It was on this day, October 14th, in 1814, that the Cumberland Presbyterians adopted their unique edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Taking our text from George P. Hays, The Presbyterians, p. 470-471, we review today the Cumberland Presbyterian edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, as formerly adopted by that denomination on October 14, 1914. The full text of The Presbyterians is available here. A copy of the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith can be found here.
“When Cumberland Synod was formed in 1813, one of its first acts was to appoint a committee to prepare a Confession of Faith. In the form of words adopted three and half years before, in constituting Cumberland Presbytery, was this provision concerning doctrine:
“All licentiates and probationers who may hereafter be ordained by this Presbytery shall be required, before such licensure or ordination, to receive and adopt the Confession and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church, except the idea of fatality, which seems to be taught under the mysterious doctrine of predestination. It is understood, however, that such as can clearly receive the Confession without an exception shall not be required to make any.”
In forming the Synod a brief doctrinal statement was adopted in which the points of dissent from the Westminster Confession were thus stated: 1. “There are no Eternal reprobates. 2. Christ died not for a part only, but for all mankind. 3. All infants dying in infancy are saved through Christ and sanctification of the Spirit. 4. The Spirit of God operates on the world, or as coextensively as Christ has made the atonement, in such a manner as to leave all men inexcusable.”
The committee appointed by the Synod to prepare a creed, simply modified the Westminster Confession, expunging what they believed unscriptural and supplying what they thought omissions of vital truth. The chief changes were in chapters iii and x, and consisted in the elimination of what is known as preterition, or what the fathers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church called “fatality.” The Presbyterian polity was retained; also the Evangelical Presbyterian doctrines—such as the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures, the fall and condemnation of the race, total depravity, the salvation of believers through a vicarious atonement, and the eternal punishment of the finally impenitent.
This revised Confession of Faith was adopted by the Synod, October 14, 1814, and continued to be the accepted creed of the Church until 1883, when a new revision was adopted in which the same essential doctrines enunciated in the revision of 1814 are stated in somewhat briefer form and with a more logical arrangement of subjects. The creed of Cumberland Presbyterians, as it differs from Calvinism on the one hand and Arminianism on the other, may be stated in connection with the doctrine of the new birth—the central theme of the revival of 1800—as follows:
1. All men must be born again or perish.
2. All may be born again and not perish.
3. None who are born again will perish.
The first proposition, while it is accepted by all, means more to Cumberland Presbyterians than to others; for they believe that the soul’s salvation is made certain in the hour of the new birth, while Calvinists believe that this certain election of the soul to eternal life was made by divine decree before the foundation of the world, and Arminians hold that the soul’s decision or choice cannot be so made as to be secure from reversal or failure until after death—possibly not then.
The second proposition [above] Cumberland Presbyterians think is contradicted by the Calvinistic doctrine of election and reprobation, and the third [is opposed] by the Arminian doctrine of apostasy.
Words to Live By:
On the one hand, we can be thankful that the Cumberland Presbyterian Church resolved to state their convictions in a written statement of faith. On the other hand though, we are saddened that their doctrinal statement falls far short of the Scriptural teaching on salvation. There is no contradiction between the gospel message and methods and the eternal call of God’s elect. Indeed, such a view as our Westminster Standards teaches is consistent and indeed comforting to the belief that God has chosen a people for His own from all eternity past. The inspired writer Luke understood this plainly when in describing the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles in Acts 13:48 stated in the last phrase, “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (NASB) Both parts of this last phrase are true. How do we know those appointed to eternal life? Answer: They believe the gospel. Who are those who believe? Answer: As many has had been appointed to eternal life. That one phrase is the great comfort of those who share the gospel with all whom they come into contact with in their day’s activities.