United Presbyterianism by William J. Reid, Pittsburgh: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1881, 192 pages.
[The copy I own was once owned by L. J. Graham of New Concord, OH who signed his name and the year 1891 in the book. He was the president of Muskingum College.]
William J. Reid’s United Presbyterianism, published in 1881, comes from a fairly early period in history of the United Presbyterian Church, a denomination that existed from 1858 to 1958. The majority of the book is an exposition of Presbyterianism simpliciter, while the final lengthy chapter is an commentary on the “Testimony of the United Presbyterian Church”—a statement of the church’s beliefs “on those points in which the Westminster Confession of Faith seemed to be deficient.” (p. 114)
Reid’s comments on faith are quite good, though I have some quibbles. He well writes, “The object of faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith, in general, is assent to truth upon testimony. Religious faith is an assent to divine truth on divine testimony. Therefore the general object of religious faith is the whole word of God.” (p. 9) But Reid unfortunately distances himself from this good statement by saying “faith is something more than an assent of the mind to the facts and doctrines of the gospel; it is an accepting of Christ and relying on him as the Savior.” (p. 11-12) It seems to me that no such person has ever existed; there just simply has never been a person who believes all the facts of the Bible and the statements of Christ but does not believe in Christ himself. I might be willing to have a distinction between assent to the divine truths of the Scriptures and a trust/hope in Christ for one’s future. But, as the latter is essentially included in the former, it seems to me that it is sufficient to hold to just the former.
On page 51 there is a passage which evidences a rather post-millennial view. Reid writes, “And inspired prophecy gives us reason to hope that, in some future age, all the world will be converted, and all its inhabitants will be worshippers of the living God and followers of Christ.”
There is an excellent short defense of Presbyterianism against Congregationalism and Episcopacy. Though Reid’s arguments in this section may not be original, they are well put and persuasive.
Reid also has brief arguments on the existence of the office of Ruling Elder as distinct from the Teaching Elder. As this is a topic I’ve been interested in studying as of late, I want to note a long quote for reference:
“Is such an officer [Ruling Elder] appointed in the New Testament? Paul says to Timothy: ‘Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially them who labor in word and doctrine.’ From this passage it is evident that Paul recognized two cases of elders, those whose duty it was to rule, and those whose duty it was to rule and teach. The same apostle, when enumerating the orders of church officers, distinctly calls some ‘teachers’ and others ‘helps’ and ‘governments.’ The same apostle, in another epistle, exhorts those who teach to wait on their teaching, and those who rule to rule with diligence. These passage certainly prove that there was, in the early church, an officer whose official power, in connection with the teaching elder, was that of government. And this is the officer who, in the Presbyterian polity, is called the ruling elder.” – p. 79
There is much of interest in the final section about the “Testimony of the United Presbyterian Church.” Reid comments in favor of “the eternal sonship of Christ,” in opposition to slavery, and in support of exclusive Psalmody. His comments on the later seem to be slightly different than I’ve seen elsewhere, and something I’ll need to review and consider.