... Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.—Revelation 15.3.
P R E F A C E
UN D E R S T A N D I N G RE A D E R.
By John Howie
JUDICIOUS READER,BY a minute observation of the church militant, thou wilt find that she has been often reduced unto this sad dilemma, SIN or SUFFER. Indeed, there is no allowance for sin, but there is such an arcana in the lot of the children and people of God, that if they resolve not to sin, then suffer they must.All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.For no sooner was the old serpent cast out of heaven, then he excogitated means to ruin the whole human species; and no sooner was that malevolent design in part accomplished,1 and that gracious promise promulgated in the garden,I will put enmity between thee and the woman, &c. then the conflict betwixt the flesh and the spirit, the righteous and the wicked, began. And no sooner was that red dragon mentioned, Rev. 12, cast out unto the earth, than he persecuted the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
BUT then the church and people of God may be called out unto various kinds of sufferings for a faithful adherence unto this testimony; for, not to mention general calamities and desolating judgments,sometimes they may be called forth to bear the most invidious reproaches and calumnies, that envy can invent or ignorance can entertain: they shall revile you, and speak all manner of evil of you for my name's sake.Sometimes they may be called out to suffer by the loss of their worldly substances, or temporal enjoyments, And they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods.Again, they may be called forth to suffer bonds and imprisonments; yea, to endure stripes, and divers kinds of torments for his name's sake, and for the testimony of a good conscience: others were tortured, not accepting of deliverance. But then they are sometimes called out unto the highest degree of suffering in this life; and that is, to lay down their lives for the cause of Christ,And I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God. Nay, sometimes such is the catastrophe, that all these are compounded into one potion, and cast into the cup of their sufferings, and this seems to have been the case with those whose actions and contendings are in the following sheets described.
HERE it might be accounted a superfluity in the entry, either to apologize for his publication, or yet to treat of the origin, rise, or occasion of the transactions therein mentioned; seeing that for the first, the subject will answer for itself; and for the last, it is anticipated in the introduction, or preliminary discourse to the subject. What craves thy attention further concerning the instruments by which these transactions were carried on,the subject itself,and somewhat of the institution, warrant, duty, and utility of Christian fellowship in society and correspondent meetings, may be pointed out very shortly in these few particulars following. And,
First, As to the instruments, let me premise, that although the suffering of Christ in his mystical members, be a most mournful and gravaminous subject; yet it wants not its own proper use and advantages, unto those who are rightly exercise thereby, while the Lord's goodness is most graciously displayed in the midst of all these sufferings, whether unto themselves or unto others.2 And,
1. For instance, here was a poor, suffering (but wrestling) handful of Christ's faithful witnesses, reduced unto the utmost extremity, not only extruded and excluded from all benefit and privilege of law; but even deprived and bereaved of the gospel, that most valuable privilege; their worthy pastors who should have been as high goats before the flock, being not only thrust out and banished from them, but even those few who for their faithfulness had jeoparded their lives in the high places of the field, were by wicked hands violently grasped from them, and killed:So that their eyes could now no more behold their teachers.But lo, in this extremity, the Lord mercifully interposed by directing them in this critical juncture of affairs, unto an embodying of themselves into a general correspondence out of their select societies, which became of great and unspeakable advantage unto them. For thereby they not only came to know one another's welfare and mind anent the dispensations of the time; but were also enabled to consult, agitate and conclude upon such methods and measures, as were most helpful unto them for the carrying on a testimony publicly for the cause of Christ, and every one of his persecuted and born down truths in that dark and cloudy day. And,
2. It is to be remarked, that altho' they were exposed unto the utmost danger and hardships, by a bloody enemy, who was still upon the pursuit in quest of them; yet (if I mistake not) they never, except one, suffered the least injury in coming to and going from these meetings, tho' several of them were taken and killed otherways.And what is most noticeable of all, is, that it could not have been rationally thought that such a poor wasted remnant could have subsisted or held out so long, considering the manifold and most excruciating hardships and sufferings they were reduced unto, being killed with cold,killed with hunger,killed in the fields,killed upon the seas,killed upon scaffolds,killed under colour of law; and killed without all colour of law;and yet with the Lord's people of old, The more they were oppressed, the more they grew; while they continued faithful unto, and steadfast with him. This little grain of mustard seed planted by his own hand and watered by the blood of so many gallant martyrs, nam sanguis martyrum semen ecclesia est, The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.And he looked, and behold the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
