- It is true that some of the modern debates on the issue of Reformed
Presbyterians have gotten quite polemical, not just in favour of, but
also against the views of the Reformed Presbyterians.
Perhaps it's time to take a closer look at David Steele, since so
much of the modern controversy seems to revolve around appeals to
him. It seems much ado has been made about Steele for a whole lot of
Despite popular opinion, Steele was not absolutely loathed by the
RPCNA in his day as a minister among them. J.R. Willson had
handpicked him for a professorship at RPTS (while the controversy
with Synod was ongoing in which Steele had taken a part), and had
promised Steele that he already had the votes to get him in as co-
professor. Steele declined, because he felt he was not adequately
prepared for a professorship at that time. (This is incidentally
notably absent from the book on RPTS history, Spare No Exertions.) He
was during that time also called to be minister in one of the
congregations in the Pittsburgh area, though he had declined the call
at that time. Yes, Steele for his leaving synod did accrue some
strong opponents in the RPCNA. But the view some of them had of him
was not universal.
Despite some polemical language used of a few ministers who he
believed weree engineering what became the New Light split, and a few
others afterwards who he believed were attempting to bring the Old
Lights down the same road - talk of former brethren, false brethren,
and the like, David Steele did not as a rule speak of people in that
way, either within nor without the RPCNA. Even "false brethren"
didn't mean "false Christian" (as some appear to have assumed) but
rather the falsity was with claiming to be fellow covenanters when
the persons in question were attacking the views expressed in the
standrads themselves. In particular, it might be noted that Steele
late in life mentioned that he never ceased all the while to regard
Willson Sr as a godly man upon whom he had no known quarrels (in
spite of the fact that Willson did not feel compelled to leave when
Steele, Lusk, and several ruling elders determined just cause to
dissent from synod). In some of the issues of the magazines edited by
Steele, it mentions some of his travels, both preaching and
vacations. In there you find that Steele was granted by various RPCNA
ministers the allowance to use their buildings to preach a sermon
while in the area. The UPC allowed members to attend Mr. Steele's
preaching. Steele preached to vacant congregations of the RPCS and
RPCI in Ireland and Scotland by request of the people, and in one
case was asked to consider a call to be their pastor. In this, he
declined, stating that he would have to join with the RPCI to do so,
and he could not in good conscience join them in the present
constitutional state that they were in. No talk of "you wicked
covenant breaking apostates," no talk of "come with me and flee
babylon" or anything like that. He did not encourage people to leave
their churches if unconvinced with the covenanter side of the church
splits, though he encouraged people to consider the issues, and
inform themselves of why the churches had so broken up. If they were
convinced, and wished to transfer themselves under care of their
presbytery (or later, general meeting), they were free to do so. If
they did not fully understand the issues, but did enough to desire to
transfer over to the reformed presbytery with a willingness to be
instructed, he would not turn them back, though they were not made
communicants without attaining some knowledge of the reason for the
church's existence as a separate branch of the presbyterian church.
It seems from my knowledge of him that if any were to ask about what
problem Steele had with their church, he would certainly oblige to
explain as best he could the causes of splits in the church and why
they existed as a distinct church and did not agree to the routes
taken in the other splits, believing them to have introduced error
into the churches and broken off from the root. Undoubtedly if they
did not agree or were unsure, he would have encouraged the inquisitor
to continue considering these things as they progressed in their
understanding of the faith. This is at least the picture of David
Steele that I have gotten from the materials I have read with
firsthand accounts. It also agrees with the fact that the Associate
Presbyterian magazine actually published one of his articles that
addressed an in-house issue going on at the time among the Associate
Presbyterians, giving his take on the controversy. I don't see they
would have done that if he was supposedly so universally viewed as a
theological or ecclesiastical monster.
In one of the articles concerning Steele's travels, in one of the
covenanter magazines, he mentions a man coming up to him after
sermon. Steele recognized him as a former congressman who was an old
neighbor of his. He mentions the person as having been a member of
the Methodist church, and also states (Steele was authoring the
article) about the man being a friend of his and old neighbor whom he
hadn't seen in a long time. Steele gladly obliged his friend's
request to lodge at his home for some time. This at the least shows
that Steele was able to do what most people can do, hold friendships
with those he disagrees with. Something I think some people in the
way they paint Steele can not conceive of.
David Steele also took to task elder J.J. Peoples of the reformed
Presbytery for vitriolic language in expressing his views on
I will conclude by merely quoting a bio of Steele from a secular book:
The REVEREND DAVID STEELE was ordained and installed as the third
pastor of the Brush Creek Presbyterian Community Church of Adams
County, Ohio on June 24, 1831. Brush Creek is an historic
congregation due to church disputes over dogma.
