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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874, by
THE TRUSTEES OF THE
PRESBYTERIAN BOARD OF PUBLICATION,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
COPYRIGHT, 1886, BY
THE TRUSTEES OF THE
PRESBYTERIAN BOARD OF PUBLICATION.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED,
WESTCOTT & THOMSON,
Tappan Presb. Ass
THE want of a Digest of the acts of the Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church was early felt. In 1818 the following overture was adopted by the Assembly, viz.:
"Resolved, That Drs. Janeway, Neill and Ely be appointed a Committee, and they are hereby appointed, to extract from the records of the General Assembly, and of the late Synods of New York and Philadelphia, all such matters as may appear to be of permanent authority and interest (including a short account of the manner in which missions have been conducted, and their success), that the same may be published for the information of ministers and their people in our churches; and that they report the same to the next Assembly.”—1818, p. 673.
The Committee reported to the next Assembly, and were authorized to complete the work on the plan reported, and to publish it at the expense of the trustees of the Assembly.-1819, p. 713.
The Digest thus authorized was published in 1820.-1820, p. 727. In 1836, upon an overture on the subject of a new Digest, the Assembly"1. Resolved, That in the judgment of this Assembly it is expedient that a new Digest of the acts and proceedings of the highest judicatory of our Church be prepared and placed within the reach of all our ministers and elders.
"2. Resolved, That Dr. John McDowell, Mr. Winchester and Mr. Duffield be a Committee to prepare such a Digest, and report the same to the Assembly as soon as practicable, provided the expense of its publication be not defrayed out of the funds of the Assembly."-1836, p. 262.
Nothing, however, resulted from this appointment. Further action looking to the preparation of a Digest was taken by the respective Assemblies N. S., 1838, p. 661; 1849, p. 189; O. S., 1841, p. 447; 1848, p. 45. See more fully New Digest, Introduction, pp. 7-10, and Baird., Rev. Ed., Preface, pp. 5-8. In 1850 the Board of Publication issued a Digest prepared by the Rev. Richard Webster. In 1856 the Board issued the Digest prepared by the Rev. Samuel J. Baird. In reference to this work the Assembly
Resolved, That the thanks of this General Assembly are due to the Rev. Samuel J. Baird for the labor incurred by him in the preparation of the "Assembly's Digest," recently published by the Board of Publication.
Resolved, That the Digest is earnestly commended to the attention and
patronage of all in our connection, and that any persons having sug gestions to make in reference to any proposed improvement in the work are invited to make them to the author thereof before the issue of a new edition.-1856, p. 535, O. S.
A new and revised edition was issued by the Board in 1859. In 1854 the Assembly, N. S., took order, appointing a Committee, Rev. George Duffield, Jr., Henry Darling and Wm. E. Moore, with the stated clerk, Rev. E. F. Hatfield, D. D., to prepare and publish a new Digest, "if it can be done without expense to the Assembly." The Digest thus directed was prepared by Rev. Wm. E. Moore, and after delay, for want of funds, issued by the Presbyterian Publication Committee in 1861. It was accepted with commendation by the Assembly.-1861, p. 463.
The necessity of a more complete work which should combine the precedents of the Church in all its branches, and bring them down to the latest date, was felt at once upon the reunion. The Board of Publication accordingly took action looking to this end. The Assembly of 1871 adopted the plan, as follows:
"The Committee also call the attention of the Assembly to the action of the Board in reference to a new Digest of the Acts and Ordinances of the Presbyterian Church; and it is recommended that the plan proposed on page 29 of the report be approved, and that the Moderator appoint the Committee, as recommended."
The proposed plan (on page 29) is as follows:
The attention of the Board having been called to the importance of the preparation of a new Digest of the Acts and Ordinances of the Su preme Judicatories of the Presbyterian Church, brought up to the present time and suited to the circumstances of the united body, the following action was taken, upon which the judgment of the General Assembly is desired:
Resolved, That it is expedient that a new Digest of the Acts and Deliverances of the Supreme Judicatories of the Presbyterian Church, from the year 1706 to the present time, be prepared and published by the Board.
That this Digest contain under each chapter and section of the Form of Government, Book of Discipline and Directory, every decision which defines or explains it.
