Behold, ye are all children of Israel; give here your advice and counsel.—Judges 20.7.

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ACT of the Reformed Presbytery

For a PUBLIC FAST,

With the CAUSES thereof.

At HAMILTON, Nov. 10. 1784.

WHICH day, the Presbytery being met, and constituted by prayer; from an attentive survey of God’s word, and the present aspect of divine Providence, find, that now is the time when the Lord by both, is calling them, and the people under their presbyterial inspection, and all others, ‘to weeping and mourning, to baldness and girding with sackcloth’, because of the rapid progress of all manner of sin, and the visible judgements of heaven which at present seem to impend over us on account thereof; so that he must be a stranger in our Israel who is ignorant of either.—The grounds upon which the divine call to the important and necessary duty of public fasting and humiliation before the Lord is founded, may be chiefly summed upon these three;—a mournful declension from the pure doctrines of the Christian faith;—a lamentable decay in practical religion;—and the awful appearances of the Lord’s wrath gone forth against us on account of both.—That few are earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, and courageously valiant for the truth upon the earth, will not be easily contradicted, if the following symptoms of a visible declension from the pure doctrines of the Christian faith be duly considered:—Was there ever a time when error of all kinds, and heresy in its every shape and form, were more rampant than now?  A lying spirit, through God’s permission, Satan’s instigation, and innate corruption’s prevalent influence, seems to have gone forth into the mouth of many professed prophets and teachers in Israel, so that a spirit for innovation in the doctrines of Christian faith mournfully prevails.  Public teachers, regardless of God’s revealed will, the footsteps of Christ’s flock, the reputation of religion and spiritual safety of precious souls; elated also with an over-weening conceit of {2} their own ability, inordinately fond of popular applause, and desirous of finding out some new and witty invention of their own, have come forth with their doctrine and interpretation, repugnant, alas! often to God’s plain and express revealed will; by this conduct exhibiting sad symptoms of a direct disbelief of the divine authority of the sacred scriptures, a determined design to reject divine revelation, and in its place to substitute the dogmas of their own dark and corrupt minds.  Alas! how many have thus let go their integrity, and prostituted their consciences to the basest of purposes, the defence and support of superstitious modes of worship, in contradiction to the pure institutions of God in his word; justly of them may the Lord complain, I have written to them the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing. [Hos. 8.12.]—In consequence of this false and ruinous principle, a desire to model religion according to the sinful fancy of its professors independent of God’s revealed will; how rapid has been the progress? and how extensive the spread of false religion?  Almost any profession of religion, but that which avows a faithful and stedfast attachment to reformation principles and the pure institutions of Jesus, will find its votaries: Whilst sectarian principles find their admirers in almost every corner of the land, this meets with the frowns and disapprobation of men, is loaded with the worst of epithets; a strong evidence of corruption’s prevalence over the carnal mind, which will not be subject to the divine law, nor governed by God’s revealed will.

How mournful to think, that so many of the fundamental doctrines of revealed religion, should be expunged from amongst the list of articles of faith?  How rare are some of them to be found in the creed of many?  Although the scriptures expressly assert, that in the unity of the Godhead, there are three divine and distinct persons, all one in essence, and equal in dignity, perfection, and glory; yet how many have the confidence to impugn this truth, and meet it in the face with a flat denial?  Nay, to such a pitch of {3} audacity in sin have some arrived, as to have impudence enough to rob Jesus the Son of God, and the holy Spirit of all truth, the second and third persons of the glorious Godhead, of the supreme prerogatives of their nature, and to reduce them to the low rank of created existences.  How has God’s eternal election of his people to grace here, and glory hereafter, holiness in this life, and happiness in the life to come, been arraigned before the tribunal of carnal reason, and declared not only unworthy of God, but in itself both absurd and irrational?  To confine the redemption which Christ hath purchased for a peculiar people, and not to extend it to the whole of the human race, is judged a contemptuous treatment of what they call God’s universal benevolence, and laying an unjust restraint upon his unbounded goodness.  Is not man’s original apostacy from God generally forgot? and the total corruption and depravity of his nature commonly disbelieved and denied?  Justification through the imputed righteousness of Christ rejected, and the sincere, though imperfect obedience of the creatures, judged sufficient to recommend the sinner to the favour of God, and found a title to eternal life.  The great despite which is done to the Spirit of grace is matter of deep lamentation: How is the power of the creature’s free will exalted above the energy of his efficacious grace? and his witnessing, sealing, and sanctifying influences ridiculed as mere enthusiastic delusions?  Is not the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance in a state of grace and holiness, profanely bantered by many, and represented as tending to encourage licentiousness; the eternal punishment of the impenitent sinner in a future state declared to be without foundation from the word, and every way unbecoming his beneficent nature?  With propriety may it be said, The earth is defiled under the inhabitants thereof, because we have transgressed his law, changed his ordinances, and broken his everlasting covenant.  Error seems to be coming in like a flood, and spreading itself like a mighty torrent; almost every year gives birth to some false prophet or {4} other, who comes forth like a wandering star of heaven to mislead the unwary, or like a raging wave of the sea foaming out his own shame: All of the above specified evils we may consider as so many baleful fruits of our national apostacy and defection from God, our perfidy and breach of covenant, our contemptuous burial of a work of reformation, an unlimited legal toleration of all sorts of error and superstitious modes of worship which the corrupt mind can devise to itself.

