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§ 99. The Westminster Standards in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.


I. On the part of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church:

The Confession of Faith of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Revised and adopted by the General Assembly, at Princeton, Ky., May, 1829. Nashville, Tennessee (Board of Publ. of the C. P. Ch.), 1875 (pp. 286). The same book contains also the Shorter Catechism, the Form of Government and Discipline, the Directory of Worship, and Manual.

The history of the origin of the schism is contained in the Circular Letter of the late Cumberland Presbytery; the Reply to a Pastoral Letter of West Tennessee Presbytery.

II. On the part of the Presbyterian Church

Samuel Baird: Collection of the Acts, Deliverances, and Testimonies of the Presbyterian Church. Philad. (Presbyt. Board), 1855; second ed. 1859, pp. 640 sqq. Contains the official acts of the General Assembly on the origin and disorders of the Cumberland Presbytery.

Wm. E. Moore: A New Digest of the Acts and Deliverances of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Philadelphia, 1861, p. 95 (on the validity of the Cumberland Presbyterian ordinances), and p. 448 (on terms of correspondence).

Robert Davidson: History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky. New York, 1847 (Ch. ix. pp. 223 sqq., 'The Cumberland Presbyterian Schism').

Historical and Doctrinal.

James Smith: History of the Christian Church, including a History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Nashville, 1835.

H. B. Crisman: Origin and Doctrines of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. 1856, new ed. Nashville, Tenn. 1875.

Richard Beard (D.D. and Prof. of Syst. Theol. in Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tennessee): Why am I a Cumberland Presbyterian? Nashville, Tenn. 1872. By the same: Lectures on Systematic Theology, 3 vols. Nashville (Board of Publ.). Comp. his Art. in Johnson's Universal Cyclop. 1876, Vol. I.

F. R. Cossitt: Life and Times of Rev. Finis Ewing. Louisville, 1853.


The Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, so called from its birth-place, the 'Cumberland Country' in Kentucky and Tennessee, took its rise in an extensive revival of religion which began in the southwestern part of Kentucky in 1797, and reached its height in 1800 and 1801, among a population mostly of Scotch-Irish descent. Methodist ministers took part in it. This revival called for a larger number of ministerial laborers than could be supplied in the regular way by the few Presbyterian institutions of learning then existing. Hence the Presbytery of Cumberland ('at 814the recommendation of the Rev. Mr. Rice, the oldest Presbyterian minister then residing in Kentucky') licensed and ordained a number of pious men without a liberal education, and allowed them, in subscribing the Westminster Confession, to express their dissent from what they called the doctrine of 'fatality,' i.e., the doctrine of absolute decrees. The Synod of Kentucky demanded a re-examination of these ministers and candidates; this being refused, it dissolved the Cumberland Presbytery in 1806. The General Assembly confirmed the action, but ultimately recognized the Cumberland Presbyterians as an independent organization, and entered into terms of correspondence with them as with other evangelical denominations.15781578   In 1825 the General Assembly declared that the ministrations of the Cumberland Presbyterians 'are to be viewed in the same light with those of other denominations' (Baird's Collection, p. 646). In 1849 the General Assembly of the New School entered into correspondence with them, and passed this resolution: 'The General Assembly of each Church shall appoint and receive delegates from the General Assembly of the other Church, who shall be possessed of all the powers and privileges of other members of such Assemblies, except that of voting' (Minutes, p. 184; Moore, p. 448). The Rev. Dr. Alexander J. Baird appeared as a delegate of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church before the United General Assembly in Baltimore, 1873, and was cordially received (Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyt. Church for 1873, p. 485). In the following year the General Assembly at St. Louis sent a salutation to the Cumberland Presbyterian Assembly then in session at Springfield, Mo., with the words: 'Serving the same Lord, we are one in him. May he dwell in us.' To this the Cumberland Assembly responded in the same fraternal spirit (Minutes for 1874, pp. 18 and 20). A committee of conference on union was also appointed, but was discharged by the General Assembly of 1875 (Minutes, p. 480).

