And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.—Exodus 21.16.

[Historical Testimony.]
 
HISTORICAL TESTIMONY.

Excerpted from:
 

THE
ORIGINAL COVENANTER.
VOL. II.   DECEMBER, 1879.   NO. 12.
History is a record of past events, and to deserve the name of history the events recorded must be authentic, for "cunningly devised fables" are not history. Authentic history is of the essential nature of testimony. A witness on the stand gives a statement of facts, evidence, testimony. So true is it that not only minor matters of litigation, but even "death and life are in the power of the tongue." Prov. 18.21.

A very large portion of the Bible is historical. The first words in it announce one of the most important historical facts: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." The great importance of this statement appears from the speculations of heathen philosophers, and self-styled scientists in our own age. 2 Pet. 3.3-5. Also many of the Psalms are historical, epitomizing the previous facts recorded in the Old Testament, that these might be more indelibly impressed upon the mind and heart of God's people, and that they "might not forget his words;" for then they "forget God their Saviour." Psalm 106.13,21.

Moreover, the origin and progress of the visible church in the world, under different dispensations of mercy, is matter of historical record. She is on earth the only immortal corporation; and since the canon of inspired Scripture closed, she has had no one infallible historian. Many, indeed, have undertaken "to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are {354} most surely believed among the disciples of Christ;" but "their witness agreed not together." Luke 1.1; Mark 14.56. Those who take as guides in searching the history of the church, Mosheim, Milner, or many others, are following false guides, whose delineations portray the features of the "scarlet lady" rather than the "Lamb's wife." In this historical fact—the almost universal misrepresentations of the spouse of Christ, the intelligent reader may discover the reason for a select class, whom the Lord Jesus expressly distinguishes from all other as "his witnesses," Rev. 11.3, and the necessity for their testimony. These and these only are "children that will not lie," Isa. 63.8; "and in their mouth is found no guile," Rev. 14.5. Hence, the necessity of historical testimony.

Again, history interprets prophecy, which is an ever-increasing evidence that the Holy Scriptures are from God. How could it be known when the canon was settled but mainly by history? Or how can antichrist be identified, or the witnesses themselves, but by history? For the doctrines, the worship, government, and discipline of the church have all been misrepresented, counterfeited, and even the church herself! Rev. 17.18. Thus it is apparent that the only way by which the witnesses can identify the true church is by comparing doctrine and order with the alone infallible rule, the Bible; and this comparing involves reasoning—argument; history and argument do, therefore, constitute the church's testimony and supply her Terms of Communion, by which she is distinguished from the "flocks of the companions." Reader, where did you get all the subordinate standards of your published faith, your confession, catechisms, &c.? You will probably say—From Westminster, England, and from Scotland; but how do you know? For about forty-six years ago, had you been a member in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, this question might have puzzled you. About that time we received new light on that matter, when the following startling statements were first published by professing Covenanters: "Even the fact of the existence of the Westminster Assembly {355} has been for several generations a matter merely of human history… Such a faith" (in the existence of the Westminster Assembly) "could not be the faith of God's elect." Again, "That such covenants were ever entered into has no other evidence than mere historical record, and consequently ought not to be made an article of the believer's faith"1—a term of communion.

We have often said, and we now repeat, that there are two kinds of faith by which society is held together. Faith and belief are convertible terms. The kind of testimony in any case determines the kind of faith. Divine faith is founded and rests on divine testimony alone; whereas human faith needs as a foundation only human testimony.2 All human relations in this world are grounded on human evidence—testimony. Does the husband identify his wife, or the wife her husband by divine testimony? Can the parents know their child, or the child the parents by the Bible? We insist upon this point, "giving precept upon precept," simple though it be; because we know with absolute certainty that even learned divines, including many theological professors, Doctors of Divinity even, of the Covenanting name, have forsaken the covenant cause of Christ, through their sinful and shameful ignorance of this matter. Our reformed ancestors thoroughly understood this point before there ever was a D.D. known among them. Why did they attach the word infallible to the first Term of Communion?3 Because it, and it alone, demands divine faith; all the rest requiring human faith only, because they are fallible—subordinate to the first term. Did our truly learned and godly progenitors stultify themselves by contradicting their own Confession? [WCF] Ch. 31: Sec. 4.

