The American Sabbath One Century Ago

Echoing a line from William Cowper ("When nations are to perish in their sins, / 'tis in the Church the leprosy begins), the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States once affirmed: "Let us beware brethren: as goes the Sabbath, so goes the church, as goes the church, so goes the nation" (1948). The same ecclesiastical body stated in 1933: "This nation cannot survive unless the Christian Sabbath is observed." 

With that principle in mind, in 1905, a fascinating volume was published by the National Reform Association, which was authored by Richard Cameron Wylie (1846-1928), a Reformed Presbyterian minister and long-term lecturer on behalf of the NRA, with an introduction by NRA President Sylvester Fithian Scovel (1835-1910), a Presbyterian minister and also President of Wooster University, regarding the state of the Christian Sabbath in America, along with the Biblical rationale for its public and civil establishment therein: Sabbath Laws in the United States

Beginning with a look at the colonial history of Sabbath laws in America, Wylie goes on to analyze the status of each states (there were 45 in 1905) and territory within the jurisdiction of the United States. This detailed study is followed by the Biblical grounds for the need to uphold the Fourth Commandment in modern American civil legislation. 

A documented study of this sort, authored by those who themselves advocated public and civil Sabbath-keeping, is rare to find. This particular volume, which precedes the efforts of the National Football League to largely dismantle US Sabbath laws beginning as early as the 1920's, provides a snapshot of the spiritual state of the country in 1905, just over one century ago. It is a window into the soul of America's past, and worth prayerfully comparing with America's present. 

The Reformed Presbyterian Catechism

William Louis Roberts (1798-1864) was a Reformed Presbyterian minister, who studied under James Renwick Willson (1780-1853) at Coldenham, New York, and who is, like his mentor, regarded as one of the great ministers of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America in the 19th century. 

In Roberts' The Reformed Presbyterian Catechism (1853), we have set before us the distinctive principles of the RPCNA, as officially held to at that time. In the introduction, he sets forth the focus of this ecclesiastical catechism: 

"Question. How many are the peculiar and more prominent principles of the Reformed Presbyterian church?

Answer. TWELVE.

Q. What are these?

A. The doctrines of

1. Christ’s Mediatorial Dominion in general.
2. his Exclusive Headship over the Church.
3. The supremacy and ultimate authority of the word God in the church.
4. Civil government a moral ordinance of God.
5. Christ’s headship over the nations.
6. The subjection of the nations to God and to Christ.
7. The word of God the supreme rule in the state.
8. The duty of nations to acknowledge and support the true Christian religion.
9. The spiritual independence of the Church of Christ.
10. The right and duty of dissent from an immoral constitution of civil government.
11. The duty of social covenanting, and the permanent obligation of religious covenants.
12. The application of these doctrines in the form of a practical testimony, to the civil governments where Reformed Presbyterians reside.

Q. What is meant by 'peculiar' principles?

A. Those which distinguish Reformed Presbyterians from other Christian denominations.

Q. What is meant by 'prominent' principles?

A. Those which, though held by some other denominations, are not made practically a part of their testimony."

All of these doctrines are expounded upon with Scripture references, and they demonstrate the Biblical grounds for the RPCNA's emphasis on, in particular: 1) Christ's mediatorial kingship over all nations; 2) political dissent from immoral civil government; and 3) the duty of social covenanting. 

If you are interested to read an ecclesiastical catechism that teaches what American Reformed Presbyterians in 19th century believed in distinction to other groups of American Presbyterians, this is the book for you. 

Works by Associate Presbyterians and Reformed Presbyterians coming soon to Log College Press!

The American Presbyterian tradition is broad and deep, and Log College Press plans on including as much of that tradition as possible. We've already posted some works by Alexander McLeod, and works by John Anderson and James Renwick Willson will be coming soon, in addition to other 18th-19th century Associate Presbyterians and Reformed Presbyterian authors. If there are men in particular whose works you'd like us to find and post, please let us know.