Willison - Testimony 85: of Episcopal ministers continued in churches through the North; but they, joining with others in that rebellion, were soon afterwards turned out. The Lord was pleased again to pity us, and work a great deliverance for us: for though the Jacobite and Popish party rose of a sudden, and gathered together in great numbers, threatening to carry all before them, to cut off our sovereign king George and all the friends of the Protestant succession, attacked the king's forces, and killed many; yet the Lord soon brake all their measures, poured shame upon their attempt, and made many of them flee their native country: so that in a wonderful manner God delivered us from the bloody sword, and the cruel designs of Papists and Jacobites, and restored peace in all our borders, in the year 1716.
It might have been expected, that such astonishing mercies and deliverances would have produced humility and thankfulness to God, have led us to repentance and reformation, and have animated our zeal for God and his truths, and our activity to get the church's grievances redressed, when such a fit opportunity seemed to offer.—But, alas! we became unthankful to God, and soon for got his goodness; we turned secure and confident under king George's protection and favour, and began to lose that zeal for preserving the purity of doctrine and worship, for suppressing error and immorality, and for the advancement of religion and godliness, which former assemblies manifested. Now our old zealous suffering ministers were generally gone off the stage, and a woeful lukewarmeness and indifferency began to seize upon the following generation.
At this time there was a great noise of Mr. John Simson, Professor of Divinity at Glasgow, his
Willison - Testimony 86: venting and teaching Arminian doctrine and gross errors. The worthy Mr. James Webster, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, having conversed with him thereupon, was the first that complained of him: And he was therefore appointed to process him before the presbytery of Glasgow; though it seems hard that Mr. Webster should have been burthened with an affair which was the common cause of the church. But Mr. Webster's appeal, the libel he gave in against Mr. Simson, and Mr. Simson's answer thereto, came before the assembly 1716, who remitted the same to a committee to consider the whole process, and to make a full and distinct report to the next assembly. In Mr. Simson's answer to this libel, and his letters to Mr. Rowan, there were found several very dangerous errors, contrary to the word of God, and our Confession of Faith and Catechisms; such as,
That there is nothing to be admitted in religion, but what is consonant to reason.— That regard to our own happiness in the enjoyment of God ought to be our chief motive in serving him; and that our glorifying God is subordinate to it.—That the Heathen may know by the light of nature, that there is a remedy for sin provided; and if they would pray sincerely for the discovery of the way of salvation, God would grant it to them.—That if men would with diligence, sincerity and faith use the means for obtaining saving grace, God has promised to grant it: and that the using of the means in the foresaid manner is not above the reach of our natural powers.—That there was no proper covenant made with Adam for himself and his posterity; and that he was not our federal head.—That it is inconsistent with God's justice and goodness to create souls wanting original
Willison - Testimony 87: righteousness; and that the souls of infants since the fall are created pure and holy.—That it is probable there are more of mankind saved than damned; And it is more than probable that baptized infants, dying in infancy are all saved.—That there is no sinning in hell after the last ‘ judgment,' &c.
All which erroneous scheme of doctrine is fully refuted and exposed by the reverend Mr. John Flint and Mr. John M'Claren, both ministers of Edinburgh, in two different books, the one written in Latin, and the other in English, to which Mr. Simson never offered any reply.—Mr. Simson, when before the assembly and their committee, declared his adherence to our Confession of Faith, and studied to put senses upon his doctrine to make it seem to agree therewith, and made use of very subtile distinctions for that end: but such hath been the zeal sometimes of our assemblies against error and for purity of doctrine, that they would have had no great difficulty to have agreed that Mr. Simson, or any man that vented or taught such doctrine as above, was not fit to be continued a professor of divinity, to instruct and train up young men for the holy ministry.—But, when his process came to be finished by assembly 1717, there were so many members in it, who either had been his scholars, or were his relations, comrades or acquaintances, who stood up for saving him, that the assembly were brought to dismiss him with a very gentle censure, by their 9th act; wherein they only say,
He hath given offence, and hath vented some opinions not necessary to be taught in divinity, and that hath given more occasions to strife, than to the promoting of edification: That he hath used some expressions that bear and are used by adversaries in a bad and
Willison - Testimony 88: sound sense, though he doth disown that unsound sense. And, for answering more satisfyingly, (as he supposeth) the cavils and objections of adversaries, he hath
adopted some hypothesis different from what we commonly used among orthodox
divines, that are not evidently founded on Scripture, and tend to attribute too much to
natural reason, and the power of corrupt nature; which undue advancement of
reason and nature is always to the disparagement of revelation and efficacious free
grace. The general assembly, for the reasons above mentioned, prohibits and
discharges the said Mr. John Simson to use such expressions, or to teach, preach, or otherwise vent such opinions, propositions, or hypothesis as foresaid.
