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PREFACE - William Findley, Observations on “The Two Sons of Oil” (LF ed.) 
Observations on “The Two Sons of Oil”, Containing a Vindication of the American Constitutions, and Defending the Blessings of Religious Liberty and Toleration, against the Illiberal Strictures of the Rev. Samuel B. Wylie, edited and with an introduction by John Caldwell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007).
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It appears proper to inform the reader of the occasion that called my attention to the book called “Sons of Oil,” and why I considered it as a duty incumbent on me to offer the following Observations on that work; and also why it has been so long delayed, after it had been expected. With respect to the first, though I had seen the Sons of Oil advertised in the newspapers for sale, yet being possessed of other approved commentaries on the symbolical vision of the prophecy of Zechariah, on which it is founded, I had not curiosity enough to purchase it, and did not, for some years, hear of its singular import and effect.
It was, I believe, in the year 1808, that a very respectable and intelligent neighbour, who, in a public company, where the government and laws of the state, and United States, had been very rudely misrepresented; and while he was endeavouring to explain and vindicate them, he was told by some of the company, that if they should kill him that instant, we had no law to punish such murder, &c. He informed me of it, and consulted me about the propriety of taking surety of the peace of such boasters of the impunity with which they could commit wilful murder. Neither my neighbour, nor myself, having seen the Sons of Oil, from which it was said they had their authority, I was of the opinion that they had mistaken the author, and that these boasts were but an ebullition of folly and ignorance, and would have no dangerous effect. I advised, therefore, to pass it over without further notice. Not long after this, however, I heard the poison had a more extensive influence in different quarters where the book had spread—but my attention was particularly called to the subject by an intelligent magistrate, in a distant county to the westward, who, being attacked in the same manner that my neighbour had been, endeavoured in vain to convince them of their error, by explaining the law of the state respecting murder; but he found that the doctrine of the Sons of Oil was too powerful for his statement, or explanation of the law. He procured a perusal of the book itself, and carefully took notes of it, with which he furnished me a copy, accompanied with a request, to turn my attention to the subject. This was not the first advice that was given me to that purpose; but, though astonished at the notes, without having the least doubt of their correctness, yet I could not, on the notes alone, proceed to make observations on the book itself. In the mean time, however, the intelligent farmer who took the notes, published, while on a journey, a very small pamphlet from them, called the “Plough-Boy,” which, it afterwards appeared, had the good effect of putting a stop to the wicked boasting of the impunity with which they could commit wilful murder. Those of Mr. Wylie’s church, who did, on different occasions, boast in this manner, I am persuaded, must have been the most ignorant and vicious of the society—for I am acquainted with such of them as would be very far from disturbing the peace of society; but why should such a disposition be promoted by a professed minister of the gospel, at the expense of truth?
The books having been taken away from the office at which they had been advertised for sale, I had difficulty to find a copy—and when I did procure one, I found that the half of the mischief, which it was calculated to promote, had not been told me; that it not only grossly misrepresented the government and laws of the United States in general, but more particularly that of Pennsylvania. The encouragement given to people so disposed, to kill their neighbours with expectation of impunity, and for slaves to kill their masters, are but a few, out of numerous instances, of the insidious slanders which his book contains. If teaching to resist the ordinance of legitimate civil government, to refuse to obey the magistrates, for conscience sake, from whom they receive and claim protection; if despising dominion, speaking evil of dignities, and stirring up sedition, are contrary, not only to the moral law, but also to the precepts of the gospel, the Sons of Oil is certainly so. On a first perusal of it, I thought these, together with the numerous inconsistencies it contains, must, to every dispassionate enquirer, be so harmless, as to render an antidote unnecessary. But when I considered the artful sophistry, tinselled over with spurious religious zeal, equal at least to that practised by the most bigotted popish missionaries, set off with an unusual number of notes of astonishment, supported by the most unprincipled declamation; when I also considered, that besides the influence it has had in drawing a number of people into such gross immorality, as to think and boast of the impunity with which they could murder their neighbours, and besides being mostly aliens, as he says (p. 76) having drawn away many respectable citizens from their allegiance to the government, and from discharging the duties of citizenship, and attending on gospel ordinances as formerly, in such churches as do not promote the same excesses with themselves—I say, on considering these things, I became convinced that it was a duty to endeavour to prevent the delusion from taking such deep root as to draw many into its vortex, and disturb the peace of society, to preserve which, civil government was instituted, with the divine approbation, among men.
