A BRIEF HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF SUNDRY THINGS IN THE DOCTRINES AND STATE OF THE CHRISTIAN, OR AS IT IS COMMONLY CALLED, THE NEWLIGHT CHURCH: CONTAINING THEIR TESTIMONY AGAINST SEVERAL DOCTRINES HELD IN THAT CHURCH, AND ITS DISORGANIZED STATE; TOGETHER WITH SOME REASONS WHY THOSE TWO BRETHREN PURPOSE TO SEEK FOR A MORE PURE AND ORDERLY CONNEXION
WE, whose names have been expressed, desire to make a few statements to the preachers and people of our connexion, and to Christians of every denomination, particularly in this Western country.
Because many, and contradictory rumours, for some months past, have been in circulation respecting our present standing, sentiments, and intentions: we wish to lay the true state of the case before the public.
We have, for some years past, been dissatisfied with many things in our connexion, and for more than one year been labouring to effect a reformation; but all attempts failing, at last concluded to seek relief from these grievances in another manner, or from some other quarter.
The evils in our church, which we find it impossible to cure, are, in our opinion, of such a nature, and of such magnitude, that a volume would be necessary even to state them in a clear point of light; and we hope this will, in some future day, be undertaken and completed. All we pretend at present is to give a very brief sketch of the most prominent things.
Among those evils we do not mean to enumerate the disappointments we have met with in finding, by several years' experience, that our church has not become such as we expected, either in its numbers, in the holiness of its members, or in the eminence and usefulness of its ministers. Our expectations were manifestly too high, and could not but be disappointed. We confidently thought that the Millennium was just at hand, and that a glorious church would soon be formed; we thought, also, that we had found the very plan for its formation and growth. In this we were wholly mistaken; and, under this mistake, laid a plan for the formation of a church, the most irregular of any which has fallen under our notice.
When we first existed as a church, we had the Presbyterial form of government. But Richard McNemar, that eccentric genius, who was then believed by most of us to possess a high degree of piety, power, and great light in religion, took it into his head that our existence in a formal body, as a Presbytery, was contrary to scripture - that our bond of union was a carnal bond - that we ought to be united by no bond but Christian love - and that this delegated body stood full in the way of Christ, and the progress of the revival; which revival would run like fire in dry stubble, if our Presbytery was out of the way.
With these enchanting views, and others as visionary and vain, he prepared a piece at home, and brought it to the last meeting of our Presbytery held at Caneridge, Bourbon County, Kentucky, June, 1804, entitled, "The Last Will and Testament of Springfield Presbytery." None of us had the least thought of such a thing when we came to that meeting; and when it was proposed, we had many objections against dissolving our Presbytery. But, after being together several days, those enthusiastic fancies so far gained the ascendency over our judgment, that we consented to subscribe the obnoxious instrument. In this we dissolved all formal connexion between the ministers, and all good order in the churches - resigned to private churches that, which, according to scripture, is the proper business of the ministry, viz., to examine, and judge of the qualifications of young men, and to send them out to the work of the ministry. And indeed, according to the tenor of that instrument, any one might start to preach whenever he pleased. This put it out of our power to do anything towards keeping the church pure from an ignorant, or corrupt ministry. And the consequences proved to be just what might have been expected. The Bible was now the only Confession of our Faith, without any statement of the manner in which we understood even its first principles; therefore no man could be tried, or judged as a heretic, who professed faith in the scriptures, however heterodox he might be in his sentiments.
Besides these, and many other pernicious things in that piece, its very form was burlesque, and the manner in which several passages of the holy scriptures were used, was even profane. It evidenced a high degree of fanaticism, and resembled more the production of maniacs than of ministers of the meek and lowly Jesus.
We were soon heartily ashamed of it, and have for several years past, longed for a fair opportunity of giving our public testimony against it. We now rejoice, that God has spared our lives to renounce it, and to declare to the world our decided view of its abominable nature, and pernicious tendency. Whatever good ideas may be in it, they are so interwoven with bad ones, as to make the whole a mischievous engine of disorganization, and distraction to all churches, or individuals, who receive it. We hope, if God spare our lives, that the public will see the contents of it more fully stated, and exposed to the just abhorrence of the people of God. At present we can only wait to bear this brief testimony against it: and we ardently wish that our renunciation could be made as public as that obnoxious instrument has become.
The consequences of thus breaking and dissolving all church order were what might have been foreseen. A number of weak and unsettled men, unskilled and unsound in doctrines, crowded into the ministry; impelled, some by their own pride, some by the importunity of mistaken friends, and others, no doubt by an honest zeal for the promotion of religion. Some of them appeared to labor with honesty, and were not without success; but others, most probably, did much more harm than good. We had felt alarmed for some years, and at length made attempts to adopt some better plan; but our attempts were made too late - the disease was past cure.
The way being also paved for every error, which might be started, we at length became so divided in doctrines, that considerable alarm arose on that subject. We shall notice some of the most important points of difference - show how far we partook of them - and our present views, with the attempts we have made for a reformation.
The doctrine, published among us, and adopted by many, which has excited the greatest noise and alarm, is that of the Atonement. The first of our connexion, as far as we know, who embraced the alarming ideas was Richard M'Nemar. [NOTE: For the sake of accuracy in this historical sketch I take the liberty, with consent of my companion in this publication, to state the following facts, chiefly concerning myself.
