is good, nor been at all disabled by the fall.—5tio, We must persuade men to leave sin, and perform duty, by the terrors of Christ's coming to judgment, and the wrath of the Lamb, that will then be intolerable to all who slight his grace and disobey his laws.—3tio, When we press duties, let us put our hearers in mind, that all our duties and good works have no worth or merit before God; they are not our justifying righteousness, nor can they come in any way to share in this matter with Christ’s righteousness; they are only accepted of God through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ: and that, after we have done all, we must say, we are but unprofitable servants; and our main desire is to be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, which at best is but filthy rags, and can not be any skreen or covert to us before God.—7mo, Let us instruct our people, that through Christianity doth enforce morality by the strongest arguments, yet unregenerate morality will
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never please God. Till the heart be renewed, and the soul grafted in Christ the true Vine, the fruit will be always sour and unpleasant to God. A moral man, though he profess himself a Christian, is not really so, unless he be united to Christ, and look for daily influences from him to perform duties, and to the righteousness of Christ to cover him and all his duties; and be still saying, Though I could perform never so many duties, I should be lost and undone forever, if it were not for the righteousness and mediation of Christ my Surety and Saviour, in whom is all my hope and trust.—For all true holiness and acceptable morality is the proper result of the soul's union with the holy Jesus our living Head, who is the first and immediate receptacle of the holy Spirit and of all sanctifying influences for the use of his members; and out of Christ's fulness we must by faith receive them for our sanctification.
Let us make every subject we insist on point to Christ. If we discourse upon the attributes of God, let us consider them as they shine forth in Christ and his glorious undertaking;—If upon the blessings and promises of the gospel, let us consider them as the purchase of Christ’s blood:—If upon the providence of God, let us mind that the administration is put in Christ's hands, and he is Head over all things for the church; If we exhort to repentance and mourning for sin, let us direct our hearers to look to him they have pierced;—If to prayer, let us direct them to look to Christ, by whom only they can have access and success in this duty.
O how happy were it both for us and our hearers, if we did thus reduce every thing to Christ, and make him the main subject of all our sermons.
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and if the scope of them all were to persuade sinners to come to Christ, and all that profess him to live by faith on him, and make daily use of him! To this glorious person did all the prophets of the Old Testament give witness, and much more should all the ministers of the New.
Now, this way of preaching is surely the most excellent and preferable to any other way; Why? 1mo, The preaching of Christ crucified is the mean which God hath appointed for gathering in elect sinners to himself, and to which he promises his blessing. Hence it is that Paul saith, God makes the preaching of the cross and of Christ crucified the Power of God to them that are called: and though natural men count this way of preaching foolishness, yet it pleases God by this way to save them that believe, 1 Cor. i. 18, 21, 24.
2do, It was by this way of preaching among the Corinthians that the apostle Paul had such wonderful success in bringing them to Christ, 1 Cor. ii. 2. it was when Peter preached a crucified Jesus and the peculiar doctrines of Christianity to the people, that the Holy Ghost fell on them, and converted multitudes of them; as Luke observes several times, Acts ii. 36, 37. Acts x. 40, 44. It was not when he was preaching morality that the Spirit descended and gave success to the word.—Also he observes, when these preachers from Cyprus preached the Lord Jesus to the people of Antioch, the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord, Acts xi. 20, 21. 3tio, It is the preaching of a crucified Christ, that God in his wisdom hath pitched upon as the way to reform men from their vices, and to bring in virtue, godliness and good order into nations,
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cities and congregations. The Heathen philosophers and wise men had, for some thousands of years, tried all means which the powers of nature or reason could afford, to bring men to God and virtue, but in vain; for they remained still ignorant of God, and run further away from him into all abominable impieties.—Likewise in many places there are several masters of reason and eloquence, who excel in a sort of rational and moral way of preaching, exclusive of Christ ; but what success have they in it for converting souls? Alas! their people still sink in vice and corruption; all their fine reasonings cannot change the perverse will of one sinner. They may, perhaps, entertain two or three, or a few of their audience, who have a taste of the beauties of fine reasoning; but the body of the congregation remain untouched and asleep, so that all they hear is lost to them. Surely the value and usefulness of things are to be reckoned from their capacity and fitness to answer the end they are designed for: now the end of preaching is to win souls to Christ, so that these sermons are the most excellent that serve this design most; and these, we see, are the sermons which are fullest of Christ.—Alas! Christless moral sermons bring few off from their vices to the practice of morality, and far fewer into Christ. Such a way of preaching is a longsome unsuccessful method to reclaim and reform the vicious: whereas the short and effectual way to reform sinners, and make them moral, is to preach Christ to them; if you bring them to Jesus, you turn them from all their sins, and make them moral at once, yea, inwardly holy, which is more. O then, let us preach Christ above all things!
