Willison’s Testimony: Prefatory Statement by the Transcriber

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the glory of God, for the same with regard to the glory of God, because of their affinity. For when assembly 1737 was informed that severals had taken offence, as if the assembly 1736 had adopted some of Mr. Campbell's offensive expressions on the head of Self-love, they vindicated this church from that charge, by making an act, declaring that they do stedfastly adhere to the doctrine expressed in our standards on that head, particularly in the answers to that question in our Shorter and Larger Catechisms, What is the chief end of man?

In the year 1735 there was an essay made by an unknown hand to alter our Shorter Catechism, which was printed at London under the title of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism revised, and rendered fitter for general use. The reviser casts it into such a mould, as to make it agree with Arian, So­cinian, Popish, and Arminian schemes of doctrine. As soon as it was publicly known in Scotland, the commission took it under their consideration, as the synod of Lothian had done before them, and past an act condemning it, and gave warning about it to all the presbyteries in this church, that they might be on their guard against the spreading and infec­tion thereof. And would to God that our assem­blies had in like manner given plain and faithful warning to all the corners and members of this church against Professor Simson and Professor Campbell's errors, and others which have been vented and spread in this church, and shewn to them their inconsistency with the Word Of God, and our Confession of Faith and Catechisms!—May God in his infinite mercy revive our zeal for all the truths therein contained, and against all sorts of error opposite thereto!

After all, it is to be regretted that the national
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church was not duly humbled by all these awful rebukes for her manifold defections and particu­larly for disregarding Christ's flock in settlements; neither did she amend her ways and do­ings, and turn to the Lord: wherefore we find the hand of the Lord stretched out against her still, and a new sharp trial carved out for her from an airth [probably “direction”] that none could have expected.—One Cap­tain Porteous, that had been condemned to die for several murders, having obtained a reprieve by the interest of some great men, the mob rose up not­withstanding, and executed him at Edinburgh the 7th of September 1736. The king and parlia­ment resented this affront so highly, that they framed a strange and extraordinary act for discover­ing the actors: and because some of the church's enemies suggested, without all ground, that the Scots clergy, at least a sett of them, encouraged the people in such mobbish actions, they appointed all the ministers of Scotland to read the said act in time of divine service in their churches every first sabbath in the month for a whole year, beginning in August 1737: and the penalty for the first negIect of reading it was, that they shall be declared in­capable of sitting or voting in any church judicatory; and this was to be executed against them by the civil judges in Scotland. The most part of ministers in many synods and presbyteries, though they scrupled not to condemn the outrageous in­sult of the mob as murder, yet they had not freedom to read the said act, because they judged the penalty foresaid to be properly a church censure, seeing by it ministers would be divested of the pow­er of church government and discipline, which is gi­ven them by the Lord Jesus Christ the Head of the church, and is essential to their office as preaching
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or dispensing the sacrament. Now, for the civil magistrate to assume the power of the keys, or of inflicting church censures, which Christ hath put in the hands of his own officers, they judged a ma­nifest incroachment upon Christ's Headship over his church, and contrary to the word of God and the Confession of Faith they had subscribed, chap. 30, par. 1, 2. and chap. 23. 3. And for ministers to become the magistrate's heralds, to proclaim this law on the Lord's day, in such a solemn man­ner, would be an homologating [to approve or confirm officially] of this incroach­ment, and a consenting to this Erastian power of the magistrate. Likewise they judged, to approve or concur with a law so prejudicial to the doctrine and discipline of this church, as established by law civil and ecclesiastical, would be to give up with fundamental securities, and act contrary to the so­lemn engagements ministers come under to main­tain the doctrine and discipline of this church, and do nothing prejudicial thereto.—Besides, they did not think it agreeable to the office of these, who were ambassadors of the gospel of peace, to be­come heralds or executors of this or any sanguin­ary law; especially when they apprehended there were several things in it inconsistent with justice and equity, besides the Erastian Penalty afore­mentioned. These and other arguments, set in a clear light in several pamphlets published at that time, determined us to join with these who bore testimony against the reading of the foresaid act, and to run the hazard of all its penalties. And we wish the light of all the ministers of Scotland had been the same with ours in this matter, which would have prevented much division and stumbling that different practices have occasioned.

