It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make enquiry.—Proverbs 20.25.

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ACT of the Reformed Preſbytery

FOR A FAST.

At Douglas, 8th Nov. 1786.

THE which day and place, the Presbytery being met, and taking into their serious consideration the state of God’s church amongst us, the situation of the nations in general, the calls of God’s word to the duty of fasting, and the alarming dispensations of divine providence; are persuaded that the Lord is commanding them “to blow the trumpet in Zion, to sanctify a fast, to call a solemn assembly, to gather the people, to sanctify the congregation, to assemble the elders, and the priests, (the ministers of the Lord,) to weep between the porch and the altar, saying, Spare thy people, O Lord, give not thine heritage to reproach” [Joel 2.15-17]; that the Lord, according to his promise, may be jealous for his land, and pity his people.  The Presbytery, therefore, desire to call upon themselves, and the people under their pastoral and presbyterial charge, to humble themselves before the Lord, and to sigh and cry on account of the following abominations which have been done in the land; and which they hereby officially exhibit to them, as grounds of the Lord’s controversy, and causes of humiliation before him.

Our national apostacy from the covenanted work of the reformation, to which our ancestors, by the good hand of their God upon them, attained, is still to be considered as a ground of the Lord’s controversy, and cause of humiliation; which began in the admission of the enemies of that work into places of power and trust, by the {2} public resolutions.  Our national apostacy from the Lord, having been thus begun, was mournfully carried on, near the end of the last, and beginning of the present century, in the national overthrow of our solemn covenants, and the laws of the reforming period which guarded them;—in the bloody persecution of the saints and servants of God, for no other reason than their faithful adherence to the work of God;—in their imposing false and self-contradictory oaths, directly opposite to the oath of God, whereby many were involved at once in perjury, and rebellion against the Lord;—in the establishment of Prelacy, that abjured system of superstition, in the kingdoms of England and Ireland;—in the establishment of Presbytery in Scotland, not because it was the divinely warranted form of church government, but merely because it was found to be more agreeable to the inclinations of the greater part of the people, in that part of the empire;—in the establishment of the civil government on the footing of the intire overthrow of the work of reformation, and constant support of superstition and Erastianism;—in constituting the union betwixt Scotland and England on terms directly contrary to their covenanted association for the reformation of religion, into which they entered in the most solemn manner;—in their granting an almost boundless toleration to all error, heresy and idolatry;—and in their binding the yoke of antichristian patronage upon the church.— All which particulars have been often mentioned, and still require to be mourned over by us; that we, like the seed of Israel, may stand and confess our own sins and the iniquities of our fathers; saying, We acknowledge, {3} O Lord, our wickedness and the iniquities of our fathers, for we have sinned against thee.

Nor have the national administrations, in Church and State, been less antiscriptural than their constitutions; a view of which, also, calls to humiliation and girding with sackcloth.  The arm of civil power hath been employed in the encouragement of superstition, idolatry, and error; in the removal of the remaining bulwarks against Antichrist, by the repeal of the penal statutes against Papists; so that when even the popish powers of the earth are, in adoreable providence, doing much for the overthrow of that system, it has been the peculiar sin of these lands, to do much for healing the wound of the antichristian beast;—in the imposition of numerous burdensome, and in some instances, impious like taxes upon the subject; whereby the hand of civil power is become the rod of the oppressor;— in the dreadful corruption and wickedness, which take place at the election of the magistrates in boroughs and the representatives of the land in the highest court of the nation;—in declaring and carrying on bloody, expensive, and impolitic wars, to the great detriment of the empire;—in the imposition and frequent repetition of dangerous and soul-ensnaring oaths upon the subject;—and in carrying into execution the sinful acts of corrupt churchmen, by a forcible banishment of the more faithful ministers from their charges, and a forcible settlement of sacrilegious hirelings upon reclaiming congregations.  The ecclesiastical administrations among us also appear, in many instances, to be diametrically opposite to the inspired laws of the house of God.  Their silent and sinful submission to Erastian {4} appointments;—their actual deposition, and threatenings of deposition of the comparatively faithful among them, for doing their duty in the sight of God;—their rigorous settlement of men, as ministers in congregations, not only without their consent, but also in opposition to their petitions and remonstrances;—their judicial declaration of their unwillingness, that any alteration should be made in the oppressive and anti-scriptural law of patronage;—their active endeavours to screen the erroneous and scandalous of their ministers, from the censures of the church, when libelled before their judicatories for these offences;—and the gross errors which appear in the doctrine, and immorality which appears in the lives of many of them; manifest that from these “prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone out into all the land.”

If we turn our attention to the other religious denominations, in the land; we will also see reason to drop a tear of godly sorrow.  Some, who under the highest profession of witnessing for the whole work of reformation, being mournfully inattentive to the true extent of our covenant obligations, have left out of their profession, the civil reformation, which is one essential branch of that system; and bitterly oppose and reproach those who desire to adopt it.  Unhallowed alterations have been made, in the scriptural mode of dispensing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; and an act of mutual forbearance has been adopted, in a matter of plain truth and duty.  Others, bearing the same venerable name of witnesses for God, have so far departed from their testimony, as to retain almost nothing that distinguishes the covenanted reformation, from {5} the Babel settlements, which have obtained in these lands since the Revolution.  Under a profession of separation from the established church, and testimony-bearing against her; they allow the members of their church, without censure, to join in her communion; and under a profession of friendship unto, and approbation of our solemn covenants, they freely allow their people to swear all the oaths, appointed by government, for qualifying them for trade, and inferior magistracies; which are directly contrary to the oath of God.  Others, bearing the Presbyterian name, and who have also settled themselves in a church state, distinct from others, are remarkable for their scoffing at, and opposition unto the duty of witness-bearing for God and his truth; their stated opposition to the covenanted reformation; lax system of principles relative to church communion, &c.  Low sectaries, divided into numerous and unknown classes, appear in many parts of the land, drawing away disciples after them, and subverting the faith of some; the principal characteristics of which are, an opposition unto the divinely instituted form of presbyterial church government;—a pouring contempt upon the divinely appointed ordinance of a gospel ministry;—a denial of all religion in the national profession of it;—an impugning of the church’s obligations unto the Lord, arising from her solemn vows unto him; sinking the state of the old testament church, and believers in that period, below what it really was, as if nothing spiritual had been enjoyed by them;—raising the state of the new testament church, and believers under that dispensation, above what it really is, as if they were [actually] freed from doubts, fears, and spiritual {6} trouble;—and their soul-ruining corruption of the doctrine of faith, as if a notional belief of the truth were sufficient for the salvation of the sinner; and denying the fiducial and personal appropriation, which is essential to the very nature of true and saving faith.  From a view of these things, the exercise of the prophet ought to be ours; “For these things I weep, mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the Comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me, my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed.”

