Page images
[ocr errors]


sanction either of the Crown or of the Parliament was given to the Reformation which God had accomplished on her behalf. For these principles, the ministers and members of this Church, as well as the nobles, gentlemen, and burgesses of the land, from the first united in contending. and on more than one occasion, in the course of these early * National struggles,—as in 1580 when the National Covenant was

signed, * —our reforming ancestors bound themselves one &c., p. 337

to another, as in the sight of God, to maintain and defend them against all adversaries.

Farther : while this Church has ever held that she possesses an independent and exclusive jurisdiction or power in all ecclesiastical matters, “ which flows directly from God, and the Mediator, Jesus Christ, and is spiritual, not having a temporal head on earth, but only Christ, the only King and Governor of His Church;" she has, at the same time, always strenuously advocated the doctrine taught in Holy Scripture, that nations and their rulers are bound to own the truth of God, and to advance the kingdom of His Son. And accordingly, with unfeigned thankfulness, did she acknowledge the good hand of the Lord, when, after prolonged contests with the enemies of the Reformation,-and, in particular, with certain parties who sought not only to uphold a form of Prelatic government in the Church, but to establish the supremacy of the Crown in all causes, spiritual and ecclesiastical, as well as civil and temporal,-a national recognition and solemn sanction of her constitution, as it had been settled by her own authority, according to the Word of God, was at last obtained ;-first, in the Act of Parliament 1567, and again, more completely, in the Act of Parliament 1592, -then and since regarded by her as the great constitutional charter of her Presbyterian government and freedom.

Thus the first Reformation was accomplished.

But before a generation had elapsed, a sad change for the worse took place. Through defection in the Church, and tyrannical invasion of her independence by the civil power, the Presbyterian polity and government were overturned, and manifold abuses and corruptions in discipline and worship, were insidiously introduced. A second Reformation accordingly became necessary.

And here, again, it pleased Almighty God, as in that former Reformation of the Čhurch from Popery by presbyters, to give to our fathers light and grace; so that, taking His Word as their only rule, and owning His Son as their only King in Zion, they were enabled not only to restore the constitution of the Church as it had stood when her first Reformation seemed to be completed, but to aim, also, at carrying out more fully the great essential principles of that constitution, and securing more effectually than before the prevalence of these principles over all the land, as well as their permanency through all coming ages.

In seeking this noble end, our fathers were again led, for their mutual security, as well as for the commending of so righteous a cause to Him by whom it was committed to them, to have recourse to the solemnity of a holy confederation.

The National Covenant was renewed at the beginning of the contendings for this second Reformation, with an extension of its weighty protests and censures, to meet whatever new fruit the old stock of

* Solemn

p. 345.

civil power.

Prelatic and Erastian usurpation had been bearing. And the Solemn League and Covenant was afterwards entered into, in concert with England and Ireland, “ for the reformation and defence of religion, the honour and happiness of the king, and the peace and safety of the three kingdoms;" and, in particular, for “endeavouring to bring the Churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, confession of faith, form of Church government, directory for worship, and catechising:

League, &c., Thus religiously bound and pledged to God and to one another, our fathers were enabled to effect the reformation of this Church from Prelacy, even as their fathers in like manner effected its reformation from Popery. In the ever-memorable Assembly held at Glasgow in 1638, as well as in subsequent Assemblies, it was declared that “all Episcopacy different from that of a pastor over a particular flock was abjured in this Kirk ;” and provision was made, accordingly, for its complete removal, and for the settlement of Church government and order upon the former Presbyterian footing.

In all this work of pulling down and building up, the independent spiritual jurisdiction of the Church, flowing immediately from Christ her only Head, was not only earnestly asserted, but practically exercised. For the whole work was begun and carried on without warrant of the

And it was only after much contending, and with not a little hesitation, that the civil power began to interpose its authority in the years 1639 and 1641, to support and sanction what the Church had, by the exercise of her own inherent jurisdiction, already done.

Thereafter, for the better prosecution of the work on hand, and in the face of the manifest purpose of the king and his adherents to crush it altogether, this Church, by commissioners duly named by the General Assembly, took part in the Assembly of Divines which met at Westminster in 1643. And having in view the uniformity contemplated in the Solemn League and Covenant, she consented to adopt the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, Directory for Public Worship and Form of Church Government agreed upon by the said Assembly of Divines.