To make this topic in theology and faithful testimony-bearing {356} so plain that "he may run that readeth it," and to render those who prefer to continue "willingly ignorant" inexcusable, we give an illustration adapted, we hope, to the capacity of even babes in Christ:—

Question,—Do you believe there is such a place as Scotland? Answer,—I think I do, for it is laid down on the school-atlas, and whoever made the atlas must have believed in its existence. Q.—Do you find Scotland named in the Bible? A.—No. Q.—Do you believe that Richard Cameron, Donald Cargill, James Renwick, and many others associated with them, lived in Scotland in the latter half of the seventeenth century? A.—I do, for I have both heard and read about those ministers. Q.—But you do not read of them in the Bible, do you? A.—No. Q.—Well, have you read of the principles they held, and how they applied their principles? A.—Yes, I know the principles they propagated, and also the way they applied them. Q.—Now, were they malefactors, as most of their countrymen charged, or were they indeed martyrs of Jesus Christ? A.—I believe they were martyrs. So you believe in human testimony, that there is such a place on the earth as Scotland; that Richard Cameron, &c. once lived in Scotland; that they taught certain doctrines and applied them, and for such teaching and practice they suffered a violent death, martyrdom; and yet you find nothing of this in the Bible. "Human records" alone supply these facts, from which, comparing them with the Word of God, you argue and conclude with certainty that those people were witnesses for Christ. Now, if you reject the history of their principles, practice, and sufferings, how can you honestly or rationally claim identity with them? You thereby sever the only link of connection. You may be pious—a Christian, but not a Covenanted Presbyterian. And if your supreme end is your own salvation, you have mistaken the end of your being. Rev. 4.11, and come short of that type of patriotism which the example of the martyrs supplies. Hence—

1. The British Covenants are manifestly historical documents. {357}

2. The peculiarity of the National Covenant, that it was framed, sworn, and often renewed in Scotland, does not destroy its moral character, or affect the permanency of its obligation; and the same is true of the Solemn League and Covenant.

3. The very names of these covenants—yes, and the principles incorporated in them, which have given Christian liberty and liberty of conscience to many millions, come to us through the medium of history alone.

4. All who have adhered to these covenants have been known for centuries by historic names, and can be identified in no other way; as "Cameronians, Cargillites, Society People, Mountain-men, Covenanters," &c. And by near and necessary consequence,—

5. All who reject history from their conditions of fellowship, and yet claim kindred with the Reformed Covenanted Church, are "deceiving and being deceived." In this matter they are false witnesses; but "we wot that through ignorance they do it."

And now we proceed to substantiate the foregoing statements and allegations by adducing evidence from the recognized Standards of some of these pretenders.

The first in historical order is Reformation Principles Exhibited, 1806. This document does not even call itself by the name Testimony. The "Declaratory Part" of this book, and this alone, is called testimony—"the Church's Standing Testimony." Preface, page 8. Here are two errors, That a declaration of principles or doctrines is testimony, and that the Testimony of the Church is "Standing;" that is, stationary. But no, the testimony of the witnesses consists of facts, as has been already proved: and this testimony is cumulative and necessarily progressive until it be finished. Rev. 11.7.

