Emigration of Scotch and Scotch-Irish to America (4)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER IX.concluded

We have dwelt thus particularly upon the extensive emigration from the north of Ireland because of the influence which it exerted on the Presbyterian Church of this country. It gave a sudden impulse to its growth. As we have seen, the emigration was so general that frequently, when pastors sought relief from the hindrances to which their ministry was subjected, they were accompanied to the New World by nearly their entire congregations, or were afterward joined by them in their voluntary exile. Thus they brought with them the framework of Christian institutions, ready to be set up on landing on these Western shores, and these emigrants gave bone and muscle to the religious body, the Presbyterian Church, of which they became at once members.

As was most natural, when these colonists, together with their ministers, came to organize the churches, they adopted the same system of church order and government with which they were familiar at home, and to which they were so strongly attached. All the essential elements of presbytery, parity of the clergy, the office of ruling elders, with their clearly defined duties, and the province and obligations of the “kirk session,” from whose decisions an appeal could be taken to the higher court, were principles of church government well known to them. When Presbyterianism had extended over a wide extent of territory, and questions of common interest and importance had to be considered and decided, the formation of synods, and finally of a General Assembly, naturally and necessarily followed.

The mode of worship in use in Scotland and Ireland was also introduced wherever churches were formed, great care being taken in defining the limits of each congregation or parish. The Bible and the catechism held an honored place in the instruction of youth in their schools and in their families. On the Sabbath all the members of the household were regularly assembled, and parents, children and servants recited the catechism. This was followed by explanations of the precepts and doctrines contained therein, and finally the duty of obedience was enforced by showing that its doctrines were derived from the Scriptures and conformed strictly to their teachings.

A portion of the congregation was assigned to each elder, whose duty it was to look after the spiritual interests of the people in that particular field. The pastor, accompanied with one or more of his elders, was accustomed to meet his people frequently, either at a private house or in some other convenient place, in different parts of the congregation, to hear them recite the catechism, and to address to them words of Christian counsel and admonition. In this way, and largely through the fidelity of the eldership, impressions made by the preaching on the Sabbath were rendered permanent and fruitful. As a consequence, also, of this method of instruction, the members of the several churches were intelligent Christians, well grounded in the Scriptures, not tossed about by every wind of doctrine, and able to give a reason for the hope that was in them.

During the early history of Presbyterianism in this country, it was common for presbyteries to appoint committees to visit congregations, who were to question the pastor as to how fully and conscientiously he had discharged all his duties to his flock; how the elders had met the responsibilities of their office; and how his people had attended upon the preached word and the ordinances of the Church; and whether they had fulfilled to him the pecuniary obligations they had voluntarily assumed. Very similar questions were asked separately of each of these parties, and all complaints and causes of dissatisfaction were investigated, and, if possible, amicably arranged.

Twice a year the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. Previous to it a day of fasting was observed, and appropriate sermons were preached on the three days preceding the Sabbath, by the pastor or neighboring ministers. Members of adjacent congregations generally attended in large numbers. On these occasions the preaching was often in the open air, as the congregations were too large to be accommodated in the church. These seasons were anticipated with much interest, and were frequently accompanied with wonderful manifestations of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The emblems were spread upon long tables, which extended oftentimes through all the aisles of the church from the pulpit to the doors. At these tables the communicants were seated, none being admitted to this privilege unless they had previously received tokens[5] from their pastor or the session. To them the “Lord’s Supper was in its fullest sense a monument of the great facts of redemption, a memorial of the necessity of atonement, the glorious deity of the Son of God, the freeness of justification and the fullness of the promises. The mode in which it was administered rendered it necessary that the highest truths, the loftiest themes, should be preached, and with unction. Those were golden days, when the preacher spoke in the demonstration of the Spirit and with power, and when souls were enlightened by the knowledge of the grace of Christ.”

So large an emigration, and of such a character, as flowed into the Middle and Southern States for nearly half a century, could not fail to exert a powerful and lasting influence upon the Presbyterianism of this country. For the most part, these colonists had been tillers of the soil in their native lands, and on their arrival on our shores went immediately to work to make homes for their families upon the fertile lands, which only needed the wise and persistent labors of these sons of toil to cause them to yield abundant harvests. They did not come as criminals fleeing from justice, or paupers to fasten themselves for support upon the industries of the country, but with money enough—the result of their previous energy and thrift—to purchase the choicest of the lands. As a consequence, prosperity attended their well-directed endeavors; plenty ere long smiled around their happy households; churches and schools at once took their proper places and flourished in all their settlements; and society received an impress which it retains to the present day.

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[5] The tokens were small pieces of lead or spelter, and usually had the initial letter of the church stamped upon them. They were carried by communicants to neighboring churches when they desired to commune.