I believe I was the first of the preachers to whom Richard M'Nemar communicated the first principles of that System on Atonement which is contained in Stone's letters. His statement was plausible, suited to the times, and seemed to be agreeable to the spirit of //258// the gospel, and the glorious Revival. I thought it was true.
This took place in the first winter after separated from Synod. In the March following the Springfield Presbytery met at my house. Then Richard M'Nemar imparted his theory to the rest of the brethren. They all had considerable objections against the plan, at first; and, even when they returned to Kentucky, scarcely any of them appeared to have fully embraced it. But when I saw them in June, at Caneridge, they were generally established.
Although I had received the first principles of that System, I thought we ought to mature the subject well before we should preach anything in opposition to the common system, or print any thing on the subject. I was, therefore, not well pleased with the controversial strain of preaching used by some of my brethren. I thought it best to hold up the subjects to view just as I believed them, without showing wherein I differed from others. This method had the advantage of avoiding controversy, but it rendered my preaching on several subjects too indefinite, and exposed me to the charge of duplicity.
When the letters were printed, the printer sent a number of copies to me to sell for him. I was then engaged in open contest with the Shakers, and had neither time, nor composure of mind to examine that pamphlet with the care and attention which the importance of the doctrines, on which it treated, demanded. I soon perceived a flame of controversy arising which I feared would destroy the revival of religion.
I saw that many embraced the doctrine implicitly, and our young preachers followed Stone's tracks with such accuracy, that, take whatever text they would we generally heard little else but the first principles of the letters. I feared we would soon be as much involved in a new system, as any were in an old one; and determined, if possible, to avoid it, and preach no controversy except against the Shakers.
I soon perceived that the letters gave a wrong view of justification, and were entirely anti-scriptural on the Wrath of God. From time to time my objections increased; I thought I discovered that the publication had done us, and the cause of religion in general, abundance of mischief. These things I mentioned to several preachers and private members. Then I concluded to sell no more of the pamphlets. Accordingly I returned to the printer about one-half of those which he had sent to me.
For the term of two years past, or more, I have been fully decided that we ought to publish our renunciation of the letters, and the Last Will and Testament. With this in view, I undertook a close examination of the Letters on Atonement, the result of which was an unshaken confidence, produced by the force of scripture testimony, that all the peculiarities of that system were anti- scriptural and pernicious.
I mentioned my views to several individuals, both preachers and private members, and preached the doctrines as I then believed made sufficient trial for reformation among the preachers.
He communicated them to one and to another, until at length the preachers generally received the first principles of that system. This change began in March, and was completed in June, about the time when the Last Will and Testament was written; and in the winter following, Barton W. Stone wrote two letters to the Rev. Mathew Houston, on that subject, the substance of which he published the next spring.
That pamphlet, commonly known by the name of Stone's Letters, excited great alarm through the different religious denominations in the Western country, and caused whatever door of communion was open before to be shut against us. Although it was the work only of one of our number, yet it was considered as the sentiments of the whole.
It is true, that most of the preachers, who then belonged to the connexion, had admitted its leading principles; but in that pamphlet the author had attempted to handle so many important doctrines which had not lately been examined by most of us, probably very few if any would have then been willing to say that it contained their views, in a precise and definite manner. In a short time, however, we began to see that we differed from it on some very important points.
After trying the doctrines by scripture, for a few years, and having made experimental observations on their practical influence, we were fully convinced, that all the peculiarities of the system contained in those letters were wrong; and that the errors in that book were very injurious to the cause of Christ, and destructive to the souls of men.
After the closest examination, of which we were capable, we rested satisfied, that the terms commonly used by Divines on the doctrine of the Atonement, convey the ideas of the holy scriptures better than any others which we could substitute in their room, viz.:
ORTHODOX TERMS THAT STONE DEPARTED FROM
That the Father laid our iniquities on Christ, or charged him with our guilt so as to expose him to the punishment we deserved - that Christ thus bore the guilt, and punishment of our sins in his own body on the tree - was made a curse for us - endured the wrath of God due to our sins - became a propitiatory sacrifice for sin - through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, to purge our conscience from guilt - and that all this was done, that God might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.
When we became fully satisfied on this subject, our joy was great to find ourselves relieved from the painful difficulties, and perplexities, in which those ideas contained in the letters had involved us. But our sorrow was excited to think that we had ever, in any degree, imbibed such sentiments, and aided their propagation, and that so many friends, very dear to us, were yet entangled in the same net. We saw absolute necessity for a reform - we have made the attempt, and are sorry we are obliged to say, that in general, we have failed in obtaining the desirable object.
In connexion with the doctrine of Atonement, we again fully embraced that of Justification in the sight of God, by faith in the blood of Christ: or in other words, thought [NOTE: Through is evidently the word intended. Ed. ] the imputation of that everlasting righteousness which he brought in. As our design at present, is only to give a very succinct history of these things, we cannot lay before the public the scripture evidence which confirmed and settled our minds.
The doctrine of a covenant of works made with Adam, and broken by him, involving himself, and all his offspring in sin and ruin, we also saw was the doctrine of the Bible, proved by fact, and universal experience; and owned, in one way or another, by living Christians of every denomination.
