To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.—Jer. 6.10

[Plain Reasons for Presbyterians Dissenting from the Revolution Church of Scotland: An Article from The Contending Witness.]
(A Short Article holding forth the Principles of the Book by the Same Name.)

Excerpted from:

VOL. I.            APRIL, 1841.            NO. 1.
The following paper contains the sentiments of our reforming and covenanted forefathers: and as it possesses much merit in point of faithfulness; is evidently founded upon the word of God, and of great and permanent utility in the church of Christ: so its importance and general applicability in our circumstances, will justify its publication and recommend it to the serious attention and examination of the conscientious reader.

Here warrantable causes of ecclesiastical separation are clearly stated, and justly styled "plain reasons of dissent," &c. The first six reasons will be judged warrantable by those of the presbyterian persuasion in general; and the third and last are but too plainly applicable at the present juncture. The fifteen which follow are some of the reasons why Covenanters could not join in ecclesiastical fellowship with the established presbyterian church of Scotland. In so far as these are applicable to any other ecclesiastical body, they {12} are proportionally warrantable causes of separation, by every intelligent and conscientious member. Our covenant fathers judged that "several of these, conjunctly, are decidedly valid grounds of separation."

Although the Reformed Presbytery might fairly apply most of these "reasons," as so many charges against the two Reformed [Presbyterian] Synods, so called; as fully warranting recent separations from them;—yet at present the reader is referred specially to the fifth, ninth, tenth, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth; as being peculiarly applicable.

The seven "conclusions" which are added, will be found very helpful to covenanters, in contending for the "present truth." The first clause of the fourth "conclusion," and the latter part of the sixth, are recommended to the reader’s attention.

In the present broken condition of the professing witnesses for a covenanted work of Reformation, both in England and America, these "ancient landmarks, which the fathers have set," will serve as indexes to direct in the "good old paths."


In looking over a paper entitled "Hints on a Testimony for truth," I was sorry to learn that, indulging in the pleasing slumbers of the age, the Ministry, even of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, are now, in general, profoundly silent on the head of occasional communion among the different sections of the visible Church; and that, uninstructed in the principles of Church-fellowship, and in the peculiarities of their own profession, many of the people, of course, are found straggling about as they please; every one doing that which is right in his own eyes; providing always, however, that he carefully guard against giving offence to weak brethren, who may not, as yet, be altogether emancipated from the prejudices of an illiberal education. Were it to be a mean of checking this growing piece of self-inconsistent popularity, it might also be here stated; that, if current report be not widely aside from the truth, the practice is not only privately approved of, but also publicly exemplified by some of her office-bearers; notwithstanding their own solemn engagements as the official guardians of the principles and morals of those under their charge to the contrary! Yea, even some of her young men, far advanced in preparatory studies for public service in the Church, are said to have {13} a deep hand in the trespass!! Observing the result of this unprincipled levity in the religious world, and considering the natural progress of human sentiment, it is not difficult to foresee its final destination in the present case. These things wont not to be so among professed witnesses for the principles of the Covenanted Reformation in Britain and Ireland; at least among those of the (Antiburgher) Secession and Reformed Presbyterian persuasions. It is not, indeed, a small matter that warrants a division in the visible Church of the Redeemer. His "undefiled is but one: she is the only one of her mother;—the choice one of her that bare her." [Song 6.9.] When unhappily, however, the Church is so corrupted that separation becomes absolutely necessary, the reasons and motives of this painful step should be kept constantly and very prominently before the eyes of all, particularly of those who are constrained to "go forth unto Jesus without the camp, bearing his reproach." [Heb. 13.13.]

In order to recall the attention of the present generation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church to the principles and practice of their fathers on this important subject, I beg leave to submit a few sentiments, principally extracted from a book entitled, "Plain Reasons," &c.1

Extensively liberal as modern times are, certainly few will maintain that ecclesiastical separation is justifiable on no account whatever. Even the Ministers of the Revolution Church admit, that there are six warrantable grounds of separation.2

I. Heresy in doctrine: that is, errors contrary to, and destructive of the fundamentals of faith and religion.—When errors are taught and maintained that are inconsistent with salvation; then there ought to be a separation. Thus the Jews denying Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah; the Socinians denying the Godhead of Christ, &c. (add Professors Campbell and Simpson) these and such like warrant separation, because they are errors altogether inconsistent with salvation.

II. Idolatry in worship.—When the worship we are to join in is corrupted we are to separate from it: as in Popery; their worshipping {14} of saints and angels, their bowing to images, and their idolatrous mass. These things make communion with them simply unlawful; as is clear from 1 Cor. 8.7; Rev. 18.4-6.

