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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 pos. sessed 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 hearel the poison had a more extensive influence in clifferent 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 hich 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-Buy," 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 ordi. nance of legitimate civil government, to refuse to obey the magis. trates, for conscience sake, from whom they receive and claim pro. tection; 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 60. On a first perusal of it, I thought these, together with the numerous inconsistencies it contains, must, to every dispassionate en
quirer, 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 higotted: 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 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 socio ety, to preserve which, ciyil 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 buman fallible authority, and took the scriptures and the doctrines of the Westminster Confession, &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 mion 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 de. portment, that they were treated with great respeet and sympathy by their neighbours; but when they came to have ministers, and their numbers increased, their respectability had not a proportiola able 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, clamages, &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, la. boured under mistakes by trusting to tradition. They believed that not only the solemn league and covenant, but even the national covenant of Scotland, neither of which were ever taken by the king
dom 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 par liament, 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 covepant 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 un changeable 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 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 unballowed union of church and state, and the misapplication of the Sinai covenant. 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