After discovering so many things entirely wrong in the system that appeared to be prevalent in our church, and which we ourselves had in a greater or less degree embraced, we were necessarily led to re-examine every point on which we had in any respect changed our views; particularly the Divinity of Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity.
We knew, that for some time, we as a body were very much divided in opinion on these subjects. Some held a trinity of names and characters, though but one person; some viewed Christ as the first, and greatest creature, and that the Father dwelling in him was his divinity - this indwelling was explained by three terms, nominal, official and influential. Some, indeed, thought one thing, and some another; but, in general, differently from the commonly received doctrine among the orthodox.
We then endeavoured carefully to re-examine this doctrine, and the result has been, that we were obliged, by scripture testimony, to acknowledge, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are distinguished by personal properties - that each is represented as true and proper God; and yet, that they are so completely one as to be but one God. And though the term person cannot be used, and applied, on that high and mysterious subject, in the same sense as among men, yet, when guarded and qualified by a comparison of several passages of sacred record, we know of no other word or phrase that can better convey the true meaning of scripture on that subject. The bulk, therefore, of the new ideas, and new light, which had been flying through our connexion, we are obliged to acknowledge to be darkness instead of light; and calculated to confuse and mislead the minds of Christians instead of enlightening them.
Another subject, in which our minds had been much interested in past years, and on which we published some remarks in the Apology of S. Presbytery had also to come under re-examination; this was the doctrine of Divine Decrees. The result of our inquiries on that subject is about the following: That as all must and do confess the infinite perfection of the divine knowledge; that it extends to all things from everlasting to everlasting, and that God's foreknowledge is not such as that of a creature, even the greatest prophet, who has no part of the plan to lay, and can neither hinder nor forward the objects, or things foreseen: but is the foreknowledge of that God, who has all power in his hand; who doth according to his will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, nor say unto him, What dost thou? - Who declares the end from the beginning, and from ancient time the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure - whose view extends to the sparrows, and the hairs of our head.
Therefore, the events which are brought to pass by the agency of God, mediate or immediate, he intended, determined, or decreed to produce - and those brought to pass by wicked agents, he foresaw, and intended, determined, or decreed to permit, or suffer to take place, and to over-rule to the purposes of his own glory, determining that the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath he shall restrain.
Editor’s Note: The term “mediate’ means God uses intermediate means bring events to pass. The term “immediate” means God causes those events to pass directly, without any intermediate agent. This distinction is extremely important as Scottish Common Sense Realism denies the Biblical truth that the Holy Spirit can supernaturally change a person’s heart immediately...what we call regeneration or being “born of the Holy Spirit”.
Scottish Common Sense Realism teaches that the Holy Spirit must use the intermediate truth of Scripture to change someone’s heart until he reaches a “tipping point” of his understanding. Up to the advent of Scottish Common Sense Realism, no minister would limit God’s ability to influence people immediately. You may well ask why did Scottish Common Sense Realist limit God? Why did they contradict all the theologians before them, including Calvin and Luther? They did it for the same reason ministers in our day elevate the “decision for Christ” and deny the necessity of the radical change of character promised in supernatural regeneration…to make their gospel more palatable to modern man. Since 1620, when Francis Bacon published Novum Organum, ministers had gradually accepted a psychological view of salvation based on material causation.
The term “spiritual” gradually changed in meaning from “of or pertaining to the non-corporal realm” to “an unseen cause”. The “unseen cause” of the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit of Calvin and Luther was replaced by the unseen cause of rational acceptance of the truth of Scripture. Where Luther and Calvin attributed regeneration to the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit, the Scottish Common Sense Realists attributed a “change of heart” to material causation of ideas. The material causation of ideas fit the empirical truth system perfectly.
When John Witherspoon brought Scottish Common Sense Realism to the American colonies in 1768, supernatural regeneration was universally taught at Jonathan Edwards’ College of New Jersey. Witherspoon described with earnest yearning his desire to live long enough for psychology to explain why some people are changed and others remain unchanged. His pernicious theology was spread through hundreds of disciples, until in 1830, even Lyman Beecher had to admit that Scottish Common Sense Realism has replaced the Edwardian salvation scheme. END OF NOTE
Saying in the glory of his majesty, "Hitherto mayest thou come, and no farther, and here shall thy proud waves by stayed." Thus all the events, that have or shall yet come to pass, occupied a place in God's eternal counsel, just according to their nature - some determined to be produced by divine agency, mediate or immediate; and others to be permitted to come to pass through the agency of wicked men, or devils. We believe, and are confident, that God neither is, nor can be the author, or approver of sin - that all accountable beings are free agents - that their wills are free, and are not by any physical or absolute necessity of nature, determined to good or evil - that means, motives and second causes have their full and natural effect, and together with the ends produced, occupy their proper place in the divine counsel. Yet we profess not to be able, by our limited capacities, to fathom the depth of the divine knowledge and counsel, and are obliged to cry out with Paul, "O the depth, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"
The doctrine of fatalism, which teaches that every thing is brought into existence by absolute necessity; destroying //262// free agency, and the proper liberty of the will, with the use of means, and the influence of second causes; and thus making God the author of all the actions, good and bad, of men, angels, and devils, we abhor and detest.
