And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.—Acts 4.32.

[The Westminster Assembly.]

THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY.

Excerpted from:

THE

ORIGINAL COVENANTER.

VOL. II.

JUNE, 1879.

No. 10.

This assembly of "ministers and other fit persons" which met in England, in the year 1643, at the call of the English Parliament, has ever since been well marked in history: and, therefore, its character and the object of its meeting should be well understood. Especially should those who speak of it with veneration be familiar with its influence in a revolutionary state of society. Yet the prevailing ignorance of the nature and work of that famous body is surprising; and among intelligent men, professing to be Covenanters, this ignorance is truly humiliating. Perhaps one cause of manifold misapprehension is the different ideas attached to the words, Assembly, Synod, Council, &c. A living language necessarily undergoes continual change. The terms Synod and Assembly are now used to signify authoritative church courts; but two hundred years ago, both these words were used to signify what we now call a Convention. {308}

Outside of the Reformed Presbyterian Church many writers, viewing the Westminster formularies as authoritative ecclesiastical deeds, have all along charged the documents then framed with serious error—especially as being Erastian. No charge could be more groundless; for the very nature of the body as merely consultative, and the known sentiments of most of its members as anti-erastian demonstrates the contrary.

But it is to be deplored that inside of what claims to be the R. P. Church, grievous mistakes continue to be entertained and propagated relative to the character and work of that famous and faithful Westminster Assembly. More than seven years ago we had occasion to notice an erroneous conception and utterance by Rev. S.O. Wylie, in regard to both its nature and the fruit of its labors. His words, as reported by one of his brethren, were—"The Covenants are not the link uniting us with the Church of The Reformation." We ask, what "church?" And again, what "Reformation?" Mr. Wylie then added, "That link is in the Confession of Faith, and other Westminster documents." Now every reader should know that the Westminster documents, viz: the Solemn League, Confession of Faith, Catechisms, Form of Church Government, and Directory for Worship, derived no authority from the [Westminster] Assembly which framed them. That body had no authority over any church. To say, therefore, that these documents as formulated at Westminster, bind us or any body to any church, is to mislead and not to direct the sincere inquirer. It is to falsify the truth of history. The documents just named unite us—not to the Westminster Assembly, but to the Covenanted Church of Scotland, and only "as they were received by said Church," when formally sanctioned by her General Assembly. The Covenanted Church is necessarily and essentially a historical church, as all her distinctive names plainly indicated to every intelligent reader.

Our attention has been recently arrested and directed to this question of our relation to the Westminster Assembly by an article in Our Banner for last December, p. 393. The article is, credited to a promising young minister, "Rev. J. M. Foster, {309} Cincinnati;" and it is launched before the public without correction or animadversion by the trinity of editors. Indeed, the youthful and ambitious writer of the article is in a measure excusable, when his gray-headed seniors in the ministry make the same or similar mistakes as above shown.

The writer calls the Westminster Assembly "the supreme judicature of the Church." We ask—what church? Not the church universal, we presume: and if not, then the young man must have meant the Reformed Presbyterian Church. But is it true the the Westminster Assembly was the supreme judicature of that church? No, so far from being, or assuming to be such, it was not even the judicature of any church. It possessed no judicial powers at all. It was simply "consultative and advisory," as the summons of Parliament plainly bears. The Solemn League—not the Westminster Assembly, that framed it, binds us; and binds us not as, or because framed at Westminster, but as it was adopted and sworn by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The young man's mistake consists in substituting the Westminster Assembly for the aforesaid General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Speaking of the Westminster Assembly, Mr. Foster says, "This is the last free General Assembly the Church (R.P.) has had, and by its decisions we are bound until we get another."—"Its decisions." Where are they? We suppose the young man learned from Dr. S.O. Wylie and others in 1871, that these "decisions are to be found in the formularies framed by that godly and judicious Synod," as it was designated by Thomas Manton. This is the same error which was detected in 1871, and now retailed in different language—the formularies framed at Westminster, but not the Covenants, are "the link uniting us," &c. So taught Dr. S.O. Wylie at the above date; and now the Rev. J.M. Foster and Our Banner echo the same error.

Had this young man in possession the "faith which dwelt first in his grandfather," Elder Alexander Foster, of precious memory; he would not have fallen into the present mistake. His ancestor could have shown him the way of God more perfectly. {310} Had he not been "born out of due time," he would have known that by the Solemn League the Westminster Assembly, on swearing it, bound itself directly, and the three kingdoms indirectly—to God and to each other; but neither bound, nor could bind, any church—least of all the Church of Scotland. That Solemn League bound all who took it to unity and uniformity—to the preservation of the reformed religion in Scotland, and to endeavour the reformation of the churches in England and Ireland "according to the Word of God, and the example of the best reformed churches."