Again, "The Historical part" of this book, or "Plan" of its authors, "is partly founded upon human records, and, therefore, not an article of faith." Ibidem. Here the phrase, "article of faith," is the same as, term of Communion. It is ambiguous {358} language, confounding testimony with confession, as on page 8. It is true that neither history nor argument belongs formally to confession, but all three are integral parts of the Terms of Communion. In this country both Synods [Old Light and New Light Reformed Presbyterians] claim identity, as do the Seceders, with the Covenanted Witnesses; and those synods own the same judicial Testimony; and from the force of habit alone, call Reformation Principles Exhibited "Testimony;" although excluding both history and argument from the Terms! Thus, both parties cut themselves off from the Covenanted Church. But is this true? Hear their own words. In the work called, "Reformation Principles Exhibited, Part I, Historical View," page 203, it is stated in plain words, "That from the Terms of Communion this Church… exclude all historical details and arguments, private and public." So say the people of the "General Synod of the R. P. Church." [New Light.] Those who belong to the "Synod of the R. P. Church" [Old Light] are not so explicit, or so candid in excluding history and argument from the "terms of fellowship." Both parties use the phrase, "articles of faith," but the General Synod, in the edition of 1871, tells us plainly that these words mean "Terms of Communion;" and so we have often said in print for thirty-nine years!

Now, since both the synods named above openly reject "all historical details and arguments, private and public;" we ask—How can they consistently claim to be identified with the martyrs of Scotland? or how, by any possibility, can they honestly own the British covenants, while rejecting the only means by which the witnesses and their testimony can be known—uninspired history? They must be pitiably or "willingly ignorant" who can be misled by such groundless pretensions and contradictory assumptions: and the pretensions of the Synod [Old Light], and self-contradiction are rendered more obvious than those of the General Synod [New Light], by the awkward and vain attempt to graft the New American Covenant upon the stock of the British covenants, or to inoculate the latter into the former.

We next invite the reader's attention to the New Scottish {359} Testimony, which is owned equally by the Scottish and Irish Synods. This document is obviously modeled after Reformation Principles Exhibited, though still retaining the original and historic name, "Testimony." The title-page also tells us that it is both "historical and doctrinal." (Glasgow edition, 1866.) Then we are assured that history and doctrine are equally obligatory—integral parts of the Testimony: and this was attested by the late Rev. William Anderson, in Synod and in our hearing, 1864, in Glasgow. Yes, the book says, "Part I.—Historical: Part II.—Doctrinal." Now, let the reader consult page 14 of Preface to the "historical part," where he will find this important caveat,—"It is obvious that when the church requires an acknowledgment of a work like the present, the approbation expressed has a reference to the principles embodied in it, and the proper application of them." Why this caveat? and the answer is—to exclude history, the historical part of this book, only so far as "principles" may be comprised in it, and the "proper application of them," thus confounding history and principles! This document also confounds confession and testimony, just as R. P. Exhibited had done, evincing that the very frame of the latter was copied into the former, as has been already remarked.

Now let us hear what all the R. P. Synods in the British Isles and America, say about the Original Testimony; the one to which the Reformed Presbytery alone adheres:—"The Act, Declaration, and Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, was published in the year 1761. An acknowledgement of this document was thenceforward required as a term of ministerial and Christian communion in the church. It has proved, by the divine blessing, a most valuable and efficient instrument in explaining, vindicating, and recommending the principles of the Covenanted Reformation, not only in Scotland and Ireland, but in the Unites States of America." (pp. 127-8.) In R. P. Exhibited, (Edition of 1835, p. 115,) the encomium given of the Original Testimony, as to its orthodoxy and usefulness is equally explicit, but too lengthy for insertion here. The reader can consult {360} it at any time, not being, as yet, "consigned as much as possible to oblivion, or to be found only on the shelf of the antiquary." Indeed, the eulogy passed by the American document is even stronger than that of the Scottish, on the Original Testimony. In the American the framers say, it "affords a scriptural defence and full exhibition of the reformation in its best state." Why then reject and disown it? Why a substitute?—a plurality of substitutes?—necessitating a plurality of covenants and terms of communion? and thus rending the organic body by "diverse and strange doctrines?"