We believe that God made man upright - that their fall into sin was their own deed, for which they were guilty, but God was clear - God sent his Son into the world to destroy the works of the devil - to redeem us from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for us - and in him there is redemption, even the forgiveness of sins, through faith in his blood. On this foundation the gospel stands, and is to be preached to every sinner without exception, wherever the message comes.
Those who embrace this gospel, do it according to their free agency, and with the full exercise of their free will; though they are convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment by the Spirit of God. And those who reject this gospel, act with the same free choice; although the God of this world hath blinded their minds lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine unto them; and the guilt of their wicked rejection, caused by their love of darkness rather than light, will lie upon their own heads. God will be clear when he speaks, and just when he adjudges them to hell, seeing there was nothing to prevent their reception of the Lord Jesus BUT THE WILFUL ENMITY OF THEIR HEARTS against God and his grace. But we would exceed the bounds of this small tract to enlarge farther on these great subjects. We barely touch these particulars, to show the state of our own minds on them, that those who wish to know may hear from ourselves and not depend on vague reports.
We proceed now to show the steps we have taken to obtain some kind of uniformity in our church on these divine subjects.
In past years we have held several meetings of preachers, and private members promiscuously assembled, which we called Conferences, but found in our disjointed situation, they were of no account. Because after our Conference was over each one, as if in a state of entire dissociation, acted as he pleased, however contrary to the conclusions of Conference.
Having met in Conference at Bethel, we proposed that the preachers should come to some formal union, so as to be responsible to each other - to be capable of doing business in a united capacity - of trying preachers - casting out the erroneous, or wicked, and clearing the innocent. After some time spent in conversation, a plan of union was agreed to, and the following instrument was drawn, and signed by all the ministers present, except one or two, according to their standing in the connexion, whether as ordained, licentiates, or exhorters.
"At a general meeting of ministers of the Christian church at Bethel, in the state of Kentucky, August 8th, 1810, the brethren taking into consideration their scattered local situation, their increasing numbers, and the difficulties arising in executing the duties of their office, agreed to unite themselves together formally, taking the word of God as their only rule and standard for doctrine, discipline and government, and promising subjection to each other in the Lord, have hereunto subscribed their names, according to their present standing in said connexion."
At that Conference there were a number of queries given in to the committee of arrangements, on almost all the above named doctrines, and several on church government, requesting the brethren in Conference to consider, and discuss these points. These made it evident to the Conference that the minds of the people were labouring on these subjects. The members were generally convinced that there existed great variety of opinions, both among ministers and people; and there was discoverable a great desire to spend some time in conversing on doctrines, to know how far we were agreed, or wherein we differed. But the time we had allowed ourselves to be together rendered it impracticable, either to discuss the subjects of the queries, or to converse on doctrines, that we might know each other's minds.
We therefore proposed, that a Committee should be appointed to write a piece for publication on those subjects, particularly on the points of doctrine, respecting which there was so much noise throughout the country; hoping that by giving our present and matured views on doctrine and church government, we might be able to remove from the public minds those strong prepossessions which existed against us, and so obtain some degree of communion with brethren and churches of other denominations, a thing for which we had ardently longed. Particular mention was made of the Last Will and Testament, and that the proposed publication should give a history how it came into existence - how we had been imposed on when we signed it; and then explicitly renounce it.
The proposal was agreed to, a committee consisting of five ministers was appointed to prepare the contemplated publication, and report to a general meeting of the ministers then appointed to meet at Mount Tabor, near Lexington, on the 2nd Monday of March, 1811. It appeared to be the general desire that at the proposed meeting we should have a long conversation on doctrines, so that we might fully know each other's minds, how far we agreed, and wherein we differed. For this express purpose we made the appointment to meet on the first day of the week after the Sabbath, and to appoint no communion, nor arrangements for that week, which would cause us to break up, until we should accomplish the design of our meeting.
We rejoiced then to see matters in a state which promised a fair opportunity of taking an impartial review of our past measures, and of the doctrines which were generally embraced. The five brethren appointed a committee were: R. Marshall, B.W. Stone, J. Thompson, D. Purviance, and H. Andrews. They appointed to meet about the last of September, on Madriver, in the state of Ohio, to converse together, and lay a plan for the proposed publication. Mr. Stone did not attend. The other four met, and appeared very cordial in their views, on all the subjects proposed, and particularly on the Atonement. After making some arrangements they parted and appointed to meet at Bethel, Kentucky, on the 26th of December, to compare what each might have written, and make further preparation for reporting to Conference.
All met, except Mr. Purviance, who was then a member of the Ohio Legislature. Mr. Stone said he had written none worth showing, hence there were no writings read at that meeting but by us. Mr. Stone requested, and took with him a piece written by one of us on the Atonement, with a view, as he said, to examine and weigh the arguments. Our next meeting was to be a few days before the meeting of Conference. But neither Mr. Stone nor Mr. Purviance were with us at that meeting. the other three met, and were very cordial on all the points on which they were to write; but saw that the committee would not be prepared to publish as soon as was expected, or wished.
