And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor?—Jeremiah 2.18.

 Show Menu 
Hide Banner

Remonstrance of Rev. William Gibson, senior, and others.

( Being, in effect, )

A Testimony Against

Compromising and Entangling Associations,

Especially those which were meant to Remedy Prevailing Disorders in Society

Without a due care to Promote the Kingdom of Jesus, or Real Welfare of Zion.

X

TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

The Remonstrance and Certificate which follow are taken from the first issue of The American Reformed Covenanter, dated January, 1839.  We here present these documents as they are there printed, but without the introductory or subsequent commentary.  The Certificate is also published as a “Testimony,” in the 4th issue of The Reformation Advocate, dated December, 1874, again with commentary, which is here omitted.

A few words may be useful, however, to give the reader some sense of the significance of these documents.  We will reduce them to the following brief points.

1. Compromising Associations, sometimes termed “Voluntary Associations,” refer to those organizational connections which are accounted unlawful for a Christian, as they nullify his Christian Testimony, impede him in Christian duties, or compromise his conscience.  They are entangling, and tend to produce effects in his subsequent conduct which would have been considered undesirable prior to his connection in the association.  The book of proverbs, and epistles of Paul, are particularly suited to demonstrate the unlawfulness of these confederacies, and help the Christian discern his contrary duty.

2. William Gibson was in 1838 the most senior minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA,) having been one of the founding members of its Presbytery in 1798.  His testimony serves to demonstrate that concern about these organizations was not of later origin, nor a peculiarity of non-traditional Covenanters.

3. The Anti-Slavery organizations Gibson and others opposed were not opposed out of an approval, comfort, or indifference towards the shameful institutions of slavery then established by the United States “government.”  They were opposed as unlawful associations for the reasons listed below.

4. What is said below about the popular Anti-Slavery and other organizations, is equally applicable to many organizations intended to promote admirable ends without due regard to the fact that Holy Scripture regulates the means by which we should endeavour these ends.  As this was true in the 1800’s, it is much more true today.  As our age is further from embracing the general principle and rule presented here, our problems are inevitably larger, and more complicated.

To the Rev. Moderator and other Members of the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, to meet in New-York, on the first Tuesday of October, 1838.

The undersigned, members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, believing it to be a duty incumbent on every one in his station to promote the welfare of Zion, and keep pure and entire the testimony of Jesus, that we may transmit it unimpaired to succeeding generations, have heard with much grief, declarations made by ministers on the floor of the Southern Presbytery, in which they openly avowed that they were members and officers of the American Anti-Slavery Society.  Now, as we believe membership in such a society to be a virtual abandonment of our testimony, and a departure from the approved practice of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, we do solemnly remonstrate against such procedure.  And in doing this we hope it will not be considered out of place to give a brief view of the arguments which have led us to this conclusion.

I. It is a society in which the virtuous and the vicious, christians and infidels, are combined in one confederated association—none are excluded but slaveholders.  (Art. 4, Constitution A.A.S.S.)  Now that such associations are condemned in scripture, is plain by an impartial interpretation of the commands given of old to the people of God, to abstain from all unnecessary connection with the ungodly.  And the instances recorded in sacred history where there was a departure from this principle, are seldom without reproof.  We refer to Ahab’s covenant with Ben-hadad, Asa’s with the same, and Ahaz’s confederacy with the Assyrian.  The alliance of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, with Ahab of Israel, although against a common enemy, involved him and his kingdom in many and complicated calamities.  And again, when he united with Ahaziah of Israel, to make ships to go to Tarshish, “Eliezer prophesied against him, saying, because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works.” [2 Chron. 20.37.]  We pass by many pointed reproofs of the prophets against this sin, (Jer. 11.18. Hos. 8.8-13,) and proceed to divest the subject of seeming obscurity, by distinguishing, as is done by the {7} famous G. Gillespie, between what may be called,  1st, Civil Covenants, under which are included treaties for mutual peace and security, which are often allowable;  2d, Religious Covenants, and 3d, Mixed Covenants, partly civil and partly religious.  “The two last,” to use the words of Gillespie, “being made with wicked men, and such as differ in religion from us, I hold to be unlawful, and so do the best writers—the former keeps them (the wicked) and us still divided as two; the latter unites us and them as one, and imbodieth us together with them.”  Now that the Anti-Slavery Society, and many other voluntary associations of the day, come under one of the two last divisions, viz. religious covenants or mixed, cannot be doubted by any in the least acquainted with them, and will appear evident to all as we proceed.  We would state further, that the grand discriminating difference made between lawful and unlawful associations with the enemies of truth and godliness is, that the former does not imply an approbation of their conduct, as in cases of necessity, such as the natural relations of life, accidental compact, as in the ordinary transactions of business, travelling, and the like; in all such cases it is matter of affliction, not of choice, to the godly; while in the latter, (unlawful associations) there is such a union and co-operation, as identifies the friends and enemies of truth in one combination. And when any connection can consistently be construed as implying an approbation of an error in doctrine or practice, the witness of truth will not hesitate to adopt the sentiment, “hold no communion.”  He will suffer rather than do any thing which would seem a compromitment [pledged compromise] of the testimony of Jesus.  To every combination of men, the godly will, as [Nehemiah] of old, refuse to treat on the plains of Ono. [Neh. 6.2.]  He will cultivate upon principles of just reciprocity, all the kind relations of life; but he will have no entangling associations, no identification of feelings and opinions, no communion with the enemies of God and man, in schemes in which the interests of the church of Christ are concerned.

