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Resolutions of the Reformed Presbyterian Synods

In SCOTLAND & IRELAND,

Affirming that the RPCNA must Maintain a Testimony

Against the United States Constitution & Government

As No Moral Ordinance of God;—

This being the Ground of their Union in Ecclesiastical Fellowship.

[ From the Minutes of Synod: ]

23. The Committee appointed to examine the various documents transmitted from the Synods in America, report, that after much discussion it was agreed upon, as an intra measure, that the report of the Committee appointed by the Synod in Scotland, and adopted by that court, be recommended to this Synod for adoption—that a correspondence be entered into with our Brethren in Scotland, and that the aid of all lawful and accessible means be sought for obtaining more light on this painful subject, in order that such a final measure may be adopted as may not endanger the harmony of the Church at home, nor compromise any part of her faithful testimony.  The following is a copy of the Report of the Synod’s Committee in Scotland, which was adopted by that Synod:—

“REPORT, &c.

“Your committee have perused the correspondence put into their hands, and experience pain and difficulty in reporting upon it.

“1. There can be but one sentiment of deep regret at the division that now obtains among their American Brethren.  That Brethren who had with such disinterestedness, ability, perseverance, and success, lifted up and supported the banner of the cross and of the reformation in the vast Continent of America, should so differ in their views, and become so alienated in their affections, as to be unable longer to co-operate in the work of the Lord, is matter of deep lamentation; and this, on their own account, on account of the {9} cause of Christ in that quarter of the world, as well as on account of the churches in Europe.

“2. Your Committee cannot fail to observe a change of sentiment, on the part of some of the Brethren, on the subject of the application of the principles of the Reformed Church to the American Government.  They had approved of the views which the Brethren in the United States had taken of the American Republic, and had admired the fidelity with which they had applied the peculiar views of the British Reformers, to the character of the constitution of the United States.  Particularly they had approved much of the following lucid and talented statements, on this subject, in the historical part of the testimony of the Reformed Church in the United States.

“ ‘There are moral evils essential to the constitution of the United States, which render it necessary to refuse allegiance to the whole system.  In this remarkable instrument there is contained no acknowledgement of the being or authority of a God—there is no acknowledgement of the Christian religion or professed submission to the kingdom of Messiah.  It gives support to the enemies of the Redeemer, and admits to its honours and emoluments, Jews, Mahometans, Deists, and Atheists.  It establishes that system of robbery by which men are held in slavery, despoiled of liberty, and property of protection.  It violates the principles of representation, by bestowing upon the domestic tyrant who holds hundreds of his fellow-creatures in bondage, an influence in making laws for freemen, proportioned to the number of his own slaves.  The constitution is, notwithstanding its numerous excellencies, in many instances inconsistent, oppressive, and impious.’

“Your committee are not aware of any change in the judicial government of America, affecting the truth contained in the above judicial declaration.  Their Brethren in America approve of the churches in Europe, dissenting from the Erastian civil establishment of Britain.  While there are in several points essential differences between the two governments your committee cannot perceive that the American government possesses that moral and scriptural character which would supersede dissent and protestation on the part of the enlightened followers of the Lamb.  Your Committee are aware that differences of opinion and practice have obtained in the application of the principles of the church, on this {10} point, and that there are practical difficulties.  Still taking into view the defect and the immorality in the federal government, your committee cannot see upon what principle a direct homologation of it can be vindicated.  Were a similar application to be made of the same principle in Europe, the church might be relieved from some difficulties, might be saved some reproach, and might probably obtain accessions to her numbers, but all this would be a sacrifice of the distinctive principle upon which the church has hitherto dissented from, and protested against, the civil constitution of these lands.  The anti-christianism interwoven with the constitution of these lands is very bad, and forms the reason of dissent.  And the atheism in the federal constitution of America, in the absence of all recognition of a Deity, and the infidelity in the absence of all recognition of Divine Revelation, and of the supremacy of the Messiah, and the authorizing of slavery, in terms of the above extract, your committee cannot regard as minor things.  Your committee consider it to be required of the church, not only to avow a general principle, but also to legislate on the application of that principle, in the case of prominent and permanent evils connected essentially with a civil constitution; as without this, their testimony in the avowal of the general principle, must be neutralised and contradicted.  On these accounts your committee cannot acquiesce in the change of view entertained on this subject by their Brethren.