On the day appointed for Conference, a very general collection of the preachers met at Mount Tabor, and after arranging matters the committee with leave of Conference, retired to compare their writings, and converse together, promising next morning to report the progress they had made in the business assigned them. As the subject of the Atonement had lain with the greatest weight on our minds, four of us had written on it. Mr. Stone had written in defence and illustration of the doctrine contained in his letters; and particularly directed against the arguments contained in the piece he had borrowed from one of us at our last meeting of committee. The other three of us had written on the opposite side of the question. Mr. Purviance had written none.
After reading our writings on that subjects, and a little on church government, and finding how far we differed, we concluded to report to Conference, that we could not do the business to which we were appointed, because we were entirely divided in our sentiments on the subjects we had read to one another; but that as individuals, we were willing to read what we had written, if they were willing to hear. We thought this might open the way for one thing, which was a principal design of the meeting: that was a free and open conversation on the doctrines of religion.
The report was made on Tuesday morning, and after considerable debate they consented to hear us read; this employed the remainder of that day, and on Wednesday morning, Mr. Purviance gave us his views on Atonement, verbally, as he had not written. He was decidedly in Mr. Stone's views. After reading our pieces, and hearing Mr. Purviance's view, some of us requested to have more conversation on the subject of Atonement, as it was a very important subject. But the general voice was against it, supposing they had heard enough, and declaring that the difference in sentiment need not break fellowship.
One of us informed Conference that he had written in connexion on all the subjects, and wished Conference to hear him read, but they would not admit him. Some little was read on church government; but no door was opened for conversation on any of the subjects, on which the committee had spent so much time. On the contrary, every attempt for a free and open conversation was opposed.
Thus, of all the long train of doctrines contained in the queries proposed to last Conference, only one was touched, and that only be the five members of committee. Thus, one principal and professed design of our meeting, viz., to converse freely on doctrines, and to know how far we agreed, and wherein we differed, was entirely lost. One of us inquired whether they would appoint another committee, as we had failed to do the business; or whether they would publish anything.
After they had conferred a considerable time on the subject, they resolved to appoint no committee, and to publish nothing, not so much as a small circular letter. The general voice was, that they could easily bear with each other, and go on in love and union, notwithstanding the difference in doctrine.
The instrument of union entered into at last Conference, was then taken into consideration. Two long letters were read, sent from churches at a distance, warning, and cautioning us against that measure, lest it should be a yoke of bondage on the necks of the ministers and churches. These members, who had not been present at the former meeting, were afraid of that instrument; and some whose names were to it appeared considerably uneasy, and wished to be clear. Finding it could not be a general thing, and only served to excite the jealousy of such as were afraid to adopt it, it was declared, by a very general, we may say universal voice, to be null and void. Thus, we quickly returned again to that disjointed, and disorganized state into which the Last Will and Testament had brought us; connected together by no tie, but a general profession of faith in the Bible, and of Christian love, which we professed to feel as strong for Christians of every denomination as for one another. So that in fact, we were no more connected with each other than with Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians.
Before Conference broke up, we told them that we had, for a long time, been anxious to bear testimony against the Last Will and Testament. But wishing to do it in concert with our brethren, whose names were to it, we had waited till the present time. As it was now evident, that all our attempts to publish, as a body, had failed, we intended to publish our minds on that subject, and on those other points of doctrine, on which they now saw the state of our minds. And we designedly gave them this information, that they might not think we took any undue advantage of the brethren. The Conference then broke up, without making any other appointment. We had now seen the end of our attempts for reformation among the ministers, in doctrine, discipline, and government.
Hitherto we had avoided preaching openly, in opposition to the doctrines held by our brethren, as much as we could, until we could see what might be effected towards //267// reformation. Now, as we had failed in this attempt, we gave Conference notice, before it dissolved, that we thought it our duty to preach openly on those points, that the people might have an opportunity of receiving light on those subjects. This we have attempted ever since, and are happy to find, that some have ears to hear, and consider again the points on which they had made too hasty a change. But many, very many have their ears fast closed, and will hear nothing unless it be in the former strain; just as if they had received their former notions by immediate inspiration from God, and could not, therefore, be deceived.
It is true (and with sorrow we confess it) that it is a great cause of stumbling to see such instability in preachers as is found in us. But as we always professed to draw all our knowledge from the scriptures, we ought to be willing to examine and re-examine all our doctrines by the same infallible standard.
And if we discover an error, we ought to have honesty enough to confess and forsake it. This we have endeavoured, and still feel willing to do. Besides, we, as Newlights, as men call us, or members of the Christian church, as we call ourselves, profess to take the Bible as our only standard; believe, and preach as we find it there written. This very profession binds us to read and study the scriptures with care; and to preach whatever we find it declares, without regard to the opinion of any man, or set of men, even our own brethren; or even our own former opinion or preaching. This we have been endeavouring to do; and this, through grace, we intend to do, let the storm rise ever so high.
After the generous declarations at Conference, of forbearance, it might have been expected that we, as well as others, would be permitted to preach whatever we believe; and that ministers and people, would give us a patient hearing, without pointed controversy, or opposition; even though they differed from us in opinion. But the event has shown that those professions were insincere, or that those who made them, had not counted the cost of forbearance in such circumstances. We, indeed, cannot set a high value on that forbearance which ends whenever we preach, and act according to our principles.