III. Sinful terms of communion warrant separation. We are not to stay in that Church where we are necessitated to sin by joining with it. This is done several ways:—as, 1. When rites and ceremonies of men’s invention are urged, as necessary to the worship of God:—2. When a person is put to condemn any thing which he thinks lawful; or any point of doctrine which he thinks true:—3. When a person is required to approve of the deed or practice of some other which he accounts sinful; or to affirm that as a truth which he thinks is an error:—4. When some engagement is required for time to come which doth restrain from any duty called for.

IV. Usurpation or intrusion into the Ministry is a sufficient ground of separation:—such as, 1. An intruding into it without either a call from the people or ordination by ministers:—2. An intruding into it merely upon the call of the people without ordination or potestative mission:—3. When a person has ordination, but takes the charge of a particular flock wholly without and against their will; entering, it may be, merely by the presentation of a Patron or collation of a Bishop:—4. When a people have their own faithful Ministers violently, and for their faithfulness, thrust out, and others intruded into their place.

V. Intolerable persecution is a just ground of separation. Our blessed Lord bids us, when thrust out of one city flee into another. Under this head may be reckoned unjust and sinful excommunication. Matt. 10.13, John 16.2.

VI. Withdrawing from ordinances is just, when offences and scandals are so grievous and notour, as all access towards removing them in a regular way is rendered impossible, in such a manner as the great end of edification cannot be reached, &c.

These are admitted to be warrantable grounds of ecclesiastical separation by the Revolution Church of Scotland. How far any or all of them may be applicable to this or that section of the visible Church of Christ in these lands, at present, is left with the reader to determine. The reasons assigned by the Old Presbyterian Dissenters for dissenting from the Revolution Church are the following:
I. Presbyterian Dissenters seem to have just ground to dissent from this present Revolution Church; Because she was made up, for most part, of such office-bearers as, by their disorderly and divisive courses, had left the true Covenanted Principles of the Reformed Church of Christ in Scotland, as by law established in 1649, and complied with the heinous corruptions and evils of these times.

II. Presbyterian Dissenters make secession from, or decline communion with this Revolution Church; Because she hath changed her {15} Scriptural constitution and form of government, as by law established, anno 1649, into the inclinations of the people and the Act of Parliament, 1592.

III. Presbyterian Dissenters seem to have just ground to dissent from this Revolution Church; Because she is apparently Erastian in her principles and practice, by ordinarily complying with Erastianism.

IV. Presbyterian Dissenters may have just ground of dissent from this Revolution Church; Because she inclines to, and complies with Prelacy in principle and practice.

V. Presbyterian Dissenters refuse communion with this Revolution Church; Because she is tyrannical in her government, and has often shown herself to be of a persecuting spirit.

VI. Presbyterian Dissenters may, or do see just ground to dissent from this Revolution Church; Because she has gone into, and practically approved of the Incorporating Union with the Prelatic constitution of England.

VII. Presbyterian Dissenters cannot join with this Revolution Church; Because she is of, and approves toleration principles.

VIII. Presbyterian Dissenters seem to have just ground to refuse communion with this Revolution Church; Because she hath taken the illimited oaths to the Government, put in place of the Covenants, National and Solemn League.

IX. Presbyterian Dissenters decline communion with this Revolution Church; Because she hath slighted, violated, and neglected our Covenants, National and Solemn League; and makes not honorable mention of them, maintains not their inviolable obligation, holds not forth the breaches of them, nor endeavors the renovation of these Covenants.

X. Presbyterian Dissenters cannot join with this Revolution Church; Because she is unfaithful in her doctrine; and the unsound are so numerous that the erroneous escape just censure.

XI. Presbyterian Dissenters cannot join with this Revolution Church; Because she is unsound, or is guilty of temporizing and men-pleasing in her public worship.

XII. Presbyterian Dissenters cannot join with this Revolution Church; Because she is negligent and partial in her discipline.

XIII. Presbyterian Dissenters cannot join with this Revolution Church; Because she is unsound and restricted, unfaithful and defective in her government.

XIV. Presbyterian Dissenters decline the communion of this Revolution Church; Because she is unsound and sinful in the terms of her communion.

XV. Presbyterian Dissenters dissent from the Revolution Church; Because she is obstinate in her defection and refuseth to be reclaimed. {16}

These are the Reasons condescended upon by the Old Presbyterian Dissenters, why they cannot accede to the fellowship of the Revolution Church of Scotland; every one of which they have substantiated by a mass of irrefragable evidence. But as it is not pretended, that these are the only reasons which can or may be advanced for declining to hold communion with said Church; neither is it alleged, that every one of these, separately taken, is a ground of withdrawment, so decidedly valid, as several of them conjunctly may be.

