Documents of American
The Adopting Act of 1729
Citing from Chapter II of Baird's Digest of the Acts and Deliverances of Assembly:
§ 6. The
subject laid over a year.
"There being an overture presented to the Synod in writing having reference to the subscribing of the Confession of Faith, &c., the Synod, judging this to be a very important affair, unanimously concluded to defer the consideration of it till the next Synod, withal recommending it to the members of each Presbytery present to give timeous notice thereof to the absent members." Minutes, 1728, p. 91.
§ 7. Act Preliminary to the Adopting Act.
"The committee brought in an overture upon the affair of the Confession, which, after long debating upon it, was agreed upon, in hc verba:--
"Although the synod do not claim or pretend to any authority of imposing our faith upon other men's consciences, but do profess our just dissatisfaction with and abhorrence of such impositions, and do utterly disclaim all legislative power and authority of such impositions, and do utterly disclaim all legislative power and authority in the Church, being willing to receive one another, as Christ has received us to the glory of God, and admit to fellowship in sacred ordinances all such as we have grounds to believe Christ will at last admit to the kingdom of heaven; yet we are undoubtedly obliged to take care that the faith once delivered to the saints be kept pure and uncorrupt among us, and so hand down to our posterity.
And do therefore agree, that all the Ministers of this Synod, or that shall hereafter be admitted into this Synod, shall declare their agreement in and approbation of the Confession of Faith with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the assembly of Divines at Westminster, as being in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine; and do also adopt the said Confession and Catechisms as the confession of our faith.
And we do also agree, that all the Presbyteries within our bounds shall always take care not to admit any candidate of the ministry into the exercise of the sacred function, but what declares his agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of said Confession, either by subscribing the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms, or by a verbal declaration of their assent thereto, as such Minister or candidate for the Ministry shall think best. And in case any Minister of this Synod, or any candidate for the ministry, shall have any scruple with respect to any article or articles of said Confession or Catechisms, he shall at the time of his making said declaration declare his sentiments to the Presbytery or Synod, who shall, notwithstanding, admit him to the exercise of the ministry within our bounds and to ministerial communion if the Synod or Presbytery shall judge his scruple or mistake to be only about articles not essential and necessary in doctrine, worship or government. But if the Synod or Presbytery shall judge such Ministers or candidates erroneous in essential and necessary articles of faith, the Synod or Presbytery shall declare them uncapable of Communion with them.
And the Synod do solemnly agree, that none of us will traduce or use any opprobrious terms of those that differ from us in these extra-essential and not necessary points of doctrine, but treat them with the same friendship, kindness and brotherly love, as if they had not differed from us in such Sentiments."--Minutes, 1729, p. 94.
§ 8. The Adopting Act.
[The foregoing paper was adopted in the morning. In the afternoon took place "The Adopting Act."]
"All the Ministers of this Synod now present, except one,* that declared himself not prepared, viz., Masters Jedediah Andrews, Thomas Craighead, John Thomson, James Anderson, John Pierson, Samuel Gelston, Joseph Houston, Gilbert Tennent, Adam Boyd, Jonathan Dickinson, John Bradner, Alexander Hutchinson, Thomas Evans, Hugh Stevenson, William Tennent, Hugh Conn, George Gillespie, and John Willson, after proposing all the scruples that any of them had to make against any articles and expressions in the Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, have unanimously agreed in the solution of those scruples, and in declaring the said Confession and Catechisms to be the confession of their faith, excepting only some clauses in the twentieth and twenty-third chapters, concerning which clauses the Synod do unanimously declare, that they do not received those articles in any such sense as to suppose the civil magistrate hath a controlling power over Synods with respect to the exercise of their ministerial authority; or power to persecute any for their religion, or in any sense contrary to the Protestant succession to the throne of Great Britain.
"The Synod observing that unanimity, peace, and unity, which appeared in all their consultations and determinations relating to the affair of the Confession, did unanimously agree in giving thanks to God in solemn prayer and praises."--Ibid.
[*Mr. Elmer. He gave in his assent at the next meeting of the Synod.]
§ 9. Passages of the Confession excepted to in the Adopting Act.
[The following are the passages explained in the above act. Chap. 20, sec. 4, of certain offenders it is said] "they may be proceeded against by the censures of the Church, and by the power of the civil magistrate."