“3. Your Committee find, in the procedure of the Brethren in America, in the unhappy dispute that has been agitated among them, much to regret and deplore.  They regret the degree of agitation that has been excited, and the personalities that have been mingled up with the controversy.  They cannot approve of the publication of the disputed paragraphs of the Pastoral Address, in circumstances of such agitation, and after they had been judicially rejected.  However much they approve of a calm and friendly discussion of every subject, they regard the time and circumstances in which the publication was emitted as unhappy.  Your committee also exceedingly regret the conduct of the Brethren in calling a pro re nata meeting of the Eastern Subordinate Synod, and disapprove of the precipitation of its proceedings, and of its decisions in suspending their Brethren from the exercise of office.  Having under their consideration a question of general concernment to the church, and having access to a General Synod, it appears to your Committee that the Subordinate {11} Synod should have deliberated and brought the matter before the Supreme Court.  And withal, considering the connection which the American church has with the churches in Scotland and Ireland, and the correspondence now between them, your committee think that it was due to the importance of the subject, and to brotherly unity, and to prudence, and safety, to have communicated with the church in Europe.  They regret exceedingly the apparent precipitation and irregularity of the Eastern Subordinate Synod, and cannot concur in the extreme measure resorted to, in suspending from office their Brethren in the ministry.

“4. While your committee are pained at the breach that has been made among the brethren, they cannot suppress the strong desire they feel that it may yet be healed.  They earnestly recommend to the brethren, after the agitation has somewhat subsided, to resume correspondence, to endeavour to forgive and forget all personal offences, and to review, alter, and cancel their mutually offensive deeds, so far as this can be done in consistency with truth and good principle; so that if it shall be found that they are holding substantially the same views, they may yet be re-united in lifting up the same standard of truth, till He come who is the desire of all nations.

“5. Your Committee are sorry that they cannot recommend any final decision on this subject, or even urge the Court to come to a final decision at all.  It is their wish that the brethren in America may yet have opportunity of reconciliation and union.  For themselves they feel that they would require more full informations and explanations than can be obtained from the very conflicting statements already received, to enable them to come to a satisfactory determination.  Besides the relations between the churches in Scotland and Ireland, as well as the circumstance of the correspondence being addressed to both, render it expedient that the two churches correspond, before coming to any conclusion on their relation to the church in America.  And the committee recommend to the church stedfastness in her profession, and would deprecate in their discussions every thing which may threaten the unity of the church, or have a tendency to alienate the affections of her ministers and other members.”

This report having been read, it is agreed that it be received.

It is then moved by the Rev. S. Cameron and seconded {12} by Mr. H. Small, Ruling Elder, that this report be adopted by the Synod.—Moved as amendment by the Rev. T. Houston, and seconded by the Rev. W. Toland, “That the two first resolutions of the Scottish Synod be adopted; but in the meantime, as we owe a solemn duty to the friends of the Covenanted Reformation in America, who anxiously look to us for direction, and also to our people who may emigrate to that land, we declare our belief, that, so far as we can now judge, the Brethren calling themselves the “Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church,” of which the Rev. Robert Gibson is Moderator, and the Rev. Moses Roney, Clerk, and those who adhere to them, retain the doctrine, discipline, and substantially the usages which constituted the basis of our ecclesiastical fellowship, open correspondence with them; advise the other party, calling themselves, “A Reformed Presbyterian Synod,” to return to the testimony of the Church, and state decidedly that we can have no fellowship with any party as the Covenanted Church in America, but on the footing of two principles expressed in “Reformation Principles Exhibited,” formerly sanctioned by the American Synod, namely: First, That there are moral evils essential to the Constitution of the United States, which render it necessary to refuse allegiance to the whole system.  And, second, That the act respecting Juries is absolutely prohibitory.”

A discussion on the motion and amendment is continued to three o'clock, p.m., when a recess of twenty minutes is allowed.  After the recess, the Synod meets and resumes its proceedings.

The discussion is continued to five o’clock, the hour of adjournment.—Agreed that the Synod adjourn till half-past six o’clock.  Adjourned accordingly by prayer.


THURSDAY, HALF-PAST 6 O’CLOCK, P.M.

The Synod meets after adjournment and is constituted.

The discussion is resumed and continued till half-past nine o’clock, when the Amendment is withdrawn and the original Motion adopted.  Ephraim Chancellor, Ruling Elder, desires his dissent to be recorded.