Secondly, For the subject itself, there is therein contained, (1.) A short sketch of the rise and somewhat of the nature of these meetings or general correspondencies. (2.) A summary of the principal actings and conclusions of the said meetings. (3.) A brief hint of the land's sufferings in general, and themselves in particular, during the intervals. (4.) There is a series of interesting letters, both edifying and instructing (some of whom were before in print) with several other valuable papers which will, doubtless, yield information unto those who desire to be informed anent the affairs of that time, besides a variety of remarks interspersed thro'out the whole of the subject.Only as the true state of the testimony seems to be somewhat overlooked at the revolution by the writer of this register;3 there is somewhat in their conduct at that time that deserves our further consideration, such as their guarding the corrupt convention of estates;their raising a regimate, and associating with malignants;their espousing the interest of the prince and princess of Orange, without scriptural and covenant qualifications; and their uniting with a corrupt and backslidden ministry. But as these are touched at a little in the appendix, I shall only here in short observe,
That altho' the Lord still preserved some, then and in all ages, who designed faithfully to contend for the word of Christ's patience, yet sure, it was a pity so many Samsons, famous for contending and weathering out so many storms of hazard and dangers for their faithfulness, should have had their hair so easily cut by foundering upon these rocks of compliance; which may serve as a beacon for an example of caution unto future ages, shewing that it is as impossible for men intending honesty and faithfulness, either to tamper or join, fdus inire, with malignants and compliers, and to retain their former integrity; as for the most lucid river, when gliding unto the salt and fluid ocean, to return its sweet taste and most crystalline colour4.Indeed, it must be granted in their behalf, that they had been long groaning under the cruel yoke of prelacy, oppression, tyranny and slavery: now by the revolution they were restored unto their natural rights and privileges: Presbyterian ministers were restored, and several acts made against them in the persecuting period repealed:A general assembly called: The confession of faith ratified:and presbytery established by act of parliament in Scotland; whereby the nation was in a great measure freed from tyranny and slavery.But then upon an impartial enquiry, it will be found after all, that these who stood their ground in adhering to the whole of a covenanted work of reformation, and contending for the same both in church and state, had relevant grounds and reasons for their conduct in so doing.For
1st, No king nor queen at, or since the revolution, were or are qualified with scriptural and covenant qualifications, nor took the ancient Scots coronation oath; which qualifications were, by several laudable acts of parliament, made the fundamental qualifications, sine qua non, of admission to that office by the laws of the crown5: But on the contrary, are sworn to maintain the English constitution and prelatic hierarchy in direct opposition unto the same sworn to in the solemn league and covenant.
2dly, Although prelacy was then abolished in Scotland, yet it was neither then nor since declared to be contrary to the word of God; and though Presbytery was then established in Scotland, "as agreeable to the word of God," yet it was never declared to be of divine institution founded thereupon, but only as it was agreeable unto the inclinations of the people, founded upon the claim of right. Herein there was a retrograde motion of near a hundred years back unto an act of Parliament 1592, whereby the whole of our purest reformation was over-passed and over-looked. Nor
3dly, has there been any judicial act in church or state at or since the Revolution, made in favours of our covenants. Nay, not so much as a repeal of that wicked and nefarious act of parliament made in the reign of James VII. declaring the giving, taking, or owning of them to infer the pains of high treason. Or,
4thly, Is there any positive act to be found amongst the archives of the nation, by which that heaven-daring act rescissory (annulling all the acts betwixt 1640 and 1649) is repealed? If there is not, the whole legal establishment of the true Protestant Presbyterian form of church-government must stand yet publicly condemned.
5thly, Notwithstanding of a faint act made at the Revolution declaring the first act Parl. 2. Charl. II. asserting his Majesty's supremacy, &c. as inconsistent with Presbyterian government, and what ought to be abrogated:6 yet by virtue of the English constitution, into which the Scots constitution is now twisted, by the 2d and 3d Articles of the union, they still retain and continue in the exercise of, that usurped power over the church and heritage of the Lord: witness the king's nominating and appointing clergymen unto their ecclesiastical charges;The calling and adjourning church judicatories and even sometimes sine die;imposing oaths upon church men and appointing acts of fasts and thanksgiving under civil penalties; the patronage act;the toleration bill;Porteous act;the Quebec act; the Popish bill in England and Ireland, with a concatenation of other encroachments, all flowing from that exotic head. And
Lastly, These who carried on the bloody persecution, those who favoured popery, prelacy, &c. and those who had made defection thereunto, were neither purged out of church, nor state, at or since the revolution: and how could it be otherways, seeing these men mostly had engrossed the public affairs into their hands, that had been made members in the duke of York's parliament, (some of whom had their hands reeking in the blood of the saints) and who had not only forfeited all right to represent, sit, or vote in any lawful judicatory; but had even forfeited their very lives unto the law of the Lord, (whatever they might pretend from the laws of men) for whosoever shall shed man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.
