Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 1638-1842. Originally published by Edinburgh Printing & Publishing Co, Edinburgh, 1843.
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The principal acts of the general assembly, holden and begun at Edinburgh, May 2, 1717.
I. Sess. 1, May 2, 1717.—Act appointing the King's Commission to John Earl of Rothes to be Recorded.
The General Assembly of the Ministers and Ruling Elders of this National Church of Scotland being convened and constituted, there was produced to them, by the Right Honourable John Earl of Rothes, his Majesty's Commission, sealed with the Seal appointed by the Treaty of Union betwixt the two kingdoms of Scotland and England to be kept and used in Scotland in place of the Great seal of Scotland, of the same tenor with the Commission granted by his Majesty to the foresaid Earl the last year, and also in the year 1715, constituting him his Majesty's High Commissioner and Representative in this Assembly; which Commission being publicly read with all due honour and respect, is ordered by this Assembly to be recorded in their books, to remain therein, ad futuram rei memoriam.
II. The King's most gracious Letter to the General Assembly, presented to them by his Majesty's Commissioner, May 2, 1717.
III. Sess. 3, May 4, 1717.—The General Assembly's Answer to the King's most gracious Letter.
IV. Sess. 7, May 8, 1717.—Act and Recommendation for the further Encouragement of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, and bringing in the Collections for buying Books, &c.
The which day there was presented and read a representation from the Committee of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, showing that the said Society are very sensible of the care and concern which this Church and her Assemblies have shown for the success of their Christian undertaking, and that the kind assistance given by this Church to the said Society has much advanced their work, particularly the recommendation of the late General Assembly for a contribution to buy books has taken very good effect in some places; for divers charitable persons in many parishes have contributed very liberally, though there are still some few Presbyteries, and several parishes, deficient in this late collection, as there are some who either have not yet collected or contributed, or at least have not sent in the money recommended by the General Assembly, 1709; wherefore, the Committee took this occasion, in name of the Society, to acknowledge the assistance given to them by this Church from time to time, particularly by the recommendation of the late collection, and earnestly to entreat that they would cause the diligence of Synods, Presbyteries, and ministers, in making the foresaid collections effectual, to be noticed in the revising of the Synod books, and to be otherwise inquired into, and would again pressingly recommend both to ministers and people, deficient in both or either of the foresaid collections, to send in the same to the Society's treasurer as soon as possible, and also to recommend to Synods, Presbyteries, and ministers, who have failed in observing what has been enjoined by former Assemblied as to such contributions, that with all diligence they set about what is required of them in that matter. The Committee did not trouble the Assembly with a particular account of the progress and success of the Society's undertaking, having done that so often before; but for the encouragement of all well-wishers to that charitable design, they did notify that the Society had erected as many schools, in such places of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland which did most need the same, as their revenue can support, and that their said schools do flourish extraordinarily, as would appear from the records of the Society and Committee, which are patent to all the contributors that please to inspect them; and the Committee did, in their said representation, invite all such of them as desired to be satisfied as to the management and success of the Society, to call for the secretary or clerks of the said Society, who will communicate to them the Society's said registers and books, for their information in the premises.
The General Assembly having heard and considered this representation, and the deliverance of their Committee for Bills thereupon, bearing, that the desire thereof should be granted; and having further heard some of the members of the said Society upon the subject, they enjoined the visitors of their Synod books, in their going through the same, to take special notice what care Synods have taken in calling Presbyteries to an account of their diligence in promoting the collections for Christian knowledge in the several parishes of their bounds, according to the recommendations of former Assemblies, and to lay a full and distinct account hereof before the General Assembly. And the General Assembly again seriously and earnestly recommended both to ministers and people, deficient in both, or either of the foresaid collections, yet to collect and contribute with all cheerfulness, and to send in their money to George Watson, merchant in Edinburgh, the Society's treasurer, as soon as they can; and further, recommended earnestly to all Synods, Presbyteries, and particular ministers, who have failed in what has been enjoined by former Assemblies, as to such contributions, to set about with all diligence what is recommended to them in that matter. And because it is probable that there are several ministers who have entered to their charges since the respective dates of the foresaid recommendations, and so have neither contributed themselves nor collected from their people; therefore, the General Assembly did earnestly desire the said intrant ministers both to contribute themselves, and to set about collecting in their parishes, in the method prescribed by the Acts of former Assemblies, and that with all diligence. And, lastly, the General Assembly did most seriously recommend to all the ministers and members of this Church, that they would give all manner of encouragement to this so pious and charitable an undertaking.