II. Our second argument is, that there are fundamental errors in the Constitution of the Anti-Slavery Society, and its other authorized documents subversive of the peculiarly distinctive doctrines of the covenanted church.

1st.  It does not profess submission to the mediatory authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This defect is one of the objections made against the Constitution of the United States in our testimony, page 152, Ref. Prin. 1835; and in the argument for “the Jury Law,” published in overture by the General Synod in 1834, in establishing the immorality of the Constitution, (page 6,) are the following words, “it acknowledges no subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ—every society and all communities are, in their congregated character equally bound with individuals to honor him,” see also page 77, testimony. {8}

2d.  Many in this association deny altogether the lawfulness of resisting unjust power, and the same sentiment is found in their constitution.  Art. III, Constitution of American Anti-Slavery Society, “but this society will never, in any way, countenance the oppressed in vindicating their rights by resorting to physical force,” and in “The Anti-Slavery Examiner,” page 21, published by the A.A.S.S. are these words, “farther still, no small number of them, (the abolitionists,) deny the right of defence, either to individuals or nations, even when forcibly and wrongfully attacked.”  We need not enter into proof to show that such a sentiment is condemnatory of the whole contendings of the faithful martyrs of Jesus in former ages, particularly at Pentland and Bothwell, where our fathers appeared in arms against the arbitrary measures then pursued.  And in chapter 30 of our testimony, this error is condemned, “that it is not lawful for christians to wage war in defence of liberty, religion or life.”

3d.  This society arrogates the prerogative of purifying the church.  In “The Anti-Slavery Examiner,” page 16, “We expect,” say they, “to bring the church of this country to repentance for the sin of oppression.”  And in the Constitution of the “Union Anti-Slavery Society of Philadelphia,” auxiliary to the American, Art. 2, “The object of this society is especially to purify the church, at the north as well as at the south, from its pollutions.”  Now that such an incongruous association, independent of the two great ordinances of God, for the preservation of moral and religious order in the human family, the ministry and magistracy, should arrogantly assume to itself the right of purging the church of Christ is unparalleled.  We stop not to show how contrary such an assumption is to our standards; for this were to transcribe at least the 20th and 23d chapters of our testimony.

4th.  Membership in the Anti-Slavery Society, implies a full recognition of the Constitution of the United States.  Art. 2, Constitution of the American Anti-Slavery Society, are these words, “The society also will endeavor, in a constitutional way, to influence Congress to put an end to the domestic slave trade.”  And in an “Address to the Public, issued by the Executive Committee, in September, 1835,” and bound up with the constitution of the society, are these words, page 12, “and one of the many reasons why we cherish, and will endeavor to preserve the constitution,” &c.  We quote in addition from “The Fourth Annual Report of the American Anti-Slavery Society,” page 122, “in advocating these principles, they, (the committee,) stand not only upon the safe foundation of the law of God, but fully upon the constitution of their country.”  Again, page 34 of the “Anti-Slavery Examiner,” “the Abolitionists feel a deep regard for the integrity and union of the government, on the principles of the constitution.”  {9} On the same page, when defending themselves against the charge of dissolving the Union, they say, “in the political aspect of the question, they have nothing to ask, except what the constitution authorizes—no change to desire but that the constitution may be restored to its pristine republican purity.”

The truth of this 4th position will be even more fully established in the next.

