1. The Bible and Higher Criticism (November 1904)
“The Synod viewing with alarm the infidel and rationalistic teaching promulgated at the present time from theological colleges, pulpits, and the press, concerning the inspiration and infallibility of the Old and New Testaments, feels it its duty to reaffirm what it believes to be the undeniable truth concerning the infallibility and Divine Authorship of the Scriptures, to protest against the treatment which the Bible is receiving at the hands of rationalistic writers, and to press upon all to whom its word may come the soul ruining effects which are certain to follow from the rationalistic view of Scripture, so far as this view finds footing anywhere. For even as to the Church of God under the Old Testament dispensation were committed the Old Testament Scriptures (Rom. 3:2), so to His Church under the New Testament dispensation are committed the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and it is the duty of the Church of Christ now, whatever suffering it may entail, to preserve its integrity for the present generation, and to hand down unimpaired to future generations the sacred deposit. The Lord Jesus Christ is that Prophet of whom it is written that whosoever hears Him not, shall be destroyed from among the people (Acts 3:22-23), and He most unmistakably and very frequently testifies that the Scriptures of the Old Testament are, not only as to their matter, but also as to their words, of Divine Authorship and authority. He promised to His apostles under the New Testament that the Holy Spirit should be their infallible guide into all truth, and the New Testament Scriptures, being themselves, as the result, the best demonstration of the fulfilment of this and similar promises, are certainly and equally with the Old Testament Scriptures to be received by His Church as of Divine Authorship and authority.
“The Synod therefore emphasises anew in accordance with the Confession of Faith, its firm belief in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, both as to matter and form, and declares also that it cannot recognise as members those that do not endorse this belief. The Synod would point out in regard to the teaching of the Higher Critics that under the influence of a rationalistic bias it subverts the history of the Church of God as that is given in the Scriptures; that it denies to a large extent the testimony of the Scriptures themselves as to the human instruments through whom the sacred writings have come to us; and that it strikes a blow at the infallible authority of our blessed Lord; and, notwithstanding the extent to which this rationalistic teaching has found acceptance in professing Christian Churches, it is a view of the Scriptures that has its spring in the unbelief of the unrenewed heart, and the arguments with which it is supported are in the main a mere begging of the question; or, in so far as they have any appearance of solidity, they have been over and over again sufficiently refuted by believing students of the Word not less renowned for scholarship than its unbelieving assailants.
“Now, to men who profess that the light of nature affords all knowledge of God that is necessary unto men’s happiness, all this may seem of little consequence, but the Christian people ought to bear in mind that in order to the happiness – that is the eternal Salvation of sinners – we need the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, that that knowledge is not available to sinners save through the medium of the inspired Word, and therefore so far as the efforts of Rationalists are successful and the inspiration and authority of Scripture are discredited, Satan, the ‘father of lies’, has his wish, and precious immortal souls reap the consequence in being deprived of that Word, which is able to make them wise unto eternal life.” (1923 Church Documents, No. II)
2. Resolution on Creed Subscription (November 1904)
“The Synod also, considering the dishonest and degrading manner in which the most solemn promises and engagements relative to subordinate standards are violated by many that hold office in Presbyterian Churches, the great reproach brought thereby on the name of Christ, and the reflection cast upon all office-bearers, feels bound to restate what is the real nature and implication of these engagements, and what is expected of all office-bearers of this Church in this connection. The solemn promises and declarations made at ordination – commonly called ordination vows – are made not so much unto men as unto God, and are therefore of the like binding obligation with an oath, and ought to be made with the like seriousness and religious care.