But yet we must do justice to these of a different

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light, so far as to own, that there were several pious and conscientious ministers who

read this act, because of the quite different view they had of it from these who refused it;

and seeing, by the tenor of their lives and actions, it appears they have acted uprightly

and honestly in other matters, we are in charity bound to think they acted sincerely in

this also. Their reasons for reading were; A sinful penalty in the act, should not hinder

their reading those parts of the act which might be lawful; and they judged they were

bound to read some parts of it, to warn their people of the danger of harboring or

succoring the rioters.—And they did not look on the penalty scrupled at as any church

censure, or Erastian incroachment upon Christ's Headship; and, as they judged, no

more was meant by it, but that the non-readers should forfeit the magistrate’s protection

in sitting in church courts; and that the magistrate, without assuming the power of the

keys, might, by his civil power as magistrate, exclude or render ministers incapable of

sitting in church-courts, by confining or banishing them. And they sincerely declare, that, if they had thought their reading of that act had in the least wronged the Headship

of the King of Zion, they would rather have suffered the loss of their stipends, or any

thing else. Now, charity obligeth us to believe pious men to be ingenuous in such


But, alas! notwithstanding of all these shaking dispensations, the church was not brought to a right sense of her sins and defections; and therefore the Lord’s controversy with her was not at an end: for we find the assembly 1738 continuing in former steps, and giving new offence to many in the church, by another decision in a process of
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error. The magistrates and town‑council of Edinburgh having chosen Mr. William Wishart a min­ister at London to be Principal of their college, and having got a call to him also to be one of the ministers of the city, the presbytery of Edinburgh refused to concur with the said caIl, and charged him with venting several erroneous propositions in two of his printed sermons with respect to the power and office of the magistrate in religious mat­ters, the liberty of Christian subjects, the subscri­bing of Confessions, the education of children, the influence of arguments taken from the awe of fu­ture rewards and punishments, his excessive charity to Heathens and others who reject the gospel offers and institutions, and the sinful and corrupt state of all men from their birth, &c. This affair being brought by appeals to the general assembly, and Mr. Wishart having made his explications, and given in a subscribed declaration of his adhering to the Confession of Faith, and the particular articles of it which his propositions seemed to op­pose, and also of his disclaiming all errors what­somever (whether charged upon him in the presbytery’s articles or not) that are contrary to the Confession of Faith, or any article of it; the as­sembly thereupon assoilzied [absolved] Mr. Wishart from the process against him, and also they sustained his call to, be one of the ministers of Edinburgh, and appointed the presbytery to admit him as such.

Here we cannot but testify against such soft proceedings, whether in the case of Professor Campell, Dr. Wishart, or others processed for error; seeing we judge it far from being sufficient to terminate a process for error, or to vindicate per­sons accused of it that they explain their words into a sound and orthodox sense, though perhaps

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contrary to the obvious meaning of them, according to the plain and ordinary acceptation of words; or that they profess their adherence to our Confes­sion Of Faith, and its articles, which their tenets are thought to contradict. For a heretic, when in hazard of censure, may make a shift to put an or­thodox sense upon his words, if that will save him, though it should be quite contrary to the common sense and meaning of them; and he may declare his owning the words of our Confession of Faith, and yet affix a sense and meaning to them directly opposite to the known sentiments and doctrine of this church: so that it is plain, such a loose super­ficial way of managing a process for error, is not an effectual way to suppress it. Wherefore we think it further necessary for that end, that these who are processed for venting error or unsound proposi­tions, should particularly and directly renounce the erroneous tenets and principles charged upon them, upon account of their words, and the unsound sense which they naturally convey; and that they be at least rebuked for departing from the form of sound words, contained in the word of God, and our standards, which are framed agreeable there­unto. We see it is God's express command concerning such men, Tit. I. 13. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. Sharp rebukes preserve soundness, but easy abso­lutions encourage error. No sooner is Dr. Wish­art assoilzied, but he falls a recommending and prefacing books of bad character, such as Dr. Whitchcot's sermons, that savour of Socinianism, as the reverend Mr. Bisset of Aberdeen makes ap­pear in a letter he hath lately published. Ah! how low must the case of this poor church be, when the head of the most frequented college in Scodand
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recommends such books impune [not yet punished] for college‑students and preachers to form upon!

These and other proceedings of our assemblies, were very, gracious to many worthy ministers and others in this church; and the four succeeding brethren before mentioned, with other four, viz. Masters Nairn, R. Erskine, Mair, and Thomson, who afterwards joined them, took occasion from such actings to carry their secession and separation to very great heights, by licensing preachers, invading parishes, and preaching up separation every where; not sparing their best friends, nor these who dissented from the evils of the time, and took all regular methods to, testify against them; but charging the whole ministry with very black things. They also framed an Act and Testimony of many sheets, with very much of church authority in it, which they required all their followers to adhere to. Though we own there were many good things in it, yet there were also many mistakes in it, and misrepresentation of facts, very harsh and unsuit­able expressions, and also bitter reflections against their brethren, and even our worthy forefathers, &c. These things being laid before the assembly, they appointed the ministers of the presbyteries and synods where the said brethren reside to be at all pains by conference, and other gentle means of persuasion to reclaim them; and to report their diligence to the commission, whom they impowered, if they should see cause, to take all proper steps to sist [stay] the said brethren before the assembly 1739.—Accordingly these eight brethren were li­beIled and cited to the said assembly, who all compeared [appeared in court] before them, in the capacity of a constitute judicatory; and, instead of answering to their libel, they by their moderator read an act of their court,