V. Sess. 11, May 13, 1717.—Commission to some Ministers and Ruling Elders, for discusing divers Matters referred to them.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, taking into their consideration that there are divers weighty affairs which they cannot overtake, do nominate and appoint their reverend brethren, Messrs William Mitchell, one of the ministers of Edinburgh their Moderator, &c.; to be Commissioners of the General Assembly, to the effect after mentioned, with power to the said persons, or their quorum, which is hereby declared to be any thirty-one of the said Commissioners, whereof twentyone are always to be ministers, to meet and convene within the Assembly-House at Edinburgh, the first day after the dissolution of this Assembly, at ten o'clock in the forenoon, and afterward, the second Wednesday of August, November, and March, and oftener, when or where they shall think needful and convenient, with power to the said Commissioners to choose their own Moderator; and suchlike, the General Assembly fully empowers and authories their said Commission, or their quorum above mentioned, to cognosce and finally to determine as they shall see cause, in every matter referred, or that shall be referred, to them by any act or order of this General Assembly, and to do every thing contained in and conform to the instructions given, or to be given, them by this Assembly, and to advert to the interests of the Church on every occasion, that the Church and present, establishment thereof do not suffer or sustain any prejudice which they can prevent, as they will be answerable, providing this general clause be not extended to particular affairs or processes, before Presbyteries or Synods, that are not of universal concern to or influence upon this whole Church. And it is declared and appointed, that what shall be determined at one diet of the said Commission, with relation to private causes, shall be unalterable by any other diet thereof, and shall stand and continue in force till disapproven by the General Assembly; and the said Commissioners are hereby strictly prohibited and discharged to meddle in any other matters than what are committed or referred to them as above mentioned; and in all their actings they are to proceed according to the acts and constitutions of this Church, and do nothing contrary thereto, or to the prejudice of the same; declaring, that in and for all their actings they shall be accountable to and censurable by the next General Assembly, as they shall see cause; and this Commission is to continue and endure until another Commission be appointed, and members are required to attend the diets of the said Commission, and absentees therefrom ordered to be noticed, according to the seventeenth Act of the General Assembly, anno 1706. And for the better securing of a quorum, and attendance of members on the Commission, the General Assembly prohibits the Presbytery of Edinburgh, and other Presbyteries within twelve miles thereof, to meet any of the days or weeks appointed for meetings of the Commission, and such of the members of these Presbyteries as are on the Commission are required all of them to give punctual attendance on the diets thereof, and Presbyteries at a greater distance, who have four or more members on the Commission, are to take care that at least two of them attend each diet of the same.
VI. Sess. 11, May 13, 1717.—Instructions by the General Assembly to their Commission.
2. The Commission, as often as they see cause, are empowered to apply to his Majesty, or any inferior magistrate, for the countenancing of and concurring with the judicatories of the Church, in what the law allows, and for putting in execution the laws against Popery and profaneness, and seeking redress of grievances and abuses, committed contrary to the established doctrine, worship, discipline, and Presbyterian government of this Church, the contempt of the censures of the judicatories thereof, inflicted on scandalous persons, and to assist Presbyteries and Synods in planting vacant kirks, as they shall be applied unto by them for that effect.