These several formularies, as ratified, with certain explanations, by divers Acts of Assembly in the years 1645, 1646, and particularly in 1647, this Church continues till this day to acknowledge as her subordinate standards of doctrine, worship, and government;—with this difference, however, as regards the authority ascribed to them, that while the Confession of Faith * contains the creed to which, as * Confession, to a confess on of his own faith, every ofice-bearer in the with relative, Church must testify in solemn form his personal adherence; sembly, p. 15. -and while the Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, 4 are + Catechisms, sanctioned as directories for catechising ;-the Directory with relative for Public Worship, the Form of Church Government, and sembly,pp.125, the Directory for Family Worship, are of the nature of 23. regulations, rather than of tests,—to be enforced by the Directories, Church like her other laws, but not to be imposed by sub- Acts of Asscription upon her ministers and elders. These documents, sembly, p. 361. then, together with a practical application of the doctrine Sum of Savof the Confession, in the Sum of Saving Knowledge, f. ledge, p. 317..

a valuable treatise, which, though without any express Act of Assembly, has for ages had its place among them,-have, ever since the era of the second Reformation, constituted the authorized and authoritative symbolic books of the Church of Scotland.

Nor is it to be overlooked here, in connection with these proceedings, but, on the contrary, it is to be owned as a signal instance of the Divine favour, that when the civil dissensions and wars—all of which this Church unfeignedly deprecated and deplored—issued in a brief interval of quiet, and when the Parliament of Scotland was at last moved to own the Reformation work of God in the land, this Church obtained a ratification of her spiritual liberties much more full and ample than had ever previously been granted. This appeared, as in other things, so especially in the matter of presentation to benefices, with appointment to the oversight of souls. In that matter, this Reformed Church had from the beginning maintained a testimony and contest against the right of patronage, as inconsistent with “ the order which God's Word craves.

And now, both the Parliament and the Church being free to act according to the will of God, and professing to be guided by His Word, it was enacted by the Parliament in 1649, that ministers should be settled “upon the suit and calling, or with the consent of the congregation;" and the Assembly, in the same year, laid down wholesome rules and regulations for securing the orderly calling of pastors by the congregations of the Church, with due regard at once to the spiritual privileges of the people, and the spiritual jurisdiction of those appointed to bear office among them in the Lord.

Thus, by God's grace, in this second Reformation, wrought out by our fathers amid many perils and persecutions, this Church was honoured of God to vindicate and carry out the great fundamental principles of her constitution—the government of the Church by presbyters alone; her inherent spiritual jurisdiction, derived from her great and only Head; and the right of congregations to call their own pastors.

And thus the second Reformation seemed to be happily accomplished and secured; and the Church and nation of Scotland abjured Prelacy, as they had formerly abjured Popery.

That the men whom God raised up for this great work proved themselves to be fallible in several of their proceedings, does not detract from our conviction that the work itself was the work of God. The principles of religious liberty not being so thoroughly understood in that age as they are now, it is not surprising, however much it is to be lamented, that our fathers should have given some occasion to the charge of intolerance in the laws enacted, though seldom enforced, with

a view to inflict civil penalties for offences partly, if not entirely, religious. It is to be confessed, also, that in prosecuting their great work in circumstances of unparalleled difficulty, instances were not wanting of an undue commingling of religion with the passing politics of the day, and an undue reliance on an arm of flesh for the furtherance of the cause of God. These defects some of the worthiest and ablest of the actors in that great crisis lived to deplore; and to such causes may be traced, in a great measure, the bitter animosities that too speedily ensued between the parties of the Resolutioners and the Protesters—in consequence of which the Church of Scotland was found divided against herself at the very time when union was most essential, and at the restoration of Charles II. was thrown helpless and fettered into the furnace of a bitter and unrelenting persecution.

But notwithstanding these evidences of the hand of man in the transactions connected with the second Reformation, we would grievously err and sin were we not to recognize, in the substance of what was then

one, the hand and Spirit of God; and were we not to discern in it such an adaptation to the exigencies of the times, and such an amount of conformity to the Divine mind and will, as must ever be held to give to the attainments then made by this Church and nation a peculiar force of obligation, and to aggravate not a little the guilt of subsequent shortcomings and defections.