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condemning the judicatories of the national church as not being lawful courts of Christ, and declining all their authority and jurisdiction over them.—Upon which they withdrew, and attended the assembly no more. Whereupon the assembly past an act concerning them, declaring, That for their declinature, [declining] contempt, and schismatical courses contrary to their vows, and for the many groundless and calumnious reflections which they have cast on the church and her judicatories, they deserve deposition: but that they resolved to forbear them another year, to give them further time to bethink themselves and return to their duty; and they appointed them to be cited to the next assembly 1740.

Being cited accordingly, and not comparing the ass. 1740 proceeded to depose the whole eight brethren. But there having been debates about wording the sentence, and different senses put on it, we must look to the words themselves, which are, They depose them from the office of the holy ministry, prohibiting them to exercise the same within this church. And we must say, we are sorry to see a sentence of this sort so ambiguous.—If these words, Within this church, be connected with the word Depose, as well as with the word Prohibit, they mean no more but that they depose them from being ministers of this church; and many who voted it say they meant no more: so that, in this sense, the sentence is only a loosing of their relation from the national church; which the brethren themselves had done in effect, by their secession from her, by their renouncing all her authority and jurisdiction, and refusing all communion with any of her ministers.—But, on the other hand, if the words, Within this Church, be

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not connected with the word Depose, then the assembly meant to depose them simpliciter from the office of the ministry itself: and in this sense many members understood the sentence; and therefore a good many voted against it, and dissented from it. For though they did not approve of their wild divisive practices, yet they had not the freedom to unminister them, seeing they looked upon them as pious orthodox Presbyterian ministers, who had been useful in the church, and might still be useful in preaching Christ to lost perishing sinners. And, if the sentence be taken up in this…,[unlegible word] we join with those who testified against it; in regard we think the world cannot easily spare any of these ministers who are upright and zealous in preaching a crucified Jesus to fallen men, especially at a time when Deism and dry moral discourses are like to thrust out true Christianity.—Neither do we think it was time for the church to proceed to censure the brethren, till once they had done all they could to remove the evils and redress the grievances which were the grounds of their separation, and thereby had made them inexcusable in their schism; which, alas! Is far from being done. And as for the brethren’s licensing of preachers, which is one article of their libel, the assembly and commission might prevent that, if they pleased to observe our good rules, and particularly the 14th act of ass. 1736 against intrusions; seeing it is manifest, that, by every new intrusion and forced settlement which they make, they give encouragement to the brethren to erect a new tent, and license a new preacher; and, till such time as they shall cease from the one, they cannot well expect the brethren will cease from the other.—And, with respect to several other parts and articles of their
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libel, we think them too general, and no ways so particular, nor duly laid, as ought to have been in a process of this kind; and some of the most ma­terial things charged against the brethren are left out. But as we cannot justify the assembly in their conduct, so neither can we vindicate the brethren in theirs. And seeing, we proposed in this performance to give a fail and impartial testimony a­gainst the defections and evils of the time, whether upon one side or another, we shall briefly mention some of our seceding brethren's defections and strayings from the good old paths; which they have been led into, partly by their own precipitancy and misguided zeal, and partly by the head­strong humours of their followers: Such as,

1mo, Their unprecedented secession which they have made from their mother‑church, and the la­mentable schism they have begun and carried on with so much heat and uncharitableness, when they were under no necessity of going into any sinful terms of communion, and when they were joined with a body of faithful ministers who witnessed a­gainst the evils complained of, is well as they.—Our histories assure us, that such a schismatical course is contrary to what was the approven judgment and practice of our reforming ancestors for above an hundred years after our reformation from Popery, though sometimes they had greater provocation to it than our seceding brethren had.

2do, They both seceded, and constituted them­selves into a presbytery for the exercise of disci­pline and government through the whole national church, without ever consulting with their brethren, and fathers in it, whom they then owned to be a numerous body of faithful ministers: though they
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could not but foresee that the said body of ministers, with their flocks, would be much affected, nay distressed, shaken, perplexed, and rent, by such singular and extraordinary steps as they were ta­king.