And for the revolution church, was it not compounded complexly of old public resolutioners, those who had accepted of that woeful and church renting indulgence, and those who had taken several sinful oaths unto the late tyrannical government: and add unto all these some hundred tested and non-tested curates; some of whom lived in the peaceable exercise of that office until their dying day; and all without any other acknowledgement, than taking the oaths in form to the government, and subscribing the short formula.And tho' several petitions were given in them by different parties both to church and state, for a redress of these grievances; but what answer they got or could expect, the following sheets will, in some measure, make evident.7
Now these are only a few strokes in miniature, of that which has been by some called the glorious and happy revolution; for it were frustraneous to insist upon a portrait of that here which has so often and so well been delineated and figured out by others.And if any think that what is here said bears too hard upon the revolution settlement, I answer that what was good in that establishment I have acknowledged, and in what was evil it were to be wished, that, one feature more unto the foregoing draught could not be added, not to mention the bad effects or woeful consequences dialing flowing therefrom: The beholding of which, if the seeing of our eyes and the hearing of our ears could rightly affect our hearts, might make us sigh and cry out with the lamenting prophet of old:Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard.and being desolate, it mourneth unto me.There is a conspiracy of her prophets: They are light and treacherous persons.Her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.Her princes are revolters; therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth.Therefore wrong judgment proceedeth, But
Thirdly, Somewhat might now be said concerning Christian fellowship and correspondent meetings in general: but as my judgment on this point may, perhaps, tally with the mind of many of those, for whom this publication is chiefly designed, I shall therefore refer them to the introduction, and their own informatory vindication on head I. And here I shall only observe.
1st, They never reckoned themselves to be a civil judicatory: for altho' for the better order in speaking, they found it necessary to choose one to occupy the place (or rather the name) of a pręses; yet they never looked upon these transactions to be of a civil nature.Indeed in such a broken state, the very end of these meetings obliged them to concert and conclude upon what was necessary and advantageous unto themselves, both as men and Christians, for the propagation and right managing of the public testimony they maintained in agreeableness to the word of God, law of nature and fundamental laws of the land.But even in this case, where there is a standing ministry, it is sometimes found requisite and expedient to keep what they call congregational meetings to treat upon (externum privilegium ecclesię,) the external privileges of the church, and this cannot be called a civil judicatory.Nor
2dly, Did they ever look upon these correspondencies to be a church judicatory, or purely of an ecclesiastical nature, as they never took upon themselves the exercise of church discipline, or to purge scandal. Nay, it is evident from the following register, that during the whole time an ordained minister was never admitted a constitute member of the said correspondencies, altho' the presence of such, (when they had any) was many times found necessary and of great advantage for their advice and concurrence in things of an important nature. It is true, that being oft times destitute of a church judicatory, yea sometimes without a minister, or gospel ordinances altogether, they were in providence laid under a necessity to treat of things that more properly belonged to that character; such as the appointing of diets of fasting, distributing collections, &c. But if we grant this maxim, that in times and cases extraordinary, something extraordinary may be done, this may easily be accounted for.Let it then suffice for an answer unto those, who have wondered what for a [sort of] creature, general meetings were, That they were, (at least ought to be) a body of religious society of men and christian men, constitute, allenarly, of the members of select praying societies, who had embodied themselves into christian fellowship meetings for prayer, godly conference and other religious duties for the mutual help and edification of one another.And as this duty, whether as to select societies or correspondent meetings, is a duty not only slighted and neglected by the most part, but even objected against by many in this degenerate and apostate generation, it may be no ways impertinent here to touch a little at its divine warrant or institution, its utility and the necessity of such a duty in these few particulars following.And
1st, For its divine warrant or institution, says the spirit of God by the Apostle to the Hebrews.Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, &c. Which duty we find warranted by the practices of both old and new Testament saints. And so Ezra 9.4, Then there were assembled unto me, every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, &c. And Mal. 3.16, Then they that feared the Lord, spake often one to another, &c. And to what purpose went they out and sat by the river of Babel, Psalm 137, but to remember and speak of Zion with other religious conversation?It is also prophesied of as what should abound in the new-Testament church. See Jer. 23.25; Zech. 8.21.Accordingly we find many sweet fellowship meetings kept by the Lord's people in the new-Testament times; severals of whom were kept by our Lord himself with his disciples while on earth both before and after his resurrection; which for our imitation and example, are recorded in scripture;8 in imitation of which, These all continued with one accord in prayer with the women, Acts 1.14. And to this exercise were they gathered into the house of Cornelius; and for the same purpose, and to the same work were they gathered unto the river side at Philippi, unto whom Paul preached:And in the house of Mary, Acts 12.12. But what needs more? nay, it became so essential to religion, that the primitive Christians made the communication of saints an article of their creed, and they looked upon them as none of their fraternity, who did not maintain, or take pleasure in the fellowship of Christians.I am, (says the royal Psalmist,) a companion of all that fear and obey thee.