Dr. Steele was among the early settlers of Adams County, Ohio.
Several members of his family followed him west from Pennsylvania. He
was born in Londonderry, Ireland, November 2, 1803 of scotch-Irish
ancestry. He was the the youngest of six brothers, whose father,
David Steele, was the fourth generation from Captain John Steele of
Lismahago, near Glascow, Scotland who fought on the side of the
Covenanters in the battle of Drumclog, June 22, 1679. He was trained
up according to the strict order of observance in Covenanting
families. When he was about 20 years old he emigrated to the United
States, arriving in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 7, 1824, where
he stayed with an uncle and pursued his classical studies. Later on
he taught in Edinburg Academy in Pennsylvania.
In 1826 he was graduated from Western University of Pennsylvania and
after studying theology with the late Dr. John Black of Pittsburg,
Pennsylvania, he was licensed to preach the Gospel in April 1830. The
following year he married Miss Eliza Johnson of Chillicothe, Ohio and
one month afterward was ordained and installed as pastor of the
Reformed Congregation of Brush Creek by the Ohio Presbytery at a
salary of $400 a year.
Brush Creek was then a wilderness and he and his wife found
everything primitive and uncongenial to educated and refined living.
Thousands of miles he travelled on horse-back yearly, having often to
ford rivers when he had to get up on his knees in the saddle to keep
from being saturated with water as there were few bridges in those
days. For 29 years he labored in this congregation upon a salary
hardly sufficient to procure the necessities of life. He also took
care of several other community churches - one being Mill Creek,
Although a little below medium in stature, he possessed an excellent
constitution which enabled him to bare up under difficulties which
would have been too great for others.
As a scholar Dr. Steele was far above most of his compeers,
particularly in the ancient classics as he could read the most
difficult Latin and Greek at sight. His "Notes on the Apocalypse"
show he was a master of Bible truth. He trained quite a number of
young men for the Gospel ministry; and his home was the resort of all
educated people who came to the neighborhood, and hospitality was a
marked feature of his house.
It is but proper to state that his wife cooperated heartily with him
in all his plans for the elevation and culture of all who dwelt in
the vicinity of Brush Creek. Brush Creek owes much to him as a leader
in morality and culture.
As an orator the Reverend David Steele was concise, clear and
frequently eloquent and impassioned and his discrimination in the use
of words showed his mastery of the English language. He received the
Doctor of Divinity degree from his Alma Mater a few years before his
After leaving Ohio he spent several years near Sparta, Illinois,
retiring to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he died in the 54th
year of his ministry at the age of eighty-four. His remains lie in
the Petersburg Cemetery in Huntington, Pennsylvania.
-Taken from A History of Adams County, Ohio by Evans and Stivers
- "I accept your hand of genuine Christian Fellowship."
Thankyou Colin, but I guess I either forgt about that part, or else I didn't
think it was worth anything since you refuse to retract your repeated references
to me as wicked and ungodly and slanderous.
You say we might not be so far apart as I might think. That may be true
in some of the outcomes, but we arrive at them by distinctly different routes.
But at least you're backing off from suggesting that I am somewhat an antinomian
or a dispensationalist now.
As for raking through past posts and engading you in these matters again,
I can't be bothered, sorry. I've had enough of debating with (some!) Theonomists,
because of their abusive language.
But I do admit that you are not as bad as some in that respect, and I appreciate
Broadband from an unbeatable £15.99!
- --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, thebishopsdoom
> It is true that some of the modern debates on the issue of ReformedThere is nothing new under the sun. It is sinful man's nature to say
> Presbyterians have gotten quite polemical, not just in favour of,
> but also against the views of the Reformed Presbyterians.
sinful things towards those with whom we disagree. Thanks for this
I'm not sure if this has anything to do with the present topic or
not, but the following are objections and answers taken from A Short
Vindication of Our Covenanted Reformation, published by a commitee of
the Reformed Presbytery, Philadelphia, 1879 (the objections sound
familiar, and the answers are refreshing):
1. "You think nobody right but yourselves." Just so; that is, in the
points wherein others differ from us; otherwise we will only proclaim
our own hypocrisy. We believe, and therefore speak.
2. "You think nobody will be saved but such as adopt your peculiar
principles." This is an old objection. It was "cast in the teeth" of
one of our martyred ministers, Mr. Donald Cargil, as he was "led as a
lamb to the slaughter." He meekly answered, "No." "Well, and what
more would you want than to be saved?" "I want a great deal more,"
was his simple reply, "I want Christ glorified on earth." He
understood the first question of the Shorter Catechism, of which too
many are ignorant to-day. "Man's chief end is neither his salvation
nor destruction." Rev. 4:11.
