[The truths undermined by the Free Church Declaratory Act of 1892/93 remain as relevant today as ever. The Free Presbyterian Church was formed to contend for those truths and it is still her duty and privilege to contend for them. The first volume of the Free Presbyterian Magazine ran a series of articles, from August to December 1896, exposing the pernicious and dangerous nature of the Declaratory Act. This is the second post taken from the first of those articles.]
Section I, paragraph (b)
We now proceed to examine the second paragraph under the first section of the Act, which runs as follows:
(b) That this Church also holds that all who hear the Gospel are warranted and required to believe to the saving of their souls; and that in the case of such as do not believe, but perish in their sins, the issue is due to their own rejection of the Gospel call. That this Church does not teach, and does not regard the Confession as teaching, the foreordination of men to death irrespective of their own sin.
This paragraph, to begin with, deals with the general call of the Gospel. We are fully agreed that all who hear the Gospel are under obligation to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. But this obligation, we hold, rests upon the direct command of God, and the suitableness of the Gospel provision to men as sinners, and not upon supposed universal love, or universal atonement, as seems to be the case here, from the close connection between this and the preceding clause which we have already dealt with. The Arminian Gospel is, “God loves all, Christ died for all, and the Holy Spirit strives with all”, and this is almost verbally the Gospel we find in the Declaratory Act. The command to believe, referred to in this clause, is evidently grounded upon such universal propositions as these which afford a false and unscriptural basis for faith.
We also observe that no reference is made here to the person of Christ as the object of faith. The command of the Gospel is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ”. Many may believe the Gospel as they believe a piece of history, and remain spiritually ignorant of Christ. On the other hand saving faith in Christ springs from a revelation to the soul of His divine glory, sufficiency, and suitableness as a Saviour. No one, therefore, savingly believes the Gospel except he is enlightened by the Holy Ghost as to the person and work of Christ. To believe unto salvation is not something which men can do, upon invitation, as easily as a common task, but can only be performed after the reception of spiritual life and enlightenment by the Spirit of God. This all-important aspect of the Gospel appears here to be lost sight of in the haste to emphasise the universality of the Gospel call.
We also regard as unsatisfactory the reference to those who “do not believe, but perish in their sins”. It is said, “the issue is due to their own rejection of the Gospel call”. Whilst we can so far agree with this statement, we feel that it is written so as to hide from view the solemn, but nevertheless indisputable fact referred to in ch. 3, sect. 7, of the Confession, that God has in strict justice for sin passed by some of the human race, whilst He has chosen others unto salvation. It would also seem from the language of the Act that man without special grace was quite capable of receiving the Gospel, and that everything depended upon free will. Probably this the framers might deny, but we see nothing expressed that would prevent such an interpretation, and they ought to have been as careful to guard against error as to expound what they imagined to be truth.
In conclusion, we do not think that the universality of the Gospel call was an aspect of the truth that required any special emphasis at the present time. Our fathers both in the near and remote past never failed to give due prominence to this aspect of the Gospel, and it is only an insult to the living and the dead to bring it forth in the way done in this Act as if it were hidden or obscured until now. The best Scottish Calvinistic Theology is full of it. Who could give a freer and more liberal offer of Christ to sinners than Samuel Rutherford, one of the leading framers of the Confession of Faith?
We now take up the second clause of this paragraph, which is to the effect: “That this Church does not teach, and does not regard the Confession as teaching, the foreordination of men to death, irrespective of their own sin.” This clause deals with the relations of foreordination and sin. The emphasis lies upon the words, “their own”, and the meaning appears to be that men are not foreordained to death, temporal, spiritual, or eternal, irrespective of their own personal sin. This teaching is in direct contradiction to the truth as stated in the 5th chapter of the Romans. We are told there that “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned”. Adam stood not only for himself but also for his posterity, and so by his sin death passed upon all men. “By the offence of one many be dead.” It is also written in 1 Corinthians 15:22, that “in Adam all die”. Temporal death is one form of this death. The Act therefore denies, for example, that the temporal death of infants takes place on account of Adam’s sin, a fact evidently asserted in Romans 5:14. It does more however; it denies that the spiritual death under which all men are born is in consequence of the imputation of Adam’s first sin. it may even be taken as denying that we are born in a state of spiritual death at all, for it associates death only with one’s own personal sin.
If the Act refers however, as some affirm, only to everlasting death, the omission of the word “everlasting” is a serious one, for the clause, as it stands, embraces temporal, spiritual, and everlasting death. But even in this latter case the teaching is quite erroneous. If Adam stood for all his seed, then by his sin all were made liable not only to temporal and spiritual, but also to everlasting death, for the wages of sin involve the curse of God which eternity alone can exhaust. “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matt. 25:41). The logical consequence clearly is that in Adam the whole race merited by his sin the curse of God, which is everlasting death.
But if, according to the Act, men are not foreordained to death, “irrespective of their own sin”, then Adam’s sin did not merit for the race everlasting death, which consequently implies either that Adam did not stand for his posterity, or that his sin deserved less than the curse of God. The latter alternative may be regarded as too absurd a conclusion. We are therefore justified in affirming in virtue of the former, that the Act, by implication denies that Adam stood for his posterity.
The denial of this doctrine may appear to some of little consequence, but, if the subject is carefully studied, it will be seen that a denial of Adam’s federal headship not only unhinges our views in regard to man’s natural state, but also seriously affects our views of Christ’s federal headship as the second Adam, and of the way of salvation through Him. If it is unwarrantable to say that Adam stood for his seed, it is equally so to say that Christ stood for His people. The denial therefore of Adam’s representative character has consequences of a serious and far-reaching character upon the welfare of men. For it is only by right apprehensions of the truth about sin and salvation that men will be converted from the error of their ways, and the cause of Christ advanced in the world.