The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized in Dickson County, Tennessee, February 4, A.D. 1810. It was an outgrowth of the Great Revival of 1800--one of the most powerful revivals that this country has ever witnessed. The founders of the church were Finis Ewing, Samuel King, and Samuel McAdow. They were ministers in the Presbyterian Church, who rejected the doctrine of election and reprobation as taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The causes which led to the formation of the church are clearly and distinctly set forth in publications issued at the time, and in various tracts and books published subsequently. To these the reader is referred for full information on the subject.
The Cumberland Presbytery, which was constituted at the time of the organization of the church, and which originally consisted of only three ministers, was in three years sufficiently large to form three Presbyteries. These Presbyteries, in October, A.D. 1813, met at the Beech Church, in Sumner County, Tennessee, and constituted a Synod. This Synod at once formulated and published a "Brief Statement," setting forth the points wherein Cumberland Presbyterians dissented from the Westminster Confession of Faith. They are as follows:
1. That there are no eternal reprobates.
2. That Christ died not for a part only, but for all mankind.
3. That all infants dying in infancy are saved through Christ and the sanctification of the Spirit.
4. That the Spirit of God operates on the world, or as coextensively as Christ has made atonement, in such a manner as to leave all men inexcusable.
At this same meeting of Synod, too, a committee was appointed to prepare a Confession of Faith. The next year, A. D. 1814, at Sugg's Creek Church, Wilson County, Tennessee, the report of the committee was presented to Synod, and the revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith which they presented was unanimously adopted as the Confession of Faith of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Subsequently the formation of the General Assembly took place. This judicature, at its first meeting, A.D. 1829, at Princeton, Kentucky, made such changes in the Form of Government as were demanded by the formation of this new court.
In compiling the Confession of Faith, the fathers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church had one leading thought before them, and that was to so modify the Westminster Confession as to eliminate therefrom the doctrine of universal fore-ordination and its legitimate sequences, unconditional election and reprobation, limited atonement, and divine influence correspondingly circumscribed. All the boldly-defined statements of the doctrine objected to were expunged, and corrected statements were made. But it was impossible to eliminate all the features of hyper-Calvinism from the Westminster Confession of Faith by simply expunging words, phrases, sentences, or even sections, and then attempting to fill the vacancies thus made by corrected statements or other declarations, for the objectionable doctrine, with its logical sequences, pervaded the whole system of theology formulated in that book.
The compilers knew this, and they also knew that a book thus made must necessarily have some defects. Still they felt assured that they had prepared one which could not be fairly and logically interpreted without contradicting the most objectionable features of hyper-Calvinism; and they felt, too, that they had formulated a system of doctrines which any candid inquirer after truth might understand. They did not, however, claim that the time would never come when there might be a demand for a restatement of these doctrines, which would set forth more clearly and logically the system of theology believed and taught by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. That time did come, and so general was the desire throughout the church to have the Confession of Faith revised that at the General Assembly which convened in the city of Austin, Texas, A. D. 1881, a paper was introduced looking to that end, and it was adopted by a unanimous vote.
In view of the great importance of the work, two committees were appointed, and it was made the duty of the first committee to revise the Confession of Faith and Government, and of the second to review and revise the work of the first. The committees met at Lebanon, Tennessee, the seat of Cumberland University, where every facility could be enjoyed for such labors, having free access to a fine theological library. After bestowing great labor upon their work, giving every item earnest and prayerful attention, the committees completed the tasks assigned them, and the results of their labors were published in pamphlet form and in weekly papers of the church for information, "that criticism might be made by those desiring to do so." The committees, after receiving these criticisms, again met and remained in session for a number of days, giving careful and prayerful consideration to all the suggestions made. They then completed their work without a single dissent, and submitted the result to the General Assembly which convened in the city of Huntsville, Alabama, A.D. 1882. That General Assembly, in "Committee of the Whole," considered with great patience and care every item in the entire book, taking a vote on each one separately, and at the close of each chapter of subject taking a vote upon it as a whole. In this way the entire book, from beginning to end, was carefully and prayerfully scrutinized, and necessary changes were made--the most of them verbal; and there was not in the final vote a single negative!
Having completed its work, the General Assembly transmitted the book to the Presbyteries for their approval or disapproval. The reports from the Presbyteries to the next General Assembly, which convened in the city of Nashville, Tennessee, A.D. 1883, showed that this work had been almost unanimously adopted. The General Assembly, having reviewed these returns from the Presbyteries, formally declared said book to be the Confession of Faith and Government of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
The book is now sent forth with the strongest convictions that it is in accord with the word of God. Let it be tested, not by tradition, but by the Holy Scriptures, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
The General Assembly, at Bentonville, Arkansas, A.D. 1885, ordered the insertion of the foregoing Preface without referring the same to the Presbyteries.