Charles Buck's Theological Dictionary

197 Presbyterians


The title Presbyterian comes from the Greek word which signifies senior or elder, intimating that the government of the church in the New Testament was by presbyteries, that is, by association by presbyteries, that is, by association of ministers and ruling elders, possessed all of equal powers, without any superiority among them, either in office or order. The Presbyterians believe, that the Gospel, to administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and to feed the flock of Christ, is derived from the Holy Ghost by the imposition of the hands of the presbytery; and they oppose the independent scheme of the common rights of Christians by the same arguments which are used for that purpose by the Episcopalians. They affirm, however, that there is no order in the church as established by Christ and his apostles superior to that of presbyters; that presbyter and bishop, though different words, are of the same import; and that prelacy was gradually established upon the primitive practice of making the moderator or speaker of the presbytery a permanent officer.

These positions they maintain against the Episcopalians by the following Scriptural arguments.–They observe, That the apostles planted churches by ordaining bishops and deacons in every city; that the ministers which in one verse are called bishops, are in the next perhaps denominated presbyters; that we no where read in the New Testament of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, in any one church; and that, therefore, we are under the necessity of concluding bishop and presbyter to be two names for the same church officer. This is apparent from Peter’s exhortation to the elders or presbyters who were among the Jewish Christians. ‘The elders (presbyters) which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, (acting as bishops thereof,) not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being LORDS over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock, 1 Pet. 5:2, 3. From this passage it is evident that the presbyters not only fed the flock of God, but also governed that flock with episcopal powers; and that the apostle himself, as a church officer, was nothing more than a presbyter or elder. The identity of the office of bishop and presbyter is still more apparent from Heb. 13:7, 17. and 1 Thess. 5:12; for the bishops are there represented as governing the flock, speaking to them the word of God, watching for their souls, and discharging various offices, which it is impossible for any man to perform to more than one congregation.

“From the last cited text it is evident that the bishops of the Thessalonian churches had the pastoral care of no more souls than they could hold personal communion with in God’s worship; for they were such as all the people were to know, esteem, and love, as those that not only were over them, but also ‘closely laboured among them, and admonished them.’ But diocesan bishops, whom ordinarily the hundredth part of their flock never hear nor see, cannot be those bishops by whom that flock is admonished; nor can they be what Peter requires the bishops of the Jewish converts to be, ensamples to the flock. It is the opinion of Dr. Hammond, who was a very learned divine, and a zealot for episcopacy, that the elders whom the apostle James desires (Jam. 5:14.) the sick to call for, were of the highest permanent order of ecclesiastical officers; but it is self-evident that those elders cannot have been diocesan bishops, otherwise the sick must have been often without the reach of the remedy proposed to them.

“There is nothing in Scripture upon which the Episcopalian is more ready to rest his cause than the alleged episcopacy of Timothy and Titus, of whom the former is said to have been bishop of Ephesus, and the latter bishop of Crete; yet the Presbyterian thinks it is clear as the noon-day sun, that the presbyters of Ephesus were supreme governors, under Christ, of the Ephesian churches, at the very time that Timothy is pretended to have been their proper diocesan.

“In Acts, 20:17, &c. we read, that ‘from Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus, and called the elders (presbyters) of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons. And now, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed, therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (bishops) to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember that, by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace,’ &c.

“From this passage it is evident that there was in the city of Ephesus a plurality of pastors of equal authority, without any superior pastor or bishop over them; for the apostle directs his discourse to them all in common, and gives them equal power over the whole flock. Dr. Hammond, indeed, imagines, that the elders whom Paul called to Miletus, were the bishops of Asia, and that he sent for them to Ephesus, because that city was the metropolis of this province. But, were this opinion well founded, it is not conceivable that the sacred writer would have called them the elders of the church of Ephesus, but the elders of the church in general, or the elders of the churches in Asia. Besides, it is to be remembered, that the apostle was in such haste to be at Jerusalem, that the sacred historian measures his time by days; whereas it must have required several months to call together the bishops or elders of all the cities of Asia; and he might certainly have gone to meet them at Ephesus in less time than would be requisite for their meeting in that city, and proceeding thence to him at Miletus. They must therefore have been either the joint pastors of one congregation, or the pastors of different congregations in one city; and as it was thus in Ephesus, so it was in Philippi; for we find the apostle addressing his epistle ‘to all the saints in Jesus Christ which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.’ From the passage before us it is likewise plain, that the presbyters of Ephesus had not only the name, but the whole power of bishops given to them by the Holy Ghost; for they are enjoined to do the whole work of bishops which signifies to rule as well as feed the church of God. Whence we see that the apostle makes the power of governing inseparable from that of preaching and watching; and that, according to him, all who are preachers of God’s word, and watchmen of souls, are necessarily rulers or governors of the church, without being accountable for their management to any prelate, but only to their Lord Christ, from whom their power is derived.