2dly, As it is of divine institution, so it is of great use and utility unto the people of God. For
1. How many sins have been prevented and temptations defeated by Christian fellowship? Our first parent Eve was alone, when assaulted. A Peter will sometimes confess Christ in company with the apostles; who when absent from them, will shamefully deny him. For as houses or bodies of men are more apt and able to stand a storm, when built, or standing together, than alone; so members of religious societies have many times proved helpful for the strengthening and supporting of one another. The wise man's maxim is, Two are better than one; for they have a reward for their labour; for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow:if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him: and a threefold cord is not easily broken. And,
2. The Lord has in an eminent manner countenanced this duty:for what sweet and comfortable returns of prayer, (tho', alas! these are now in a great measure gone) have the Lord's people experienced in these meetings, both in the primitive times,9 and in our reforming times; but especially in the late suffering times both before and since the revolution? witness their own dying testimonies, wherein they not only enforce and inculcate this duty upon others, but solemnly declare what their own souls had experienced thereby.10 Nay, they risked their worldly ALL to enjoy the sweetness of Christian fellowship. And how shameful is it for us to be behind them in this duty, while we are not exposed to any outward hazard or amazement. Says one who had the experience of this,Come here, and I will tell you what he hath done for my soul. And
3. The Lord has bestowed a variety of gifts upon Christians; one is endowed with quick wit and invention, another with solidity of judgment; to one is given a great stock of utterance, to another a good memory;one is more open and zealous, another is wary and cautious; one is strong in gifts and graces, another is weak; one is ofttimes dejected and cast down, another is more facetious and cheerful: and for what purpose are all these given, but to glorify the giver, and for the edification of one another? Wherefore, (says the apostle to the Thessalonians) comfort yourselves together, and edify one another:
3dly, As this duty is of great use, so it is highly reasonable and necessary. For,
1. It is necessary and reasonable for all lawful civil societies, to use habile methods in treating of their own interest and concerns; so it is highly expedient for the followers of Christ, not only to concert rules and methods for the promoting of the interest of that body whereof he is the head;11 but also to have a particular sympathy and fellow-feeling with one another.It is a military maxim, whether in dangerous marches, or in a posture of defence, "to stick or stand close together." And so ought all Christ's faithful soldiers, if they would manage their spiritual affairs with success and to purpose. Neither can this duty be restricted unto times of persecution only, as some would have it.It is true, these times are very proper seasons for it: but it will be found necessary and beneficial at all times, and especially in times of defection and apostacy, and in perilous times; and never more acceptable unto God than now, when not only almost all kinds of error, infidelity, and profanity abounds, and even amongst professors; but also when we are under the awful gloom of approaching judgments, and seemingly upon the eve of some destruction; the Lord's judgments being already abroad in the earth, which requires the most intense diligence in keeping up the credit of religion, when so much abandoned and borne down. It behoved to be such a time as this, when these mentioned by Malachi, spake often one to another. And,
2. Might I be permitted to use this as an argument to enforce this duty? It is the constant practice of profane and wicked men, such as stage-players, comedians, masqueraders, frequenters of balls, drunkards, thieves, highwaymen, extortioners, &c. to gather together and join in clubs, to consult ways and means to gratify their own lusts and ambition, in serving the worst of masters: and shall those who serve the best of masters be thus outstripped in advancing his interest and service, and to encourage one another in their way heavenward; altho' they should be accounted fools for this by a wicked generation, or as a people dwelling alone, and not reckoned amongst the nations? And,
3. The decay or thriving of religion goes hand in hand with it. Look unto the times of our Reformation, and ye will find it so,12 that when these meetings began to decay, then religion became dead and languid.On the contrary, it has been very justly observed by some, that in any corner of the land where religion began to thrive and flourish, these meetings began as natively to be erected, as birds of one kind, in choosing their mates in the spring, begin to draw together.No sooner was Paul converted, than he essayed to join the company of disciples. Let us go speedily and pray before the Lord,and I will go also. And
Lastly, This exercise is highly requisite as an apparatus to fit and prepare us for eternal communion and fellowship with the saints above. All persons ought to be resolved in what company they take most pleasure in while upon earth. And how shall we think to keep company by the closest communion with those glorified saints above, with whom we could not think to keep fellowship with while upon earth.It is usual for designed travelers unto a far country to choose to travel in company;so nothing is more commodious for the traveler to the celestial country, or Jerusalem above, than to go in troops as they did of old when going up to the solemn feasts of the Lord at Jerusalem. I went witha multitude that kept holy days.
AFTER all this, I know there have been and are a number of objections mustered up against these meetings: but for brevity's sake, I must here confine myself unto the three following, which I take to be the most formidable and recent at present.
OBJECTION. I. For what purpose serve these meetings, when those who frequent them, are as bad, if not worse, than many in the neighbourhood? All I observe in answer to this, is,That, no question, but there have been, and will be tares among the wheat, and corn among the chaff, until the end of the world, and the restitution of all things. And ofttimes hypocrisy goes under the name of real religion, and many times real religion is branded with the vile epithet of dissimulation; and commonly when a corrupt member, or one falling into any fault (which, alas! is now-a-days become too common) is discovered, then nothing is more usual for the neighbourhood, than to judge the whole web by his swatch. But what does this militate against the duty itself, or the remanent members either? For, by parity of reason, we might conclude that all the eleven apostles were traitors, because Judas was one. But even their own confession, implied in the charge, shews, that when they are so much offended at any thing blame-worthy in a number of such societies, (at least it says to me) that they think these ought or should be better than themselves or others; otherwise what would be observable about them above others?But judge not, lest ye be judged.