It would have been desirable that some other person, younger in life, and having more leisure than me, should have undertaken it; but it so happened, that I was pointed out for that purpose before I had seen the book, or was informed of the extent of the mischief it was likely to produce. There were, indeed, some reasons for this. I was the oldest man known to be alive, or at least in a capacity to undertake it, that was educated by the old dissenters, and under the inspection of the reformed presbytery of Scotland (there being no reformed presbytery in the north of Ireland when I left it.) I was likewise one of the oldest men living, who associated with, and was a member of the conferences of those who had, in this country, sought for and obtained a supply of ministers from that presbytery; and also one of the few survivors of those, who, more than forty years ago, promoted the revision of that testimony in this country, and with the presbytery, when such was constituted, rejected all local and traditionary terms of communion, founded on human fallible authority, and took the scriptures and the doctrines of the Westminster Confession,1 &c. agreeing with scripture, as the terms of their communion; and the only survivor of that reformed presbytery, who, a few years afterwards, assisted in bringing about the union with the associate presbyteries, which constituted the associate reformed synod, designed as a step towards a union of all the presbyterian body who professed the same faith of the gospel. My personal knowledge of these things pointed it out as my duty, to vindicate them from the doctrines contained in the Sons of Oil. Having been also engaged in the early committees, &c. which promoted the independence of the United States, and in making or ratifying the constitutions of this state and of the United States, and, for a long period, in legislating on the one or other of them, it appeared to be my duty to engage in their vindication, when they were so grossly traduced. These reasons had such weight in my own mind, as to induce me to make observations on this extraordinary work, notwithstanding that my other engagements, and time of life, might have afforded a strong apology for declining it.
The old dissenters, from whom I am descended, were a very pious people, exact in their morals, and so inoffensive in their deportment, that they were treated with great respect and sympathy by their neighbours; but when they came to have ministers, and their numbers increased, their respectability had not a proportionable increase; they began to make some deviations, seemingly inconsistent with their testimony; they began to consider paying tithes to the episcopal clergy, whom they did not acknowledge, as compounding with a robber—as Mr. Wylie does with paying road and county taxes, of which he and his people receive equal benefit with others. But though, because of the rescinding of the covenants, the establishment of episcopacy, and the king’s headship over the church, the reformed presbytery of Scotland disowned the authority of the civil government; they did not like those who assume that name in this country, claim its protection; they did not apply to courts or magistrates for the recovery of debts, damages, &c. or the protection of constables to their presbytery, as those assuming that name do in this country. Doing so, was there esteemed highly censurable; they did not act so inconsistent a part as to claim protection where they refused allegiance. They, indeed, laboured under mistakes by trusting to tradition. They believed that not only the solemn league and covenant,2 but even the national covenant of Scotland,3 neither of which were ever taken by the kingdom of Ireland, or their representatives, were binding on that nation. They appear to have been led into this mistake by reading the title of the solemn league, affixed to it by the committees of Scotland and England, who prepared that instrument, but to which Ireland never acceded; and also by the local testimonies of the sufferers in Scotland, of those who laboured under the same mistake. They also believed that those covenants were legally taken in England, agreeable to the constitution of that nation—whereas the solemn league was only taken by authority of an ordinance of parliament, which never became a law, and for which the clergy of England, which were deprived of their livings, and persecuted under Charles II. to more than five times the number of the clergy of Scotland, who were deprived, on the same occasion, and persecuted also for not complying with prelacy, never during that persecution, nor after it ceased, claimed the legal obligation of that covenant on England. With the national covenant, England and Ireland never had any concern. Upwards of fifty of the English presbyterian ministers, many of them very eminent divines, whose works yet praise them, outlived the persecution, and afterwards enjoyed protection; but none of these ever set up a claim to the solemn league, as of legal or moral obligation, or as a term of christian communion, as the old dissenters in Scotland did.