“It appears, therefore, that the apostle Paul, left in the church of Ephesus, which he had planted, no other successors to himself than presbyter-bishops, or Presbyterian ministers, and that he did not devolve his power upon any prelate. Timothy, whom the Episcopalians allege to have been the first bishop of Ephesus, was present when this settlement was made, Acts, 20:5; and it is surely not to be supposed that, had he been their bishop, the apostle would have desolved the whole episcopal power upon the presbyters before his face. If ever there were a season fitter than another for pointing out the duty of this supposed bishop to his diocese, and his presbyters’ duty to him, it was surely when Paul was taking his final leave of them, and discoursing so pathetically concerning the duty of overseers, the coming of ravenous wolves, and the consequent hazard of the flock. In this farewell discourse he tells them that ‘he had not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God.’ But with what truth could this have been said, if obedience to a diocesan bishop had been any part of their duty, either at the time of the apostle’s speaking, or at any future period? He foresaw that ravenous wolves would enter in among them, and that even some of themselves should arise speaking perverse things; and if, as the Episcopalians allege, diocesan episcopacy was the remedy provided for these evils, is it not strange, passing strange, that the inspired preacher did not foresee that Timothy, who was then standing beside him, was destined to fill that important office: or, if he did foresee it, that he ommitted to recommend him to his future charge, and to give him proper instructions for the discharge of his duty?

“But if Timothy was not bishop of Ephesus, what, it may be asked, was his office in that city? for that he resided there for some time, and was by the apostle invested with authority to obtain and rebuke presbyters, are facts about which all parties are agreed, and which, indeed, cannot be controverted by any reader of Paul’s epistles. To this the Prebyterian replies, with confidence, that the power which Timothy exercised in the church of Ephesus was that of an evangelist, Tim. 2:4,5. and not a fixed prelate. But, according to Eusebius, the work of an evangelist was, ‘to lay the foundations of the faith in barbarous nations, and to constitute among them pastors, after which he passed on to other countries.’ Accordingly we find that Timothy was resident for a time at Philippi and Corinth (Phil. ii. 19. 1 Cor. 4:17. 16:10, 11.) as well as Ephesus, and that he had as much authority over those churches as over that of which he is said to have been the fixed bishop. ‘Now, if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear, for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do. Let no man, therefore, despise him.’ This text might lead us to suppose that Timothy was bishop of Corinth as well as of Ephesus; for it is stronger than that upon which his episcopacy of the latter church is chiefly built. The apostle says, 1 Tim. 1:3. ‘I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.’ But, had Timothy been the fixed bishop of that city, there would surely have been no necessity for beseeching him to abide with his flock. It is to be observed, too, that the first epistle to Timothy, which alone was written to him during his residence at Ephesus, was of a date prior to Paul’s meeting with the elders of that church at Miletus; for in the epistle he hopes to come to him shortly; whereas he tells the elders at Miletus that they should see his face no more. This being the case, it is evident that Timothy was left by the apostle at Ephesus only to supply his place during his temporary absence at Macedona; and that he could not possibly have been constituted fixed bishop of that church, since the episcopal powers were afterwards committed to the presbyters by the Holy Ghost in his presence.

