Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

New School Doctrinal Errors (1837)

In Uncategorized on 05/04/2010 at 11:24

What follows is excerpted from The Testimony and Memorial of the Philadelphia Convention, dated 18 May 1837.

By the date of the Convention, we can surmise that it met in preparation for the pending General Assembly in June, seeking to present its case in a clear and forceful fashion. I will post additional portions of this document at a later date, but for now, here is the gathered list of the doctrinal errors that were observed to be evident among some of those who were soon to be labeled the New School faction of the PCUSA.


When any portion of the Church of Jesus Christ is called in his providence to take a step which may materially affect their Master’s cause, and influence for good or ill the destinies of large portions of mankind through successive generations;–it is a very plain, as well as solemn duty, to state clearly the reasons of their conduct–the evils of which they complain–the objects at which they aim–and the remedies which they propose. This Convention, consisting of one hundred and twenty-four members, of whom one hundred and twelve are delegated by fifty-four Presbyteries, and twelve by minorities in eight other Presbyteries, all of which members are ministers or ruling elders of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; after mature deliberation, full consultation with each other, and earnest prayer to God for direction, have agreed on the following memorial, and do hereby respectfully lay it before the General Assembly now in session–and through it before all the churches and the whole world, as our solemn, and as we trust effective Testimony against evils which faithfulness to God, and to the world, will no longer permit us to endure.

That we have not been rash and hasty, nor manifested a factious opposition, to errors and disorders, which were only of small extent, or recent introduction, is manifestly proven by the fact that these evils have been insidiously spreading through our Church for many years–and that they have at length become so mature, and so diffused, as not only to pervade large portions of the Church, but to reign triumphantly over the body itself, through successive General Assemblies. On the other hand, that we have not been wholly faithless to our Master and to truth, we appeal to the constant efforts of some through the press and pulpit–to the firm and consistent course of some of our Presbyteries and Synods–to the faithful conduct of the minorities in the Assemblies of 1831, 2, 3, 4, and 6–to the Act and Testimony–to the proceedings of the Conventions of Cincinnati in 1831, and Pittsburgh in 1835, and to the noble Assembly of 1835.

We contend especially and above all for the truth, as it is made known to us of God, for the salvation of men. We contend for nothing else, except as the result or support of this inestimable treasure. It is because this is subverted that we grieve; it is because our standards teach it, that we bewail their perversion; it is because our Church order and discipline preserve, defend, and diffuse it, that we weep over their impending ruin. It is against error that we emphatically bear our testimony,–error dangerous to the souls of men, dishonouring to Jesus Christ, contrary to his revealed truth, and utterly at variance with our standards. Error not as it may be freely and openly held by others, in this age and land of absolute religious freedom; but error held, and taught in the Presbyterian Church, preached and written by persons who profess to receive and adopt our Scriptural standards–promoted by societies operating widely through our churches–reduced into form, and openly embraced by almost entire Presbyteries and Synods–favoured by repeated acts of successive General Assemblies, and at last virtually sanctioned to an alarming extent by the numerous Assembly of 1836.

To be more specific, we hereby set forth in order, some of the doctrinal errors against which we bear testimony, and which we, and the churches, have conclusive proof, are widely disseminated in the Presbyterian Church.


1. That God would have been glad to prevent the existence of sin in our world, but was not able, without destroying the moral agency of man : or, that for aught that appears in the Bible to the contrary, sin is incidental to any wise moral system.

2. That election to eternal life is founded on a foresight of faith and obedience.

3. That we have no more to do with the first sin of Adam than with the sins of any other parent.

4. That infants come into the world as free from moral defilement as was Adam, when he was created.

5. That infants sustain the same relation to the moral government of God in this world as brute animals, and that their sufferings and death are to be accounted for, on the same principles as those of brutes, and not by any means to be considered as penal.

6. That there is no other original sin than the fact that all the posterity of Adam, though by nature innocent, or possessed of no moral character, will always begin to sin when they begin to exercise moral agency; that original sin does not include a sinful bias of the human mind, and a just exposure to penal suffering; and that there is no evidence in Scripture, that infants, in order to salvation, do need redemption by the blood of Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Ghost.

7. That the doctrine of imputation, whether of the guilt of Adam’s sin, or of the righteousness of Christ, has no foundation in the word of God, and is both unjust and absurd.

8. That the sufferings and death of Christ were not truly vicarious and penal, but symbolical, governmental, and instructive only.

9. That the impenitent sinner is by nature, and independently of the renewing influence or almighty energy of the Holy Spirit, in full possession of all the ability necessary to a full compliance with all the commands of God.

10. That Christ never intercedes for any but those who are actually united to him by faith; or that Christ does not intercede for the elect until after their regeneration.

11. That saving faith is the mere belief of the word of God, and not a grace of the Holy Spirit.

12. That regeneration is the act of the sinner himself, and that it consists in a change of his governing purpose, which he himself must produce, and which is the result, not of any direct influence of the Holy Spirit on the heart, but chiefly of a persuasive exhibition of the truth analagous to the influence which one man exerts over the mind of another; or that regeneration is not an instantaneous act, but a progressive work.

13. That God has done all that he can do for the salvation of all men, and that man himself must do the rest.

14. That God cannot exert such influence on the minds of men, as shall make it certain that they will choose and act in a particular manner without impairing their moral agency.

15. That the righteousness of Christ is not the sole ground of the sinner’s acceptance with God; and that in no sense does the righteousness of Christ become ours.

16. That the reason why some differ from others in regard to their reception of the Gospel is, that they make themselves to differ.

It is impossible to contemplate these errors without perceiving, that they strike at the foundation of the system of Gospel grace; and that, from the days of Pelagius and Cassian to the present hour, their reception has uniformly marked the character of a Church apostatizing from “the faith once delivered to the saints,” and sinking into deplorable corruption. To bear a public and open testimony against them, and as far as possible to banish them from the “household of faith,” is a duty which the Presbyterian Church owes to her Master in heaven, and without which it is impossible to fulfil the great purpose for which she was founded by her Divine Head and Lord. And this Convention is conscious that in pronouncing these errors unscriptural, radical, and highly dangerous, it is actuated by no feeling of party zeal; but by a firm and growing persuasion that such errors cannot fail in their ultimate effect, to subvert the foundation of Christian hope, and destroy the souls of men. The watchmen on the walls of Zion would be traitors to the trust reposed in them, were they not to cry aloud, and proclaim a solemn warning against opinions so corrupt and delusive.

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