The first edition of these Reasons, as already stated, was published in the year 1731, and the second in 1787. Between these periods a number of additional defections and encroachments occurred.—These JOHN HOWIE very judiciously introduced, in their proper places, into the second edition. Perhaps, in a third edition of the work, a number more might be introduced with no less propriety: exhibiting also, Plain Reasons why Old Presbyterian Dissenters must stand aloof from many other Bodies of Dissenters which had not come into existence when the first edition was published. The spirit of the present age, however, would encourage no such undertaking. Therefore, endeavoring to hold fast that whereto we have already attained, the conclusions subjoined to the first edition, by our worthy ancestors, shall close this Paper: viz.

1. Seeing this Church has received into her ministerial communion, as above, such persons as Christ Ambassadors, who, (1.) Either never had a commission from him in his orderly and appointed way, but assumed it, or got it from them that had none to give; as the Prelatic Curates, ordained by the Prelates, who run unsent, Jer. 23.21,22, so could not preach, Rom. 10.15, being strangers, whom the sheep could not hear; John 10.5. Or, (2.) Such as had wholly subjected their commission to the disposal of strange lords; as did such Old Presbyters as conformed to Prelacy, and others that submitted by the Act of Glasgow to their deposition, neglecting to avouch plainly their ministerial exercise, preaching privately sometimes, doing and suffering violence to be done to the law of their Master; condemned, Zeph. 3.4. Or, (3.) Such as had changed the holding of their commission, by taking a new grant from the usurper of Christ’s prerogatives, with such instructions as were dishonorable to him, and destructive to the privileges of his kingdom; such as the Indulged and their Brethren, the Connived at and Tolerated Clergy, without any convincing evidences of repentance, or just and faithful testimony against this leaven, which seems to have sadly leavened the whole mass, few excepted: I say, the Church being compounded of these different qualities and ingredients, the same solid arguments that were employed against hearing, or joining with all or any of these foresaid distinctions, do as forcibly militate against communion with this Church. {17}

2. When a Church neglects to prosecute, perverts, or corrupts her commission, either by preaching false doctrine, or formally binds up her own hands by sinful oaths, from following and pursuing her undoubted sworn unto duty, practically condemning the generation of the righteous, perverting people from the right ways of the Lord, as once attained, maintained, and practiced in this land; denying declining, and disowning duty; yea, approving ways prejudicial to duty, leading into snares, defending and pleading for defection, as is the case with reference to this Church, as above instructed. Hence what is duty seems abundantly clear, from the known records, viz. people must not follow "a multitude to do evil, nor hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge;" Exod. 23.2, Prov. 19.27; nor such leaders as cause the people to err; Isa. 9.16; Ezek. 22.28.

Mr. DURHAM on the Revelation, page 55, says: "In matter of hearing, it is not so hard to discern who are to be accounted to speak without God’s commission; because such have ordinarily no warrantable call at, &c.—or by palpable defection from the truth, and commission given in that call, they have forefaulted [forfeited] their commission, and so no more to be accounted ambassadors of Christ, or watchmen of his flock, than a watchman of the city is to be accounted an observer thereof, when he hath publicly made defection to the enemy, and taken on with him."

3. When a Church actually causes divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrines we have learned; by either maintaining or fostering these causes of divisions and offences; or by casting fuel on that fire, through reproaching and persecuting with keenness, such as are obliged in point of duty and conscience to oppose the evil of their ways: or when a Church does promote and abet a downright schism, and will not be persuaded to let divisions fall by removing the causes thereof, though it may be done without prejudice; yea, to the great advantage and honor of truth; as seems to be the case with reference to this Church, on account of her schism the Covenanted Reformation, together with her other increasing evils, strenuously defended by the bulk of this Church. The Apostle Paul, Rom. 16.17,18, clearly shows what is called for duty in this case by two plain precepts: The first is, that they should be marked, as a watchman marks when descrying the motions of an enemy, &c. The second is, that such should be avoided or declined. The like counsel is given; 2 Thes. 3.6,14; 1 Tim. 6.3-5; 2 Tim. 3.5; Titus 3.10; 2 John 10.

4. When a Church doth in judgment and practice so far fall from truth, that her Ministers maintain, patronize, strengthen, and harden one another, in a backsliding sinful course; and lay traps, gins, and snares, to have the yoke of compliance more closely wreathed about {18} the necks of her members; so that none doth, or can return from his wickedness. I say, when the case is thus with a Church, she must not be joined with; which was the horrible thing the Lord saw in the Prophets of Jerusalem; Jer. 23.14. How applicable this, and that in Ezek. 13.10,18,19, are to this Church, the judicious may judge. The words are: "Woe unto such as sew pillows, &c.—and make the heart of the righteous sad, whom the Lord hath not made sad; and strengthen the hands of the wicked."

