It has frequently been urged in recent controversy that the fact that the Declaratory Act was not put by the Free Church into the formula which candidates for office are required to sign, was a feature of the case that relieved the consciences of all who were opposed to the Act. On this account it was affirmed that the Act was not of binding obligation upon any, and therefore that such as did not accept it were free from all responsibility as to the doctrines it contained.
In former articles we pointed out that this view of matters is a mistaken one, and that while individuals may not be personally asked to endorse the doctrines of the Act, the Church has already endorsed these doctrines in their name, and involved them in the guilt and consequences of this procedure. The Act itself has become a standing law and constitution in the church, and individuals and church courts are bound to recognise it as such. All protests against it are invalid and have proved ineffectual.
The fact is also admitted on all hands, that by the direct authority of the church all are entitled to sign the formula “in view of the Declaratory Act”. So that the church has proclaimed liberty to all within her borders to believe, maintain, and defend the doctrines of the Declaratory Act – a proclamation which proves that the body that has made it has surrendered her testimony for the truth of God and has become the propagandist of error.
In view of these facts it is our present purpose to show:
- First, that the non-insertion of the Act into the formula makes matters worse instead of better, and
- Secondly, that the liberty given to all candidates to sign the formula in view of the Declaratory Act involves a serious train of evils.
1. The non-insertion of the Act in the formula
1. This non-insertion proves the church guilty of a lack of honesty and consistency.
To be consistent she should have embodied this Act alongside the Confession of Faith in the formula. If the doctrines of the Act are sound truth, all are under a moral obligation to believe them, and therefore all ought to be asked to accept them. If they are not such as all are under moral obligation to accept, they should not have been adopted as part of the creed of the church.
2. The non-insertion of the Act into the formula makes all candidates for office who believe in the Act guilty of dishonesty when they sign the formula.
They sign the latter professing to accept the Confession of Faith and other standards without reservation, while at the same moment they do so only “in view of the Declaratory Act”. With their hand they declare that they shall assert, maintain, and defend the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith, while with their heart they declare they shall do no such thing.
3. The non-insertion of the Act into the formula makes void the very end for which the formula was framed.
If a formula serves any purpose, it is to express the candidate’s adherence to the standards of the church. It is invariably understood that the formula gives a complete index as to the views of the candidate. In the present case, by the non-insertion of this Act the formula fails to embody the entire views of candidates, and so fails to answer the end for which it was framed. Church courts are therefore quite at sea in a great number of cases as to the actual views of those admitted to office. Can any honest mind view this with anything less than dismay? Is it not the duty of all who sit in church courts professing to administer the affairs of Christ’s house, to see to it that they know who they are that they are admitting to the highest offices that responsible beings can occupy? If, therefore, they admit to these offices persons of whose views they are to a large extent ignorant, and who may, for all they know, hold very erroneous doctrines, these members of church courts are, to say the least of it, not acting in a faithful and scriptural manner, and by their conduct are laying themselves open to do incalculable injury to the cause of Christ and the souls of men.
2. The provision by which candidates are entitled to sign the Confession and other standards “in view of the Declaratory Act” involves a serious train of evils:
1. Men of erroneous views may now enter the ministry of the church under a profession of soundness in the faith.
This dishonesty no doubt was perpetrated before this Act was passed, and candidates themselves were solely responsible for their sin, but now the church has sanctioned the dishonesty and made it perfectly lawful.
2. The above provision also makes it lawful for ministers and others who today adhere solely to the doctrines of the Word of God as contained in the Confession, tomorrow to change their mind and accept Declaratory Act doctrines.
Thus the sound Calvinist can become at any moment an Arminian and deny the doctrines of election and man’s total depravity. The man who at one time believed the Bible to be infallible from beginning to end is now entitled to cast doubts upon its inspiration and assert that it contains errors and mistakes.
3. The keys of discipline are now lost.
Church courts, if there are any such, who desire to adhere to the Confession have no power to bring to task men of Declaratory Act views, and can frame no libel against them. These courts are therefore disabled from obeying the command of Christ by His servant – “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject”. They are incapable of performing a very important function of the Church of Christ, the neglect of which will result in evils of a far-reaching character.
4. The constitution of the Church now affords no security to congregations that they will have sound ministers placed over them.
The constitution entitles probationers, while professing to adhere to the whole Confession of Faith, to believe in erroneous doctrines; and while it is possible some sound probationers may still be found, yet these rare cases do not affect the above facts. The Universal interests of the cause of truth are by no means conserved because it may happen that one or two individuals of sound views unfaithfully cling to a corrupt church.
5. There is now no guarantee that those ministers who are themselves sound in their views will have successors who shall transmit the testimony faithfully to posterity.
It is sometimes urged by “constitutional” ministers in the Free Church that if they left their churches, they would be opening a door for young men of unsound principles. But surely a day is coming when they shall have to leave their pulpits for ever, and what safeguard have they that the door will not then be opened for unfaithful men to occupy their places? A minister of Christ has no more responsible duty laid upon him than that he should commit the truth to faithful successors, as the welfare of many succeeding generations in his congregation may depend upon how he acted in connection with such an important matter. It becomes him, therefore, to ask himself the question, is he using all scriptural means to secure this end? The constitution of the Free Church, he finds, entitles all its probationers to sign the Confession, “in view of the Declaratory Act”, and so he cannot but conclude that there is no guarantee whatsoever there for a sound and faithful ministry.
The minister therefore who, notwithstanding this, rests satisfied with the present constitution by abiding under its shadow, is content to lack the security which he is under the highest obligation to seek, that his successors shall be sound in the faith, and he therefore exposes to the utmost peril the future spiritual interests of his congregation. We would with all earnestness commend this aspect of their position to those ministers in the Free Church who have any true desire for the maintenance of sound doctrines, and for the transmission of pure Gospel privileges to coming generations.
It is plainly proved by the foregoing facts that the only way in which a sound ministry and a pure Gospel can be maintained and handed down to posterity, is by separation from a church that gives a free licence to erroneous and soul-destroying error, and by the maintenance of a separate testimony on behalf of the truth. Division is not desirable for its own sake and should in no wise be sought after. We can, however, honestly affirm that the body to which we belong separated from the Free Church not for division, but for union in the faith. It is no privilege to remain in a church, however large, that has cast overboard the truth of God. It is an unspeakable privilege to be a doorkeeper in a church, however small, that maintains a pure testimony for Christ.