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The Stated Clerk presented his Report on the Answers of the Presbyteries to the Overture on Chapter xxiii, Form of Government, sent down by the last General Assembly, as follows:
The Stated Clerk would respectfully report to the General Assembly that 206 Presbyteries have forwarded to him their Answers to the Overture sent down by the last General Assembly for the addition to the Form of Government of a new chapter, to be entitled " Chapter xxiii. Of Amendments,” and for the striking out of Section 6, Chapter xii, Form of Government (see “Minutes," 1890, pp. 63, 64). It appears that 192 Presbyteries answer the Overture in the affirmative, and 8 in the negative, and that 6 report no action. The total number of Presbyteries is 216.
It is suggested that these Answers be submitted to a Committee of Canvass, with direction to report to the General Assembly whatever action may be necessary in connection therewith.
WM. H. ROBERTS, Stated Clerk.
The Report was approved, and on motion it was
Resolved, That a Committee consisting of three ministers and two elders be appointed by the Moderator to canvass the answers to the Overture, and report on the whole subject.
The Stated Clerk also reported the Answers of the Presbyteries, on the Overture on the subject of Deaconesses sent down to the Presbyteries by the last General Assembly, as follows:
The Stated Clerk would respectfully report to the General Assembly that 203 Presbyteries have forwarded to him their Answers to the Overture sent down by the last General Assembly, asking whether a section, to be numbered Section 2, should be added to Chapter vi, and also whether a section, to be numbered 9, should be added to Chapter xiii, of the Form of Government (see Minutes," 1890, p. 121).
It appears that 52 Presbyteries have answered the Overture in the affirmative, 82 in the negative, that 68 cast a divided vote, and 3 took no action. The nuniber of Presbyteries failing to answer is 11. In view of the fact that the Overture, as a whole, appears to have been rejected, while at the same time a part of the Overture appears to have been approved by a majority, it is suggested that the Answers be referred to a Committee of Canvass to report thereupon.
WM. H. ROBERTS, Stated Clerk.
The report was approved, and on motion it was
Resolved, That a Committee of Canvass, consisting of three ministers and two elders, be appointed to report upon the answers to the Overture on Deaconesses.
The Special Committee on the Revision of the Confession of Faith presented its Report, which was accepted, and it was
Resolved, That the Report presented by the Committee of Revision be now accepted as a report of progress, and that the Stated Clerk be directed to print the same under the supervision of the Committee, and send it down to the Presbyteries in accordance with its recommendations; and also that the Committee be continued to make final report to the next Assembly. Adopted.
The Report is as follows:
The Assembly's Committee on Revision of the Confession of Faith, begs leave to submit the following Report:
In pursuance of the Assembly's instructions (see " Minutes” of 1890, p. 85) the first meeting of the Committee was held at the call of the temporary Chairman, in the Library of the Western Theological Seminary, Allegheny City, Pa., October 14, 1890. The first half hour was devoted to prayer and consideration of the gravity of the situation, the importance of the work to be undertaken, and the best interests of our beloved Church.
When the roll of the Committee was called, twenty-three members answered to their names, and letters were received from the remaining two expressing regret at their inability to be present on account of ill health,
After completing the organization of the Committee by electing, by ballot, the Rev. William C. Roberts, D.D., as the permanent Chairman, and the Rev. William E. Moore, D.D., as the Secretary, the tendered resignations of Rev. Thomas S. Hastings, D.D., of New York, and of Barker Gummere, Esq., of New Jersey, were accepted, and the Rev. Robert R. Booth, D.D., of New York, and Morris H. Stratton, Esq., of New Jersey, were elected to fill their places. Upon learning of their election, the new members repaired at once to Allegheny City, thus making a full attendance of the Committee.
The following rules were adopted for the regulation of the Committee, namely: that the General Rules for Judicatories be made the rules of the Committee; that the first half hour of each day be spent in devotional exercises; that each session be opened and closed with prayer, and that no alterations or amendments be proposed that would in any way impair the integrity of the Reformed or Calvinistic system of doctrine taught in the Confession. These regulations were strictly enforced during the sessions of the Committee, both at Allegheny City and in Washington.
At the second meeting, held in Washington, February 3d to 16th, 1891, all of the members of the Committee were present.
In order to allay any fears that might be entertained in regard to the thoroughness of the work of revision, the whole Confession was read before the Committee, and an opportunity afforded to note every word, sentence, and paragraph suggested by the Presbyteries, or desired to be considered by any member of the Committee.