But, as a just rebuke upon the assembly for their lenity, Mr. Simson persisted in his unsound doctrine, contemned their sentence, and still went on in a course of error, till in a few years he is arraigned before the assembly for Arianism.
About this time there arose debates and great noise, as if some ministers were bringing in a new scheme of doctrine, because in their sermons they disused and censured several old approven words and phrases as too legal, and affected some new modes of speaking; and because they recommended to their people an old book called the Marrow of modern Divinity.—This bookwas laid before the assembly 1620,as containing gross Antimonian [Antinomian] errors; and several passages and propositions being excerpted from it by a committee, the assembly proceeded in a hurry to pass a condemnatory act against them all in cumulo; and, among the rest, they condemned as erroneous two propositions, viz. That believers are altogether set free from the law as a covenant of works;—And that they are set Willison - Testimony 89: free both from the commanding and condemning, power of the covenant of works. Which two are surly sound and orthodox propositions in themselves.—Likewise that same assembly, by another act, recommended to ministers to insist in preaching several doctrines, and among others,—the necessity of a holy life in order to the obtaining of everlasting happiness. This certainly was very ill worded, however sound their meaning was.
Although there were several stumbling and unjustifiable expressions in that book called the Marrow, &c. yet before the assembly had proceeded to pass their acts concerning them, it had been their wisdom, to have first remitted them (as in other cases) to the consideration of Presbyteries; which happy step would have prevented the oversight or mistakes of the assembly aforementioned, and consequently the Twelve brethrens' representation against the foresaid acts, given in to the assembly 1721, which was once likely to have landed in a schism. But it must be owned, that, when the assembly 1722 came to review and explain these hasty acts past in 1720, they did justice to truth, and declared their minds, concerning, the acts and propositions quarrelled, in very sound and orthodox terms.—And particularly, as to the necessity of holiness for obtaining everlasting happiness, they declare the expression is meant of obtaining the enjoyment and possession, of everlasting happiness, but not of the right and title to it, which (they say) all justified persons have already attained, viz. through the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Thus peace and truth were preserved in the church at that time.
No doubt it had been much for the interest of truth, as well as the honour of our assemblies, that
Willison - Testimony 90: they had manifested as much zeal against other erroneous books which have been published or recommended before or since that time by other ministers of this church, and some of them far more dangerous than the Marrow, suchas Dr. Whitchcot’s sermons, &c. Oh that our ancient and trite zeal for truth and purity, and against all kind of error and corruption, were again happily revived in the land!—But, alas! how little ground have we in an ordinary way to expect any national reviving or reformation in the church and land, while the flood gates of error and corruption are still kept wide open by the laws for the Toleration and Patronages?
In consequence of applications to the king by the church, some amendments were made upon these laws by the parliament in 1719; As, 1mo, They discharged any person to preach or pray in any Episcopal meeting house in Scotland, that did not pray for king George, and take the abjuration oath, under the pain of six months imprisonment, and having the meeting house shut up. This act, had it been executed, would have put a stop to many of the erroneous Jacobite preachers; but not being executed against them, they still went on in disseminating many popish errors through the land.
2do, The parliament enacted, That presentations given by patrons to vacant churches shall be effect, if the person presented do not accept or declare his willingness to accept of the presentation given him.—By which act the parliament put it (as it were) in the church's power to ease herself of the great grievance of patronage; which was ground of joy to many: for, at that time, it was generally thought that this limitation was equivalent to plain repealing of the patronage act, and that no
Willison - Testimony 91: Presbyterian would ever expressly declare his accepting of a presentation, or go so far to approve or comply with patronage, which Presbyterians had always declared heavy yoke and burden on the church of God. And accordingly there was no man that presumed to take, accept or make use of a presentation to a church for several years after this act was past; and so the church was easy, and continued to settle vacant churches upon the call of congregations, without any molestation from patrons.