3. The Commission are empowered and appointed to use all proper means to preserve and maintain all the rights and privileges of this Church, and to lose no opportunity of applying to obtain a redress of what is grievous, with respect to the same, and to send commissioners to London for that effect, if they see cause.
6. The Commission are empowered to take special care to keep and maintain unity in the Church upon all emergencies, especially among the ministers thereof; and to gain such as separate thereform; and to suppress error and schism in this Church, and prosecute the authors and spreaders of books and pamphlets tending thereto; and to take notice how any who have been censured by preceding Assemblies, or Commissions of the same, have carried; and to proceed to further censure, as the Commission shall see cause.
7. The Commission are to take notice of what misrepresentations shall be made, either at home or abroad, of the doctrine, worship, discipline, or constitution of this Church, and to take all proper methods for the vindication thereof.
8. The said Commission are appointed to use their best endeavours to obtain a fund for erecting schools in the Highlands and Islands, and to get the same rightly proportioned, and to do what else may tend to the advancement of religion and reformation in these places; and to keep a correspondence with the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, and their committee, and to give them all suitable assistance and encouragement, according to the acts of this and former Assemblies; and to use all proper means in their power for extirpating idolatrous and superstitious practices; and to observe the instructions given by former Assemblies to their Commissions, concerning Libraries, Irish Bibles, Psalm Books, and Catechisms, a school in every parish, according to the fifth Act of the General Assembly, 1707; also to hold hand to the execution of the eighth Act of that Assembly, for "Suppressing Popery, and Preventing the Growth thereof;" and likewise, the fifteenth Act of that Assembly against "Innovations in the Worship of God."
9. The Commission are empowered to send ministers and probationers as need requires, to the North, the Highlands and Islands, and to remove them from one place to another there, as they shall see cause.
10. The Commission are empowered to cognosce and finally determine in all references and appeals about planting vacant churches in the North, the Highlands and Islands, which shall be brought before them, and that in the most expeditious manner, providing that the Commission do not meddle with sentences of Synods in such cases, excepting causes particularly referred to them; but this restriction is not to be extended to ministers or probationers having Irish.
11. The said Commission are empowered to receive any representations or references that shall be made to them by Presbyteries, and others concerned, about large and spacious parishes; and to use all means proper for them for obtaining, and also rendering effectual and preserving new erections in such parishes, or stipends to collegiate ministers.
12. The said Commission are empowered to give all due assistnce to the several universities and colleges, when any minister is called to any office therein; and to receive appeals and references in these cases, and finally to determine in the same; and they are appointed to consider the state of the said universities and colleges, and to observe the 14th Act of the General Assembly, anno1711, and as they shall see cause, to apply for a visitation thereof; as likewise, to inquire whether Synods and Presbyteries do maintain bursars, according to the Acts of the General Assembly, and to take care to provide hopeful youths having the Irish tongue, and take the usual obligations of them; and when students having that language are found fit to be entered on trials, that they recommend them to Presbyteries for that effect; and when they shall be licensed, to send them to the North, the Highlands and Islands.
13. To inquire how the tenth Act of the General Assembly, anno 1711, concerning probationers, and settling ministers, with questions to be proposed to, and engagements to be taken of them, are observed, and to advert that masters in colleges, and all schoolmasters, do subscribe and engage according to the Act of Parliament, anno 1707.
14. That the Commission use their best endeavours for further reformation of manners, and the more effectual curbing and suppressing of profaneness and vice, and promoting true religion and godliness, and think on some effectual way to excite to and recommend family worship, in pursuance of the Acts of Assembly, particularly the thirteenth Act of the General Assembly, anno 1694, and seventh and eleventh Acts of the General Assembly, anno 1697, and others, and to inquire if his Majesty's pious proclamation against immorality has been read from the pulpits, according to former orders.
15. The Commission are appointed to take the most effectual course to get the printing, vending, or importing, of incorrect copies of the Holy Scriptures, and of our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, stopped and prevented.