Chap. 23, sec. 3. "The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church; that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. for the better effecting whereof he hath power to call Synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God."
§ 10. The Directory recommended.
"A motion being made to know the Synod's judgment about the Directory, they gave their sense of the matter in the following words, viz. The Synod do unanimously acknowledge and declare, that they judge the Directory for worship, discipline, and government of the Church, commonly annexed to the Westminster Confession, to be agreeable in substance to the word of God, and founded thereupon; and therefore do earnestly recommend the same to all their members, to be by them observed as near as circumstances will allow, and Christian prudence direct."--Minutes, 1729, p. 95.
§ 11. The Adopting Act enforced upon Intrants.
(a) "Whereas, some persons have been dissatisfied at the manner of wording our last year's agreement about the Confession, &c., supposing some expressions not sufficiently obligatory upon intrants;
"Overtured, That the Synod do now declare, that they understand these clauses, that respect the admission of intrants or candidates, in such a sense as to oblige them to receive and adopt the Confession and Catechisms at their admission, in the same manner, and as fully as the members of Synod did, that were then present."--Minutes, 1730, p. 98.
(b) "Ordered, That the Synod make a particular inquiry during the time of their meeting every year, whether such Ministers as have been received as members since the foregoing meeting of the Synod, have adopted, or have been required by the Synod, or by the respective Presbyteries, to adopt the Westminster Confession and Catechisms with the Directory, according to the acts of the Synod made some years since for that purpose, and that also the report made to the Synod, in answer to said inquiry, be recorded in our minutes."--Minutes, 1734, p. 109.
§ 12. Ordered upon the Presbyterial Records.
"Ordered, That each Presbytery have the whole Adopting Act inserted in their Presbytery book."--Minutes, 1735, p. 115.
§ 13. Explanation of the Act.
"An overture of the committee upon the supplication of the people of Paxton and Derry, was brought in and is as followeth. That the Synod do declare, that inasmuch as we understand that many persons of our persuasion, both more lately and formerly, have been offended with some expressions or distinctions in the first or preliminary act of our Synod, contained in the printed paper, relating to our receiving or adopting the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, &c: That in order to remove said offence, and all jealousies that have arisen or may arise in any of our people's minds, on occasion of said distinctions and expressions, the Synod doth declare, that the Synod have adopted, and still do adhere to the Westminster Confession, Catechisms, and Directory, without the least variation or alteration, and without any regard to said distinctions. And we do further declare, that this was our meaning and true intent in our first adopting of said Confession, as may particularly appear by our Adopting Act, which is as followeth: 'All the Ministers of the Synod now present (which were eighteen in number, except one that declared himself not prepared,) after proposing all the scruples any of them had to make against any articles and expressions in the Confession of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster have unanimously agreed in the solution of these scruples, and in declaring the said Confession and Catechisms to be the confession of their faith, except only some clauses in the twentieth and twenty-third chapters, concerning which clauses the Synod do unanimously declare, that they do not receive these articles in any such sense as to suppose the civil magistrate hath a controlling power over Synods with respect to the exercise of their ministerial authority, or power to persecute any for their religion, or in any sense contrary to the Protestant succession to the throne of Great Britain."
"And we hope and desire, that this our Synodical declaration and explication may satisfy all our people, as to our firm attachment to our good old received doctrines contained in said Confession, without the least variation or alteration, and that they will lay aside their jealousies that have been entertained through occasion of the above hinted expressions and declarations as groundless. This overture approved nemine contradicente."--Minutes, 1736, p. 126. [See Book VII. §§ 16 and 32: I.]
§ 14. Recent Misrepresentations of this Act.
[The New School General Assembly, in 1839, adopted a minute, which, after describing the Preliminary, as being the Adopting Act, and entirely overlooking the Adopting Act itself, proceeds as follows:
"In 1730, we find the Presbytery of New Castle, in the face of these conciliatory measures of the Synod, adopting the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, as being in all things agreeable to the word of God; and in 1732, the new Presbytery of Donegal followed their example, and promised for ever thereafter to adhere thereto. In 1736, that party, who were in favour of the strong measures of th Scottish Church, had gained so much ascendancy, that they brought a majority of the Synod to follow the example of the two Presbyteries of New Castle and Donegal, and adopt the Confession, Catechisms, and Directory of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, without alteration or exception; thus establishing the power of the civil magistrate to control Synods, and persecute the Church."--Minutes, N.S. Assembly, 1839, p. 57.