During this lucid interval, the church seemed to turn secure, as if she feared no danger from the acceptance of presentations; and therefore was at no pains to shut or bar the door against such acceptances. Had this been done, the church was effectually delivered by the foresaid favourable act from the yoke of patronage. Now was the proper juncture for our assemblies to have made a new declaration, in corroboration of what former assemblies had done, concerning the woful corruption and evil consequences of patronage; and to have warned all the members of this church of the evil of encouraging or promoting the same, and particularly all ministers and preachers of the sin and danger of complying with this corruption, by accepting of presentations; especially seeing there was no law requiring it as necessary, but, by the late act of parliament, an open door was left for their entering into churches in a gospel way, if they pleased to chuse and accept of it. No doubt, if things had been set in such clear light by our general assemblies, the authority of the church would have restrained these woful acceptances.—But, alas! while the church slept, the enemy was busy sowing his tares, and prompting some to
Willison - Testimony 92: devise subtile conditional acceptances, wherein they might disapprove of patronages, and declare for Presbyterian principles with respect to the people's rights, and yet, in the mean time, take such hold of the stipend presented to, that another could not make a legal title to it. When this was complained of to superior judicatories, some leading men, alas! were found to patronize these accepters, till at length they proceeded to the most open and barefaced acceptances. For these practices indeed some preachers were censured and silenced, but they were reponed [replaced] by superior courts; whereby at length acceptances went on without controul. So that, by such defections, the yoke of patronage is faster wreathed upon the church than ever, and her condition under it more lamentable than in any former period: for informer times all honest men groaned under patronage as a burden; and though they were presented by patrons to churches, yet they neither said nor wrote any thing in favour of the patron's deed, but silently submitted the presbyteries proceeding to their settlement, when they had parishes concurring in it: but, alas! By such active written acceptances as now in use, the whole church shall in process of time be involved in approving of patronages, in such away as was never done by the church of Scotland since the reformation.
Wherefore we judge it the duty of all the lovers of truth and purity in the church of God, to bear open testimony against the yoke of patronage, and the acceptance of presentations, as we herebv desire to do, especially seeing they have been productive of such dreadful evils in this church of late years.
It is well known that the church of Scotland hath
Willison - Testimony 93: ever since her reformation remonstrated against patronages, and asserts in her 2nd book of Discipline, chap. 12. That patronages have flowed from the pope, and the corruption of the canon law; and the intruding of persons this way into churches, hath no ground in the word of God, but is contrary thereto, &c.—Likewise the parliament 1649, in their act abolishing patronage, do say, It is an evil and bondage under which the Lord's people and ministers have long groaned; and that it is a custom popish, brought into the church in times of ignorance and superstition; and that it is contrary to the 2nd book of Discipline, &c.—Also the assemblies 1712 and 1715 give plain testimonies against patronages to the same purpose, and assert, That they lay a foundation for Simoniacal pactions, and many other evils. To these testimonies we do adhere, and likewise shall add some further reasons against patronages;
1mo, Patronages are neither agreeable to the rules of God's word, nor to the apostolical practice: seeing it is evident from the word, that it was only the church herself, with her officers, that exercised the power of nominating and electing ministers and officers to the church, according to the authority derived to them from Christ their Head and Founder, Acts i. 15—vi. 2—viii. 14.—xiii. 3.—xiv. 23.—xvi. 9—1 John iv. 1—2 John 10. So that a patron's right of nominating the officers of the church, is nothing but a manifest usurpation over the church of God.
2do, Patronage is also contrary to the practice of the primitive and purest ages of the church, and was not known in the church until true religion and Christianity began to decline, and then it came in gradually with other Popish corruptions and
Willison - Testimony 94: abuses. We find Cyprian, Athanasius, the apostolical constitutions, with many ancient councils and fathers, declaring in the plainest terms for the free liberty and power of the church to chuse her own pastors, without any extrinsic influence whatsomever [whatsoever].
3tio, As it is disagreeable to Scripture and antiquity, so it is contrary to reason, and to the interest and safety of the church, that the power of chusing her pastors should at anytime be lodged in the hands of heretics and profane men, as frequently the right of patronage is, being conveyed to them with their earthly inheritances. Can there be any thing more unreasonable and absurd than that the power of chusing officers to the church, should fall into the hands of the declared enemies of the church! or that this power, which is a spiritual and ecclesiastical privilege, should be conveyed, disponed [given to another], sold, or bought with money, like other civil rights or heritages, and so be lodged frequently with infidels and the worst of men.
4to, For patrons to impose ministers upon Christian congregations, is a plain incroachment upon the natural rights of mankind, and upon the laws of free societies; as much as it would be for them to impose physicians and lawyers upon societies, to take care of their bodies or estates. The churches of Christ are as free societies as any in the world, having their liberties from Christ to chuse their own pastors; and ought not to be brought in bondage to any in this matter.
5to, It is cruel imposition to oblige societies of men, who duly value their immortal souls, and would place them under proper spiritual guides, to intrust the edification, comfort, and eternal concerns of these precious souls, to the care of
Willison - Testimony 95: patrons; many, whereof are indifferent about the concerns of their own souls, being negligent, erroneous or profane; and so are not like to be much concerned to chuse proper pastors to take inspection of the souls of others. How can serious Christians be easy who it be that chuse their pastors, or these who know that patrons cannot secure them against the bad consequences of a wrong choice, nor be responsible for their souls at the great day.
Lastly, Patronage by long experience has been found to be an open door for a corrupt ministry to enter into the church; and this is sadly exemplified in these churches where this corruption doth reign without controul.