3. "Your principles are impracticable." If they are scriptural the
objection is true in one sense, but false in another. Our Saviour
told his real disciples"Without me (separated from me) ye can do
nothing." Jno. 15:5. This was Paul's experience (Rom. 7:18), and he
tells us that this is part of all believers' experience. Gal. 5:17.
On the other hand, if our distinctive principles are scriptural, as
we believe them to be, they are certainly practicable to a true
believer; for of such no impossibilities are required. 2 Cor. 12:9;
4. "You meddle with political matters;preach the gospel and let
civil government alone." We often meet this objection under the form
of friendly advice; and we believe none is of deeper significance or
more pregnant with consequences. (a) It confounds politics and civil
government. (b) It separates between the gospel and civil government.
(c) It excludes the Bible and its Author from the commonwealth. (d)
It conducts us to infidelity and issues in blank atheism. But this
objection involving, as it does, so much both of principle and
practice, demands more consideration and a particular and
intelligible answer. It is not true that we meddle with politics; for
a Covenanter can affiliate with no existing political party because
no party will consent to be governed by the Bible. The gospel, as we
understand it, covers the whole of the Scriptures. Gen. 18:18, Gal.
3:8, Heb. 4:2. It is "another gospel" which excludes any part of the
Bible. That we may be more fully understood, we assert that the Holy
Scriptures are the only infallible rule to direct mankind in
individual and social life: that all the lawful relations of this
life are instituted, defined and limited in the Bible. We find in the
Sacred Oracles that God has organized society in three, and only
three departments, both for its conservation and reformation. These
are the family, the church, and the state, the two latter being
auxiliaries of the firstthe church and civil commonwealth to be
helpful to the family. The plain lesson of history and experience is,
that insubordination in the family generates contumacy in the church,
and issues in insurrection and rebellion in the state. If there be
no "church in the house," there will be no godliness in the church,
nor honesty without godliness in the state. To effect a real
reformation then, these three divine ordinances are the proper
instrumentalities to be employedand no other. These have the promise
of their Author to render them effectual. Prov. 22:6; 1 Tim. 4:16;
Josh. 1:8. Of course, we cannot co-operate in the voluntary and
irresponsible confederacies of our time, having but one condition of
fellowship, and demanding a pledge of fidelity. To ask or give such
pledge involves an insult offered to our Master, to whom alone our
pledge has been previously given, that we will be governed by that
law in His hand, which commands every duty and forbids every sin in
all our relations. According to our interpretation of the gospel,
therefore, we must have scriptural and definite views of the divine
ordinance of civil government, while we do not "meddle with politics"
earth's party politics, which disregard the Lord, His Anointed and
5. "You will admit none to your communion but those who adopt your
peculiar principles: and does it not follow that you account none to
be Christians but yourselves? All others, by your close communion,
you would shut out of heaven." We have given this objection in
greater fulness than the preceding ones, because of the frequency and
plausibility of its utterance by the generality of professors. Well,
we readily admit the truth of the first part of the objection: but in
the practice of restricted fellowship we are not peculiar, and we
think consistency, common sense and honesty, justify this part of
Christian practice. Nor does this practise involve a denial of the
Christianity or meetness for heaven of any others. This part of the
objection denies, or at least confounds the necessary distinction
between the visible and invisible state of the churchan error which
is logically followed by many others. Consistently with our
distinctive principles and practice, which alone exemplify true
charity, as we sincerely believe, we doubt not many are now in heaven
and also on earth, partakers of the "common salvation," who never
heard of Covenanters. And, moreover, Covenanters have always, in
private intercourse, been ready to embrace in their heart's
affections, all who in their judgment love God in Christ. This they
do on the principle that "every one that loveth Him that begat loveth
Him also that is begotten of Him." 1 Jno 5:1. But this private and
occasional intercourse the Scriptures distinguish from public,
ecclesiastical fellowship; and Covenanters endeavor to act according
to that supreme rule. They cannot, therefore, at the same time,
consistently testify against the errors and sins of parties, and
appear under an official or judicial banner as one with them. "If any
man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple,
shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat
those things which are offered to idols?" 1 Cor. 8:10.Not that we
charge all others with idolatry: but there is a rule in Logic which
the learned acknowledge to be correct, Majus et minus non variant
speciem,"greater or less does not vary the nature of a thing." And
we are enjoined to "mark them which cause divisions and offences
contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them, Rom.
16:17: as also to "withdraw ourselves from every brother that walketh
disorderly"yes, though a brother. 2 Thes. 3:6; 1 Tim. 3:5. No, no,
we are not uncharitable. While hating Pharisaic exclusiveness, we no
less dislike the spurious charity that "suffers sin upon a brother"
without rebuke. Lev. 19:17; Tit. 1:13.