“The identity of the office of bishop and presbyter being thus clearly established, it follows, that the presbyterate is the highest permanent office in the church, and that every faithful pastor of a flock is successor to the apostles in every thing in which they were to have any successors. In the apostolic office there were indeed some things peculiar and extraordinary, such as their immediate call by Christ, their infallibility, their being witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection, and their unlimited jurisdiction over the whole world. These powers and privileges could not be conveyed by imposition of hands to any successors, whether called presbyters or bishops; but as rulers or office-bearers in particular churches, we have the confession of ‘the very chiefest apostles,’ Peter and John, that they were nothing more than presbyters, or parish ministers. This being the case, the dispute which has been so warmly agitated concerning the validity of Presbyterian ordination may be soon decided; for if the ceremony of ordination be at all essential, it is obvious that such a ceremony performed by presbyters must be valid, as there is no higher order of ecclesiastics in the church by whom it can be performed. Accordingly we find, that Timothy himself, though said to be a bishop, was ordained by the laying on of the hands of a presbytery. At that ordination, indeed, St. Paul presided, but he could preside only as primus in paribus; for we have seen that, as permanent officers in the church of Christ, the apostles themselves were no more than presbyters. If the apostles’ hands were imposed for any other purpose, it must have been to communicate those charismata, or miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, which were then so frequent; but which no modern presbyter or bishop will pretend to give, unless his understanding be clouded by the grossest ignorance, or perverted by the most frantic enthusiasm.”

The members of the church of Scotland are strict Presbyterians. Their mode of ecclesiastical government was brought thither from Geneva by John Knox, the famous Scotch reformer, and who has been styled the apostle of Scotland.

Their doctrines are Calvinistic, as may be seen in the confession of faith, and the larger and shorter catechisms; though it is supposed that the clergy, when composing instructions, either for their respective parishes, or the public at large, are no more fettered by the confession than the clergy of the church of England are by the thirty-nine articles. Many in both communities, it seems, take a more extensive latitude than their formulaa allow them.

As to the church government among the Scotch Presbyterians, no one is ignorant, that, from the first dawn of the reformation among us till the aera of the revolution, there was a perpetual struggle between the court and the people, for the establishment of an episcopal or a presbyterian form: the former model of ecclesiastical polity was patronised by the house of Stuart on account of the support which it gave to the prerogatives of the crown; the latter was the favourite of the majority of the people, perhaps not so much on account of its superior claim to apostolical institution, as because the laity are mixed with the clergy in church judicatories, and the two orders, which under episcopacy are kept so distinct, incorporated, as it were, into one body. In the Scottish church, every regulation of public worship, every act of discipline, and every ecclesiastical censure, which in other churches flows from the authority of a diocesan bishop, or from a convocation of the clergy, is the joint work of a certain number of clergymen and laymen acting together with equal authority, and deciding every question by a plurality of voices. The laymen who thus form an essential part of the ecclesiastical courts of Scotland are called ruling elders, and hold the same office, as well as the same name, with those brethren (Acts 15.) who joined with the apostles and elders at Jerusalem in determining the important question concerning the necessity of imposing upon the Gentile converts the ritual observances of the law of Moses. These lay-elders Paul enjoined Timothy, ( 1 Tim. 5:17.) to account worthy of double honour, if they should rule well, and discharge the duties for which they were separated from the multitude of their brethren. In the church of Scotland every parish has two or three of those lay-elders, who are grave and serious persons chosen from among the heads of families, of known orthodoxy, and steady adherence to the worship, discipline, and government of the church. Being solemnly engaged to use their utmost endeavours for the suppression of vice and the cherishing of piety and virtue, and to exercise discipline faithfully and diligently, the minister, in the presence of the congregation, sets them apart to their office by solemn prayer; and concludes the ceremony, which is sometimes called ordination, with exhorting both elders and people to their respective duties.

The kirk session, which is the lowest ecclesiastical judicatory, consists of the minister and those elders of the congregation. The minister is ex officio moderator, but has no negative voice over the decision of the session; nor, indeed, has he a right to vote at all, unless when the voice of the elders are equal and opposite. He may, indeed, enter his protest against their sentence, if he think it improper, and appeal to the judgment of the presbytery; but this privilege belongs equally to every elder, as well as to every person who may believe himself aggrieved by the proceedings of the session. The deacons, whose proper office it is to take care of the poor, may be present in every session, and offer their counsel on all questions that come before it; but, except in what relates to the distribution of alms, they have no decisive vote with the minister and elders.