Resolved—That the Synod adjourn till ten o’clock tomorrow, {13} a.m., and that the members meet as a Committee of Bills at seven o’clock.

Adjourned accordingly by prayer.

[ . . . ]


SATURDAY, 10 o’CLOCK, A.M.

The Synod meets and is constituted.

33. Resolved—That the Rev. Messrs. Alexander and Dick be appointed as a Deputation to attend the next annual meeting of the Synod in Scotland, for maintaining a friendly intercourse, and with special reference to the state of the Church in America.

34. The Clerk of Synod is appointed to communicate to the Church in America, the result of this Synod’s proceedings; and to intimate that this Court will readily receive any information that the Brethren in America may please to furnish.


[ At the next yearly meeting of the Irish R.P. Synod ... ]

SESSION SIXTH—FRIDAY, TEN o’CLOCK, A.M.

Synod meets and is constituted.

22. Minutes Twenty-three, Thirty-three, and Thirty-four, of last year, are read.  The delegates to the Synod in Scotland give a brief statement respecting their mission.  The minutes of the Scottish Synod relating to that delegation, and the appointment of a Committee to exhibit the views of our Church on the American question, and the deliverance of that Court on the subject, and also a letter from the Western subordinate Synod in America, are read.  Approbation of the conduct of its delegates to Scotland is expressed by this Synod.  It is then moved by Mr. Dick, and seconded by Mr. Alexander—That this Synod adopt the decision of the Synod in Scotland, and the Report founded on it.  This motion is carried.  The Rev. W. Gibson desired his dissent to be recorded.

The following are the Extracts from the Minutes of the Synod in Scotland relating to this subject:—

“It is moved, seconded, and unanimously Agreed—that it being the opinion of this Court that there are moral evils essentially connected with the government of the United States, of such magnitude, that no one holding the principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, on the subject of civil government, can consistently recognise it as the moral ordinance of God, or practically unite with it,—it is also unanimously agreed, that a Committee be appointed to exhibit the views of our Church on this subject, and that these views be laid before both parties in America, as the only ground on which this Church can continue to recognise them as brethren.  The Committee to consist of Dr. Symington, Dr. Henry, Messrs. Symington, Anderson, and Dick.

“The Committee appointed at a former sitting, to prepare a document declaratory of the application of Reformed Presbyterian principles {10} to the civil government of the United States of America, to be transmitted to the Reformed Presbyterian Synods in that country, produce a draught of the proposed communication.  On hearing it read, the Synod express their cordial approbation of it, adopt it, and appoint Drs. Symington and Henry, with Messrs. Armstrong and Dick, a Committee to prepare it for transmission.”

The Report is the following:—

“1. It is still matter of deep regret that our correspondence with the sister Church in America should be directed to its divisions, rather than to its union and progress in the great cause in which they and we have now been so long united.  The circumstance of there being on our table a recent communication from only one of the sections into which the Reformed Presbyterian Church has been divided, prevents us from entering fully into the subject, and from giving a final declaration of our sentiments.

“2. The Synod are most solicitous to perpetuate ecclesiastical union with their American brethren, upon the ground on which this union has been formed and hitherto maintained.  They and we have agreed, not only in general principles respecting magistracy, but in the particular application of these principles to our several existing institutions.  It is unnecessary to remind our brethren of the protest against the civil constitution of these realms under which the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Britain has been formed, and of the practical separation which we have endeavoured to maintain.  Of the application of our general principles in this country, our brethren in America have expressed their approbation, as many of them had done before they had left the country of their fathers.  The Synod have always understood that there was a similar application of our general principles to the American civil institutions, particularly to the federal government.  Against its participation in the system of slavery,—against the absence in it of any recognition of Christianity, or even of a Deity,—and against the promiscuous admission into its offices of persons, irrespectively of moral and Scriptural qualification, our brethren in America had faithfully testified, and upon this footing had maintained a distinct ecclesiastical standing among the American Churches.  The Synod are assured of this, not only from the correspondence and writings of individuals, but from the authorised exposition of her views by the Church herself, and from her well-known practice.  Upon this footing, the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in America and Europe were united, and their members, in the intercourse obtaining between the countries, had readily made a similar application of their general principles to the respective civil institutions of both countries, as Providence cast their lot; our brethren, assuming the ground of the American Church, in this particular, when they emigrated to the United States, and as readily resuming the same ground with us when they returned to Europe.