4to, If we look through the world, we will find
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it is only these ministers who preach Christ most, who have most success: and that the life and spirit of true religion rises or falls among a people, according as a crucified Redeemer is faithfully preached among them or not. And these acquainted with church‑history observe, that when God is about to leave a people, and his glory to depart from his house, he usually gives them up to a lifeless and formal ministry, who neglect the preaching of Christ and the peculiar doctrines of the gospel, such as free justification by the righteousness of Christ, and inward regeneration by the Spirit of Christ; and do not inform their people that it is from a crucified Jesus the virtue must come for breaking the power of sin in the soul, and subduing it to God. No wonder our flocks look poor and lean, when we take no care to lead them into these green pastures of evangelical truths, but set before them the dry insipid stuff of a Heathenish morality, which can never feed them nor keep them in good liking! How can we expect assistance from Jesus Christ in our work, or the influences of his Spirit in preaching (upon which all our success depends) when we take no more notice of Christ in our sermons than the moral philosophers among the Heathens? Wo will be to this national church, if such a way of preaching shall prevail in it notwithstanding of the foresaid act of assembly, and a sound Confession of Faith, which all ministers subscribe to. God forbid that the church of Scotland become ever like the church of England in this respect, who subscribe to sound articles of doctrine, and never mind them more afterwards.
Likewise, as by the word of God ministers are bound to separate between the precious and the vile, the clean and the unclean, the sincere and the
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formalist; so, by the foresaid act.1736 concerning preaching, all ministers are appointed, in application of their sermons, to endeavour rightly to divide the word of truth, speaking distinctly to the various cases of their hearers, whether converted or unconverted, &c. Alas! it is to be feared, the making of this difference is too much neglected by many, both in dispensing the word and sacraments.
These and several other good things did the assembly 1736, but it is to be regretted they were not steady and uniform in their proceedings; for, while they discouraged and stopt some intrusions, they encouraged others: and they gave no small occasion of offence by their management in the affair of Professor Campbell at St. Andrews, who had vented several dangerous errors in his writings, such as his Oratio Academica, his Enquiry into the original of moral Virtue, his Discourse concerning enthusiasm, &c. wherein he asserts,
That men by their natural powers, without revelation, cannot find out the being of a God; That the law of nature is sufficient to guide rational minds to happiness; That self‑love, interest, or pleasure, is the sole principle and motive of all virtuous and religious actions; That Christ's disciples had no notion of his Divinity before his resurrection, and before that they expected nothing from him but a worldly kingdom; and, during the interval between his death and resurrection, they looked on him as an impostor."
Likewise, while speaking against Enthusiasts, he utters several things very disparaging and reproachful to the work of the holy Spirit upon the souls of the people of God. These errors were brought before the assembly 1735, who referred them to their commission; and they appointed a committee
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to consider them, and prepare their report to the next assembly. Mr. Campbell laboured to give in sound and orthodox explications of these his positions, which the committee brought before the assembly 1736, with their remark and censures upon them, and the recommendations they judged fit to be given him. The assembly, upon hearing Mr. Campbell at great length, were of opinion that the committee's examining and stating the matter as they had done, was sufficient to caution against the errors charged upon Mr. Campbell, without giving any judgment or formal sentence upon the committees report ; only they recommended to him not to use doubtful expressions or propositions, which may lead his hearers or readers into error. This issue of the process many in the assembly and out of it were highly dissatisfied with, judging that Mr. Campbell did justly deserve a sharp rebuke for the many incautious and unsound expressions he hath in his writings, however orthodox his explications might be: and with these; we do heartily join. Though the assembly gave no judgment upon Mr. Campbell's positions or explications, yet severals would charge the assembly with adopting one of his errors; because, when he explained his positions concerning Self love he declared he meant no more but that our delight in the honour and glory of God was the chief motive of all virtuous and religious actions. Now (say they) this Delight is the same with Self‑love or the desire of our own happiness, which is the error charged on him; yet the assembly dismissed him without quarrelling it. But this should be looked upon as a pure oversight in the assembly, through their not adverting to the import of the word DELIGHT, but taking delight in