The next judicatory is the presbytery, which consist of all the pastors within a certain district, and one ruling elder from each parish, commissioned by his brethren to represent, in conjunction with the minister, the session of that parish. The presbytery treats of such matters as concern the particular churches within its limits; as the examination, admission, ordination, and censuring of ministers; the licensing of probationers, rebuking the gross or contumacious sinners, the directing the sentence of excommunication, the deciding upon references and appeals from kirk sessions, resolving cases of conscience, explaining difficulties in doctrine or discipline; and censuring, according to the word of God, any heresy or erroneous doctrine which hath either been publicly or privately maintained within the bounds of its jurisdiction. Some of them have frankly acknowledged that they cannot altogether approve of that part of her constitution which gives an equal vote, in questions of heresy, to an illiterate mechanic and his enlightened pastor. We are persuaded (say they) that it has been the source of much trouble to many a pious clergyman, who from the laudable desire of explaining the Scriptures, and declaring to his flock all the counsel of God, has employed a variety of expressions of the same import to illustrate those articles of faith, which may be obscurely expressed in the established standards. The fact, however, is, that in presbyters the only prerogatives which the pastors have over the ruling elders are, the power of ordination by imposition of hands, and the privilege of having the moderator chosen from their body.

From the judgment of the presbytery there lies an appeal to the provincial synod, which ordinarily meets twice in the year, and exercises over the presbyteries within the province a jurisdiction similar to that which is vested in each presbytery over the sever kirk session within its bounds. Of these synods there are in the church of Scotland fifteen, which are composed of the members of the several presbyteries within the respective provinces which give names to the synods.

The highest authority in the church of Scotland is the general assembly, which consists of a certain number of ministers and ruling elders delegated from each presbytery, and of commissioners from the universities and royal boroughs. A presbytery in which there are fewer than twelve parishes sends to the general assembly two ministers and one ruling elder; if it contain between twelve and eighteen ministers, it sends three of these, and one ruling elder; if it contain between eighteen and twenty-four ministers, it sends four ministers, and two ruling elders; and of twenty-four ministers, when it contains so many, it sends five, with two ruling elders. Every royal borough sends one ruling elder, and Edinburgh two, whose election must be attested by the kirk sessions of their respective boroughs. Every university sends one commissioner from its own body. The commissioners are chosen annually six weeks before the meeting of the assembly; and the ruling elders are often men of the first eminence in the kingdom for rank and talents. In this assembly, which meets once a year, the king presides by his commissioner, who is always a nobleman, but he has no voice in their deliberations. The order of their proceedings is regular, though sometimes the number of members creates a confusion; which the moderator, who is chosen from among the ministers to be, as it were, the speaker of the house, has not sufficient authority to prevent. Appeals are brought from all the other ecclesiastical courts in Scotland to the general assembly; and in questions purely religious, no appeal lies from its determinations.


This is a body of Presbyterians who principally reside in the states of Kentucky and Tennessee, and in the adjacent territories.

They constituted a presbytery separate from the Kentucky synod and general presbyterian church, on the 10th of February, 1810. The causes that led to this are as follow:

About the year 1799 or 1800, God revived religion in a remarkable manner in the western country, through the instrumentality of some presbyterian preachers; consequently, many new congregations were soon formed and organized. But to continue to supply them all, by the then licensed and ordained ministers was impracticable.

