Monday, April 23, 2012

A constitutional Act

The debate in 1892 around the Declaratory Act related to its constitutional nature. This is well discussed in an anonymous letter to the Glasgow Herald in September of that year. Archibald McNeilage appears to have taken similar views in a separate letter to the same newspaper.

Donald Beaton wrote much later on the subject: "The founders of the Free Presbyterian Church, while holding that the majority in passing the Declaratory Act were acting ultra vires, inasmuch as a use was made of the Barrier Act for which it was never intended, at the same time asserted that the Declaratory Act, being inconsistent with the Confession, violated the Constitution of the Free Church. In taking up positions seemingly at variance, there was no inconsistency. Both positions were tenable and consistent with the real facts of the situation created by the ecclesiastical policy of one of the astutest ecclesiastical leaders Scotland ever had, though, alas! his gifts were prostituted to a bad cause." For more on the constitutional aspect of the Act see here.

We can resume the questions that we began in relation to this Act in a previous post.

4.Was it not only a mere Act and not part of the constitution?

The Declaratory Act was not just a resolution adopted by the Assembly; it was passed by a majority of presbyteries under the Barrier Act in 1893.  The Barrier Act makes provision that no proposal of the Assembly shall be regarded as a standing law and constitution of the Church without the consent of the majority of presbyteries. It follows that the Declaratory Act being passed under this Act formed part of the constitution, thereby changing it (by adding to and taking from the Confession of Faith).

5. Was it not beyond the powers (ultra vires) of the Free Church to change its constitution?

A Church has no right to change its constitution in the face of a dissenting minority and remain the same body - it is ultra vires. A Church can of course change its constitution unanimously and remain the same Church, particularly if there is nothing contradictory in the new constitution. What happens when a Church does change its constitution through the appropriate legal means but without entire unanimity? It ceases to be the same body that it was and the dissenting minority instead become the true representatives of the original body. This is what happened in 1893 and why the FP Church was now the true representative of the Free Church of 1843.

6.Did the Formula (ordination vows) not have to be changed before the Constitution was altered?

The Act had to be a law before it could be subscribed to. Putting the Act into the Questions and Formula did not make it a law - it was already in force. The failure to change the Formula was a political ploy to achieve the desired outcome without upsetting the minority.  It was the Church's Act and it ensured that anyone could accept the doctrines of the Act without hindrance. It was found to be impossible for anyone to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith and add an explicit rejection of the Declaratory Act.  James Macdonald, Dornoch inserted this kind of rejection of the Act into his subscription (1893) but the Synod of Caithness and Sutherland ordered that it be removed from the records. The fact that the Formula was unchanged was due to a lack of honesty which would have required subscription to these doctrines if the Church was convinced that they were true.  The Declaratory Act also emptied the Formula of all meaning.  It was no longer possible to have any complete assurance or definite indication as to the views of ministers and office-bearers. The truth was that it was the Formula itself that was a dead letter and not the Declaratory Act.  Furthermore by the Act the Free Church sanctioned the sinful dishonesty of vowing full subscription while having mental reservations.

The idea that the Act was inoperative because the Formula had not changed is not valid.  Men were availing themselves of the Declaratory Act in subscribing the Formula and the Constitutionalists were powerless to prevent this or even detect it, and so unable to keep their ordination vows.  Maurice Grant recognises the weakness of the argument in relation to the Formula. “In their Reasons for Dissent at the passing of the Declaratory Act in 1892 the Free Church constitutionalists specifically stated that the Act 'must be regarded as a new law of this Church, which alters the relations of the Church to the Confession of Faith, by substituting for the doctrines therein embodied the statements made in the Act, as the future standard of orthodoxy in this Church' (Minutes of Free Church General Assembly, 1892). The argument that no change had been made in the Questions and Formula is in any event something of an academic one, since the Assembly of 1894, in what was presented as a relieving Act, stated that 'those who are licensed or ordained to office in this Church, in answering the Questions and subscribing the Formula, are entitled to do so in view of the said Declaratory Act'. Thus, though the Questions and Formula themselves were unchanged, the facility for an ordinand to take advantage of the Declaratory Act when answering and subscribing them was specifically written into the law of the Church. It is best therefore to look elsewhere for a satisfactory vindication of the constitutionalists' position” (The Heirs of the Disruption in Crisis and Recovery 1893-1920).