“The Synod, therefore believing that the Westminster Confession of Faith, as received by the Church of Scotland in 1647, is founded upon the Word of God, and agreeable thereto, cannot accept the view that this Church will at any time be at liberty to depart from the doctrine, government, mode of worship, and discipline which the said Confession sets forth, and which all office-bearers have solemnly engaged to assert, maintain and defend. The Synod expects of its officebearers, as honourable men, that whensoever they are conscious of having ceased to believe in any of these doctrines and principles, or to approve of the mode of worship, which they have vowed to maintain, they should lay down their office and not help to deprive the Church of its peace and purity; and finally it expects of the Church itself, through its courts, to see that in this connection its discipline is observed wheresoever in any case such honourable dealing does not appear to characterise any office-bearer whatsoever.” (1923 Church Documents, No. III)
3. Current Misrepresentation of Doctrine (November 1904)
“The Synod in view of the misrepresentations which at the present time are gaining currency, would take occasion, (1) to repudiate as baseless calumnies the assertions that the teaching of the Confession of Faith is inconsistent with a free gospel call – that that call cannot be preached by those who object to the statements of the Declaratory Act of 1892 – and that a simple acceptance of the Confession of Faith implies the subordinating of the Word of God to the Confession; and (2) to declare that, in taking grave exception to the words of the said Declaratory Act, which deny the foreordination of men to death irrespective of their own sin as words lending themselves to a Pelagian interpretation, the Synod reasserts their adherence to the Confessional doctrine as set forth in the Scripture as to foreordination.” (1923 Church Documents, No. IV)
4. Formula for Deacons (November 1904)
Prior to 1884, Deacons had subscribed the same Formula as elders (see Appendix IV), but in 1884 the Free Church introduced a greatly weakened subscription for Deacons. In place of owning the Westminster Confession to be the confession of their faith, they were merely required to own ‘the system of Evangelical Truth taught in this Church, and set forth in the Westminster Shorter Catechism’.
“The Synod declares that the new formula for deacons passed by the Free Church of Scotland in 1884, forms no part of the constitution of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.” (1923 Church Documents, No. XVII)
5. Union with other Churches (December 1905)
In moving the motion, Rev Neil Cameron stated that “he was not opposed to union, and as soon as a Church could be found fulfilling the requirements of the motion he had submitted he would consider it his duty to consider the matter of union with it” (Free Presbyterian Magazine, vol. 10, p. 283):
“The Synod refuses to consider any motion for union with any Church which does not hold the absolute infallibility of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith, both in her profession and practice; and it warns the office-bearers of this Church of the danger of following divisive courses contrary to the solemn engagements under which they came at their ordination, and, further, it instructs the Presbyteries and Kirk-Sessions to maintain order and discipline in the several congregations under their charge, in accordance with the constitution of this Church, as necessity may arise.” (1923 Church Documents, No. XIII)
6. Prayer at the Grave (July 1909)
“Seeing there appears to be uncertainty in some places as to our attitude as regards praying at the grave, the Synod resolve to make it plain to all their people that, as it is not the practice of this Church to engage in prayer at the grave, the Synod advise them not to ask or allow others to do so, but to adhere to the Directory for Public Worship (bound up with the Confession of Faith) on that point.” (1923 Church Documents, No. XV)
7. Reformation Attainments, and the Church’s Relation thereto (August 1910)
“This Synod would humbly record, with gratitude to Almighty God, the great goodness and mercy with which He graciously visited Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the Reformations from Popery and Prelacy, the spirit of wisdom and understanding He bestowed on the men who were instrumentally used in accomplishing His will during those memorable periods, whereby they were led to grasp, with eminent light and ability, the great doctrines and principles of religious, social, and civil liberty contained in the Bible, and the magnanimity, fortitude, and patriotism wherewith He enabled them to uphold and vindicate the same against inveterate enemies. The Synod feel under special obligation at the present time to set up this stone of gratitude and testimony in view of the attacks, more or less open, that are now being made by Papists, Ritualists, and others upon the attainments of Reformation times.
Scotland had been for centuries sunk in ignorance, superstition, physical degradation, and spiritual slavery (a state of things which always obtains in nations under the baneful yoke of the Papacy), till set free from that galling bondage by the First Reformation. Efforts were made from time to time by one person or another who had become more enlightened than his neighbours, to spread rays of Gospel light among the people, but the Papists, who had supreme power in civil and religious matters, cut off, by the most cruel death, everyone who had the courage to speak a word against the idolatrous faith and worship of the Church of Rome. This absolute power which she possessed was used with a vengeance to keep the light of God’s truth from the people. When John Knox appeared and declared that the Papacy was not the Church of Christ but the antichrist depicted in the Word of God, he had to contend against the powers of the Royal House of Stuart and the Papacy combined. His preservation, the readiness with which the people – high and low – received the light of the truth, and the wonderful reformation wrought by it upon the hearts and conduct of men, must be attributed to the presence and power of the Holy Ghost.
No sooner did our fathers taste the Gospel of the grace of God, and the peace and freedom it brought to their souls, than they determined to abide by its life-giving doctrines, whatever loss or sufferings that might entail. When their enemies endeavoured to deprive them of it, they bound themselves by a solemn oath that, by the grace of God, they would stand faithfully by each other in upholding it for themselves and for their posterity, and that – even should they lose all their worldly goods and their life in the attempt – they would joyfully suffer the loss of all things rather than part with the Gospel of Christ. This was the beginning of covenanting in Scotland. The oath annexed to the Confession of Faith of 1581 was known ever after as the ‘National Covenant of Scotland’.
