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Each claimed to itself, exclusively, the constitution, the powers, and the name of the Associate Synod; and followed up its claims by judicial proceedings against the other, which tended to widen the separation, and to extinguish every hope of a reconciliation.
It becomes us to adore the sovereignty of God, and to confess his righteousness in permitting a spirit of contention and division to enter so early, and to prevail so far, in the Associate Synod, and to bewail the evils which that spirit produced. It diminished the legitimate influence of their excellent profession, ministrations, and character, diverted the attention of their people from the more important concerns of religion, and exhibited an unholy example to the world. If such consequences proved less injurious to the interests of religion than might have been apprehended, or, to a certain extent, were counteracted by the operation of causes of an opposite nature, or have been balanced in a considerable degree by beneficial results, somewhat remote, which could not have been anticipated, we ascribe the glory to God, who, in his infinite wisdom, brings good out of evil, and overrules for useful purposes the infirmities and mismanagements of his servants. Nor ought we to forget that, in the merciful and faithful conduct of his providence towards the church of the Secession, the cause of evangelical truth continued to be asserted and defended in the two great bodies of Seceders; a cause which, we rejoice to think, is supported by all who bear the name of the Secession. .
Those fundamental principles of religion which were restored and boldly maintained by our ancestors at the Reformation, and which it was one chief end of the Secession to perpetuate, were preserved in purity and integrity by both parties. By the formulas of questions put to office-bearers, as defining the terms of their admission to office, which were, with the exception of the immediate cause of division, substantially the same in both Synods, and which constituted, under the government of the King and Lord of the Church, one great barrier against the encroachments of error; by the system of theological education, under the superintendence of each Synod, conducted by men of approved talents, and zeal, and fidelity, in the ministry of the Gospel ; by the publication of solemn and earnest warnings to the people of their congregations against errors which threatened to invade and to destroy all that is valuable and sacred in our holy religion; by the general tenor of the administration of the discipline of the church by the Synods and the inferior courts ; by the enlarged views of the rights of conscience and the liberties of the church, which were obtained and exemplified by both; by affording a convincing proof, in two distinct associations of considerable extent, that a Presbyterian Church may exist and prosper, though supported solely by the voluntary contributions of the people; by the gradual extension of each branch of the Secession over the land, and the increase of influence and efficiency gained by them, as they spread themselves abroad; by the acknowledged benefits resulting to the Established Church herself from the Secession; and by other proofs, - it was distinctly evident that, amid the indications of divine displeasure, and of the deplorable results of human weakness and error, which their contention and separation afforded, God had not forsaken either of these departments of his heritage; but, by plans inscrutably wise, and singularly distinguished by his mercy and faithfulness, was leading his people onward in the same great work. The spirit of love and the hope of re-union had not expired, for reconciliation was repeatedly attempted, though without the desired success, till the time to fayour Zion by this great event, even “ the set time,” had arrived.
It will not be denied, that the Gospel of the grace of God was maintained in both branches of the Secession during the period of their separation. They continued to preach the truth as it is in Jesus, and to dispense the ordinances of Christ in purity, exercising the Presbyterian government and discipline in their ecclesiastical assem
blies; and they made great exertions to supply the necessities of their brethren in Ireland, and in the United States and the British provinces of America, and sent forth not a few labourers into these destitute parts, defraying, with but few exceptions, the whole expense of their mission.
To the purity which they preserved, and to the extension of the kingdom of Christ by their instrumentality, God may have rendered even their separation subservient. We now know that it was his gracious purpose that this separation should not be perpetual; and what, if he permitted it to take place, and to be aggravated by bitter mutual criminations till the breach seemed almost irreparable, that, in the appointed time, he might exhibit to the church and the world, with increased effect, the rare but edifying example of two extensive ecclesiastical bodies, which had been long in circumstances so unfavourable to union,- after deliberately and candidly discussing their differences, and ascertaining each other's sentiments,nobly sacrificing their prejudices, and jealousies, and separate existences, on the altar of Christian love, founded on the truth?
The design of God in the previous steps which he takes towards effecting some favourable change in the state of his church, is not usually perceived at the time; but when the effect has been produced, and when we reflect on the train of events which contributed to it, we are convinced that it had entered into his plan, and that the arrangements of his providence had been made wonderfully subservient to it. Among the more remote and indirect preparations for the union of the two Synods, we believe that nothing contributed so large a share of influence as the institution of missionary and Bible societies,
- societies which form the chief glory of our times, and which, beyond all the improvements and changes that signalise the present age, will honourably distinguish it in the estimation of posterity. It has often been remarked, that when good men unite to accomplish an important
object, many valuable benefits result, in the progress of their endeavours, which they did not anticipate. Notwithstanding their opposite views on some things, in consequence of which they remain in separate communions, they gradually discover, as their intercourse increases, that they think alike on the most important subjects; their mutual asperities are softened, their prejudices and jealousies are subdued, and they begin to inquire whether a plan might not be devised which might bring them to walk consistently together in the fellowship of the Gospel. Such seems to have been the silent influence which their Christian communications, at meetings of those societies, had on many ministers and members of the Secession Church.
Similar was the influence of a strong disposition towards union that had appeared in the churches which the two Synods had planted in Nova Scotia and in Ireland. Convinced that that object could be gained without any sinful compromise, and that, under the Divine blessing, much benefit would accrue from it, not to themselves only, but to the cause of Christianity in both these countries, they felt it to be their duty cordially to attempt it; and the attempt was crowned with success. The communications which were received from these distant brethren, during the progress of their efforts to heal their own divisions, brought the great subject of our union directly forward to view, and were calculated to excite such inquiries, and to produce, or to promote, such tendencies, as secured for it the most serious and candid consideration.
The time to favour our Zion was now come. A spirit of conciliation diffused itself in an uncommon measure through both branches of the Secession, almost without any agency of man, as if it had found materials prepared every where by the hand of God himself; and was accompanied in its course by much prayer. The aged, who might have been supposed most powerfully under the influence of prejudice, were, in general, most disposed and most anxious for the accomplishment of union; almost all the congregations, as if animated by one common impulse of fraternal affection, implored the courts to devise and employ every wise measure for effecting it; and, in the mean time, the civil powers, either in consequence of the application of the friends of Zion's peace, or of their own accord, removed a principal obstacle, by putting away the oath which had occasioned the strife, so that the two bodies could come together, without interfering with the private judgment of either concerning it. The Synods, impressed and encouraged by so unexpected a combination of circumstances, which they could not but regard as tokens of the Lord's interposition and blessing, entered on the cause with cordiality and zeal. Convinced that the union was practicable, without the sacrifice of any scriptural principle, each appointed a committee, that by their joint labours, a scheme of coalescence might be framed. This committee, whose discussions at its several meetings were characterised not less by enlightened zeal for the truth than by brotherly love and Christian candour, at length laid before the Synods the following series of articles, as a basis of union :
“ That the United Synod hold the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the only rule of faith and manners;—the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as expressive of the sense in which they understand the Scriptures ;-the Presbyterian form of church government, without any superiority of office above that of a teaching presbyter, and in a due subordination of church judicatories, as the only form which they acknowledge to be founded upon and agreeable to the word of God; together with the Directory, as a compilation of excellent rules;—the validity of the reasons of secession from the prevailing party in the Established Church; — and the propriety of the conduct of our ancestors, in entering into covenants for the support of the truth and of religious liberty, and of public covenanting when the circumstances of Providence require it.”