They were also under a mistake in believing, that any act of a human fallible legislature could be in its own nature unchangeable, thus setting human authority on an equal footing with the unchangeable God; or that one legislature had not equal authority to revise or repeal a law, as another had to make it; or that either law-makers or subjects had a moral right to engage, by oath, to make rules of conduct unchangeable, which were, by the providence of God, rendered changeable in their own natures. Into this mistake they were led by the unhallowed union of church and state, and the misapplication of the Sinai covenant.4 The old dissenters being few in number, and left without a minister, when they commenced their testimony in Scotland against the establishment of church and state, in 1689, had not the opportunity of correct information—correct records respecting them not having been then published, and they themselves being strongly prepossessed in favour of national churches. They never, however, pretended that the obligation of these covenants extended to the American colonies (now United States) nor did their presbytery, when they obtained one, as is evident from their judicial testimony, apply it to them. Nor did they ever teach, that civil protection could be claimed, where allegiance was not due. They claimed, indeed, the right of native born citizens of Britain, but not of the colonies. The new presbytery which has assumed that name in this country, however, has, by its own authority, transferred these local, and, in their own nature, changeable obligations, to the United States, which they might, with equal justice, have done to any other nation. They have also taught the immoral doctrine, that protection and obedience to the lawful commands of the civil government are not of reciprocal obligation, and Mr. Wylie has supported this doctrine solely from a misapplication of the judicial law of Moses, and the decrees of emperors and councils; and he has appealed to the reformers and approved commentators for the support of his doctrine, without giving extracts from any of them.
In my Observations I have shewed, from the prophets, apostles, and approved commentators and reformers, that the Sinai covenant, including the judicial law, is not only abolished, but that it never was intended for any people but Israel, nor for any country but the typically holy land; and that even there it did not authorise persecution for what has been since called heresy, &c. That the christian religion authorises no persecution, by the civil magistrate, for religious opinion; and that civil magistrates are not church officers, nor have any law-making power in, or over the church of Christ, &c. I have also endeavoured to shew the true moral foundation of civil magistracy. For these purposes I have inserted a few extracts from approved commentators, reformers, and church history, out of many that I had prepared; and have also endeavoured to refute his numerous mistaken charges against the governments and character of this country, some of which are truly slanderous, and to correct and explain some of the objections which he supposes we make to his doctrine, and the conduct which he patronizes.
The sixth chapter chiefly relates to the rise and progress of the numerous divisions of the presbyterian church, while they all profess the same faith of the gospel, &c. wherein it is shewn that they all, directly or indirectly, have originated from the union of church and state, viz. political establishments of certain modes of religion, enforced by civil penalties and rewards; and I am endeavoured to demonstrate the impropriety of so many different sects holding the same faith, worship, government, discipline and order, and, at the same time, holding separate church communion, and several of them treating each other as if they were enemies to the gospel of Christ. This indeed I have considered as a great evil, and have shewn that it is contrary to the practice of the primitive church, and of the reformers, and of the spirit of christianity.
I have used the word sect instead of denomination, not as a term of reproach, as it is applied to those who separate from a religion established by human authority, which happily has no place in this country, but as a term of distinction, as it is used in the New-Testament. In this country all denominations are equally sects. In Britain all are sects or sectarians, who separate from the establishment.
In page 21, I have commenced some observations on a manuscript “concerning toleration,” and in the last chapter I have mentioned a second reformed presbytery in this country. This manuscript was written several years since, by a respectable elder of that communion, and sent to me for an answer, which, as it had not a tendency to disturb the public peace, like the “Sons of Oil,” I then declined—but in as far as it is connected with that work, I have taken notice of it in the following Observations.