And, though the body of the members in Conference, and our church in general profess to have no creed but the Bible, and to have adopted no system but the scriptures in general, yet facts show that profession //268// to be unworthy of credit. They have a system on certain points, which they call the truth of the Bible, and unless every one holds and preaches those ideas, his doctrine is condemned positively as false, however full of scripture his statements may be.
Some on this account, will not come to hear us, and some who do manifest great opposition to the doctrines which they have never fairly examined, yet show great unwillingness to understand; branding the preaching with ill names, as old stuff, darkness, leading to bondage, Calvinism, &c. We are not personally acquainted with the writings of John Calvin, nor are we certain how nearly we agree with his views of divine truth; neither do we care. It is not to agree, or disagree with John Calvin, or James Arminius, that is our object; but to seek and find the truth of the word of God.
If we can obtain a happy and humble confidence, that we have gained that prize, we have very little anxiety by what name men call it. And even suppose we have become Calvinists, with what face can the hue and cry be raised against us by men, who profess to be no sect, but to be members of the general body of Christ - to love Christians of every name alike, &c.? The naked truth is, that with such people these professions are a mere sham, though perhaps they know it not, but are deceived by their hearts, which, like the hearts of other men, are deceitful above all things. Actions speak louder than words.
They are, and they feel themselves to be a sect or party - and they feel (and must be conscious of it) that those professors are the nearest and dearest to them, who are of the same party, and are zealous for it - have the same opinions with themselves, and who are able to enforce and defend them. And what is still worse, there are no people in our acquaintance more ready to speak hard of other societies than many of those who make these very generous professions. They preach forbearance, with a wish that others may exercise it towards them, and let them quietly go on, believe and speak as they please; but when forbearance is required, we find they can exercise as little of it as other people.
They may indeed not cast a man out of the communion of the church, and may call this forbearance; but what is it worth, when they will desert his preaching, or receive it coldly; or, as has been done in some cases, oppose him openly, when he is done. Notwithstanding this evident party spirit, and party system, yet there is the strongest opposition to giving any fair and public statement //269// of the peculiarities of this sect, or the system of doctrines they hold.
Although there is a system generally adopted by the majority of the body on some subjects, yet there is the greatest variety on other points. The preachers in general, and the body of the people hold to Stone's views on the Atonement; yet many private members still believe in Christ's vicarious sufferings; and after hearing the subject ably discussed in a light opposite to the letters, conclude that these opposite views are all one, and that there is nothing between the preachers, which is of any importance.
Some still retain the idea that Christ is God, equal with the Father; others believe, that he is distinct from the Father - the first creature ever made - and the highest link in creation, nearest to God; and others believe that he never had existence, until conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Ghost. Some believe that there is a personal Holy Ghost; others that it is just the Father; and others THAT IT IS ONLY THE SPIRIT, OR MEANING AND INFLUENCE OF THE GOSPEL. We might proceed to enumerate a greater number more of our diversities, but time would fail.
Editor’s Note: Scottish Common Sense Realism teaches that the Holy Spirit can only influence a person through the speaking of the Scriptures. This is called the “verbal restrictive” theory of the Holy Spirit. All the Presbyterians involved in the Restoration movement were educated in Scottish Common Sense Realism. The ministers educated by John Witherspoon at the College of New Jersey and later by Archibald Alexander at Princeton Theological seminary were taught the “verbal restrictive’ theory.
END OF NOTE
From our experience of the things we have stated, and many more of the same kind, we have been led to change our minds respecting the propriety of every society, or denomination having a specific statement of their sentiments, both on doctrines and discipline. We are, therefore, in truth, obliged to renounce, in this open and public manner, what we had written in opposition to such things in our Apology.
It may seem strange, and inconsistent to renounce what we so lately published: But when it is considered, that we set out on a new plan, which had not been proven by the experience of other Christians to be a good one, it is not wonderful, if after a few years practical experiment, we were convinced it would not hold in practice as well as it appeared in theory. The like takes place in every other employment in life, and why may it not be realized in this case? And if we believe that experience has taught us this lesson, we ought, as honest men and Christians, to change our plan.
It must then appear to every careful observer of the statement we have given, respecting our present views, that, to be consistent with ourselves, we must take some regular stand. This is our own opinion: but what that shall be, or how soon we will effect it, is yet uncertain to ourselves. We believe that by measures too hastily adopted, we have had an unhappy hand in bringing ourselves, and others, into the disagreeable situation in which we are; and we feel cautious, lest we should take another leap in the dark.
We honestly thought, that when we separated from Synod, we were compelled to that measure by unfair, and unconstitutional proceedings of those ecclesiastical bodies, with which we stood connected. And indeed we are not yet able to see the constitutionality of several prosecutions, and resolutions against which we then protested. But these are points of order, about which, we believe, there is some diversity of opinion even among some members of those very bodies themselves; and are points respecting which we never wish to say much. But we are fully persuaded that such of us as gave occasion for those prosecutions, and such as took so decided a part with those who were prosecuted, were more to blame than we formerly thought. We think that we ought to have gone to our brethren, and given them a fair account of the change in our views; and if we could not have continued in the connexion, we might have parted with them in peace.