Upon all which accounts, we judge it our duty to hear testimony against the usurpation of patronage, as most sinful in itself, and injurious to the church of God; and to pray that God may open the eyes of all patrons, that they may be convinced
and repent of it, and cease from in oppressing Christ's church any more.
And as we bear testimony against patrons and their usurpation, so we judge ourselves bound to testify against all these who encourage and voluntarily comply with this Sinful usurpation, and particularly by accepting or declaring their willingness to accept of presentations from patrons, which, alas! is now become the common practice; and, being so common and general, both preachers andpeople are like to lose all sense of the evil of it.—But that these acceptances are sinful, and provoking to a holy God, is evident from these considerations:
1mo, If a patron be guilty of a sinful usurpation over the church of God, in spoiling her of the right
Willison - Testimony 96: she hath from Christ to chuse her own officers (as certainly he is) then the accepter of a presentation doth become partner with the patron in his sin, by homologating [approving of] his usurped power, and strengthning him in it. Now, the scripture expressly forbids us to be partakers of other mens' sins
2do, As the law now stands, the accepter is more guilty of robbing the church of her right than the patron is: for the legislature have been so tender of the church by their act 1719,as to put it absolutely in the power of ministers and preachers to accept or reject the usurpation of patronage as they please; so that a patron can give no trouble to the church, if he be not encouraged and assisted in it by an accepter. Hispresentation would be but like a dead serpent, altogether lifeless and harmless to the church, if an accepter did not come and inspire it with life, and put a sting in it. Though patronage be a grievous usurpation and burden on the church, yet it is now so limited and tied up in Scotland by law, that the church would not feel the burden of it, if it were not pulled down upon her by accepting presentees; so that now the accepters are properly the oppressors of the church of Christ. If Christ condemns the Pharisees for binding heavy burdens, grievous to be borne, and laying them upon other mens' shoulders; how condemnable must accepters of presentations be, who bind such a grievous burden as patronage on the shoulders of Christ's church?
3tio, The minister or preacher, who accepts of a presentation, doth not only bring sin upon himself, by oppressing the church, and spoiling her of her just right; but also takes the ready way to encourage and harden a patron in his guilt and sinful usurpation, and to obstruct his conviction, repentance
Willison - Testimony 97: and reformation: for he will readily think that his conscience needs not be more strait‑laced than theirs, who should inform his. Wherefore we earnestly wish and pray, that God would bring accepters, with their advisers and supporters, calmly to consider what a sinful hand they have in ensnaring patrons in a corrupt course and in hardening them in their usurpation over the church of God.
4to, This way of accepting presentations doth open a door to many sad evils, such as Simoniacal pactions and intrigues, unchristian contentions and divisions in judicatories, oppressive concussions in parishes, vexatious prosecutions and appeals, and many scandalous intrusions into churches, to the great discredit of religion, and reproach of the ministerial character: hereby congregations are robbed of their just rights to call their own ministers, and very often Christ's flock is scattered and broken in pieces, the godly are grieved, and the wicked hardened: hereby ordinances come to be neglected, the Lord’s day profaned, ignorance and vice encouraged, and church-discipline weakened. Yea, this pernicious practice has given occasion to many violent settlements, and to a wofull schism in the church, to the deposing of several worthy ministers, and to the discouragement of many pious students and preachers from serving the church: so that our accepters have need to consider how they will answer for all these direful consequences of their practice, and whether the commonness of it will excuse the sinfulness of it; O that we could look to God, who only can open their
5to, Accepters of presentations, act contrary to the known principles of Presbyterians, and to their
Willison - Testimony 98: own engagements; and so are chargeable with sad defection and breach of faith. Our second book of Discipline, which is sworn to in our national covenant, declares patronages to be contrary to the word of God, chap. 12. And it was the general opinion of this church in the year 1719, that accepting of presentations was inconsistent with Presbyterian principles, and with the rights and rules of this church, which all ministers and preachers oblige themselves to maintain; upon which account, none adventured to meddle with them for a good many years thereafter. In our opinion, they act contrary to their engagements which they come under by the assembly’s formula 1711; wherein they subscribe and promise, that they will never directly or indirectly endeavour the prejudice or subversion of the discipline and government of this church, but that they will to the utmost of their power maintain and support the same. Now, it was still reckoned a branch of our discipline and government, for parishes to have the liberty of free elections, and for Presbyteries to have access to free moderations in the calling of ministers. And it is visible to all, that accepters of presentations do stop and hinder this free liberty and access, contrary to their engagements by the formula, and also by the national covenant.
6to, Seeing it is notour [well known] that the design of accepting, presentations is to secure the stipend to the presentee, so as another cannot have a title to it; it is plain that the accepter doth hereby invert the order, which Christ hath appointed in his church, viz.—That a minister’s right to maintenance should be consequential to his ordination to the ministry: whereas, by the method he takes, he would make a minister’s ordination to the ministry consequential