“3. The Synod deem it still their duty to maintain the same standing with regard to the civil constitution of Britain, and to act consistently with their dissent and protest; and they regard the same thing to be obligatory upon the Church in America, according to her circumstances.  The reason of this, in both cases, is the immorality essentially connected with the respective civil constitutions.  The immorality, indeed, is not the same in both cases, but in both it is of such a magnitude as to require and justify separation on the footing of a {11} testimony.  The Synod regard magistracy as founded upon the law of nature, the moral law, and as being the ordinance of God, commanding obedience for conscience sake, only when erected and administered according to this law.  The law of nature, which defines the rights and duties of man, is fully ascertained in the revealed moral law.  The republication of this law in the Scriptures is accompanied with seals of its divine authority, imposing an indispensible obligation upon the individuals and communities to whom it is made known, to acknowledge and obey it, and constituting the rejection of it, a heinous immorality.  In the Holy Scriptures precepts are addressed to civil society and its rulers with all the authority of God, and of Jesus Christ, his High Plenipotentiary.  A community enjoying revelation, as the people of the United States have done, and refusing to acknowledge it, and promoting to legislative, judicial, and executive power, persons destitute of the qualifications it prescribes, acts an immoral part.  The circumstance of the moral law being revealed in the Scriptures does not found this law upon grace; nor is magistracy founded upon grace, when placed under the regulation of the clearly revealed moral law; or when in connection with a special dispensation of mercy, it is put under the feet of the ‘head of all principality and power.’ [Col. 2.10.]  The moral law defines the rights of man with certainty, and makes the best provision for human happiness; and the Christian system does not interfere with the obligation of the moral law, otherwise than clearly to reveal and powerfully to enforce it.  The law is established by faith.  The Synod cannot regard the non-recognition of the law of God, on the part of men forming themselves into a commonwealth, in the circumstances in which America is placed, in any other light, than that of a great immorality in which no enlightened Christian should participate, and against which he should testify.  This immorality is not [to] be concealed from our view, nor palliated by its apparent negative character. [That is, many of its defects are matters of omission.—JTKer.]  Where Christianity is rejected, amid the light of its evidence, there exists a positive opposition to God and to Christ, which is equally incompatible with duty to God and true philanthropy.  On these accounts the Synod has abstained from all direct acknowledgment of authority constituted on immoral principles.  They owe this to God, to testify to his honour—they owe it to themselves, that they may not be partakers in the guilt—and they owe it to their neighbour, to reclaim society from a state which is offensive to God, and liable to his displeasure.  They are thus constrained to make a practical application of their principles.  There are thousands of professing Christians in our land, who assent most cordially to our general principles, who do not see it to be their duty to take the ground of a public testimony and practical separation, which we have assumed.  By incorporating with the civil institution, and recognizing it as the moral ordinance of God, we would at once lose our distinctive standing, relinquish our testimony, and condemn and undo the faithful contendings of our fathers, from the time of the first erecting of our Church.

“4. The Synod do not feel themselves inclined, or able, or warranted, to interfere with the details of the unhappy dispute in which their brethren have been involved, or with the ecclesiastical proceedings which have been adopted.  They have recommended, and they still earnestly recommend, to their brethren, mutual submission and conciliation in the spirit of the Gospel.  The Synod consider that there {12} were evils essentially connected with the government of the United States, which justified the American Church in refusing to acknowledge it as the moral ordinance of God, and that these evils continue, and require the same public testimony and practical course of conduct.  On this ground they have been united with the American brethren in ecclesiastical fellowship.  They cast an eye of affectionate concern over the great ocean that rolls between them and their brethren, solicitous to find them occupying the ground they had decisively assumed and so honourably maintained.  They cannot regard the acknowledgment of the American government as the moral ordinance of God, and those practical connections with it which imply this acknowledgment, to be consistent with the testimony in which the Reformed Churches in Britain and America have been united.  They beseech their brethren to hold fast their profession, for they cannot endure the thought of the American brethren being separated from one another, or from them.  By the authority and excellence of the grand principles of truth, and by the bonds in which the Churches in the two quarters of the world have been connected, they entreat their brethren to remain united, faithful, and steadfast.  They beseech their brethren abroad to raise and maintain a faithful standard—to gather and unite the brethren from Europe that are every year thronging to their shores.  For the sake also of the Church in Europe, endeavouring, in the midst of agitation and trial, to contend for the Redeemer’s inheritance of the nations, they pray them to encourage their hearts and strengthen their hands, that they may hold fast to the end, and finish their testimony in the last days of Antichrist.  Remember the brotherly covenant.  They wait for a renewed assurance that you continue steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord.  They shall joy to behold, as heretofore, your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.  And, for the sake of their brethren themselves, they beseech them, after having been honoured of God, to plant in the American soil the germ of the Reformation in its civil bearings, not to abandon it when it is taking root.  They or their posterity may yet see its buddings, growth, fruit, and shadow, form a blessing of the highest order to their vast and growing empire.