OBJECTION II. It is further objected, and even by some that should preach up the necessity of such a duty, That these meetings serve for little purpose, but to raise needless questions, and gender strife and division. Unto this I would reply, that
1. It is now a long time, since sin and duty, truth and error have struggled in the moral world, and that both with respect to the inward and outward man, wherein sometimes Israel, and sometimes Amelek prevails.But it has been an epidemical evil in almost every age, that whenever any person or society of men, began to make any conscience, progress, or degree in testifying against the sins and defections of the time wherein they existed, that they could be characterized by the generation, (and even by some of those who are none of the most irreligious) as men of strife, contention, or divisive courses. This is no new thing: says the prophet, when he had been declaring the truth unto an apostate generation, Woes me, my mother, that thou hast born me a man of strife and contention unto the whole earth. [Jer. 15.10.] But
2. Let it be supposed, that there should be any such troublesome persons in these societies, who raise needless feuds and disorders, the fault is in the members, and not in the duty itself when rightly managed. This must hold good in all other lawful assemblies, whether civil or religious, as well as these meetings, and grant that there is or has been in these meetings (particularly correspondent and congregational meetings) still some person or other aspiring to have the lead in every argument, motion, vote, or proposition; which sometimes has created no small disorder: Yet as this ofttimes proceeds from pride and ambition, or at best from fiery zeal, or to hear themselves speak or argue for arguments sake, or rather banter, (which is worse) these must rather be accounted a pest or burden than a blessing or benefit unto any well regulated society:offence must come, (says the great instituter of all ordinances) but woe unto him by whom it cometh. The
III. And last objection that I shall observe, and it has also been made by some of those men which must needs now occupy the places of teachers: viz. These meetings are no ways needful or necessary, excepting unto those called mountain-men, when they want preaching. Unto this I may answer,
1. That indeed this is no improper exercise for people, when destitute of public ordinances, (of which the following register is a pregnant proof) but does this exempt others who daily enjoy gospel-ordinances from an obligation to this duty? Surely no. The apostle enjoins us to exhort one another,to comfort one another,to edify one another,to teach and admonish one another,to receive one another,to be subject to one another,to confess their sins to one another,to minister their gifts to one another,and to serve one another in love:13 and how can they do this without an opportunity for that purpose? and howsoever some explain some of these texts according to their own notion in opposition to this duty; yet sure they can never be wholly restricted either to family worship, or yet public ordinances. And granting that it is the duty of families, why not of a number of families met together, and a number of these societies unto the same exercises of duty? and this makes nothing at all against the sixth and seventh direction in our directory for worship, (as they foolishly would suppose) providing that the one duty do not retard or justle out the other.And for public church-meetings, where have they the opportunity to administer these gifts unto one another, except they turn Quakers? According to the divine injunction, a woman is not to speak in the church: But here the apostle makes no distinction; nay, we are told in the forecited text, Acts 1.14, That these all continued with one accord in prayer with the women.14 And
Lastly, To shut up the whole, the Lord has not only put a note of attention and approbation upon this duty, Mal. 3.16,and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him; but has also appended a most gracious promise of his presence unto it, Matt. 18.19,20,If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them.For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
AFTER what I have here observed, (and elsewhere upon the like occasion) I suppose it were needless to advance any thing as motives to enhance this publication. Only as different subjects ofttimes have different circumstances, I shall just hint to the reader,
1. That it is pretty evident, that that handful designed by the name of the United Societies have been very much traduced both before and since the revolution: before the revolution they were branded as blind zealots, schismatics, rejecters of ministry and magistracy, men of bloody and seditious principles, &c. Since the revolution their most faithful contendings have been, by some historians and others, represented as high flights and extravagances. And although somewhat has dropped from divers pens at different times in their behalf, yet sure a better vindication in their defence cannot be produced, than a publication of these very transactions for which they were so aspersed; and it would appear, that it was wrote at first with a view to this: for wisdom is justified of her children.It is true, every thing is beautiful in its season, and perchance some may think, that after so much time is elapsed, this publication wants this peace of requisite duty. But grant this, better late than never; the Lord has assured us in his word, that he will both plead his own cause, and vindicate his witnessing church and people: But the positive time we have not prescribed; only we are sure, that it shall be either while alive, or after they are gone, thou wilt maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor. A
2. Motive for this publication may be this; that as these two cardinal evils which they had to struggle with, viz. Popery and Prelacy seems to be pushing their way, and making wide strides unto these lands again; when such herds are not only warping off to the antichristian camp, but even numbers of witness-bearers seem to be losing views of their own professed testimony in this hour and power of darkness, let us then, by a retrospect view, trace back the footsteps of Christ's flock, and feed our kids beside the shepherds tents.Indeed this crooked and insidious generation is now become weary of (what they call) controverted points of principles: these, say they, eat out the life of religion. And as the following subject bears the title of Faithful contendings displayed, it may be judged to bear this disagreeable face of controversy by some, and so by them be denied a hearing to answer for itself.It is true, strife and division, the two grand parents of needless dispute and groundless animosities, always are and have been bad neighbours to religion. These, like a gangrene, have eaten out the vitals thereof. But how a faithful contending for the cause of Christ and every one of his despised truths, (which are now fallen into so much disrepute as to be controverted) can eat out the life of religion, is not so easy to determine. It must rather be feared that these gentlemen who would exchange zeal, truth, and faithfulness for what they design charity, moderation, and liberty of conscience, (hating almost every species of contending or witness bearing) have but little real religion at bottom, for controversy to corrode upon. It commonly falls out both in respect of principle and practical religion, that those unstable souls, to whom old truths become unsavoury by such volatility, not only lose sight of their own profession;15 but most easily become a prey unto any whimsical notion, error, and delusion whatsoever.And hence it is that so many professors are tript, and carried off their feet at this time.