5th.  As it is a society based upon the Constitution of the United States, so also it puts forth under this instrument political power.  It would be unnecessary to prove this position, as political meetings of the Anti-Slavery Society men, are held in New-York weekly, but that we wish to show that such was the object of the Society at its first organization.

The American Anti-Slavery Society was formed by a convention of citizens, convened by public notice, from ten different states, at Philadelphia, on the 4th of December, 1833; and in their Declaration at this time, are the following words, “we also maintain that there are, at the present time, the highest obligations resting upon the people of the free states, to remove slavery by moral and political action, as prescribed in the Constitution of the United States.”  The next we take from the “Fourth Annual Report of the American Anti-Slavery Society,” under the head entitled, “The right use of suffrage,” they say, “he is not worthy the name of an Abolitionist who does not put the Anti-Slavery qualification above any, and all others, in selecting the candidate to receive his vote.”  We will close this by a few extracts from “The Emancipator,” a weekly paper, the organ of the Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society.  “New-York, September 6th, 1838.  We have been desirous of stating a few simple reasons why Anti-Slavery men should carry their principles along with them to the ballot-box:  1st. Necessity is laid upon us to act for, or against the slave, at the polls.”  Under this head, they say, “we see then, that the there is no possibility of avoiding political action on this subject.  2d reason. If it is our duty to petition our National and State Legislatures, in behalf of human rights, it is, for the same reason, our duty to carry our principles to the ballot-box.  3d reason. Abolitionists have responsibilities to discharge as Abolitionists, which they cannot discharge without standing up in vindication of their principles, and quitting themselves like men, at the polls.”  Again, the Emancipator of September 13th, 1838, under the head entitled, “Political Action Against Slavery.” “For five years past, our presses have teemed with arguments in favor of such political action;” “we are forced, therefore, to urge a more vigorous course of political action, in order to teach by example, what we find so difficult to teach by mere precept.”  We quote from one paper more.  Emancipator, September 20, 1838, “Political Action against Slavery, No. 3.”  Under this head are the following {10} words, “Abolitionists are beginning in many places, to hold a commanding balance of political power between the two great contending parties.”  Under No. 4, of Political Action, are these words, “the verdict is now making up, and every freeman is a juror who gives in his part of the verdict, where alone it can be given, AT THE BALLOT-BOX.  Reader! what verdict are you folding up there, in your election ticket?”  Quotations might easily be multiplied, but we deem these more than sufficient.

III. We come now to our 3d, and last argument, against such associations.  They are inconsistent with the approved practice of our church, and are calculated to destroy the harmony of her testimony.  The Reformed Presbyterian Church has, in every period of its history, entertained a consistent view of the subject of associations.  The reformers from Patrick Hamilton to James Renwick, ever condemned confederacies with ungodly men.  And they never failed in their public documents to oppose every barrier in their power, to combinations of the godly with Socinians, Arians, and the like, even for the avowed purpose of reform.  For the truth of this sentiment, we refer to the National Covenant, and the Solemn League and Covenant, the whole spirit of which disproves such coalitions.  “The Useful Case of Conscience,” written by the Rev. G. Gillespie, in 1649, expressly against the sin of confederating with the enemies of truth and godliness, is confirmatory of the same.  And it will not be denied that the grand principle by which the protesters were distinguished from the resolutioners, was the sinfulness of associating with the enemies of the Covenanted Reformation for the attainment of civil ends.  And in 1685, when the Earl of Argyle published his declaration, we are informed by the historian, Crookshank, (vol. 2, p. 354,) that, “the followers of Renwick were not free to join the Earl.”  The reasons for which are given in Renwick’s Letters, page 400.  “We could not,” says he, “join with them (the ministers who espoused the Earl’s cause) because it was not concerted according to the ancient plea of the Scottish Covenanters—because no mention is made of our Covenants, nor of Presbyterian government—because it opened a door for a confederacy with sectarians and malignants.”  And in another letter, as quoted in the “Albany Quarterly,” page 269—“Argyle, by his proclamation, had made room in his ranks for Independents, and others, who embraced but a very small portion of the covenanted uniformity.”  The termination of the last century, affords another instance to the purpose, viz. that of “the United Irishmen,” who combined for the abolition of the Erastian system, which despotism had established in Ireland, yet of this society our testimony declares (p. 139.) “The principles of United Irishmen were, however, very different from those of Presbyterian Covenanters, and consequently they could not consistently make a common cause with them.”  And even so late as the year {11} 1821, the same consistent testimony was given by the church.  In the minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, met at Philadelphia, is found the following resolutions, as an amendment of an act passed at a previous meeting, against our members uniting with Freemasons, instead of “Freemason’s lodges,” substitute, “all entangling associations with ungodly men,” “adopted.”  See also minutes of 1834, on “the argument for the jury law,” page 9, are these words—“in point of principle, it is wrong, for a disciple of Christ thus morally to connect himself with irreligious men.”—“The bounden duty of a witness of the Lord Jesus is, to abstain from every unholy association, and cheerfully submit to inconvenience.”  Now, it were easy to demonstrate that the American Anti-Slavery Society combines every objectionable feature of the associations against which Covenanters have uniformly testified their dissent—were they subjected to no authority, civil or ecclesiastical?  so is the Anti-Slavery Society—were they combinations of irreligious men?  so is it—was their avowed purpose to reform abuses, and promote civil and religious liberty?  so is this society.