A venerable father in the ministry who came from a distance, discovering the necessity for supplies, proposed to the preachers who were engaged in promoting the revival, to choose from amongst the laity some men (whose talents, gifts, piety, &c. would justify such a step,) and encourage them to prepare for the work of the ministry: though they might not have a classical education. This proposition was readily acceded to, and several persons were spoken to on the subject, and encouraged to improve their talent by exhortation, and to prepare written discourses to exhibit to the next Transylvania presbytery, as specimens of their abilities to sermonize, &c. with which they accordingly complied. The discourses were read to the aged member who first recommended the measure, and tolerably well approved. They were not now received as candidates for the ministery, but were directed to prepare other discourses to read to the next presbytery, where the debate became very animated, whether they should be admitted as candidates for the holy ministry; when finally a majority of one vote decided, one of them only should be received at that time. The next presbytery, however, decided by a large majority in favour of the proposed plan; and accordingly, after hearing popular trials, &c. proceeded to license three men, to wit:– Alexander Anderson, Finis Ewing, and Samuel King, to preach the Gospel as probationers. These men, although two of them had no knowledge of the dead languages; yet from their discourses, extempore, as well as written, and from the petitions of hundreds of serious Christians, praying that they might be licensed; the presbytery thought they could not be out of their duty in promoting them to the work of the ministry; in which opinion they were afterwards fully confirmed. Some members of this presbytery, however, as well as the preceding, were opposed to the measure, who entered their protest, and wrote to the synod, who, at first, paid but little attention to it. About this time the Transylvania presbytery was divided, and the former, Cumberland presbytery, constituted, in which there were always a decided majority in favour of licensing men to preach the Gospel (when need required, and God called) who were “apt to teach,” and sound in the faith, though they might not possess a liberal education. Therefore, from time to time they licensed, (some of whom they ordained,) men of that description. This measure was still opposed by that part of the presbytery who were unfriendly to the revival. The synod took the matter, and appointed a commission of their own body to meet in the bounds of the Cumberland presbytery, and directed the members thereof, with all their licentiates, candidates, and exhorters, to meet; which summons the greater part of them obeyed. After the commission and the accused had met, the former exhibited many charges against the latter; principally taken from the minutes of the presbytery and public fame: all of which were chiefly comprised in the two following, to wit:–1st, Licensing men to preach who had not been examined on the languages. 2d, That those men who were licensed, both learned and less learned, had been only required to adopt the confession of faith partially, that is, as far as they believed it to agree with God’s word.

As to the first ground of complaint, the presbytery not only plead the exception in the discipline, in “extraordinary cases,” but also the example of a number of the presbyteries in different parts of the United States. They moreover, appealed to a higher authority than either of the foregoing, which was the New Testament, and inquired if there be any precept or example in that Book which condemns the practice of licensing what they (the commission) called unlearned men. It was also asked, if God could not as easily call a Presbyterian not classically learned, to preach the Gospel, as he could such of any other denomination?

With respect to doctrines; the presbytery believed their candidates had departed from no essential doctrine taught in the confession of faith; and therefore ought to have been indulged in their conscientious scruples about tenets not essential or important. This reasoning, however, was not satisfactory to the commission, who demanded all the young men to be given up to them for re- examination. The presbytery refused; viewing the demand unprecedented, and directly making dangerous encroachments on the liberties and privileges of presbyteries, who, according to the discipline, were sole judges of the faith and qualifications of their own candidates for the ministry. The young men then being summoned to submit, and refusing, the commission proceeded solemnly to prohibit them all, learned and less learned, from preaching or administering any more as Presbyterians; and summoned the majority of the presbytery to appear at their next synod, to answer for not surrendering their young brethren, and to be examined themselves on doctrines. The presbytery thought it a very extraordinary step indeed, for a commission of the synod to silence, or prohibit, a number or respectable and useful ministers of Jesus, without process or trial, men, whose moral characters were unexceptionable, and who had never been called before their own presbytery to answer any charge; and men, who were never convicted of either heresy, immorality, or contumacy, before any judicature whatsoever. The presbytery being conscious that the commission had acted illegally, determined to petition the general assembly. In the mean time they formed themselves into a council; intending, with their young brethren, to promote religion as well as they could in that capacity; refraining from presbyterial acts, until they could learn the decision of the assembly; the first decision of which appeared favourable. This encouraged the council to expect the assembly would eventually redress their grievances. They therefore waited and petitioned, until they were convinced by an act, or decision of the assembly, that the synod were justified in their unconstitutional and unprecedented conduct toward the young preachers, which, (after another fruitless application to the synod and Transylvania presbytery) determined three of the remaining ordained ministers to constitute a separate presbytery; which was done in the following manner:

“In Dickson County, Tennessee State, at the Rev. S. M’Adow’s, this 4th day of February, 1810:”