Yet so far is this from being correct, that in the act of 1736, as above, the Adopting Act of 1729 is formally recited as a
just exposition of the views of the members of Synod, and a sufficient answer to the misapprehensions of their people.]
§ 15. Position of the New Brunswick party.
(a) [Two days after the withdrawal of the New Brunswick Presbytery from the Synod of Philadelphia, (see Book VII. §§ 14, 15.) the Presbytery entered the following minute on their record:]
"Inasmuch as the Ministers who have protested against our being of their communion, do at least insinuate false reflections against us, endeavouring to make people suspect that we are receding from Presbyterian principles; fo the satisfaction of such Christian people as may be stumbled at such aspersions, we think it fit unanimously to declare that we do adhere as closely and fully to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and Directory, as ever the Synod of Philadelphia did in any of their public acts or statements about it."--Hodge's History, Part 2, p. 197.
(b) [This Presbytery having subdivided itself into two Presbyteries, immediately after the schism issued a "Declaration of the conjunct Presbyteries of New Brunswick and New Castle." In it they make the following statement:]
"We think it proper, for the satisfaction of all concerning us, and as a due testimony to the truth of God, to delcare and testify to the world our principles and sentiments in religion, according to which we design, through divine grace, ever to conduct ourselves, both as Christians and as Ministers and Ruling Elders.
"And first, as to the doctrines of religion, we believe, with our heart, and profess and maintain with our lips, the doctrines summed up and contained in the Confession of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, composed by the reverend Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as the truths of God, revealed and contained in the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; and do receive, acknowledge, and declare the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms to be the confession of our faith; yet so as that no part of the twenty-third chapter of said Confession shall be so construed as to allow civil magistrates, as such, to have any ecclesiastical authority in Synods, or Church judicatories, much less the power of a negative voice over them in their ecclesiastical transactions; nor is any part of it to be understood as opposite to the memorable revolution, and the settlement of the crown of the three kingdoms in the illustrious house of Hanover."--Ibid., p. 229.
§ 16. Position of the Synod of New York. [See Book VII. § 26:1.]
(a) "The Synod being informed of certain misrepresentations concerning the constitution, order, and discipline of our Churches, industriously spread by some of the members of the Dutch Congregations interspersed among or bordering upon us, with design to prevent occasional or constant communion of their members with our Churches; to obviate all such misrepresentations, and to cultivate a good understanding between us and our brethren of the Dutch Churches, we do hereby declare and testify our constitution, order, and discipline to be in harmony with the established Church of Scotland. The Westminster Confession, Catechisms, and Directory for public worship and church government, adopted by them, are in like manner received and adopted by us. we declare ourselves united with that Church in the same faith, order, and discipline. Its approbation, countenance, and favour we have abundant testimonies of. They, as brethren, receive us; and their members we, as opportunity offers, receive as ours. And as the Church of Scotland and the Reformed Churches abroad, agreeable to the Geneva Platform, hold a ready and free communion with each other, so we also desire the same with our brethren of the Dutch and French Churches interspersed amongst and bordering upon us."--Minutes, 1751, p. 245.
(b) [In reply to an insulting letter from some disaffected members, the Synod says:]
"Though we might justly refuse to take any further notice of what is offered in said paper, yet as we would condescend to the weakness, and as far as can consist with duty, bear with the imperfections of those who are under our care, for the sake of their edification, we therefore inform them, that, by adopting the Westminster Confession, we only intend receiving it as a test of orthodoxy in this Church; and it is the order of this Synod, that all who are licensed to preach the gospel, or become members of any Presbytery in our bounds, shall receive the same as the confession of their faith, according to our constituting act, which we see no reason to repeal."--Minutes, 1756, p. 274.
(c) Form of Ordination Vows.
[The following formula, which was propounded to Messrs. Patillo and Richardson, at their ordination, by Samuel Davies, illustrates the views of the members of the New York Synod in regard to the adoption of the Confession:]
"Do you receive the Westminster Confession of Faith as the confession of your faith? That is, do you believe it contains an excellent summary of the pure doctrines of Christianity, as taught in the Scriptures, and as purged from the corruptions of popery and other errors that have crept into the Church? And do you purpose to explain the Scriptures agreeably to the substance of it?"--Davies's Sermons.