This was followed by taking up in order for discussion, omission, or alteration every one of these noted passages. The omissions and alterations then decided upon were considered only tentative, in order to afford time for further reflection and con. sideration. The venerable Confession was thus subjected twice to the closest scrutiny. All the changes and amendments recommended in this Report have been forged by the heaviest hammers that your Committee could wield. Those favorable to revision, and those opposed to it did not array themselves in hostile bands, but labored as brethren anxious to perform satisfactorily the duty committed to them by the General Assembly. The harmony and brotherly kindness which characterized all its deliberations were not due to a determination to agree, whatever interests might suffer, but to the evident presence of the Holy Spirit guiding the passions and the feelings, as well as the mind and heart. At every session was displayed the glittering of the polished steel of the professor, as well as the practical judgment of the experienced pastor. The clear-cut analysis made by the skilled dialectician called forth no greater applause than the pathetic appeals of the shepherd to let down the tender grass of the Word sufficiently low to afford the lambs of the flock opportunity to feed thereon. The keen blade of the layman did as effective work as the broad sword of the clergyman. Neither time nor labor was spared in the prosecution of the work. It is proper to add that, as to some of the most important changes suggested, such as those in the third and tenth chapters, there were decided differences of judg. ment in the Committee, some members being opposed to the changes therein recommended and voting against them.
The Committee does not flatter itself with the hope that all the Presbyteries will be satisfied with its work, as submitted to this Assembly. Some, beyond doubt, will feel that the pruning knife has been too sparingly used, and many will allege that not a few precious limbs have been lopped off. In view of the condition of things in and out of the Church, the Committee did not deem it needful nor wise to use the reckless penknife of Jehoiakim, nor, on the other hand, to spare passages that are unnecessarily harsh or misleading. If the Presbyteries will devote sufficient time to inquire into the reasons why some objectionable paragraphs have been left untouched, whilst others considered less so have been eliminated, they will find that the Committee was governed in its discriminations by restrictions imposed upon it by the Assembly, or by what it believed to be the views held by the majority of our ministers, elders, and private members.
To meet a want felt by individuals and Presbyteries, of a clearer aad more specific statement concerning the common operations of the Spirit, and the universal offer of the Gospel, the Committee has judged it wise to devote to these subjects two entire chapters. The bringing together, under one head, of statements that would otherwise be inserted here and there throughout the book, does not increase its bulk, while it makes it far more con. venient for reference. Since the conversion of the heathen was hardly thought of in the days of the Westminster divines, there is evident propriety in adding a chapter to mark the progress which the Church has made in evangelistic ideas and Christian work during the last two hundred years.
It may not be out of place in this connection to furnish the Assembly with a brief explanation of the changes that will presently be given in detail.
The Committee, without request from any of our Presbyteries, thought it wise to recognize in Chap. i the commonly accepted ex: ternal evidences of the divine origin of the Scriptures.
It will be seen that Chap. iii, which has been regarded by many as the pivot around which revision revolves, has been altered more than any other portion of the Confession. It has not, however, been completely rewritten, as some Presbyteries have asked, but so recast that the expressions most objected to have entirely disappeared. It was thought that further alterations in the same direction would, in the opinion of some, impair the validity of our Reformed or Calvinistic system.
Finding that the latter part of Sec. 1, of Chap. iv, was not true to fact, or in keeping with the teachings of God's Wordi
, a slight but important change has been proposed. The frequently misunderstood Sec. 4, of Chap. vi, in regard to the ability of man to perform any deeds acceptable to God, is so amended as to confine his inability to spiritual good. The " means” through which the Lord offers unto sinners life and salvation, is added to Sec. 3, of Chap. vii, and the whole of Sec. 4 is stricken out on the ground of its not being supported by facts of Scripture. In Sec. 5, Chap. viii, “ divine justice” is substituted for “the justice of His Father," because this attribute is cominon to the three persons of the God. head.
Sec. 3, of Chap. ix, is so altered as to leave no doubt in regard to the responsibility of man as a free moral agent.
In order to discriminate between the two operations included in effectual calling, Sec. 2, Chap. x, the passivity of the subject is confined in the amendment to the “act of regeneration.” The frequently discussed, and openly denounced section concerning the condition of infants dying in infancy, is so altered as to take away forever, what has been to many a rock of offense. The section on the works done by unregenerate men, in Chap. xvi, is so amended as to express the fact in the light of God's Word. Owing to the impossibility of knowing who have sinned the sin unto death, the Committee has so changed Sec. 4, of Chap. xxi, that it reads, "the forgiveness of all sins, except the sin unto death." The word “ popish” is stricken out of Sec. 7, Chap. xxii, on the ground of its being an epithet, and therefore weakening in its effect, and the expression, “ nursing fathers,” in Sec. 3, Chap. xxiii, is dropped, because civil magistrates in this country cannot be said to hold that relation to the Church. Without passing judgment on the question whether or not“ papists” are idolaters, the Committee was of the opinion that our Church members might, without falling under Scripture condemnation, enter into marriage relations with some members of the Romish Church, and therefore propose, as a substitute for "papists, or other idolaters," in Sec. 3, Chap. xxiv, the words, the adherents of false religions." Though the Committee has no disposition to tone down in the slightest degree the objectionable features of the