7.Was the Act not just a dead letter on the statute book?

No, because protests against the Act (e.g. in the Synod of Glenelg) were not permitted by the General Assembly (1893).  This showed that individuals were bound by the Act even in their consciences since it was impossible to protest against it in order to clear the conscience.  An overture by Rev. Angus Galbraith, Lochalsh (Free Church minority 1900) to the same General Assembly recognised this fact by observing that it was clear that it was not "optional for them to receive or to reject this Act". He went on to say that it "was very small comfort to be told that this Act was not intended to interfere with their personal beliefs when they learned that it regulated their creed and public testimony as a Church". Dr. Rainy responded with an indication of the real force of the Act, emphasising that "the Act has set forth the Church's understanding of the range of opinion which is open in this Church in its own understanding of what is involved in the acceptance of the Confession of Faith by our ministers and long as it lasts, no doubt it is authoritative."

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Declamatory Act

declamatory (dɪˈklæmətərɪ)

merely rhetorical; empty and bombastic

The above is a good definition of the Free Church Declaratory Act of 1892 which, as noted here, is 120 years old in May. It declaimed against the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was mere empty rhetoric designed to encompass and deceitfully hide a wide variety of errors in opposition to the precise theology of the Confession of Faith. In a phrase they "destroyed the integrity of the Confession of Faith". The only unobjectionable and non-declamatory word in the Act was the first one, "Whereas". It was, as BB Warfield described it, "a bungling piece of work".

In History of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, Rev. John Dickson writes:
A creed is only a light-holder; to declaim against it is to act like the savage [sic] who, walking through the streets of London at night, complained that the lamp-posts were an obstruction to traffic. 
See here for more on exactly how the Declaratory Act was guilty of subverting as well as declaiming against the Confession of Faith. 

1.What was the Declaratory Act?

It was officially called "Act Anent Confession of Faith" and was passed by the Free Church in 1892. It stated that its purpose was "to remove difficulties and scruples which have been felt by some in relation to the declaration of belief required from" office-bearers, ministers, probationers etc. In other words some seeking office in the Church could not (although ordination vows explicitly required it) affirm that the "whole doctrine" of the Westminster Confession of Faith was their personal confession of faith.  The Church sought a way to get around this.  The Declaratory Act allowed men to assent publicly to the same vows of strict and full subscription but privately they could make secret appeal to the Declaratory Act's qualification of the confession.

2.What was the motivation for the Act?

The motivation for the Act was to permit students who held views contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith in terms of evolution, higher criticism, Arminianism etc. to subscribe in a qualified way to the Westminster Confession of Faith without abandoning such convictions.  It was also intended to facilitate union with the United Presbyterian Church who had passed their own Declaratory Act that was practically identical to the Free Church 1892 Act. 

3.What was the effect of the Declaratory Act?

By the Declaratory Act the Free Church "destroyed the integrity of the Confession of Faith as understood and accepted by the Disruption Fathers and their predecessors" thereby overthrowing "the fixed Doctrinal Constitution of the Church" (Rev. James S. Sinclair). The Church's relation to the Westminster Confession of Faith changed from entire acceptance to modified acceptance. The Church's declaration was that it "maintains, holds" doctrines that were actually subversive of the Confession while "disclaiming" certain crucial confessional doctrines. This amounted to an additional creed.  The Church was also giving approval and shelter to the false doctrines named above and those who held to them. Rev. James S. Sinclair said: "The Free Church in order to please the fickle tastes of carnal men has traitorously lowered the standard of accepted truth, and weakened down the saving doctrines of the Gospel, so that they shall be powerless for any spiritual good to this or future generations".