Passing over the dark period of the closing years of the Stuart dynasty, and descending along the line of history to the era of the glorious Revolution, we find the Church, which had been twice before brought out of great troubles in her contendings against Popery and Prelacy, once again rescued from the oppression of arbitrary power, and lifting her head as the free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The bloody acts of the preceding time were repealed; on the petition of the ministers and professors of the Church of Scotland, the civil sanction was given to the Confession of Faith; Presbyterial Church government was re-established in the hands of those who had been ejected by Prelacy in 1661; and to the wonder of many, and the confusion of her enemies, this Church rose from her ashes, and was recognized as the same Church which, whether in freedom or in bondagewhether under the shade of royal favour, or hunted as a partridge on the mountains—could trace its unbroken identity downwards from the very beginning of the Reformation.

That the "Revolution Settlement," by which the liberties of the Church were secured, under the reign of William and Mary, was in all respects satisfactory, has never been maintained by this Church. On the contrary, various circumstances may be pointed out as hindering the Church from realizing fully the attainments that had been reached during the second Reformation. Not only were the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland unprepared for prosecuting the work of “reformation and uniformity in religion,” to which they had pledged themselves; but even in Scotland itself the reluctant concessions of statesmen were limited to what a people, worn out by long and heavy tribulation, were barely willing to accept as a relief, and did not thoroughly undo the mischief of an age of misrule.

Thus, for instance, in the civil sanction then given to Presbytery, the Parliament of 1690, overlooking altogether the higher attainments of the second Reformation, went back at once to the Act 1592, and based its legislation upon that Act alone, as being the original charter of the Presbyterian Establishment. Accordingly, it left unrepealed the infamous “ Act Recissory” of King Charles, by which all that the Church had done, and all that the State had done for her, in the interval between 1638 and the Restoration, had been stigmatized as treasonable and rebellious. Thus the Revolution Settlement failed in ade

quately acknowledging the Lord's work done formerly in the land; and it was, besides, in several matters of practical legislation, very generally considered by our fathers at the time to be defective and unsatisfactory. Some, and these not the least worthy, even went so far as to refuse all submission to it. But for the most part, our fathers, smarting from the fresh wounds of anti-Christian oppression, weary of strife, and anxious for rest and peace, either thankfully accepted, or at least acquiesced in it; in the hope of being able practically to effect under it the great ends which the Church had all along, in all her former contendings, regarded as indispensable.

For it would be in a high degree ungrateful to overlook the signal and seasonable benefits which the Revolution Settlement really did confer upon the Church, as well as upon the nation. Not only did it put an end to the cruel persecution by which the best blood of Scotland had been shed in the field, on the hill-side, and on the scaffold; not only did it reinstate in their several parishes the pastors who had been unrighteously cast out in the reign of the second Charles, and set up again the platform of the Presbyterian government; but by reviving and re-enacting the Statute of 1592, the original charter and foundation of Presbytery, it recognized as an inalienable part of the constitution of this country the establishment of the Presbyterian Church. It secured also effectually, as was then universally believed, the exclusive spiritual jurisdiction of the Church, and her independence in spiritual matters of all civil control. And by the arrangements which it sanctioned for the filling up of vacant charges, it abolished

those rights of patronage which had been reserved in 1592,* June, 1690, and made provision for enforcing the fundamental principle

of this Church, that “no pastor shall be intruded into a congregation contrary to the will of the people.” On all these grounds, the Church was well entitled to rejoice in the deliverance wrought out for her in 1688 and 1690; to thank God for it, and take courage; and to cherish the warm and sanguine expectation of reaping now the fruit of her struggles and her trials, in a career of undisturbed, united, and successful exertion for the glory of her great Head, the good of the land, and the saving of many souls.

How far that expectation might have been fulfilled, if faith had been kept with the Church and people of Scotland by the British Parliament, according to the terms of the Revolution Settlement, subsequently ratified by the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England, -and if the Church had received grace to continue faithful to her principles,—is a question which can now be little more than matter of speculation and conjecture. For the breach made upon her constitution by the restoration of patronage in 1711,–

,-a measure passed against her own earnest remonstrance and protest,—concurring with that unhappy declension from sound doctrine and spiritual life which began to visit this as well as other Churches of the Reformation during the early period of the last century,—not to speak of the leaven of unsound principle transmitted from the too easy admission at the Revolution of the Prelatic curates into the Presbyterian Church, without any evidence of their sincere attachment to its doctrines ;-these things led to abuses in the administration of the Church's discipline and government,

* Act 7th

p. 14.

« PreviousContinue »