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dr&dvantagc to their characters, that they were of this society. As such a set of men, to say the least, is rarely to be met withj so no doubt the methods they pursued in the meetings of their society for mutual improvement, were a great means of their being qualified for the reputable appearance they made in the world, and the important services to which they were called.
. :M An y had begun very soon to conceive a great jealousy of this society. It was whispered about, that these men aimed at great alteration, in the church. That they had given up some articles of religion which h^d' been looked upon as of great importance, and that they were about to lay aside the Westminster Confession of faith (which tad been always regarded in the north, with great veneration, and to which from the year 1705, in pursuance of an act of the Synods subscription had been required of
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and interest, and by arbitrating in cafes referred to him.. H« bestowed much time and pains in such services, and by degrees became much more involved in business than himself-or his friends could have' wished, but raisedhimself to high esteem with persons of rank and distinctit» in. that country.
It was a custom with the &^/^"society, at their meetings, to have a sermon. preached upon some article of natural, or repealed religion. Mr. Abernethyl at their
#»W. In this he explained the rights private judgment, and the foundations of christian liberty, very much to the satisfaction of his hearers. The sermon was published, and has been esteemed an excellent performance: But it greatly increased the jealousies which were then growing up. Some favourite points respecting church power, and the terms of christian communion, were struck at in it, and a very great cry was raised. Some papers were published against it, and the society published defences of it: But I do not mean to give the reader a history of the debates and controversies which followed upon this. They were soon brought into. the general Synod* and continued from year to year, still .increasing till th^y ended in an unhappy rup. tore in the year 1726. the Syntf * at last, the time of this rupture,and for Aorist' years before, were known by the name .of NonsubfcriSers, (hould be no longer of their Jx>dy. I do not mean, I lay, to write a history of these debates (there is a very full one in the narrative published by the ivW subscribers) tp which J refer the reader) but only to give a sliort account of the part Mr. Abernethy a£ted in them, ahd of his sentiments concerning them, Yet it may not be improper, for the fake of such readers as are altogether strangers to these matters, to shew what the avowed principles of the ^Nonsubfcfibers were, about which the con£
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their Narrative, which may be abridged in .a very few words, viz. First, That our Xprd Jesus Christ hath in the New Testa"pient determined and fixed the terms of communion in his church. That all christians who comply with these, have a right communion; and that no man, or set of '^en, have power to add any other terms ~% thoTe fettled in the gospel. Secondly, That fit is not necessary, as an evidence of found'&fs ip. the faith, that candidates for^the ministry should subscribe the Weflminjfti Confession, or any uninspired form o£ articles, or confession of faith, as the term upon which they shall be admitted. And that no church has a right to impose such subscription upon them. Thirdly, That to call upon men to make declarations concern*-' ing their faith, upon the penalty of cutting them off from communion, if they should refuse it j and this merely upon suspicions1 and jealousies, while the persons required to purge themselves by such declarations, cannot be fairly convicted upon evidence, of any error or heresy, is to exercise an exorbitant and arbitrary power, and is really an inquisition. These are the main princiciples of the Nonsubscribers. They wilt b£ found explained at large in their narrative, from fag. 185, to 188. . ... .. 1 "*.'. vl
But the reader is not to imagine, that all the ministers of the synod denied all these propositions, and held the contradictory to them: For, with respect to the first, tho' it is the main foundation upon which the non-subscribers built, yet it \%what all agree in; no one pleading, that there is any power in the church tp make
jjew laws or terms of communion; thof) has been often pleaded, that church }udU catories have authority to judge concerning the fense and meaning of those terms which our Saviour has fixed. But the main debates were concerning the other propositions j and the reader will readily conjecture, that, with respect to these likewise,; who were of the subscribing side, might ijpt be of one mind in every particular, especially as to the importance of them: But they universally went into the demand qf subscription, which the others opposed.
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t who know any thing of church
history, know, that no debates in the world have been keener or more obstinate, than those concerning matters of religion. The natural passions of the human heart are greatly enflamed by zeal, for what is believed to be the cause of truth and of God j and intemperate heat may easily pass upon the partial and less discerning, and be indulged as: a highly commendable virtue. The debates in the general synod, and in other assemblies of ministers upon the present occasion, were very warm, and abundantly fruitful of most unhappy consequences, v.: Before