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who are still alive. However, it can be no disadvantage to their characters, that they were of this society. As such a set of men, to say the least, is rarely to be met with, so no doubt the methods they pursued in the meetings of their fociety for mutual improvement, were a great means of their being qualified for the reputable appearance they made in the world, and the important fervices to which they were called.
MANY had begun very soon to conceive a great jealousy of this society. whispered about, that these men aimed at great alteration, in the church.
That they had given up some articles of religion which had been looked upon as of great importance, and that they were about to lay aside the Westminster Confession of faith (which had been always regarded in the north, with great veneration, and to which from the year 1705, in pursuance of an act of the Synod, subscription had been required of
and interest, and by arbitrating in cases referred to him. He bestowed much time and pains in such services, and by degrees became much more involved in business than himself or his friends could have' wilhed, but raised himself to high esteem with perfons of rank and distinctiop in that country:
intrants into the ministry) from being the teft of orthodoxyok it to ord so 20.909 r. vd ovom
is it was a custom with the Belfall society, at their meetings, to have
to have a sermon preached upon
fome article of natural, or revealed religion. Mr. Abernethy, at their desire, preached one upon Rom. xiv. every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. In this he explained the rights of 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 controverfies which followed upon this. They were soon brought into the general Synod, and continued from year to year, still increasing till they ended in an unhappy rupture in the year 1726. the Synod ; at last,
determining that those ministers, who, * the time of this rupture, and for fome
before, were known by the name of Nonsubscribers, thould be no longer of their body. I do not mean, I say, to write a history of these debates (there is a very full one in the narrative published by the Nona' Jubscribers, to which I refer the reader) bux only to give a short account of the part Mr. Abernethy acted in them, and of his sentiments concerning them. Yet it may not be improper, for the sake of such readers as are altogether strangers to these matters, to thew what the avowed principles of the Nonsubscribers were, about which the con troversy was raised. These principles are contained in some propositions published in their Narrative, which may be abridged in a very few words, viz. First, That our Lord Jesus Christ hath in the New Testament 'determined and fixed the terms of communion in his church, That all chriftians who comply with these, have a right to communion; and that no man, or fet of men, 'have power to add any other terms to those settled in the gospel. Secondly, That
it is not necessary, as an evidence of foundness in the faith, that candidates for the
ministry fhould fübscribe the Westminster Confefsion, or any uninspired form of articles, or confeffion of faith, as the term upon which they shall be admitted. And that no church has a right to impose such subfcription 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; and this merely upon fufpicions 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 Nonsübscribers. They will be found explained at large in their narrative, from pag. 185, tọ 188.
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-fubscribers built, yet it is what all agree in; no one pleading, that there is any power in the church to make
new laws or terms of communion; tho it has been often pleaded, that church judi, catories have authority to judge concerning the sense and meaning of those terms which our Saviour has fixed. But the main debates were concerning the other propofitions; and the reader will readily conjecture, that, with respect to these, likewise, all who were of the subscribing side, might not be of one mind in every particular, especially as to the importance of them : But they universally went into the demand of subscription, which the others opposed. .
ALL who know any thing of churchhistory, 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; 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 fynod, and in other affemblies of ministers upon the present occafion, were very warm, and abundantly fruitful of most unhappy confequences.