If we take a view of the condition and conduct of professed Christians, in every denomination, and particularly among ourselves, we will also find reason to humble ourselves before the Lord.  Ignorance respecting the divine nature, persons, perfections, purposes, and covenants of works and grace; the person, natures, offices, righteousness, grace and work of Christ, the doctrines of the gospel, duties of the law, ordinances of God, and nature of the gospel church, greatly prevails; so that the antient complaint may be made, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”  Much unacquaintedness with the sacred scriptures and valuable standards of our church, is chargeable upon many professors in our day.  How little concern is to be found upon the spirits of Christians, that they may obtain real or sensible communion with God in Christ, by the ordinances of his grace; that they may live godly in Christ Jesus; that they may keep their hearts with all diligence; and that they may order their conversations aright, walking like the children of God, blameless and harmless, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. [Phil. 2.15.]  How little do the bulk of professors make conscience of the secret duties of prayer, praise, confession of sin, reading God’s word, meditation on his truths, and self-examination.  The duties of family prayer, praise, reading the scriptures, and catechising, are, by many professed Christians, carelessly performed; and by others totally neglected.  The public duties of the sanctuary are contemned by not a few, in many corners of the land, who refuse to give their personal presence to the worship of the living God; and when {7} they do come, through the pride of their hearts, they refuse to join reverently in some parts of the sacred service.  Little remembrance and impression of sacramental vows remain upon the minds of those, who, by their baptism, and sitting down at the table of the Lord, have practically said that they are his.  Little care is taken of the religious education of youth, by those who are bound in the most solemn manner to train them up for the Lord; but many act in such a manner, as if they were bound to bring them up for Satan and the world.  The sacred name and day of the Lord are mournfully profaned amongst us.  Envy, malice, murder, calumny, and an irreconcilable disposition abound.  Uncleanness of every kind is prevalent.  Thefts, fraud, extortion and robbery are not rare.  Deceit, lying, and even perjury, it is to be feared, are common.  Discontent, uncharitableness, grieving at our neighbour’s prosperity, and covetousness which is idolatry, mark the characters of many.  Conformity to the world, in principles, manners and dress is chargeable upon professors of both sexes: “The daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched out necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet.” [Isa. 3.16.]  Many professors, making high pretensions to practical religion, are utterly unconcerned about the public interests of Christ, and the declarative glory of God in the world; while others, professing great concern about these, manifest that the heart exercise of true godliness is little studied by them: Few are religiously, and properly concerned about both; and many, Galio-like, care for none of those things.  The world and things below, engross the affection and pursuit of men; while things spiritual and everlasting are little regarded.  All these things, being found with us as a people, manifest that we are highly guilty, and that the Lord may justly say of us; “Ah! sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers, children that are corrupters; they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the holy One of Israel to anger, they are gone away backward.” [Isa. 1.4.]

For the above causes, and others that have been more largely mentioned in former papers of this kind, which {8} should also be consulted, the Presbytery appoint that the last Thursday of January next be observed by them and the people under their inspection, as a day of solemn and public fasting and humiliation.  The Presbytery recommend unto, and enjoin upon all concerned, the study of heart-searching and humbling work before God; the exercise of saving faith in the infinite mercy of God, and infinite merits of Christ, for the pardon of all sin; of godly sorrow; of true and evangelical repentance; of an humble confession of sin; and turning from it unto the Lord.  They also require, that all concerned, may set their faces to the Lord God to seek by prayer and supplication, that the Lord may arise and have mercy on Zion, that the time to favour her, the set time may come, [Psalm 102.13]; that he may send the gospel of his Son into the darkened parts of the world; that he may destroy heathenism, and the religion of the false Prophet; that he may remove the vail from the minds of his antient people, and make them find the Messiah; that he may make the kings of the earth hate the whore, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire; that they may employ their power for Christ, so that the promise made to him, may be accomplished: “All dominion shall serve and obey him;” that he may revive his work in the midst of the years, [Hab. 3.2]; that he may send forth labourers into his vineyard, [Luke 10.2]; and accomplish his promise to his people, “I will give you pastors according to mine heart, that shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” [Jer. 3.15.]  They likewise enjoin all, not to forget, but thankfully remember the Lord’s goodness in granting us the increase of the earth in safety and abundance, notwithstanding of threatening appearances in the beginning of both summer and harvest; in allowing to his church the dispensation of the gospel, and the ordinances thereof both ordinary and solemn; in adding to the number of public teachers in his church; and in still preserving, in some measure, both peace and truth amongst us.  And the Presbytery appoint these causes to be read on the Sabbath preceeding the day of fasting, with suitable exhortations.

Extracted by ARCHIBALD MASON, Cl. Pr.