If we turn our attention from the principles, and fix it upon the practices of men, we will find causes equally great for humbling ourselves before the Lord.  Indeed it commonly happens, that error in principle opens a door for looseness in practice; hence what a mournful prospect opens itself to our view; a general satisfaction with the antiscriptural constitutions in these lands, both civil and ecclesiastic still continues; nor hath there as yet been an end put to that strenuous opposition which has long been maintained against all the laudable attempts made to reduce the lands back to their former allegiance to God and his truth: An antichristian supremacy has been established in and exercised over the house of God, by which the Redeemer’s royal prerogatives have been invaded, and his church grievously oppressed in her spiritual rights and privileges; gross ignorance of reformation-attainments, and the right manner of contending for them; lukewarmness, and want of zeal in the cause of Christ; great treachery and deceitful dealing with God in testimony-bearing; little self-denial, taking up the cross, and parting with all for Christ; the generality minding their own things, and few the things of God: Amongst those who are professedly contending for the faith, what a shameful dividing of the words of truth, separating asunder what God in his word has joined together!  Long have the censures of the church been misapplied, and the seals of God’s covenant basely profaned; precious and vile, clean and unclean, have had equal access to partake of them.  Visible is our security, and obvious our inconcern, {5} under the grievous load of our old national guilt, present growth of sin, and dismal tokens of the Lord’s wrath gone forth against us: Ignorance of God in his nature and worship, perfections, and glory; of his Son Christ, in his person, offices, and grace; and of the holy Spirit in his gracious operations, have been long ground of complaint; and it is to be lamented, that the cause of the complaint does not as yet seem to be removed.  What little knowledge of sin in its heinous nature, aggravated circumstances, and pernicious effects? is not this God-dishonouring and soul-ruining evil but too often rolled as a sweet morsel under the tongue, and carressed with pleasure, whilst the spiritual exercises of religion are neglected and despised?  It is much to be feared that professors of this day have not that acquaintance about communion with God, in the duties and ordinances of his worship, which has been experienced upon former occasions; and that the form of godliness without the power, the profession without a becoming practice, is but too satisfactory unto them; as an evidence of this, Is not abstinence from the corruptions of the age, and sinful modes and customs of the times, but very small amongst those who profess to have separated from these abominations?  Is not sinful compliance with every modish fashion but too common?  Does not this discover that a profession of religion has but small influence upon the conduct of such persons? and that the means of grace are attended with but little saving benefit to their souls?  Was there ever a time when the Lord’s day was less regarded than now?  Many who will not run into all the excesses of immorality, yet make no scruple to employ it as a day of pleasure, pastime, and recreation, and very often for worldly transactions; hence it follows, that the public worship of the sanctuary is deserted, and the sacred provisions of Zion nauseated; and of those who do attend upon gospel ordinances, how much carnality and worldly discourse is mingled with their spiritual service.  A mercenary worldly spirit seems to be the peculiar distinguishing characteristic of this age; the {6} cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things, not only chokes the growth of true godliness in some, but prevents many from pursuing it altogether: Demas-like they forsake God, religion, and the concerns of their own souls, having loved this present world.  Murders, the most unnatural and cruel are committed in many places.  The detestable vices of night-balls, promiscuous dancings, drunkenness, uncleanness, covetousness, theft, treachery, fraud, and falsehood, still continue to prevail; and many who, from the religious profession, better things might be expected, give them but too much countenance.  How long and generally have family religion and closet devotion been either totally neglected, or partially performed?  Indeed, when public worship and family devotion are omitted, it is not to be expected that the duties of the closet will be performed: And is it not mournful to think that amongst ourselves there should be found so little subjection of soul to God’s ordinances, so much despising of ecclesiastical government, and speaking evil of dignities?  On account of all these melancholy symptoms of declension from the principles, and decay in the practical parts of religion in our land amongst ourselves, and others, rivers of water should flow from our eyes.