The dissenters organized an independent 'Cumberland Presbytery,' February 4, 1810, consisting of four regularly ordained ministers, six licentiates, and seven candidates. The presbytery grew into the Cumberland Synod in 1818, and this adopted a Confession, Catechism, and Form of Church Government. The Confession was the work of a committee of which the Rev. Finis Ewing was the leading spirit. The Cumberland Synod was divided into three (1828), and a General Assembly was formed, which held its first session in May, 1829. This Body subjected the Confession of Faith to a final revision. 'In so doing, the Synod and General Assembly only exercised an undeniable right, allowed by the God of the Bible and secured by the civil constitution; and discharged what they conceived to be a duty to the Church and the world. . . . Let the work be tried neither by tradition nor the fathers, but by the holy Scriptures.'15791579   Preface to the Confession.


The Cumberland Church has since spread rapidly, and extends now from Western Pennsylvania to Texas and California. It furnishes the proof that people may be good Presbyterians without being Calvinists.


The Cumberland Presbyterians differ from the regular Presbyterians in two points—the education for the ministry and the doctrine of predestination. They adopt and use the Westminster Confession in full, with the American amendments in Chs. XXIII. and XXXI., and slight verbal changes, but they depart from it in rejecting the unconditional election and reprobation as taught in Ch. III.15801580   See the changes in Vol. III. p. 771. They retain, however, substantially Ch. XVII. on perseverance, although perseverance presupposes unconditional election, and is inconsistent with conditional election. The Cumberland Confession teaches on the one hand conditional election and unlimited atonement, and on the other the final perseverance of the saints. It is an eclectic compromise between Calvinism and Arminianism; it is half Calvinistic and half Arminian, and makes no attempt to harmonize these antagonistic elements. 'Cumberland Presbyterians,' says one of their writers, 'believe as firmly as Arminians do that salvation, in all cases, is conditional. But they believe that every genuine saint will comply with the conditions; and thus salvation becomes certain to saints. It is uncertain to sinners because it is doubtful whether they will comply with the conditions; but certain to saints because it is certain that they will comply with the conditions—"My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me."'15811581   Crisman, 1.c. p. 158. Comp. art. of Prof. R. Beard, 1.c.: 'Its theology is Calvinistic, with the exception of the offensive doctrine of predestination so expressed as to seem to embody the old pagan dogma of necessity or fatality.' The same writer answers the usual objections to the doctrine of perseverance (the fall of Adam and the angels, of Solomon and Peter, the warnings and exhortations of Scripture, the alleged inconsistency of the doctrine with free agency and the duty of watchfulness), and urges nine reasons against the Arminian view of falling from grace.15821582   The difficulties of this great problem of predestination have been discussed more fully in § 97, pp. 791 sqq.

Another departure connected with the former is the affirmation of 816the salvation of all infants dying in infancy. The old Confession says. Ch. X. 3: 'Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when and where and how he pleaseth.' This seems naturally (though not necessarily) to imply the existence of reprobate infants who are not saved. To avoid this interpretation, the Cumberland Confession substitutes all for elect, and thus positively teaches universal infant salvation. In this point it has anticipated what seems now to be the general sentiment among American Presbyterians, who harmonize it with the Westminster Confession either by interpreting that all infants dying in infancy are elect, or that it confines itself to state as an article of faith what is clearly warranted in Scripture, and leaves the rest to private opinion.

The Shorter Catechism of the Assembly has been changed by the Cumberland Presbyterians in Question 7 as follows:

westminster catechism. cumberland catechism.
What are the decrees of God? What are the decrees of God?
The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. The decrees of God are his purpose according to the counsel of his own will, whereby he hath foreordained to bring to pass what shall be for his own glory: sin not being for God's glory, therefore he hath not decreed it.


In Question 20 the words 'God did provide salvation for all mankind' are substituted for 'God, having elected some to everlasting life,' and the phraseology is otherwise changed. In Question 31, for the phrase 'What is effectual calling?' is substituted 'What is the work of the Spirit?'

[Note.—In 1906, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was "reunited" with the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., accepting the Westminster Confession as revised, 1902. A dissenting element retained the old name and has perpetuated the organization with a membership, 1929, of 64,081. At the time of the union, 1906, the Cumberland Church reported 200,000 members in 114 presbyteries.—Ed.]

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