Let no one imagine we are opposed to the progress of the church's testimony. We have demonstrated the contrary. We have humbly but earnestly solicited cooperation in "readjusting the Judicial Testimony of the R. P. Church," and this publicly for many years. In the execution of such a work, however, the first point is to ascertain and agree upon the subject matter and formal nature of a judicial testimony; so that principle and practice be not confounded—law and facts identified.

We close this article with the following corollaries:—

1. Confession and testimony, principle and practice, law and fact, are to be carefully distinguished.

2. Doctrinal statement must be distinguished from historical narrative, in framing a faithful judicial testimony.

3. Since the inspired canon was closed, Christ's witnesses must use history and reason as essential elements in their testimony: and in this way only, (since the rise of Antichrist especially,) can they have fellowship with him. 1 John 1.1,3. Rev. 12.11,17.

4. A declaration of doctrine, subject to the correction of Scripture, is the immediate rule, by which to test the position of any church.

5. The church's testimony is not limited to a visible or tangible book. As she subsisted many generations on divine testimony without the Bible, (the book); so Christ's witnesses subsisted before the Ploughlandhead Testimony of 1761 was in {361} existence. Their faithful testimony may still be found in their published "Declarations," at Rutherglen, Sanquhar, Lanark, &c., and in their Covenants. [And the Informatory Vindication.]

6. No person or church can honestly or rationally claim to be identified with the martyrs of Scotland, or to be of their house and lineage, while ignorant of their history, or excluding their history from the Terms of Communion.

7. All parties who exclude history and argument from their Terms of Communion, do thereby exclude themselves from the R. P. Church.


Footnotes:

1. See A Narrative of Recent Occurrences in the R. P. Church, page 36, by Rev. Robert Gibson. Mr. Gibson, exposing this sophistry, tries it on its authors, thus—"That there ever was an assemblage of ministers and elders in the Eleventh St. church, Phila. in August, 1833; as Drs. Black, Wylie, etc., is only matter of human testimony, not sufficient for God's people to rest upon; such a faith could not be that of God's elect. The Bible does not mention them, except it be under the general name of backsliders."

2. That the modern reader may be assured that this distinction between human faith resting upon human testimony, and divine faith resting upon divine testimony, is no invention of the Reformed Presbytery which constituted in 1840, the present editor (JTK-2004) wishes to refer the reader to Archibald Mason's short work on Saving Faith. Mason was a Reformed Presbyterian minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and published the following very clear and distinct sentiments in 1829, long before the controversy between the Reformed Presbytery and the RPCNA:

The assent or persuasion of faith, is founded on the testimony of another. We may be persuaded of the truth of things in several ways, in which our faith has no concern. This conviction we may have from our senses. This is not faith, but sight. We may be assured of many truths by infallible demonstration; neither is this certainty that which flows from faith; for the persuasion of faith rests only upon a testimony. This is true of faith, whether we consider it as human or Divine. A human faith, is that belief of the mind which has a respect to the things of men, and rests upon a human testimony. A Divine faith, is that belief of the mind which is versant about the things of God, and is built upon a divine testimony. We entertain things with a human faith, when we believe they are true, because they are attested unto us by creditable men. The persuasion of the truth of the same thing, may be to one person a matter of sight, and unto another a matter of faith, if one person has an opportunity of seeing any transaction, or examining any object, his persuasion of its truth is not from faith, but from sight or personal observation, and is to him intuitive certainty. If another person has not the opportunity of seeing or examining the matter, but has heard it faithfully reported to him by creditable persons, then his persuasion of the truth of it is strictly faith; because it is built upon a testimony. With respect to things that are Divine, a person’s belief of their truth, upon the testimony of God, is a Divine faith. It is an assent unto, or persuasion of, the truth of Divine things, on the warrant of the word of God, and rests upon the veracity of him that cannot lie. There is no assent that we give unto the truth of things in religion, which can properly be called faith, but that persuasion which is built upon the testimony of God in his word.
3. The first Term of Communion in the Reformed Presbyterian Church is as follows: "An acknowledgement of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and the alone infallible rule of faith and practice.