Therefore if we can do no more, if we could but honestly hand down the faithful contendings of our reforming and suffering ancestors as a testimony to posterity, it might be a piece of generation service, that would yield no small comfort or peace of mind at last.16 Memorable for the purpose are these words in the last speech of the last martyr that publicly suffered on a scaffold in Scotland: "Do not grow weary (says he) to maintain, in your place and stations, the present testimony; for when Christ goes forth to defeat antichrist, with that name written on his vesture, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, he will make it glorious in the earth: And if ye can but transmit it to posterity ye may count it a great generation work: But beware of the ministers that have accepted of this toleration, and all others that bend that way; for the Sun hath gone down upon them."
But I know, it is objected, and perhaps will be objected, after all that I have here said, and even by some judicious persons, who, in charity, we must suppose wish well to the memory and contendings of these worthy men, That as they were mostly private men, and these transactions partly of a private nature, and sometimes not carried on in such an agreeable way as they themselves could have wished, the publication of them must rather tend to expose them and their weakness, than to exoner them or the testimony they contended for, before this lukewarm or ludibrious generation. Could I here advance any thing they would sustain as an answer to this, I would just observe;
1st, That altho' these actors and transactions were mostly private men and private matters; yet insofar as both were connected in carrying on the public testimony of the day, they behoved to be of a public nature also: and would it be accounted fair play to omit the one, that the other might be concealed?
2dly, As several of these transactions are already hinted at in the Hind let loose,Informatory vindication, Renwick's large life and letters, this must rather be a publishing the original, than offering what is entirely new unto the public.And tho' we are not to judge of matters, nor steer our course always by the needle of providence in the compass of actions; yet I might ask for what end the original manuscript has been hitherto preserved, if for no use to the public?
3dly, Whatever divisions or things disagreeable fell in amongst them, it but only shews they were but men subject unto the like passions with others: and tho' they were but private men, yet I might refer it to the unbiassed reader, whether any thing he finds here of this nature, be not less than what has fallen out in learned church judicatories, particularly since the revolution. And
Lastly, For their other faults and failings, they were but men and willing (at least to the year 1688) to have them corrected,17 and would it not bear hard upon any history, nay on scripture itself, to say, it were better they had never been published, because the faults and failings of the penman, or the persons therein notified, are therein related or recorded?Nay, bear with me, if I should say, that this is one of the proper uses of all history, sacred or profane; for by this important lesson we may, for the conduct of life, learn what was imitable in the persons and actions therein narrated, and at the same time with caution avoid the rocks upon which they split or suffered shipwreck, and so by guarding against the errors, follies, and mistakes of past times, we may be rendered wiser by the experience, and at the expense of former ages. Very pertinent for this, are a few words near the end of the life of Robert Garnock, (wrote by himself while in prison, and yet in manuscript) who was executed at the Gallowlee of Edinburgh, Oct., 1681."Now, for anything I know, I will be tortured, and my life taken, and so will get no more written. So, any that read it, I beg of them, to shun all that is evil of my life, as they would shun hell; and if there be anything in it that is for use, I request the Lord that he may bear it home upon them when I am gone, and make it thus useful for them that read it, &c."
ALL I observe in the last place, anent the way and manner of this publication, is, that as Mr. Shields broke off somewhat abruptly with a paper that was to be given in by each person to their ministers at their accession to the revolution church, it was found necessary to add a short appendix, shewing upon what footing the more faithful party stood their ground at and since that time.As to the stile of language, it is much the same with the original copy: Only as there were some words superfluous and some papers of lesser note, somewhat prolix: it was found proper to abridge them a little, as concisely as possible; in lieu of which, some letters and other papers more momentous have been added, and put in their proper places, which had been at first omitted with a few footnotes for the explanation of the subject and all to render it as commodious to the readers as possible: and whoever suspects the transcription either of the register or appendix to be otherways vitiated from the genuine copies, may be satisfied with a sight of the autographs from which they were transcribed.