The act of separation was a rash and hasty leap in the dark, not knowing what might be the consequences. Yet as we did it in honesty, as far as we are conscious, and not from attachments to sinful motives, or inclinations; but with a sincere desire to serve the cause of Christ, we trust, with all these difficulties, we have not lost the light of the divine countenance; and that even in our present standing our labour has no been altogether in vain in the Lord.
DESIRE TO RETURN TO THE PREBYTERIAN FOLD
These last observations concerning the cause of our difficulties seem to point out the steps we ought to take for redress, viz., To repair to the body we left, and in love and friendship seek for reconciliation, and reunion. This appears still more proper, as from our former, and latter experience, and research on the subject, we are decidedly in favor of their mode of church government: and which we must receive from principle, if we adopt any rules in a connexion of our own.
[NOTE: Some of our dear brethren, who seem to long for order and purity of doctrine as much as we, are very desirous that we should form a regular system, and organize churches. This we would cheerfully do if we could be certain that it is the mind of God. And perhaps we may finally see this to be duty. But as there are too many sects already in the world we think an union with one already existing, if it can take place fairly, and in consistence with a good conscience, would be more for the honor and advancement of religion than to form a new church.
God has frowned on our past attempts, and we think some notice should be taken of the voice of his Providence. But we have the matter yet under consideration and will be glad to hear counsel from any that may give it. We have endeavored to avoid rashness, but we think it is high time to come towards a conclusion. -J. THOMSON. ]. If we should attempt to seek a reconciliation, and still a reinstatement into our former standing be found impracticable, we might part with them in peace, and friendship; and then take those steps for order that will be most congenial to our sentiments. Though there seems to be great probability that such measures ought to be adopted, yet we have not done so, and perhaps we never may. But if we should finally judge this to be our duty, and do it, we would only then exercise our liberty of conscience (for which we pleaded at the time of separation from Synod) as free Americans, and as free members of the Newlight, or Christian church.
Editor’s Note: “new lights” is a term used by orthodox to label break-away groups. The “new light Calvinist”, for example, since Jonathan Edwards, was a Calvinist that said it is the duty of all sinners to repent, even if God had not yet changed their hearts by regeneration. If sinners found they did not have the heart to repent, then the new light Calvinist told them to pray that God would give them a new heart. This was the purpose of the inquiry room. “Inquirers” came to the room after being told to repent and were examined by counselors for evidence of regeneration. END OF NOTE
But at present we hold our standing, and claim our privilege in the connexion in which we have stood for these past years. We certainly have the privilege of preaching when and where we please, whenever there is an opening for it in the body; as others have who differ from us in doctrine - and of communing with them, if we wish it. Those who belong to no particular sect, but to the general body of Christ - who give free invitations to Christians of every denomination cannot certainly refuse us this. If we should enter some church, that excludes the members of this connexion; or if we should form a body of our own, and exclude them, then we would be separated from this body, but not before.
We wish not to hurt the feelings of any brethren, preachers or people: but as truth is our object we must exhibit it at the expense of our own feelings, or those of others, who may be affected by it. We freely confess that many in our connexion are very dear us; and we cannot think of a separation from such without a great degree of sorrow. But we fear many of them are so prepossessed in favor the system of doctrine and discipline, which we must reject, that a separation from them will be inevitable. It is not because we despise them, and love others better, that we would take a stand which would separate us from them; but for the sake of maintaining purity of doctrine, and a church foundation, and order, more agreeable to the word of God. //272// Indeed our affection for our brethren is such, that we are deeply concerned for their present situation in such a corrupt and shattered church.
And we earnestly beseech them to stop, and think, and examine where they are. We have endeavored to try those matters, as for the life of our souls, the honor of God, and the prosperity of his cause in the world. The result is a firm persuasion, that the doctrines held by the preachers in general, and by most of the people in this church, respecting the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, and the Atonement are completely off the foundation of Christianity, and lead towards infidelity. Our prayer to Almighty God is, that he may stop the progress of those pernicious tenets.
IT NEED NOT BE SAID, AS SOME ASSERT, THAT WE ARE ENEMIES TO THE LATE GLORIOUS REVIVAL, IF WE OPPOSE THESE DOCTRINES: FOR THAT BLESSED WORK OF GOD, IN ITS BEST TIMES, WAS CARRIED ON UNDER DOCTRINES THE VERY REVERSE OF THESE. YES, THESE LAST MENTIONED ERRORS WERE NEVER BROACHED, UNTIL THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF THE REVIVAL WERE OVER.
Some complain heavily against us, that we were the cause of their embracing these sentiments, and now we turn and leave them, and urge them to return. But what weight is there in such complaints? We believe that we let go some important doctrines too hastily, without sufficient examination; at a time when our passions were warm, our hearts unsuspecting, and off their guard; and too much under the influence of men, of whose piety and knowledge in divine things, we had, by far, too high an opinion. Some of those men we have seen run entirely wild in one way or another. We have had time to examine the scriptures again, weigh the force of arguments, and try the value of doctrines by their practical influence.
We are heartily ashamed to look back at the career we have run. But however disagreeable, the view may be salutary to ourselves, and cautionary to others. We separated from Synod in September and formed the Springfield Presbytery. In January our Apology was published. In March we began to change our views on the Atonement. In June we signed the Last Will and Testament, and dissolved our Presbytery, when it had existed about nine months. About the same time Richard M'Nemar, and several more began to deny the resurrection of the body, and a future judgment - and believed that they would never die, but be made immortal by some extraordinary operation of the Spirit. And in a few months more he, J. Dunlavy and a great many of the people were caught in the net of Shakerism.