The Royal House, assisted by inimical Papists and men of no religion, did their utmost, by passing and enforcing tyrannical laws, to annihilate both the Reformers and the Reformation; but the work was of God, and therefore they were not able to bring it to nought. On the contrary, God, in His holy providence, helped the Reformers, so that the Protestant and Presbyterian Church of Scotland was, by an Act of the Scottish Parliament, established as the National Church, and her spiritual independence ratified in 1592. This period of its history is generally called the First Reformation.
The most determined efforts were made during the next forty-six years to change the Church into a Prelatic or Episcopal one. Our fathers found the renewing of the National Covenant repeatedly during this period a source of much strength in their opposition to their enemies and of maintaining unity among themselves. At last the infatuated and despotic King Charles I, backed by the Romish intrigues of Archbishop Laud, made a desperate effort to force a semipopish liturgy on the Church of Scotland; but the greater bulk of the people rose up and swore by the ‘Great Name of the Lord our God’, to abide by the profession of the faith, as settled by Statute, in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. This was done in the year 1638. They had immediately to grasp the sword in defence of their lives, property, and religion. The Lord prospered them so that, without shedding of blood, they got the King’s reluctant and feigned consent to hold a General Assembly at Glasgow that year. In this Assembly, notwithstanding the King’s opposition thereto, the incubus of Prelacy was thrown off the neck of the Church, and she became the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (Free), The last words spoken by Alexander Henderson, Moderator of that Assembly, are well worth recording: “We have now cast down the walls of Jericho. Let him that rebuildeth them beware of the curse of Hiel, the Bethelite.” The National Presbyterian Church of Scotland in that Assembly nobly, fearlessly, and piously vindicated the sole sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ, her only divine Head and King. This is historically denominated the Second Reformation.
The King, determined to reduce the Church and people of Scotland into compliance with Prelacy, declared:- “That covenant of theirs! They have treacherously induced many of our people to swear to a band against us; which band and covenant, or rather conspiracy of theirs, could not be with God, being against us, the Lord’s anointed over them. But it was and is a band and covenant pretended to be with God, that they may, with the better countenance, do the work of the devil, such as all treasons and rebellions are.” But the Covenanters of Scotland were more enlightened than to sacrifice their civil and religious liberty on the altar of the so-called divine right of Kings. After a period of many incriminations and threatenings, and an appeal to the sword on the King’s part, and self-defence on the part of our fathers, God prospered their efforts, so that, by an Act of a Parliament convened at Edinburgh by the King’s authority in 1641, all the laws passed against the Presbyterian Church of Scotland since 1592 were abrogated, and the Act of that year, called ‘The Magna Charta of Presbytery’, was restored to its place and honour on the Statute Book.
The Lord manifested His approval of the faithfulness of our fathers also by awakening the English Parliament, with a very numerous following, to a realisation of the designs of the King and the Prelatic faction to overthrow the Reformed religion in Great Britain, so that they sent Commissioners to the Estates and General Assembly of the Scottish nation, craving their assistance. To this appeal the Presbyterians of Scotland listened, and drafted the Solemn League and Covenant as the basis of mutual agreement. The direct purpose of the Solemn League and Covenant was to secure a basis upon which the Churches of Christ in Scotland, England, and Ireland might be united in the truth, and might secure ‘the preservation of the Reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, the Reformation of religion in England and Ireland, and the extirpation of Popery and Prelacy.’ The immediate result of the Solemn League and Covenant was the Westminster Assembly. That Assembly’s work consisted mainly in producing (1) a Directory for Public Worship, (2) a Presbyterial Form of Church Government, (3) a Confession of Faith, (4) a Larger Catechism, (5) a Shorter Catechism. These documents, which were meant to be the basis of a covenanted uniformity in religion between the Churches of Christ in the three kingdoms, were received and adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in the years 1645, 1647, and 1648. Readers are referred to any ordinary copy of the Westminster Standards for the Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland adopting those five documents. The Synod accept and adhere to those documents in the sense in which they were received by the Church of Scotland in the years specified.