Nor are we at present without obvious indications of the Lord’s wrath gone forth against us, because of all these our abominations.  His judgements for a long time have been abroad in the earth, and yet we the inhabitants have not learned righteousness, nor turned to the hand that has been smiting us.  Of this our fierce contentions and rending divisions are a melancholy proof; these having found their way amongst Christ’s professed witnesses and followers, have rendered contending for the faith, an object of scorn and ridicule with many, and of deep discouragement to others, in whose heart there might be some desires to come forth to the help of the Lord against the mighty. [Judges 5.23.]  The influence of this divisive spirit, of ancient date and long continuance in the church of God, seems still {7} increasing; the breaches already made in Zion’s walls, instead of being repaired as they ought, have of late been greatly enlarged; unanimity in the truth is rare, and religious controversies prosecuted with bitter zeal and envying.  Many speak deceitfully, yea, wickedly for God. [Job 13.7.]  The Lord’s hand of judgement hath been stretched out in breaking the horn of our national power, which has been so long used, not for him but against him, and in the way of oppression and violence abroad; and he seems to bring us under such a yoke of bondage at home, as neither we nor our fathers have felt formerly.  The nation universally, poor and rich, groans under a heavy load of exactions grievous to be borne.  These, like our sins, are daily increasing.  Some of them are publicly scandalous, and offensive to tender consciences.  God appears to deal with us as he threatened to do, and did with his people of old, who had forsaken his law, and broken his covenant, Zech. 11.6.—I will no more pity the inhabitants of [the] land, saith the Lord; but lo, I will deliver them every one into his neighbour’s hand, and into the hand of the king, and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them.  In the course of last Spring, Summer, and Harvest, we have been visited with the alternative dispensations of judgement and mercy; the one to deter us from sin; the other to engage us to duty: And yet, Oh! has not our security and insensibility under all God’s judgements been astonishing; such a vicissitude of divine providence has neither brought us to acknowledge our iniquity, nor to implore sparing mercy from the God of heaven.  Of our corruption in principle and practice, and tokens of the Lord’s wrath gone forth against us, we ought to be sensible, else we never can remember from whence we have fallen, repent of our sins, be watchful against further defections, or strengthen the things that remain, and are ready to die, [Rev. 3.2]; but proceed to provoke the Lord in his displeasure to come upon us in a more severe stroke, when we least expect it.  It therefore becomes us deeply to humble ourselves before the Lord while he waits to be gracious, and apply speedily {8} to the blood of atonement for the pardon of all our national and personal sins, before the decree bring forth, and the day of the Lord’s fierce anger come upon us, when there shall be no escaping.

For the above reasons, with others that have already been mentioned in former papers of causes, the Presbytery appoint the third Thursday of January next, to be observed by them, and all the people under their presbyterial charge, as a day of solemn fasting and humiliation, beseeching every one to study godly sorrow, heart contrition, and evangelical repentance, with a real return from all sin; to cry mightily unto the Lord, that he may cause all ranks to know their abominations, may avert the judgements which our sins have justly merited; turn again and have compassion upon us; be a hiding place to his church from the threatened storm, and a cover from the impending tempest; that he may be a light to his servants and people in this day of clouds and thick darkness; may lift up his feet to the long desolations of Zion; revive the whole of a covenanted work of reformation, and encourage many to come out to the help of the Lord against the mighty, and that there may soon be nothing to hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain. [Isa. 11.9.]

And moreover, they entreat the people under their inspection, not to be unmindful of the Lord’s unmerited goodness to us, in seasonably averting threatened calamity, and granting us a good and plentiful harvest, whereby his paths are still made to drop down marrow and fatness upon us, [Joel 3.18, Psalm 63.5]; at a time when he was threatening to deprive us of our corn, wine, and oil.  For the continuance of his gospel, and its various ordinances; for any countenance granted to his servants in the dispensation of them; for the present prospect of sending forth more labourers into his vineyard, and that he may yet continue to walk amongst the golden candlesticks, and hold the seven stars in his right hand, and upon all the glory be a defence. [Rev. 2.1, Isa. 4.5.]

The Presbytery appoint, that these Causes be publicly read the Sabbath immediately preceding the day appointed, with suitable exhortations to the people.

Extracted by  ARCHD. MASON, Cls. Pr.