VII. Sess. 11, May 13, 1717, ante meridiem.—Act concerning the Trial of Students having Irish, who shall be preferred to Bursaries, and licensed.
The General Assembly, considering that divers Students have been recommended to bursaries, as persons having the Irish language, who, after they have been educated, are found not capable to serve in Highland countries, for want of sufficient knowledge of that tongue; and that sundry probationers have been entered upon trials for the ministry, upon view that they might be useful in the highlands, who yet, when they are passed and licensed, can do no service, for want of sufficient skill in the said language, do, for preventing these inconveniences in time coming, appoint, that such as crave the benefit of Highland bursaries, or who are to be admitted to trials for the ministry, in order to be sent to the Highlands, be first examined upon their knowledge in the Irish language, by persons having a competent measure of knowledge in that language, bearing that they have so much knowledge of that language as that they may be useful in a Highland congregation. And do ordain that the names of the said examinators, together with their report, be recorded in the books of the judicatory that employs them in the said trials.
VIII. Sess. 11, May 13, 1717.—Act for suppressing of Popery.
The General Assembly, having considered the complaints from Presbyteries of the growth of Popery, do find, that the laws against the same are very full; and, therefore, in order to the execution of them, the General Assembly instructs their Commission to apply to the Lord Justice-Clerk, the Lord Advocate, and his Majesty's Solicitor, in order to obtain a vigorous execution of the laws against Popery; and as to Popish schoolmasters and mistresses, and Popish factors and chamberlains, the Assembly appoints informations about them to be sent to the Procurator and Agents for the Church, that they may be presented according to law; and because it is necessary that the informations to be given be regular, and the means of probation such as the law requires: Therefore, the General Assembly appoints the informers, in framing the said informations, to observe exactly the directions given in this matter, in the 15th Act of the General Assembly, anno 1714.
IX. Sess. 12, May 14, 1717.—Act for maintaining the Purity of the Doctrine of this Church, and determining the Process, Mr James Webster against Mr John Simson.
The General Assembly, considering that much of their time has been spent upon the process pursued by Mr James Webster, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, against Mr John Simson, Professor of Divinity in the College of Glasgow, laid before them by the report of the committee for purity of doctrine; and that they cannot overtake the whole, by discussing particularly every article— it being, nevertheless, expedient and requisite that this affair be brought to some issue, that may testify the zeal and concern of this Assembly for the preservation of truth and peace in this Church, and preventing what may tend to the hurt and prejudice thereof; therefore, although Professor Simson does declare his adherence to our Confession of Faith, and doctrines therein contained, as his judgement, and his disowning the errors opposite thereto, wherewith he was charged; yet, considering that, by his printed answers, and the letters written by him to the now deceased Mr Robert Rowan, some time minister at Penninghame, and his letter to the foresaid committee for purity of doctrine, dated the 14th of April 1716 years, he hath given offence, and that it is judged that therein he hath vented some opinions not necessary to be taught in divinity, and that have given more occasion to strife than to the promoting of edification; that he hath used some expressions that bear and are used by adversaries in a bad and unsound sense, though he doth disown that unsound sense; and for answering more satisfyingly (as he supposeth) the cavils and objections of adversaries, he hath adopted some hypotheses different from what are commonly used among orthodox divines, that are not evidently founded on Scripture, and tend to attribute too much to natural reason and the power of corrupt nature,—which undue advancement of reason and nature is always to the disparagement of revelation and efficacious free grace. The General Assembly, for the reasons above mentioned, prohibits and discharges the said Mr John Simson to use such expressions, or to teach, preach, or otherwise vent such opinions, propositions, or hypotheses as aforesaid; and as concerning the parties in this process, whatever complaints have been made as to the manner of raising or managing this process on either hand, the General Assembly, for peace's sake, do overlook and pass these without further insisting thereon, and do discharge any prosecution on either side on these accounts; and further, for the more effectual preserving the purity of doctrine and peace of this Church, and preventing strife and contentious debates, which are prejudicial to truth, brotherly love, and the life of serious religion, the General Assembly extends the foresaid prohibition to all professors of divinity, ministers, and preachers, and all others in this Church; and, particularly, the General Assembly discharges them to vent any doctrines not agreeable to our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, especially such opinions as either ascribe too much to corrupt nature, or tend to encourage sloth among Christians, or slacken people's obligation unto gospel holiness. And, moreover, the General Assembly recommends to all Faculties in Universities, and to all Presbyteries within this Church, to see this Act observed by all the persons foresaid, within their several jurisdictions, and to censure the contraveners, as they shall see cause. And the General Assembly empowers their Commission to give advice to Presbyteries, and to judge in causes and cases of that kind that shall be brought before them; and when any such cases shall happen, the General Assembly hereby appoints Presbyteries to acquaint the Commission before they proceed to any sentence of suspension or deposition, against any person that shall come to be tried in prosecution of this Act.
