Of Cameronians and Seceders, The Difference Found Between Them

Every once in awhile I will get asked the question “What is the difference between Cameronian Covenanters and Seceders?” or I might get asked the question “What is a Seceder?”

In the year 1761 Cameronian Covenanters also known as the Continuing Societies, Hillmen, Sanquharmen, Reformed Presbyterians and yes even called militant radicals who were the original heirs to the Covenant and were the hardliners of the Covenant wrote a polemic against the Seceders in very explicit details within the Act, Declaration and Testimony of 1761. Seceders went on to become the Revolution Settlement Church while Cameronians remained separated in their own United Societies and where outside the Revolution Settlement Church.

Cameronians and Seceders agreed on many points and I count many Seceders today a dear friend but the following is a summary of the main difference between Cameronians and Seceders as it took form in the 1600s and 1700s. In addition to the following the binding nature of the Solemn League and Covenant on all three kingdoms (and their colonies including former colonies) was also a difference with Cameronians holding the binding nature of the Solemn League Covenant and Seceders holding that the Solemn League and Covenant is not binding.

“By both parties magistracy was held to be a divine ordinance; but the Seceders find its basis in the light of nature, while the Reformed Presbytery maintain that God “hath authorized and instituted in His word the office and ordinance of civil government and governors,” that it hath “its foundation in the moral-preceptive law of God.” As to the end of magistracy, the Secession Testimony puts it thus: – “The Public good of outward and common order in all reasonable society, unto the glory of God, is the great and only end which those invested with magistracy can propose in a sole respect unto that office:” and the Presbytery states it in the this form; – it is “for the preservation of external preach and concord, administration of justice and encouragement of such as are and do good, and punishment of evil-doers who transgress either table of the law.” Both held that the civil authorities in Christian states are bound to have respect to the Word of God and the interest of the kingdom of Christ in all their laws and administrations, and that God had laid down in His word certain qualifications that magistrates ruling over a Christian people should possess; but they differed as to the place to be assigned to these qualifications. Seceders maintained that a “due measure of those qualification was essential not to the being and validly of the magistratical office, but to it’s well-being and usefulness;” while the Presbytery maintained that these qualifications were essential to the being of a lawful Christian magistracy. It was held by the Seceders, that whatever magistracy existed in the Providence of God, and ruled with the consent of the people, was to be acknowledged and submitted to in all commands that were in harmony with the divine law; but the Presbytery maintained, that only such governors were to be voluntarily owned as possessed the qualifications required by the preceptive will of God.. Accordingly, Seceders, while they condemned many things in the British constitution and administration, acknowledged it as God’s ordinance; while the Presbytery refused to own it as God’s moral ordinance, and felt bound to avoid every act which could justly be held as indicating approbation, or as a test of allegiance. And so the former refused to admit those who disowned the existing government while the latter as decidedly refused to receive those who owned it.”

“Each party gave the doctrine of the other unsavoury names; the principles of the Secession were designated anarchical, and those of the Reformed Presbytery, anti-government and disloyal.”

-The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland: Its Origin and History 1680-1876, Matthew Hutchison


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