AND now for a final conclusion, may the angel of the covenant, he who guided his Israel of old with a pillar of cloud by day and a flaming fire by night, guide all his own professing people in this dark and cloudy day, wherein the night of our defections grows darker and darker, and the Jordan of our difficulties deeper and deeper: And as the church of Christ in these Isles, has now of a long time dwelt with the daughter of Babylon, with that cruel yoke of bondage wreathed about her neck, may the time to favour our Zion come, yea, the set time, when antichrist that man of sin, and all the supporters and abettors of the kingdom of darkness, may be brought down and destroyed, with a revival of the decayed power of true practical religion and godliness, and a covenanted work of reformation, that our captivity may be returned as streams in the south.
AND if the following sheets complexly, shall, thro' the divine operation of the spirit, prove conducive in the least, to any of the foresaid purposes, that is, either to the advantage of true and real religion, or the gaining of friends unto, or confining them in the covenanted interest, in a subserviency to God's glory and the good of his church; then I dare say, the principal end is gained. For that God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ who himself before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession, may stir up and enable many to witness and contend for the whole of his disputed truths in these once covenanted but now degenerate isles of the sea, Britain and Ireland, that glory may dwell in our land, is, and ought to be the earnest desire, judicious reader, of one who remains, as formerly, thy well-wisher in the truth,JOHN HOWIE.
LOCHGOIN, Sept. 27th, 1780.
Th'infernal serpent; he it was whose guile
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind, what time his pride
Had cast him out from heaven with all his host;
In meditated fraud and malice bent
On man's destruction, maugre what might hap
Of heavier on himself, fearless, returned.PAR. LOST, Book I. and IX.2.
Good when he gives, supremely good;
Nor less when he denies;
Even crosses from his sovereign hand,
Are blessings in disguise.HARVEY.3. If any desiderate, or want to know any thing concerning Mr. Michael Shields, take the following hint.He was son to James Shields of Haughhead, (in the Merse) and brother to the well known Mr. Alexander Shields. he had received a competent measure of education. He became a clerk to the general meeting during the most part of these transactions; but fell in with the revolution church, and at last went over with his brother amongst others to the settlement at Darien, 1699. Whether he died in the wilds of Caledonia, on the sea, in Jamaica, or at Charlestown bar in Carolina, we know not; but he never returned.
4. From the following sheets it is evident, That as long as the United Societies were favoured with the advices and doctrines delivered by pious and faithful Mr. James Renwick, whatever fell in their way that was disagreeable, yet they still kept straight in the main, as to the point of public testimony. But no sooner had they got Mr. Shields, or rather Messrs. Lining and Boyd, than they fell into one step of compliance after another, of which these men were the principal abettors. The observation is, That a faithful and orthodox ministry, is one of the greatest privileges, next to Christ or the gospel offer itself, that mankind do, or possibly can enjoy: On the contrary, a set of lazy, heterodox, corrupt and unfaithful ministers, must be one of the worst of evils that a church or poor people can be possibly plagued with. The leaders of this people cause them to err, and they that are led of them are destroyed.
5. Vide act 5. Parl. 1640. act 6. 1644. act 15. Parl. 1649.
6. See act 1. Parl 1. Sess. 3. of William and Mary, 1689.
7. To shew that the above is no wanton charge, take the following instance in lieu of many that could be here produced, were it necessary.And1. When several papers were given in to the General Assembly, 1690, all the answer they got from the committee was, That what was complained of should be inserted in the causes of the national fast: and though these causes were more full than any since that time; yet the test and declaration (two of the principal evils complained of) were, at the desire of the king's commissioner and others, expunged from said act or causes, because they had taken said test and declaration.8. See Matt. 17.20; 24.3; Mark 6.31; Luke 9.8; 24.15; John 20.19-21.
2. Though an act was concerted in the committee of overtures, (which was brought in and read in open assembly) asserting Christ's headship over the church, yet it was then suppressed and never heard of since that time.
3. One George Meldrum, who had formerly been a curate, was not only received into the church on the foresaid terms, but chosen moderator to the assemblies, 1698, 1703, but also made professor of divinity in the college of Edinburgh; and all without any public acknowledgment of repentance for his former way.Severals who had taken the test and declaration, and persecuted the people of God, upon the like terms were admitted ruling elders at the same time. And
4. When a member of the General Assembly 1723, was speaking in favour of our covenanted work of reformation to strengthen his cause, and make his demand appear more just and equitable, Mr. James Smith in Crammond, from the moderator's chair, in the face of the General Assembly, confidently declared, "that the church was not now upon that footing," meaning the covenants.Any who desire to see these and many more instances of the like nature, may consult Defoe's memoirs, p. 320. &c. Clarkson's plain reasons, and Hepburn's humble pleadings for the good old way, per totum.
9. Vide Eusebius's ecclesiastical history, lib. 3. ch. 30. lib. 5. ch. 5; and Socrates's history, lib. 1. ch. 15.
10. Such as the dying testimonies of James Robertson, John Findlay, John Richmond, John Paton, Robert Millar, Thomas Stoddart, John Nisbet: and since the revolution Sir Robert Hamilton, John Wilson, and several others.