In one year more Matthew Houston, who had been converted to our church by the Letters on Atonement, became a Shaker also. Are these things not worthy of notice? Who can keep their eyes from the sight, however mortifying it may be? On the review of all these things, and more which might be mentioned, we were obliged to change our minds; and shall we avoid bearing our testimony for what we believe to be truth, because we cannot testify as we did some years ago?
Many false rumours [NOTE: The rumour, that for one year, or more, we have been secretly endeavoring to lead the people back to Presbyterianism, is wholly false and groundless.
The foregoing sketch shows what we have been endeavouring to do, and how we have failed in the attempt. Some of the Presbyterian preachers have, indeed, invited our return to them; because they thought we had not gone the same length which others had, or at least, were now on more solid ground, and conceived that our sentiments were not essentially different from their own. But we were uncertain what the path of duty was, that we could not give them any encouragement what we should do; besides our former hasty measures had imperiously admonished us to be cautious for the future.
I have been industriously handed about concerning our intentions and conduct for about a year past. We are willing to bear these reproaches, not because we think the propagators are actuated by good motives; but because the God, who has all power in his hand, has let loose Satan in this manner to scourge us for our former improprieties. But we trust that God has not taken away his love from us - will correct us in measure, and make the whole scene terminate in his own Glory and our good. We pray God to forgive our enemies; to pity and pardon those who maliciously reproach us; restore the wandering feet of all his children; save poor sinners by his grace, "through the redemption there is in Christ Jesus;" stablish, strengthen, settle us all in his truth, and lead us safely to his heavenly kingdom and glory, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.
P.S. We have noticed in the above account of our attempts for reformation that Brother Hugh Andrews was fully agreed with our views of doctrine and church government. We have undoubted evidence that he continues to be of the same mind. And two other brethren in the ministry, Samuel Westerfield, and Francis Monfort being present when //274// the substance of this publication was drawn up, expressed their full approbation of the doctrines and statements contained in it and were willing, accordingly, to bear their public testimony. We are therefore not entirely alone in our present views.
On the foregoing pages we have given no specific view of the contents of the pamphlet generally known by the name of Stone's Letters. We did not think this necessary, because the book has been before the public for several years. But lest this should be esteemed too important an omission and especially for the satisfaction of those who are not informed on the subject, I will subjoin a few leading things.
The author denies that there was such a covenant made with Adam as is generally called the Covenant of Works. He asserts that there is no Trinity of persons in the Godhead; but only of characters or relations. And consequently that Christ, as a person distinguished from the Father, is not true and proper God. He further denies that there is any vindictive wrath in God which must be endured or appeased before a sinner can be pardoned. He rejects the doctrine, that Christ is surety, either for the elect, or for all mankind, or that he endured the curse of the law, or the wrath of God, to display God's justice, and obtain for sinners the remission of the curse.
He asserts that we are not justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ; but, that by faith in the gospel our hearts are changed,
Editor’s note: This heresy was taught to all Scottish Common Sense Realism students. John Witherspoon wrote in his Treatise On Regeneration, “regeneration does not consist in giving us new souls, new faculties, or new affections, but in giving a new tendency and effect to those we had before”. Most heresies are introduced to make the truth of the Bible more palatable for modern man. Modern ministers realize that the world has additional information not available to the early church and feel they need to make the old ideas more acceptable to modern man. Material causation of truth is more palatable to modern man than supernatural regeneration of the heart. END OF NOTE
we are made just or righteous, and declared so by God, because we are so indeed. And he holds that justification, sanctification, conversion, regeneration, salvation, propitiation, reconciliation, and atonement all mean the same thing.
Editor’s note: The cross has always been a stumbling block, and especially to modern man. 1 Corinthians 1:23-25: “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men”.
The lumping together of justification, sanctification, conversion, regeneration, salvation, propitiation, reconciliation, and atonement is useful to make the gospel palatable to modern man. Justification, sanctification, conversion, regeneration, salvation, propitiation, reconciliation, and the atonement seem to modern man vestigial relics of an ancient God. The real presence of God was orthodox until Scottish Common Sense Realism. But the “verbal restrictive” theory limited God’s influence on people to the hearing of Scriptures.
Scottish Common Sense Realism promoted the idea that “natural powers, under the common aids of Divine grace, polished and refined by the institutions of the gospel, are a sufficient principle of holiness, without the addition of any new principle” (written by President Samuel Davies, President of the College of New Jersey a couple of years before Witherspoon) speaking of “another gospel”, the psychological theories of salvation at the end of the eighteenth century). When Witherspoon took over the College of New Jersey in 1768, all the Jonathan Edwards teachers left (including Jonathan Edwards Junior), and Witherspoon taught Scottish Common Sense Realism. He taught the ground of the heart was changed gradually by truth impressions until the “regeneration principle” could be said to exists when the person chose to serve God over self. END OF NOTE
He states that ancient sacrifices only had their effect on the worshiper, producing faith and repentance, and that the blood or death of Christ does the same thing, having its whole efficacy on the believer. -J.T.