“WILLIAM MACLACHLAN, Moderator.

“A. M. ROGERSON, Synod Clerk.”


The above excerpts of Minutes from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland in 1835 and 1836 have been prepared from the original publications. Both of these conclude with the signature of the Clerk of Synod, Clarke Houston. The publications were kindly leant to the present editor by Dr. R.S. of L.B., a historian of Dissenting Presbyterianism in America.

What it is hoped that the reader will gather from these excerpts, is the fact that the view of the United States “government” as not being the Moral Ordinance of God described in Romans 13, was originally one of the defining characteristics of the Reformed Presbyterian churches, so much so that it was essential to their unity with one another. In other words, maintaining the point was part of the basis for their fellowship. One does not need to be an “Anti-Government” man to disown the United States government; nor does one even need to be a “Steelite”. A serious Christian who compares the institutions of government in the United States with the institution thereof in Holy Scripture, cannot help coming to the conclusion that they are two very different entities.

What it is hoped that the reader will do after reflecting upon these observations is yet more important. In the 1830’s the RPCNA was sorely affected by a division between an “Old-Light” party and a “New-Light” party. At the time, the “New-Lights” adopted a view of the American institutions of Government as lawful and commendable, in direct contradiction to the historic Testimony of the Church; while the “Old-Lights” continued to maintain a testimony against the US Constitution and institutions of government. Since that time, the remaining “Old-Light” party has also, as a body, given up their stand for the cause of truth, in this regard, and adopted a new testimony, very obscure in its principles of political dissent, and dangerously indistinct about the character of the U.S. Constitution and Government. The implications of what they do assert clearly involve them in recognizing the institutions of government in the United States as having a legitimate civil authority, as described in Romans 13, rather than only the “power” described in Revelation 13.  These changes, as well as other circumstances, call for the reader’s prayer, and it is hoped he will join the true Reformed Presbyterians of the present day in lifting up prayers concerning the following particulars:

1. That the Lord Jesus Christ, for his own honour, will raise up a faithful Testimony for his truth, in the mouths and hands of competent witnesses, to declare his authority, and what submission is due unto him by all men, all nations, and all institutions of the earth whatsoever.

2. That the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in North America, Ireland, Scotland, and elsewhere, would be, by the Lord’s gracious hand, turned back from their course of declension, into the old paths, and offer themselves as ready examples to call others to embrace the truth of God’s Word in these matters, vindicate the Martyr’s testimony who died with these principles in their mouths, and use what means the Lord will put in their hands, to effect change in the societies where the Lord has placed them in his providence. However unadmirable some of the members and ministers of these Churches may be, it is not evident that the Lord has given his servants a “pray not thou for this people” (Jer. 7.16,) and Christian charity will teach us to hope for their good in a day of mercy.

3. That those ministers and elders of these communities who are the more admirable for their knowledge of and respect for the despised truths of our Covenanter testimony, may be granted a double-measure of grace and zeal, to take up this cause; both in labouring to bring their brethren to embrace and advance the same cause, and also withstanding the opposition which surrounds them, with faithfulness and courage, even if it results in exclusion from those from whom better things would be expected.

4. That the captain of the host of the Lord would come forth to do battle, by his Word and Spirit, to put down all of the evil imaginations of men, their false religions, philosophies, and politics; and settle the throne of his kingdom in order, peace, and glory, both in North America, and in all of the nations of the earth, as the inheritance appointed to him by his Father, for the glorious work of redemption whereby he has Redeemed his Elect, honoured his Father’s Law, and Overcome all of the Powers of Darkness, with a Majesty to be honoured by men and angels forevermore.

2010.12.25::JTK.