11. There is a variety of rules, queries, articles, and directions prescribed by different authors in the method for receiving entrants into these meetings, which for brevity's sake I must here omit. I shall therefore only recite a few of them which seem to be very much overlooked, even by those few who pay any attention now unto this duty.1. "The constituent members should be of sound principles, of a blameless conversation, endowed with a competent measure of knowledge, and exercised about their soul's case, and the declarative glory of God in the world."Any who want to see these directions, queries and articles at large, may consult Mr. Walter Smith's rules and directions for fellowship meetings, the method to be used in receiving members into the reformed societies by Mr. Renwick and the general meeting (yet in manuscript); and Mr. Hepburn's rules, from which the above are extracted.
2. "In matters of the public testimony, let no member, nor yet any single meeting meddle to do anything but with the consent of the general correspondence."
3. "No member should take on him any public office, or undertake any debatable practice, nor go to law without acquainting the meeting for their advice and consent."
4. "No member should go to any penny wedding, or frequent debauched company, under the pain of seclusion from the meeting."
5. Every member is to labour to have their conversation every way becoming the gospel, and becoming such a profession; and should do more than others do, seeing they profess more. Therefore they should be much taken up in secret prayer, reading the scriptures, and coming to public ordinances when dispensed in God's way." And
Lastly, "When any member falls under scandal, he is to be secluded, until he give evident signs of his true repentance, and until he both satisfy the session (if there be any) and the meeting about it."
12. For this see Fox's acts and monuments, Clark's martyrol. Knox's hist. and letter, Oct. 1503, and Stevenson's history, &c.
13. Heb. 3.13; 1 Thess. 5.11; Col. 3.16; Rom. 15.7; Eph. 5.21; James 5.16; 1 Pet. 4.10; Gal. 5.13.
14. Here a question may arise, Whether women may be sustained as constitute members in society meetings? and if so, whether they ought to meet apart or with men in a promiscuous manner?But as this point has been somewhat controverted, it will be as safe to give in substance the mind of a very judicious writer, designed Timotheus Philadelphus, but said to be Mr. Brown of Wamphray, in a pretty large manuscript, entitled, "The divine right of the meetings of the Lord's people," in which he says,"Lastly, You may associate in these meetings with Christian women; for these are Christians as well as men are; and so the common Christian duties which are competent to these meetings, do belong to them; as also they had need to have these duties performed towards them; as well as men; and rather more, seeing they are the weaker vessels, and so temptations and sad dispensations are the more ready to seize upon them. And further, the blessings promised and bestowed on these meetings, and such as constantly frequent them, do belong to both sexes. In a word, all the foregoing arguments brought in for proving the lawfulness of these meetings, it concludes in favour of women's being members and actors in these meetings. In the old Testament, see Esther in the palace of Ahasuerus, Esther 4. As also Job 42.13, there was a meeting in which Job's sisters, as well as others, were present; and by the daughters in the Song are meant weak saints, whether men or women in these private meetings.And these spoken of, Mal. 3.10, must include women as well as men. And if we come to the new Testament, we find Mary and Elizabeth at this exercise, Luke 1, and for the same purpose see Mark 16; Luke 22.2; John 20.17; &c. and so in that meeting, Acts 1.14, These all continued in prayer with the women. And these in the house of Mary, Acts 12.12. And those assembled at the riverside of Philippi. And sometimes they may not only prove helpful, but in these meetings, give a lesson to an old minister or professor."Here he goes on in answer to this objection with much brilliancy of argument, shewing in several particulars, what prudence should be used in women's being members of such societies:and withal what caution should be used to prevent every ground of jealousy or suspicion, that may occasion reproach upon such a religious duty.
"But here it may be objected, That promiscuous meetings of men and women for private worship and mutual edification are liable to reproach, and apt to be abused, &c. To which I answer,
"1. That why meetings of men and women for such duties should be termed promiscuous, more than other meetings of worship of both sexes, for family worship, or for public ordinances or civil affairs of life are so called or reputed, I know not.But this I know, that all meetings of men and women for whatever purposes, are apt to be, and have been abused by Satan and his instruments for sinister ends."
The doubts and drifts of the voluble mind,
That here and there appear, turn judgment blind,LITHW.16.
The man who consecrates his hours
By vigorous efforts and honest aim,
At once he draws the string of life and death:
He walks with nature, and her paths are peace.The Complaint, night second.17. For instance, the engagement to secrecy which they entered into on account of the publishing the Lanerk declaration; which was the most exceptionable thing of a private nature, was by them laid aside as soon as they discovered the evil consequences thereof: which was no more nor less than what our Reformers did with several things fallen into at the beginning of the reformation, but laid aside afterwards. And for that word to be used by the wanderers mentioned, P. 64, let none think it was in imitation of the Mason word; no, it was only to be used for a time to prevent their being circumvented by false friends or open enemies; a notable instance we have of the taking of Mr. King, who was betrayed by two of the enemy in disguise of two of the sufferers. Had this word been then and there used, his apprehending at that time (God willing) might happily have been prevented.