We intend in this article to state several consequences, some of which have been already alluded to, that have flowed from the passing of the Declaratory Act into law by the courts of the Free Church.
1. The constitution of the Church has been essentially changed.
Formerly the Confession of Faith was accepted by all without reservation or modification. Now, the Declaratory Act sets forth the Church’s modified relation to the doctrines of the Confession. This has revealed serious changes in the Church’s doctrinal beliefs. In fact the Church in this Act declares itself in favour of doctrines that are quite inconsistent with, and opposed to the doctrines of the Confession. If the constitution of a Church is embodied in its standard documents, then the constitution is essentially changed when a new document, such as this Declaratory Act is added, whereby the statements of its former documents are explained away or misinterpreted, and new statements of an inconsistent or contrary character are affirmed.
2. The Declaratory Act has now become, to all intents and purposes, the creed of the Free Church.
The Confession has been set aside, and the views of all parties are now measured by the standard set up in this Act. If they come up to this standard nothing more is expected of them. All cases of heresy or discipline will therefore be tried by this test, and not simply by the Confession of Faith.
3. The Declaratory Act, in the last clause thereof, affirms that it is only “the substance of the Reformed Faith” set forth in the Confession that is to be held fast in the Church.
“Diversity of opinion is recognised” on all points that do not touch this substance. There is no hiding here of a change of creed, however this change may be denied from pulpit or platform. “The substance of the Faith” is not defined, and therefore views of the most dangerous character may be declared as not touching the substance.
4. The Church, or in other words, the General Assembly, by the same clause has been declared to be the final judge as to what is the substance of the faith.
This leaves the whole creed and constitution of the Church in the hands of the Assembly. This court is invested with an authority similar to that claimed by the Pope in the church of Rome, so that it may add to or take from the doctrines of the Word of God. “The substance of the Faith” is therefore as large or as small as the Church, or the Assembly, chooses to make it. No one knows, therefore, how soon “the substance of the Faith” may vanish away altogether.
5. The Declaratory Act embodies in the Creed of the Church errors of an Arminian, Semi-Pelagian, un-Presbyterian, Voluntary, and Popish character.
This may seem a bold and incredible catalogue. Let anyone, however, apply himself to the examination of the above Act, and he will find that, if language has any meaning at all, these errors are there declared as the belief of the Church. The names we give may not appear, but the realities show themselves with little disguise. “The substance of the Faith” has been left undefined, but the errors accepted by the Church are not so dealt with. They are sufficiently well stated. In the acceptance of these errors “the substance of the Faith” has been practically lost.
6. The Church, embracing ministers, office-bearers, and the whole body of the people, is involved in the guilt and consequences of adopting this Act.
The General Assembly, it is true, declared that the Act was not binding on any particular person. Did that declaration make the Act any less the Church’s Act? Once the consent of the Church as a body was secured, there was no necessity to make every particular individual accept it. That individual had already accepted it in his Church capacity. If there were any persons that were prepared to act so inconsistently as to submit to one thing in their Church capacity which they in their private capacity disowned, then it would appear that the Church was cunning enough not to press them on this point. No one, therefore, was commanded to accept the Act by personal profession, so that objectors might rest with ease in the net in which they were caught. Some are inclined to think that the Act has only to do with office-bearers. But the office-bearers represent the people. The people are, therefore, equally involved. As a necessary consequence the people are now entitled by the law of this Church to hold the same views as the office-bearers in regard to the doctrines of the Act. What is right for the office-bearers to believe cannot be wrong for the people.
7. Persons may demand Baptism and the Lord’s Supper who accept Declaratory Act doctrines.
Those office-bearers who profess to adhere to the principles of 1843 and have inconsistently remained in the Free Church, cannot refuse these sacraments to believers in this Act. The latter are entitled to all Church privileges. If these privileges should be refused, an appeal to the Assembly would speedily settle the question.
8. Again, persons are not bound to accept any teaching from the pulpit beyond the views contained in this Act.
Ministers may preach the soundest Calvinism, but the ordinary or the occasional hearer has a perfect right to say to himself, “You may insist as you please, upon election, total depravity and such doctrines, but I am warranted by the authority of the whole Church to which you belong, yea, even by you, in your Church capacity, to believe quite different doctrines. I think that it is more likely the Church should be right, than any single individual minister; and more than that, what can I make of the preaching of a minister who, by the Creed of his Church declares one thing, while by his individual testimony declares quite another?” We see, therefore, that not only are private persons involved, willingly or unwillingly, in the guilt of this Act, but that all private persons whatsoever have a rightful liberty to accept no teaching whatsoever beyond that found in this Act. The serious effects such a state of matters may have on the minds of the people, especially of the young, it is sad to think of.
9. The body that has adopted this Act has evidently given away its testimony for the truth.
What legacy has it to leave to coming generations? A corrupt creed and an evacuated Bible. Take away the doctrines of grace from the Bible and there is nothing left but an empty shell. The Free Church has, however, not only taken away the kernel, it has practically thrown away the shell. The infallibility and inspiration of the Scriptures have been denied, and the Church has condoned the denial. Its testimony for the Word of God and the invaluable doctrines of grace has been cast into the devouring depths of godless criticism by unbelieving teachers whom the Church delights to honour.
10. The last consequence we shall meantime mention is that it has become the bounden duty of all who esteem the Word of God and the doctrines of the Gospel, to separate from a body which has so highly dishonoured Christ and injured the souls of men by its procedure.
The Lord hath said, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). Many interpret this passage, “Have fellowship, and reprove”. But the Word clearly says, “Have no fellowship”, and the further exhortation plainly means, “but rather add to your lack of fellowship with these works, not silence, but reproof”.