Now it cannot but be evident that no consistent witness for the truth, can take part with such a society as the Anti-Slavery Society.  It does not propose as its end, the glory of Immanuel, which is the grand reason why Covenanters have hitherto stood aloof from all parties, and in this course they must yet persevere, separated from the world in all holy living.  We therefore pray your reverend body to take cognizance of these matters, and adopt such measures as you may see best; and that truth and peace may be promoted by your deliberations is our sincere wish.

When this paper was in the hands of the court, it probed the members of the malignant stamp to the quick: they denied that they were members of the American Abolition Society, because they were only members, officers, &c. in its auxiliaries,[1] and they denied that Mr. Gibson had approved of it.  The following paper was signed by several witnesses, and with the approval of Mr. Gibson, to shew the contrary.—A.R.C.

Certificate of Rev. William Gibson.

This certifies that I, William Gibson, minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, did cause my name to be signed to a paper, written by James J. Acheson, and directed to the Rev. Moderator and other Members of the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, to meet in New-York, on the first Tuesday of October, 1838, remonstrating against ministers of the Southern Presbytery for their joining the association called “the American Anti-Slavery Society.”  This {12} I did when in comparative health, and in the full possession of my mental powers; and I now further declare my disapprobation of all the voluntary associations of the day, such as the Anti-Slavery Society, Temperance Society, and the like; and I now, being near my dissolution, do leave my testimony against the officers and members of our church connecting themselves with such societies as are mentioned above; firmly believing membership in these societies, usually called “voluntary,” to be contrary to scripture and the standards and approved practice of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Done October 4th, 1838, in the city of New-York.

WILLIAM GIBSON, Minister.

WILLIAM WYLIE,

FERGUS JOHNSTON,

GEORGE SHARP,

JAS. S. A. BARTLEY,

}

Witnesses.


Footnotes:

1. Officers in the auxiliaries are members ex-officio in the parent society.


A Few More Points to Note:

5. As William Gibson opposed both Slavery and Anti-Slavery Societies, so later Covenanters like David Steele operated on the same principle.  They were not partial to “the South” nor affected by “pro-slavery affinities.” (Steele, Reminiscences, page 243-244.)

6. As time continued in the Reformed Presbyterian Churches, other compromising associations also came either to be opposed by the RPCNA, or else gradually yield their native effects.  Freemasonry is mentioned above.  Military associations were also alternately opposed and embraced.  Sabbath-School associations were another problem, gradually embraced.  Sabbath Sanctification societies were occasion for Covenanters to join hands with those whom their Covenants obliged them to regard as Covenant-breakers.  The RPCNA seems not to have been much carried away with these.  (Is the sanctification of the Sabbath less important than the freedom of slaves?)  There were also Anti-Romanist societies, and the famous National Reform Association.  Question: Are any of these devices the means which were employed by our Protestant Reformers in the 16th and 17th centuries to obtain Reformation in society or in the Church?

7. This question about Associations also has direct bearing on the character of the Covenant adopted by the RPCNA in 1871.  Indefinite language is used to oblige the “Covenanters” to participate in such associations, without due qualification to regulate this duty.  The consequences were  (1) that Covenanters outside the RPCNA disapproved and found themselves further estranged from brethren,  (2) some inside the RPCNA disapproved and departed, and  (3) still others remaining in the RPCNA disapproved and found themselves largely abandoned by brethren in the cause they were all mutually obliged to uphold.  As this disorder has never been remedied, so the RPCNA’s identity as the Covenanter Church remains impeached by its own conduct.