England proved untrue to her solemn oath and turned back to Episcopacy with results which proved very distressing to the Church of Scotland, and the baneful fruits of which that nation reaps to the present day. Whether these documents be considered as an expression of the real face of the Apostolic Church as set forth in the New Testament, or as a masterpiece of the sagacity of our fathers in an honest effort to bring the British nation into unity in the truth, their guileless aim and wisdom are clearly seen and bear witness that they were moved by the Spirit of Christ. Had they succeeded in their noble efforts, much blood and floods of the tears of widows and fatherless would have been spared in the three kingdoms, and the House of Stuart would have continued till this day on the British throne.
King Charles II swore with the utmost solemnity when he ascended the British throne that he would uphold the Reformed Presbyterian faith thus happily established in Scotland, England, and Ireland, but his intention was quite the reverse as he very soon proved. The British nation had to learn by the most painful and sad experience that no faith can be placed in the oath of a Jesuit. In the years 1650 and 1660, Charles swore that he would uphold the cause and Covenants of Scotland, England and Ireland, and in 1661 he caused the Covenants to be burnt by the hand of the common hangman in London; and at Linlithgow, in 1662, the same proceedings were repeated with fiendish profanity. A parliament was called together in Edinburgh, known in history as ‘Middleton’s Drinking Parliament’, which framed an oath of allegiance to ensnare those for whom it was intended, forbade the Covenants, and passed the infamous Rescissory Act. This Act cut off from the Statute Book all the Acts of the preceding twenty years in favour of the Presbyterian Church, thereby annihilating with a single blow the civil and religious liberties of the people. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland was not only disestablished, but outlawed, and a semi-Popish one set up in its place as the future Church of the Scottish Nation! The Presbyterian Church of England fared nothing better. This Parliament passed the Abjuration Oath in 1661. The design of this Act was, by abjuring and condemning the Presbyterian practice, to force adherence to the semi-Popish system. Both the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant were to be abjured as unlawful oaths. This oath of abjuration had to be taken by all persons holding public office in the kingdom. The Privy Council met in October of that year, and passed an Act declaring all who had not complied with these oaths to have forfeited their livings, interdicting them from preaching, and charging them to remove from their parishes on the first of November. The last Sabbath of that October was long remembered in Scotland as the day on which the Presbyterian ministers of Scotland warned, exhorted, and comforted their congregations for the last time. The tears of our fathers and mothers, both ministers and people, bedewed the floors of our sanctuaries that day. Wodrow writes:- ‘Scotland was never witness to such a day as the last on which those ministers preached; I know no parallel to it save the 17th of August, 1662, to the Presbyterians in England.’ The pulpits of these godly men were filled with profane, ignorant, and openly vicious curates, but the people would not attend their ministrations. Acts were passed to compel the people to comply, but they magnanimously and courageously refused, with the consequences that open and violent persecution began. The history of Scotland’s sufferings during the following twenty-six years is that of men, women, and even children hunted and killed by a brutal soldiery, like wild beasts on the mountains and in the valleys of this land. They were hanged as traitors, burned at the stake, drowned in the sea, slain with the sword, shot dead in the presence of their wives and children, banished out of the kingdom; they wandered in caves and dens of the earth clothed in sheepskins and goatskins. Why was all this inhuman cruelty? Was it because our fathers refused to obey lawful authority? No, but because they held the privileges of the freedom, wherewith the truth made them free, more precious than to surrender them at the caprice of a profligate and perjured king and his sycophants. These were the men and women that made the history of Scotland ever since the repository out of which men have been drawing examples of heroism, patriotism, and genuine piety. What the poor Presbyterians suffered during twenty-eight years of horrid cruelty surpasses any man’s power of description. It ought to serve as a sufficient warning to the British nation, in all time coming, of the great danger of allowing a Papist to occupy our throne, or of allowing the barriers still left us, to prevent such a calamity, from being removed. No man can look at the knife by which his father has been assassinated without horror, neither can any man, possessed of human feelings, think of the atrocities of the Papacy without shuddering. The present apathy about that bloodthirsty system among Protestants springs either from ignorance of its past history, or from irreligion. But it was proved up to the hilt in Scotland that liberty of conscience, according to God’s Word, in civil and religious concerns must suffer under such a system, in other words, that none but absolute slaves can live under it. We are the children of men and women who refused to become slaves; therefore let us value the inheritance they left us.