Also, a complete Digest of all the rules of the several Boards of the Church as at present existing.
That it omit whatever has become obsolete in the usage of the Churche. g., in its benevolent operations—and all that pertains simply to matters of history.
That it be requested that a Special Committee be appointed by the General Assembly to examine and approve the book before it be issued.
And it was recommended that the Rev. William E. Moore be requested to undertake the preparation of such a Digest.-1871, p. 529.
The following persons were appointed the Committee on the Digest, viz.:
Edwin F. Hatfield, D. D., Alexander T. McGill, D. D., LL. D., and Robert M. Patterson, Ministers, Hon. George Sharswood, LL. D., and Hon. William Strong, LL. D., Elders.-ib., p. 586.
The Committee on the new Digest reported its completion by the compiler and its approval by the Committee; also, that it would speedily be published.-1873, p. 480.
The plan pursued has been to print entire "The Book," under its three heads of "Form of Government," "Book of Discipline" and "Directory for Worship." Under each chapter and section of these is given every deliverance or decision of the Assembly which serves to define or explain it. As the same or kindred subjects are found under different heads in "The Book," a system of cross references directs the inquirer to the decision sought, or the subject illustrated. The greatest labor has been expended here in classifying the acts of the Assembly under their appropriate heads. Repetitions have been freely made, where it would facilitate the use of the Digest in actual practice. The decisions of each of the Supreme Judicatories of the Church, from the beginning in 1706, have been given. Of those from 1838 to 1869 inclusive, the Assemblies of 1869, in their concurrent declarations, affirm:
"The official records of the two Branches of the Church for the period of separation should be preserved and held as making up the one history of the Church; and no rule or precedent which does not stand approved by both the bodies should be of any authority until re-established in the united body, except in so far as such rule or precedent may affect the rights of property founded thereon."
It will be seen, however, on comparing the decisions or deliverances of the two bodies during the separation, that in a very few cases indeed are they opposed or contrary to each other. In almost every case in which the two Assemblies have spoken upon the same subject they have uttered substantially the same thing.
Even if not of "any authority" as binding law, most of these decisions will be found of the highest value, as expressing the deliberate judgment of the venerable bodies uttering them, upon points of constant recurrence. It is not likely that the united Assembly would now reverse any large proportion of the decisions of either body upon issues that are yet living.
Under the discretion given, the compiler has omitted many of the earlier decisions, which are now found embodied in the Constitution. He has also omitted, with few exceptions, documents which are chiefly historical, and deliverances which pertain to the crises through which the Church has passed in the years long gone by.
His duty, as he understood it, was to compile, not a history, but a Digest for the guidance of the judicatories of the Church. He has felt the more free to omit the history of the schisms of the past, because they are so fully recorded in the Digests heretofore prepared, and accessible to the investigator of history. He has not felt free to comment upon the de
cisions of the Assembly or to decide as to their force; they have been left to speak for themselves. In every case the very words of the Assembly have been used, unless indicated by brackets. The discretion given has been used in a few cases in eliminating language offensive to either of the parties into which the Church was divided, but never so as to affect the meaning of the decision.
The references in the Digest from 1706 to 1835 inclusive are to the three volumes published by the Board of Publication, viz.: "Records of the Presbyterian Church from 1706 to 1788," "Minutes of the General Assembly from 1788 to 1820," and "Minutes of the General Assembly from 1821 to 1835." From 1838 to 1869 inclusive, the references are to the annual minutes of the two Assemblies, designated respectively as O. S. and N. S.; from 1870 to 1873 inclusive, to the annual minutes of the Assembly. With great diffidence the compiler submits his work to the judgment of the Church. It has been a labor of love indeed, but yet a labor of no common toil and perplexity. To decide under what head to place a given deliverance cost often anxious thought. Nor can he flatter himself that his judgment will always meet the approval of those who pass upon his work. Believing, however, that every decision and deliverance of the Supreme Judicatories upon subjects of living interest will be found in the Digest and under the general head to which each belongs, he submits it with the hope that its method will tend to make the officers of our Church courts familiar with our incomparable Book, and with the prayer that its matter will be found to have made that Book so plain as to lessen, if not totally remove, all litigation.
COLUMBUS, Ohio, 1873.
WILLIAM E. MOORE.