8. In modern times it probably seems strange to some that there was ever a general opposition to “Voluntary Associations,” as if all such should be regarded as suspect or unlawful.  But the history is clear.  One comparatively recent RPCNA author who researched this topic was Dr. David Melville Carson.  In his Transplanted to America, chapter 17, he outlines many of the historic concerns and resolutions on this topic, with references to primary sources.  His history and documentation are commendable.  His own interpretation and explanation of the history, however, fail to give due credit to those who maintained a Covenanter testimony in this regard, and makes no notice of Mr. Gibson’s Remonstrance or convictions.  As Dr. Carson presents the question, he would have us distinguish between “passive witness” and “active organized opposition” which we are gradually led to see as implying involvement in “voluntary associations.”  This is a false dichotomy.  It supposes all opponents of “voluntary associations” were guilty of being passive, or appearing indifferent, toward the things they either confessed or condemned.  But, even if this were true, it would not prove that “voluntary associations” were the proper mode, or only mode, for carrying on an active and organized witness in the cause of Truth and Righteousness.

9. In our present day, it will probably not occasion much trouble if Covenanters continue to oppose Freemasonry or the Grange as unlawful associations.  If we venture further to identify the Boy Scouts as largely involved in the same problems, this may present more of a challenge for those who expected an organization for children would simply be that, and not a training ground for compromising associations later in life.  But the Church’s most dangerous problems may lie in those organizations which encroach most nearly upon her own proper authority and responsibilities.  Can the Church of Jesus Christ be justified in organizing herself upon principles of scriptural orthodoxy and holy practice, in opposition to denominations that do otherwise, and then cooperating with those same opposing parties who follow unsound doctrines and offensive practices, in order to form Bible Societies and Missionary Societies?  Are we called to both avoid and withdraw from a brother for his disorders, and then to unite and perhaps take direction from him in some important part of the Lord’s work? (Rom. 16.17; 2 Thess. 3.6, 14-15.)  Sadly, we are at such a divided state of things in our day, that strictness in this regard will inevitably appear incapacitating, and thus “too severe” to those who are used to allowing ends to justify means.  And so, a final point may serve to clarify facts, and the reasonableness of the rule against compromising associations:

10. Insofar as there exists anything rightly motivated on the side of those who defend these associations, it is in light of the fact that the brethren with whom they unite are such who must be regarded as true Christian brethren, and such with whom, in reality, we ought to be at unity, not only in associations but in Church too.  The error here lies quite plainly in matters of priority.  Will we take our brother by the hand and say, “Dear friend, there are matters of doctrine and practice between us which must be settled, that the Church of Jesus Christ may live in her true and proper unity,” or will we first take our brother by the hand and say, “Dear friend, it is evident that a holy work must go on, and you and I are glad to do it together, so let us pass by these things for which we sometimes take a stand for our Saviour, and just get our work going”?  This question is decisive.  If our context were different, we might be able to contemplate the question of associations as a discussion about how much agreement should exist between brethren who cooperate with one another in social activities.  But that is not what this is about.  The question of associations, is a question about whether we will seek to resolve the disunity that exists in the Church of Jesus Christ, or whether we will let it grow worse while we work on a different project.  Brother? Sister? Do you have faith that Jesus Christ is able to heal our divisions and bring us to one mind?  Do you believe that he himself commands and even prays for these things? (John 17; 1 Cor. 1.10.)  Now, what priority should it have?  Are you ashamed to give it priority over Bible societies, Missionary societies, Anti-abortion efforts, etc.?  Do you think your church too small, or your particular convictions too rare, to expect these things will find a reception among all the brethren of Jesus Christ?  Here is a certainty: None of us would be ashamed to give priority to unifying the Church of Christ, and healing her divisions, if we had faith to believe it would really have success.  Is your Jesus real? this Jesus who has one body, that is, one Church?  Remember what he has commanded, and what he has promised: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matth. 6.33.)  There are so many works to be done, and so many corruptions to be overcome in society; but there is first this kingdom whose welfare must be restored before she can minister to the nations around her who, for all their corruptions, are more carefully preserved in their own accustomed order and unity.  We have very much to offer the world, but if we do not seek first the kingdom of God then our little associations and co-operations will be able to do but little work in the face of a world which will unite against us to tell us an old lesson we’ve forgotten: Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matth. 7.5.)

2015.10.20::JTKer.