Resolutions from the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery

Mutual forbearance

On June 28, 1804, Barton W. Stone (1772-1844) and five other men signed the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. This document was one of the most significant of the Restoration Movement. It expressed a desire to dissolve their recently-formed body (the Springfield Presbytery) as they recognized that all such denominational bodies and creeds were inherently divisive. The Last Will and Testament also encouraged the members of other such bodies to do the same and unite together simply upon the teachings of the Bible.

“We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one Body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.”

“We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.”

“Finally, we will that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.”

The excerpts above contain some of the highlights of this document. These ideas helped influence the direction of the Restoration Movement. They are also Scriptural. There is “one body” (Ephesians 4:4), the Lord’s church (Ephesians 1:22-23; cf. Matthew 16:18); therefore, all religious bodies that are not Christ’s are contrary to His purpose. The Bible is the only sure guide to heaven as it contains the words of eternal life (John 6:68) and is the standard by which we will be judged (John 12:48). Jesus said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13). Therefore, we must leave or dissolve any man-made body prior to the time when we will have to give an account to the Lord (cf. Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

All of these are important lessons. Yet when we study this document in its historical setting, we often tend to consider its impact on a broad scale – how it affected churches and an entire movement as a whole. However, there are also lessons for us to take and apply as individuals.

At the beginning of a new year, we often make resolutions in order to make corrections from the previous year and improvements for the next. As we resolve to improve ourselves, we can consider the resolutions contained in the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery and how we can apply them to our lives.

Consider the following resolutions that each one of us can make:

  1. Be active in the Lord’s service – “We will, that our name of distinction with its Reverend title, be forgotten, that there be but one Lord over God’s heritage, and his name One.” One of the problems that has persisted throughout religious history, ever since the Lord established His church in the first century, is the elevation of certain men into a “clergy” role distinct from the “laity.” Even without a formal distinction, it is possible for brethren to adopt this mentality by thinking that the work of the church is only for certain individuals (preachers, elders, etc.). Yet it is for all of us. Paul described the ideal function of the church as being when “the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Each one of us needs to be actively involved in the Lord’s work for the church to function as the Lord intended.
  2. Elevate God’s word over our opinions – “We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church…forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” The problem that the signers of this document sought to correct was that of making of laws and religious rules and then considering them as equal with the Scriptures. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for this: “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:9). There is nothing wrong with having personal opinions on any number of topics (provided that these opinions are not contrary to the expressed will of God); however, when we promote and defend them with the same (or more) zeal as we do the Scriptures, we turn people off from following the Lord. We do not want to stand in the way of someone hearing and accepting the gospel because we insist that they accept our opinions, too.
  3. Be patient with others – “We will, that preachers and people, cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less…” There is a time for disputing (Acts 15:1-2; Titus 1:9; Jude 3); however, our attitude should be characterized by patience toward others. Paul explained to the brethren in Ephesus how they were to walk: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). Especially as we face difficult times, we need encouragement from our brethren and they need the same from us. This is best achieved when we are “of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in Spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).
  4. Be careful not to make unfair judgments of others – “We will, moreover, that our past conduct be examined into by all who may have correct information; but let foreigners beware of speaking evil of things which they know not.” Those who signed the Last Will and Testament were open to criticism and correction. However, they warned that those who would pass judgment without understanding the situation, decisions, and actions of the parties involved were guilty of “speaking evil of things which they know not.” Often we are tempted to pass judgment against others based upon partial or inaccurate information. In the age of social media, it is easy then to pass on that unfair judgment to others. By doing this, we can be guilty of causing division and separating “intimate friends” (Proverbs 16:28; 17:9). We need to be sure we do not condemn others based upon rumors, gossip, and falsehoods. Sometimes condemnation is warranted (cf. Galatians 2:11-13), but it must be based upon accurate information and the truth of God’s word.

There are certainly other lessons we could take from this document, but these are just a few for us to consider. The spirit of these men was commendable in that they desired simply to follow the teachings of the Bible and maintain unity with those who would do the same. Let us strive to do this today by being active in the Lord’s service, putting His word above our opinions, and being patient and fair with others.

When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on the Gospel, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Road Trip.