5. When such scandalous defections continue, and are carried on in a Church, as necessarily infer a manifold offence in countenancing them, we are by the Apostle, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, commanded to withdraw from such disorderly walkers; 2 Tim. 3.6,14. It seems evident from the preceding account, that the ministers of this Church do walk very disorderly (for though the context shows, that the Apostle is speaking of such as would not work with their hands, which yet by analogy holds true of Ministers, who work not the work incumbent upon them) and contrary to the ancient Acts, and ordinances of the Church of Scotland, which are a part of the traditions we have received; therefore people ought to withdraw from them, while they remain so disorderly, according to this solemn charge given by the Apostle.

6. That kind of Church-government that may be most probable, wherein men ought to unite, Mr. Durham in his Treatise on Scandal, page 341, printed, Edinburgh, 1680, thinks should have these characters: (1.) "It must be a government that can extend unto, and reach all the body; for one main end of government is union; Eph. 4.3,10,11, &c. and the removing of offences, which make divisions; Matt. 18. And this union is not to be in this or that particular part of the body, but in the whole; 1 Cor. 12. That there be no schism in the body, therefore, it must extend to all, or be in a capacity to do so. (2.) It should be in a proportionable fitness to remove the causes that breed divisions, (for there cannot be union in a government which is not fitted for that) and therefore must be able to purge corrupt teachers, and the leaven of corrupt doctrine out of the whole Church, or any part thereof. (3.) It must be such a government, as hath an unity among the whole Governors for this end, and so it must answer to the unity of the body."

That this Church cannot pretend to such a comely government, seems plain from the vast numbers of different sorts of corrupt teachers (who instead of removing, do breed offences, and increase divisions) that have been comprehended, and yet remain or lodge within her walls; and, so far as I know, no suitable endeavors to have these corrupt teachers and the leaven of corrupt doctrine purged out. I beg pardon for repeating the common designations such get, and as some think deserve, from the accessory hand they have had in such {19} offences and divisions, &c. such as the temporizing Curates, Indulged, Tested, Tolerated, Jurants, Erastians, Legalists, Arians, Socinians, Latitudinarians, &c. Whether the purging out and cleansing of such, be a thing that they cannot do, or will not, themselves best know; but it is not done. And while the matter continues so, her government does no manner of way agree to the aforesaid characters of government: and consequently union with a Church whose government is disagreeable to the very essential and vital parts of government, must be very uncomfortable, because sinful. It is judged, when a Church declines the pure ways of Christ, the people’s bound duty is to stand and ask for the old paths, &c. Jer. 6.16: or when a Church will not be persuaded to walk in the good old way, nobody is called to walk with her, not being agreed; Amos 3.3.: or when she is given to changes, none is to meddle with her; Prov. 24.21. When a Church is impure in her administrations, lax in principles, superficial in practice, and is in march towards Mystical Babylon, none can be blamed for leaving her communion; seeing separation in such a case is enjoined; 2 Cor. 6.17: or when she practices evil, and defends the same; to abstain from such evils and the actors of them seems duty; 1 Thes. 5.22; or when a Church entangleth herself and others in thralldom, bondage, and slavery; then it is duty to "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free;" Gal. 5.1. Or when she is temporary [changing with the times], unsteadfast, and unstable, in the profession of her faith, whirling about as state and interest move or blow; then it is duty "to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering;" Heb. 10.23. Or when a Church turns neutral, indifferent, lukewarm, perfidious, treacherous, careless, and cool in the cause of Christ, notwithstanding of Solemn Vows and Engagements to the contrary;3 in that case duty is clear; namely, "to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints;" Judge 3; Rev. 3.11; Jer. 15.19.



1. The materials of this book, as appears from the minutes of the General Meeting of the Old Presbyterian Dissenters, were gathered in by the different Correspondents, and by them ordered to be published in an embodied form. The Publication was retarded from time to time till Mr. ANDREW CLARKSON, a student, then in communion with these people, got it accomplished in the year 1731. An enlarged edition of this valuable work was also published by Mr. JOHN HOWIE, Lochgoin, in the year 1787. Perhaps there is not extant a volume of the same size, in which as much of Reformation principles is compendized; and on this very account another edition of it is just now much needed.

2. In a publication entitled, “The Oath of Abjuration no Ground of Separation,” pp. 8-10.

3. What can be more applicable to modern times, in regard to both sin and duty? Ed. [1841.]