“We, Samuel M’Adow, Finis Ewing, and Samuel King, regularly ordained ministers in the Presbyterian church, against whom no charge either of immorality or heresy has ever been exhibited, before any church judicatures; having waited in vain more than four years; in the mean time petitioning the General Assembly for a redress of grievances, and a restoration of our violated rights, have, and do hereby agree and determine, to constitute a Presbytery, known by the name of the Cumberland Presbytery, on the following conditions:”

All candidates for the ministry who may hereafter be licensed by this presbytery, and all licentiates or probationers who may hereafter be ordained by this presbytery, shall be required before such licensure and ordination, to receive and adopt the confession and discipline * of the presbyterian church, except the idea of fatality that seems to be taught under the mysterious doctrine of predestination.

It is to be understood, however, that such as can adopt the confession without such exception, shall not be required to make any. Moreover, all licentiates, before they are set apart to the whole work of the ministry, (ordained) shall be required to undergo an examination on English Grammar, Geography, Astronomy, natural and moral Philosophy, and Church History.! The presbytery may also require an examination on all or any part of the above branches of literature before licensure, if they deem it expedient.

Doctrines. It has been already observed, that the Presbyterian confession is their confession, “except the idea of fatality.” But as some may think this too indefinite, it may be proper here to state explicitly all the essential doctrines or tenets they hold.

1st, That Adam was made upright, pure and free; that he was necessarily under the moral law, which binds all intelligences; and having transgressed it, he was consequently, with all his posterity, exposed to eternal punishment and misery.

2d, That Christ the second Adam represented just as many as the first, consequently made an atonement for all, “which will be testified in due time.” But that the benefit of that atonement will be only received by the true believer.

3d, That all Adam’s family are totally depraved, “conceived in sin; going astray from the womb, and all children of wrath;” therefore must “be born again,” justified and sanctified, or they never can enter into the kingdom of God.

4th, That justification is by faith alone as the INSTRUMENT; by the merits of Christ’s active and passive obedience, as the meritorious cause; and by the operation of God’s Spirit as the efficient, or active cause.

5th, That as the sinner is justified on the account of Christ’s righteousness being imputed or accounted to him; on the same account he will be enabled to go on from one degree of grace to another, in a progressive life of sanctification, until he is fit to be gathered into the garner of God, who will certainly take to glory every man who has been really justified: that is, he, Christ, has become wisdom, (light to convince,) righteousness, (to justify) sanctification, (to cleanse) and redemption, (to glorify,) to every truly regenerated soul.

6th, That there are three persons in one God, coequal, essential, and eternal; or the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost: that the mediator is very God and very man; two distinct natures in one person; therefore while the humanity obeys and suffers, there is infinite worth or merit given to that obedience and suffering, by the union of the divinity.

They dissent from the Confession–in, 1st, That there are no eternal reprobates.–2d, That Christ died not for a part only, but for all mankind.–3d, That all infants, dying in infancy are saved through Christ, and sanctification of the Spirit.–4th, That the Spirit of God operates on the world, or as co-extensively as Christ has made the atonement, in such a manner as to leave all men inexcusable.

As to the doctrines of predestination and election, they think, (with many eminent and modest divines who have written on the subject,) they are mysterious, and they are not well pleased with the application that rigid Calvinists, or Arminians make of them. They think the truth, or that, as well as many other points in divinity, lies between the opposite extremes. They are confident however, that those doctrines should not, on the one hand be so construed as to make any thing the creature has done, or can do, at all meritorious in his salvation; or to lay any ground to say “well done I;” or to take the least degree of the honour of our justification and perseverance from God’s unmerited grace, and Christ’s pure righteousness. On the other hand, they are equally confident those doctrines should not be so construed as to make God the author of sin, directly or indirectly; either of Adam’s sin, or any subsequent sin of his fallen race; or to contradict the express and repeated declarations of God’s word, on the extent of the atonement and operations of the Spirit; or to contradict the sincerity of God’s expostulations with sinners, and make his oath to have no meaning, when he swears he has no pleasure in their death; or to resolve the whole character of the Deity into his sovereignty, without a due regard to all other of his adorable attributes. Finally, they think those doctrines ought to be thought and spoken of in a consistency with God’s moral government, which always has for its object the happiness of his intelligent creatures, when it consists with his justice and the honour of the divine throne.