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Praise is Comely - wordle

See previous post
'A line of praise is worth a leaf of prayer, an hour of praise is worth a day of fasting and mourning' 
- John Livingstone

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Faith in His blood

"Faith looks for acceptance to nothing in itself, but goes quite out of a man's self, and rests upon the merits and death of Christ as only satisfactory to justice, and through which it expects to be accepted of God:—therefore it is faith in his blood."
-- John Brown of Wamphray

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The autobiography of Jesus Christ

The gospels give us biographies of the Lord Jesus Christ but with the exception of the Servant Songs of Isaiah it is only really the Book of Psalms that gives us his autobiography. E.S. McKitrick states "the person of Christ is fully presented in the Psalter, as well as His work. Indeed, it has been asserted, and not without reason, that out of the Psalms one could compile a biography of Jesus". The proper term here would be autobiography, but he goes on helpfully:

His eternal Sonship is declared in Ps 2: "Jehovah said unto Me, Thou art My Son; This day have I begotten Thee." [Ps 2:7] His incarnation is foretold in Ps 40 as applied in Heb 10: "Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body didst Thou prepare for Me," [Heb 10:5] and in Ps 22: "Thou art My God since My mother bore Me." [Ps 22:10] It is at least suggestive of the supernatural birth of Jesus that, while He speaks repeatedly and tenderly in Ps 22 of a human mother, there is not a word concerning a human father. His favorite name, "Son of Man," is taken from Ps 8, as well as from the Book of Daniel. As we have seen, He is presented in Ps 2 as the "Son of God," and in the same Psalm He is called the "Anointed," that is, "the Christ," while Ps 23 is evidently the origin of "the Good Shepherd." All the usual names applied to Him in the New Testament are given in the Psalms, except the name Jesus, and it is given frequently in substance, if not in form. His trust in God and obedience to Him are beautifully set forth in the whole of Ps 18; His moral beauty in Ps 45—"Thou art fairer than the children of men" [Ps 45:2]; likewise His anointing of the Holy Spirit—"Grace is poured into Thy lips." [Ps 45:2] His life of self-sacrifice is shown from Ps 69 by the Apostle Paul, "For Christ also pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on Me." [Rom 15:3] In this Psalm we have His passionate devotion to God's service—"The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up." [Ps 69:9] His taking sinners into union with Himself—a truth which underlies the whole Psalter—is stated in Ps 22, as interpreted in the Epistle to the Hebrews—"I will declare Thy name unto My brethren." [Ps 22:22] His rejection is mentioned in Ps 69—"I am become a stranger unto My brethren, and an alien unto My mother's children"; "They that hate Me without cause are more than the hairs of My head." [Ps 69:8,4] His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was foreshadowed in Ps 8—"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou established strength," [Ps 8:2] and in Ps 118—"Blessed be He that cometh in the name of Jehovah." [Ps 118:26] The conspiracy of His foes against Him is in Ps 31—"They took counsel together against Me, they devised to take away My life." [Ps 31:13] His betrayal by one of the Twelve is foretold in Ps 41, as He Himself pointed out—"He that eateth My bread lifted up his heel against Me." [Ps 41:9] The manner of His death is foretold in Ps 22—"They pierced My hands and My feet." Even the disposition of His clothes is mentioned—"They part My garments among them, and upon My vesture do they cast lots." [Ps 22:16,18] His cry of desertion was in the opening words of this Psalm, in which they are followed by a most accurate and pathetic description of the whole crucifixion scene. Ps 69 adds another line to the dark picture—"They gave Me also gall for My food; and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink." [Ps 69:21] That His bones should not be broken, as were those hanging on either side of Him, is predicted in Ps 34, as applied in John's Gospel—"A bone of Him shall not be broken." [John 19:36] His dying words were from Ps 31—"Into Thy hands I commend My spirit." [Ps 31:5] His resurrection is foretold in Ps 16, as cited in Peter's sermon at Pentecost—"Thou wilt not leave My soul unto Hades, neither wilt Thou give Thy Holy One to see corruption." [Ps 16:10] His ascension, also, is mentioned—"Thou hast ascended on high" [Ps 68:18]; "God is gone up with a shout, Jehovah with the sound of a trumpet." [Ps 47:5] His kingdom and its ultimate triumph are described in the familiar Ps 72, and His coming in judgment in Ps 50 and Ps 98—"Our God cometh, and doth not keep silence"; "He calleth to the heavens above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people"; "For He cometh to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity." [Ps 50:3-4; Ps 98:9]

In these revelations of Jesus in the Psalter there is this advantage over all others—He speaks mainly in the first person, and tells us His own feelings while working and suffering and dying for our redemption. And these revelations are chiefly in the past tense, as if to indicate that they were intended more for the gospel age than for that in which they were written.

'Christ in the Psalms' E. S. McKitrick From The Psalms in Worship, edited by John McNaugher, Pittsburgh 1907.