As these Observations were expected to have gone sooner to press, it may be proper to offer some reasons for their delay. As soon as I could procure and peruse the Sons of Oil, I commenced my Observations on it. But as he has appealed to the reformers and approved commentators, boasts of being surrounded with a great cloud of witnesses, and, throughout the whole, states himself as the advocate of the reformation, and holds up all who do not agree with him, as enemies of that blessed work, I thought it necessary to examine and give extracts from the writings of the reformers and approved commentators, and also from the history of the christian church in the fourth and fifth centuries, which he introduces as the period of the greatest perfection. I also thought it proper to introduce the doctrine and example of the primitive apostolic church, which he has wholly passed over, except in so far as he has given such a gloss or comment on the doctrine of the apostles, as is in direct contradiction to their own practice, and the obvious meaning of the words, and to the sense in which they have been taken in all the protestant Confessions of Faith, and by all protestant commentators to which I have had access. From these I took such numerous extracts, as, with my own observations, would have made a volume much larger than I had intended. In this state the work was, when I was called abroad on public business during the winter, and also during several of the summer months, and the winter following. Some family distresses also occupied my attention.
Besides the above reasons for delay, I was informed that the presbytery (of which Mr. Wylie was a member) was employed in preparing a testimony against the sins and errors of the times, and I was certain, that if they held the same principles with the reformed presbytery of Scotland, they must testify against at least a number of Mr. Wylie’s extravagant errors, and from his books being so withdrawn from sale, as that there was not a copy left, I thought it probable that he himself would make such retraction or explanation, as would render my observations unnecessary. I had heard, above two years ago, that this testimony was in some hands, but never saw it advertised for sale, and I did not suppose that such a candle was lighted to be put under a bushel. However, when on a journey after harvest, 1810, while I lay by to rest, I had an opportunity of the perusal of that testimony, and found that the author of the Sons of Oil was still sustained as a regular member of that presbytery, and observed that no censure was passed on his book of errors—I then justly considered that presbytery as responsible for them, and, on my return home, set about revising and making an abstract of the work, which, in the first draught, was too extensive for the design. Numerous extracts from approved commentators, &c. were withdrawn, and so many only retained as carried the doctrine of protestants down from the commencement of the reformation, to the present day. Observations on many positions in the Sons of Oil, of minor importance, were also suppressed, and the printing engaged—but the printing press was not set up till a few months since.
My object was, to promote truth and peace in both church and state. In the church, it was to bring christians to the acknowledgment of the scriptures, as the sole rule of their faith and practice, and the sure foundation of their hope, and to oppose terms of holding communion with Christ, in the ordinances of his own institution, imposed by human authority, whether that authority bears the name of papist or of protestant; and in the state, to promote a scriptural and reasonable obedience to legitimate government and equal laws, so that all men might be protected in leading quiet and peaceable lives in godliness and honesty, and the government itself protected from slander and sedition.
November 1, 1811
[1. ]The Westminster Confession of Faith is a statement, in English, of Calvinist doctrine. It is the basic statement of belief in Presbyterian and Congregational churches.
[2. ]“A Solemn League and Covenant for Reformation and Defence of Religion, the Honor and Happiness of the King, and the Peace and Safety of the Three Kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland” was an agreement made in 1643 between the English and Scots, by which the Scots agreed to support the English Parliament in its disputes with the king, and both countries pledged to work for a civil and religious union of the three countries under a Presbyterian-parliamentary system. It was adopted by the Church of Scotland, the English Parliament, and the Westminster Assembly. The Scots considered it a guarantee of their religious system. The English regarded it as a civil agreement and disregarded it whenever it was not to their advantage.
[3. ]The National Covenant of 1638 was based on the King’s Covenant of 1580. It was largely a rejection of Roman Catholicism and especially of episcopacy in church government. It was for the most part signed by the Scottish military powers.
[4. ]The Sinai Covenant says that God covenanted to bring the Hebrew people into Canaan and the Hebrews covenanted to worship no other God (Exod. 34:11, 14).