Discipline. Their discipline is Presbyterian. Their congregations are governed by church sessions, presbyteries, and they now have appointed to constitute a synod to be called the Cumberland Synod. They are tenacious of the presbyterial form of church government; because they believe it to be equitable, just, and scriptural; and because it tends to cherish in their minds, and the minds of their congregations, a love of civil, as well as religious liberty; its being so congenial to the republican form of government established in these United States; which stands equally aloof from monarchy and anarchy.

On the subject of their deviation from the old rule with respect to literary qualification for the ministry, they would not be understood as undervaluing that precious handmaid to the useful work of a Gospel minister. They have in two publications called “a circular letter,” and “a reply,” given abundant evidence of their anxiety to acquire and promote useful knowledge; by recommending the study of the Greek scriptures, and by their exertion to procure a circulating library of theological, historical, and scientific books, which they are increasing from time to time. Notwithstanding they are persuaded that God has and does call many to preach the Gospel, who have no knowledge of the original languages, and who have been and are eminently useful in their profession. They have therefore dispensed with that condition, as not being absolutely necessary; yet they recommend it, when it can conveniently be acquired. From pursuing this course they have, as might be expected, some learned and some less learned preachers of the everlasting Gospel: the latter of whom appear in many instances, to be as useful in promoting the word of God as the former.

Progress. Since they first constituted a separate presbytery they have made considerable progress. At first there were but nine preachers in the connection, four of whom only were ordained.

At that time their organized congregations were but few; but since, they have increased to about eighty, exclusive of a number not yet organized. Their preachers have increased from nine to eighteen, fourteen of whom are ordained; and there are now about ten candidates for the ministry. At their stated session in April 1813, they divided their body into three presbyteries, and appointed to constitute a synod on the first Wednesday in October following. they have pursued the itinerant mode of preaching the Gospel, which appears to have a good effect, and to be the best in a frontier country. The demand for preaching, however, is increasing faster than their preachers.

They continue to observe a custom which was introduced early in the glorious revival in that country, which is, to encamp on the ground at their communion for four days and nights: and it has been remarked that they have rarely had a communion since they constituted, but more or less have given satisfactory evidence of having become subjects of vital religion. Sometimes, however, there are but few, at other times, there are as many as thirty or forty, who have made a credible profession of faith in the Lord Jesus. A great part of their increase consists of new converts, whose lives and conversation manifest “they have been with Jesus.”

While God thus evidently owns their humble efforts to spread a savour of his name, they hope to bear with firmness all the opposition they may meet, from individuals or sectaries.

P.S. When they receive candidates for the ministry, they allow them to exercise their gift in public speaking, under the immediate eye of the church; thereby they are better able to judge of their “aptness to teach,” than they could be by their written discourses alone, which they require also.

* The reception of the disciple is to be understood in conformity to the branches of literature required by this body.

! It will not be understood that examination on Theology, experimental religion, and a call to the ministry, will be omitted.


The appellation Presbyterian in England is appropriated to a body of dissenters, who have not any attachment to the Scotch mode of church government any more than to episcopacy among us; and therefore the term Presbyterian is here improperly applied. How this misapplication came to pass cannot be easily determined; but it has occasioned many wrong notions, and should therefore be rectified. English Presbyterians, as they are called, adopt nearly the same mode of church government with the Independents. Their chief difference from the Independents is, that they are less attached to Calvinism.


The reformed presbytery in Scotland trace their origin as far back as the reformation, and consider themselves, as the only pure Presbyterians since the revolution. They profess to adhere to the solemn league and covenant agreed to by the nation before the restoration, in which they abjure popery and prelacy, and resolve to maintain and defend the doctrines, worship, discipline, and government of the church, as approved by the parliament and assembly at Westminster, and by the general assembly of the church and parliament of Scotland, 1645-9. It seems, they object not so much to a religious establishment, but to the religious establishment as it exists; they object not to an alliance of the church with the state, but to the alliance of the church with an uncovenanted king and government. Their number, it is said, amounts to about four thousand persons.

Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.

Charles Buck on the Biblical Covenants (Complete)
Charles Buck's Theological Dictionary