When God, of His infinite mercy, awoke the British nation in 1688 to realise the absolute necessity that lay upon them to deliver themselves from such inhuman barbarity and tyranny they rose like one man (Papists excepted), and drove the House of Stuart from the British Throne. It was high time. By this act, this nation proved that the disposal of the throne is in the hands of the subjects, and that dream – the divine right of Kings, as held by our sovereigns for centuries – perished. The British Nation called William and Mary to the throne, and what is known in our history as ‘The Revolution’, took place. We take the following long quotation from the Act and Declaration, Free Church, 1851:- ‘Passing over the dark period of the closing years of the Stuart dynasty, and descending along the line of history to the era of the glorious Revolution, we find the Church, which had been twice before brought out of great troubles in her contendings against Popery and Prelacy, once again rescued from the oppression of arbitrary power, and lifting her head as the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The bloody acts of the preceding time were repealed; on the petition of the ministers and professors of the Church of Scotland, the civil sanction was given to the Confession of Faith; Presbyterial Church Government was re-established in the hands of those who had been ejected by Prelacy in 1661; and to the wonder of many, and the confusion of her enemies, this Church rose from her ashes, and was recognised as the same Church which, whether in freedom, or in bondage – whether under the shade of royal favour, or hunted as a partridge on the mountains – could trace its unbroken identity downwards from the very beginning of the Reformation.
‘That the ‘Revolution Settlement’, by which the liberties of the Church were secured, under the reign of William and Mary, was in all respects satisfactory, has never been maintained by this Church. On the contrary, various circumstances may be pointed out as hindering the Church from realising fully the attainments that had been reached during the Second Reformation. Not only were the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland unprepared for prosecuting the work of reformation and uniformity in religion, to which they had pledged themselves, but even in Scotland itself the reluctant concessions of statesmen were limited to what a people, worn out by a heavy tribulation, were barely willing to accept as a relief, and did not thoroughly undo the mischief of an age of misrule. Thus, for instance, in the civil sanction then given to Presbytery, the Parliament of 1690, overlooking altogether the higher attainments of the Second Reformation, went back at once to the Act of 1592, and based its legislation upon that Act alone as being the original charter of the Presbyterian Establishment. Accordingly, it left unrepealed the infamous ‘Act Rescissory’ of King Charles, by which all that the Church had done, and all that the State had done for her, in the interval between 1638 and the Restoration, had been stigmatised as treasonable and rebellious. Thus the Revolution Settlement failed in adequately acknowledging the Lord’s work done formerly in the land; and it was, besides, in several matters of practical legislation very generally considered by our fathers at time to be defective and unsatisfactory. Some, and these not the least worthy, even went so far as to refuse all submission to it. But for the most part, our fathers, smarting from the fresh wounds of anti-Christian oppression, weary of strife, and anxious for rest and peace, either thankfully accepted or at least acquiesced in it, in the hope of being able practically to effect under it the great ends which the Church had all along, in all her former contendings, regarded as indispensable. For it would be in a high degree ungrateful to overlook the signal and seasonable benefits which the Revolution Settlement really did confer upon the Church, as well as upon the nation. Not only did it put an end to the cruel persecution by which the best blood of Scotland had been shed in the field, on the hillside, and on the scaffold; not only did it reinstate in their several parishes the pastors who had been unrighteously cast out in the reign of the second Charles, and set up again the platform of the Presbyterian government; but, by reviving and re-enacting the Statute of 1592, the original charter and foundation of Presbytery, it recognised as an inalienable part of the constitution of this country the establishment of the Presbyterian Church. It secured also effectually, as was then universally believed, the exclusive spiritual jurisdiction of the Church and her independence in spiritual matters of all civil control. And by the arrangements which it sanctioned for the filling up of vacant charges, it abolished those rights of patronage which had been reserved in 1592, and made provision for enforcing the fundamental principle of this Church – that no pastor shall be intruded into a congregation contrary to the will of the people.’
The Synod heartily concur in the above statement of the Church in 1851, and they declare that, in their humble judgment, the fact that the ‘Rescissory Act’ has been left unrepealed on the Statute Book leaves the Presbyterians of Scotland in a dangerous position, and that effective steps should be taken for its repeal along with all the other pernicious cognate Acts of that period of our history.” (Free Presbyterian Magazine, vol. 15, pp. 147-153)
8. Church Privileges (May 1921)
“The Synod declare, in accordance with former resolutions, that Church privileges, such as admission to the Lord’s Table and baptism, are not to be given to any who engage in Sabbath work (other than works of necessity and mercy), or who travel by any form of transport run in systematic disregard of the Lord’s Day.” (1923 Church Documents, No. XIV)