X. Sess. 13, May 14, 1717.—Act discharging Presbyteries to use any Formula in licensing Probationers, and ordaining or admitting Ministers, but such as is or shall be agreed unto by the General Assembly, with a Reference to the Commission of the Presbytery of Auchterarder's carriage in that matter.
The Committee for Bills having transmitted to the Assembly an appeal entered by Mr William Craig against the Presbytery of Auchterarder, for their refusing to give him an extract of his licence to preach the Gospel, notwithstanding that he was approven by them in all the steps of his trials, and was actually licensed—the opinion of the Committee for Bills in this matter was read; and the said Mr William Craig, and the commissioners from the Presbytery of Auchterarder, being called, the said Mr Craig, pursuer of this appeal, and Mr Andrew Burgh, one of the commissioners from the Presbytery, compeared; and the moderator of the Committee for Bills gave a distinct account of the whole matter, as the same was laid before the said committee; particularly, that the said Presbytery had refused Mr Craig the extract of his licence, because he did not satisfy them as to some articles of faith required of him by them, whereof this was one, viz. "And farther, That I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ, and instating us in covenant with God." Parties being heard and removed, the Assembly, after discoursing upon the subject of the said appeal, and answers made there to by the commissioners from the Presbytery, did agree that the foresaid Presbytery of Auchterarder be forthwith appointed, and the General Assembly hereby appoints the said Presbytery, to give the sai Mr William Craig an extract of his licence to preach the Gospel, and do instruct their Commission to see this appointment obeyed. And the General Assembly discharges the Presbytery of Auchterarder, or any other Presbytery within this National Church, to require subscriptions of any young men to be licensed to preach the Gospel, or ordained to the office of the ministry, to any formula but such as is or shall be agreed to and approven by the Assemblies of this Church. And further, the General Assembly did declare their abhorrence of the foresaid proposition, as unsound and most detestable, as it stands, and was offered by the said Presbytery to be subscribed by Mr Craig; but in regard the ministers of the said Presbytery of Auchterarder were not present to answer for themselves, what they could design by such a proposition, the Assembly agreed that they should be called to an account upon this head. But a question arising, Whether this should be done before the Synod of Perth and Stirling or the Commission of the General Assembly? a vote was stated, Synod or Commission; and before calling of the rolls, it was resolved, that in case the vote should carry for the Synod, then the Synod shall reported to the Commission. After this, the roll being called, and votes marked, it carried Commission; wherefore, the General Assembly did, and hereby do, appoint the Presbytery of Auchterarder to be cited to compear before the Commission of the General Assembly at Edinburgh, in the Assembly-House, the second Wednesday of August next, with continuation of days, to answer to them in the matter above written, with certification, &c., And the Assembly did, and hereby do, empower their Commission to cognosce and determine in this matter as they shall find just.