3tio, Their irreverend and disrespectful carriage towards their mother church, to whom they had solemnly vowed submission; as appears in their Declinature, wherein they disown all her autho­rity and jurisdiction over them, and pronounce ju­dicially a sentence of their newly erected presby­tery against the general assembly, and all the other judicatories of the church, Finding and Declaring that they are not lawful courts of Christ; which sentence they presumed formally to intimate in face of the general assembly by their moderator, before many witnesses, May 17th 1739. They ought to have remembered, that the laws both of God and man do highly resent children's beating, cursing, or maltreating their mother, even when she is somewhat severe and out of her duty to them; and that it is necessary that zeal should be attended with meekness, courteousness, and hum­bleness of mind. Surely such a declinature, and such a sentence as theirs, would seem to import no less than the unchurching the whole church, and unministering her whole ministry, faithful body and all, as if they were all given up to some dread­ful apostacy or fundamental errors. Now, we are pretty sure there are few judicious orthodox div­ines in the world that will adventure to unchurch the church of Scotland, or declare her no church of Christ, for all the faults she hath. They have owned others as the churches of Christ, who have been as corrupt as she, if not more. Nay, the glo­rious Head of the church, the best judge, hath

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owned some no less corrupt, as golden candlesticks, walked in them, and held communion with them; such as the church of Corinth, some of the church­es of Asia, Galatia, and other places. And is it thank‑worthy in any of the members to outrun the Head, or to be more forward to unchurch his churches, or to unminister his ministers, than he himself inclines to be?

4to, We cannot justify the brethren in refusing to return to assist these whom they owned to be a body of faithful ministers, to promote a work of reformation; when by a surprising providence they had got the upper‑hand in the assembly 1734, and were doing all they could to remove the evils they complained of, and had got the door opened for them, and the act 1732 repealed, which was the great occasion of their protesting and seceding; and were most willing to do every thing else in their power to satisfy them and all the friends of reformation. But after they had continued for two or three years to struggle even above their strength, and thereby had got many good things done, still hoping their brethren would return to their assistance; they were grievously discouraged when they saw them still bent upon their begun schism, so as to set at nought all they had been doing, and misconstruct their most honest designs; yea, they were at length so disheartened by their measures, that many of them gave over travelling, and attending the assemblies, who thereupon, alas! soon returned to their old bias. So that it is manifest the brethren's wilfulness in their dividing way, put a stop to a begun national reformation, which, if they had favoured and struck in with, might have been advanced very far through the blessing of God, and many dismal consequences of their schism prevented.

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5 to, We must disapprove the brethren in seceding not only from the church, but also from their old Christian temper and disposition, and from that royal law of love and charity which they once preached up: this appears in their excluding from, the room they once had in their charity and communion, all their old friends and acquaintances, though never so sound and pious, or willing to spend or be spent for Christ and souls, if they have not light to secede and join with them. Whatever esteem of them they had before, they must now no longer employ them, hear, them, nor preach for them. Now, why should they treat the body of faithful ministers, they once took sweet counsel with, as if they were gross apostates, when it is notour they continue the very same men they were before, when the brethren sat with them in judicatories? They still witness and contend for reformation principles, as well as they; they give testimony against licensing or ordaining corrupt men, and against all errors and intrusions; against countenancing patronages, and accepting presentations; against all incroachments made upon the rights of the church and Christian people, and upon the Headship of Christ over the church, against the preaching up a sort of Heathen morality, and the neglect of the true preaching of Christ and gospel holiness, &c.—Now, what must be the reason for the brethren’s separating and departing from their old friends, as if they were become Papists or Mahometans? Is it a good reason, because they continue to witness against the evils of the time in the judicatories as they did before, and not in conjunction with the eight seceders? Why must it now become such a deadly sin for worthy men to go with Joseph and Nicodemus to backsliding
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judicatories to plead with their mother, to testify against corruptions, to do all they can to hold out English prelacy and ceremonies, and maintain the national establishment of presbytery, and a sound Confession of Faith, and to strive to do all the good in their power, while waiting for better times, when God will open the eyes of men to see the evil of their ways! Now, when honest men think these ends may be better answered by going to judicatories than by joining a few seceders, ought not their brethren to forbear them, and allow them the same place in their charity and communion they had before! 6tio, We cannot approve of their marking so narrowly the failings, mistakes, and wrong steps of their sincere godly brethren, as they do; and instead of covering and forgiving their weaknes­ses (as Christ enjoins) aggravating and magnify­ing them so, as to make every mistake a dangerous error and defection; and not only doing this in private conversation, but going to the pulpit, and proclaiming them at times of greatest con­course, such as sacrament occasions, which should be feasts of love and charity among Christians, and not engines of strife and debate. Such an unchari­table course we judge the ready way to mar the use­fulness of many of Christ’s faithful servants in his vineyard, tending both to break their ministry, and break their hearts at once; to scatter their poor flocks, and do great harm to many precious souls.

7mo, Likewise we must witness against their exciting and stirring up poor people plainly and di­rectly to leave their godly pastors, by whom many of them have been brought to Christ; and doing so at the very time while they are feeding and pro­fitting under their ministry; and for no other rea­son

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