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BEING THE SUBSTANCE OF A SERMON IN THE PARISH CHURCH OF LANARK,
AUG. 1, 1869, AT A COLLECTION FOR THE MARTYR MONUMENT FUND.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author
and finisher of our faith."--HEB. xii. 1, 2. Had we been assembled two centuries ago, as we are this evening, for free Christian worship, without dictation from the civil power, we would have had sentries stationed on the highest eminences about us, arms would have been in the hands of not a few of the stalwart men before me, and all would have felt that occasion for their employment in self-defence might occur ere our meeting came to an end. But it is very different now. The idea of placing sentries to tell us of the approach of a hostile civil power has not for a moment entered any of our minds. We have no weapons of war. The swords of our forefathers, embrowned with the rust of a century, hang in peace upon the walls of our firesides. And we have no enemy to fear while here assembled, or as we return to our homes. Quietness and security reign around us. We worship the God of our fathers, none daring to make us afraid. We are now gathered together in a place with many memories of the past, to think of the Fathers to whom, under God, we owe the privileges we now enjoy, and more especially to think of the principles for which they contended, even to the death. But while thus met, to think
of the heritage our Fathers have bequeathed to us, we are not met to pray for them. Our prayers they need not; and did they need them, they would be unavailing. Nor yet are we met to worship them. As Protestants, we know that by worshipping them, we would offend both God and them, could they know what we were doing. And we are not met to canonize them. This is more than man can do. No deed of ours can raise a fellow-creature to the rank either of a mediator between God and man, or of an object of worship. For none of these unholy ends are we met. Our aim is to walk in the line Scripture points out, when it tells us that “the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance," and that “the memory of the just is blessed,” and when it gives a large place on its pages both to the lives of not a few of those who contended for the faith in former ages, and to prophecies regarding the contendings of God's people against Antichrist in the ages to come.
We are, therefore, on holy ground, when we seek to perpetuate the memory of the cloud of witnesses that, in our own land, contended for the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ. In directing your minds to the contendings of our Fathers, it is not affirmed of them that they were perfect, for this is more than can be said of any mere man. Thorough as the Reformation was in Scotland, yet the marks of Rome were not obliterated for more than a century after our Fathers left her communion. The laws that enjoined subscription to the National Covenant, and attendance upon ordinances, under civil pains and penalties, were a remnant of the old ing spirit of Rome. As in the case of Servetus, it is Romanism and not Protestantism that is to be blamed for this intolerance, And it must not be forgotten that these laws all but remained a dead letter upon the statute book. In scarcely a single instance were they ever put in force. The struggles through which our Fathers passed were not always gone about after the fashion of a court. The language they employed was not always of a courtly kind. Their modes of warfare were not always according to modern rules. But they achieved for us our present liberties. Through fire and water they brought us into a wealthy place. And when we think of the preciousness of the privileges they secured for us, it is ungrateful in us, to say the least of it, to try to spy out their shortcomings. As well may the saved from fire by the rough hands of an adventurous fireman, begin to criticise the marks the flames may have made on the countenance of his deliverer, as well may the shipwrecked rescued from a watery grave by a brave mariner, find fault with his weatherbeaten appearance, as for us to speak disparagingly of the Fathers who counted not their lives dear unto them to secure for us the heritage of freedom we now possess. And imperfect, in some respects, as the actings of our Fathers may have been, yet there can be no question of the noble character of the principles for which they contended. It is a brief statement of these principles that I would now seek to set before you.
I. Our Fathers are a cloud of witnesses to the truth of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.—They have sometimes been spoken of, as if covenanting and the Divine right and original of Presbyterian Church government were the themes, in preference to all others, which they delighted to discuss. It was not so.
. These themes, indeed, obtained a place in their preaching, because spoken of in the Divine Word; but the doctrines of grace, especially the way of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, were the subjects that were mainly held forth in their public ministrations. Few of the discourses they preached have come down to our times; and these discourses were reported in circumstances not at all fitted to ensure correctness. But, though far from what they must have been when they came from the lips of the preachers, these reported sermons are full of Christ. They tell us in a way not to be mistaken, that the grand theme of their ministry was salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and it could not be otherwise. The firmness with which they maintained the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ, and the persecution they braved in their maintenance, presuppose a believing reception of the salvation revealed in the Gospel. And when salvation has come into the heart it cannot be but that it be proclaimed; it cannot be but that it occupy the place in our ministrations it occupies in the oracles of truth. Hence our Fathers gave large prominence to the precious doctrines of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In common with good men in every age, they delighted to hold forth a crucified Saviour before the minds of men. And though dead they yet speak to us of Christ. In their sermons they hold forth Christ to us. And in their piety and attachment to the truth, they tell us of the blessed effects of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And this doctrine, to which they gave such prominence, we, too, must give a foremost place in our thoughts as well as in our preaching. With reason did the Reformer speak of justification by faith
" Articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae." Put out of sight salvation by grace, and what have we to look forward to but the endurance of the wrath of God, so justly due to us on account of sin ? Rome has, indeed, taught that fasting, that penance, that prayers, that many things done well, will ward this wrath from off
us, and many Protestants seem to think that if we do the best we can, by tears and penitence, we shall in some way or other secure the Divine favour. But such teaching and such thoughts are vanity and a lie. Salvation is not attained by anything that we can do. Human works are powerless to save the soul. How could they? Can it be supposed that a few tears would wash away the pollution of sin ? that a few prayers would remove the infinite guilt attachable to human transgression, because the transgression of the law of Him who has infinite claims upon our love and obedience? or that a few good works, the best of which are not perfect, and all of which we ever owe to God, could atone for the infinite evil sin has done ? Blessed be God, while we are powerless to save, there is salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,-a salvation worthy of its author,-a salvation that leaves nothing for us to do,—a salvation that delivers from the guilt and power of sin, and secures an abiding place in the many mansioned house of the Father,-a salvation that addresses itself to men of all conditions, and tells of a Saviour that saves men, not because they are rich or poor,
wise or simple, learned or unlearned, but because they are guilty, exposed to the Divine wrath, and destitute of any refuge in themselves to which they may flee and be safe. This salvation I offer to you: “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, at last join the cloud of witnesses that, before the throne, proclaim the wonders of salvation by grace.
You admire our Covenanting Fathers, and well you may; you delight to read the story of their constancy in the maintenance of truth; and, next to the stories in the sacred volume, there is none more worthy of your study ;- but with this admiration and delight see that you have faith in the Saviour in whom they trusted; see that you know by your own experience the preciousness of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing will more interest you in their history, or explain to you how it was that they contended to the death for the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ, than a believing appropriation of Christ as your own, for then you will be bound to them by the tie of brotherhood; then you will feel that to those that believe Christ is precious, and that nothing is dearer to you than the honour of Him whose name is above every name.
With faith in Christ you have a key to their history, for then you
will learn that they overcame by the blood of the Lamb.
II. They are a cloud of witnesses to the Headship of Christ over the Church.-One grand aim of the world has been to exercise a lordship over the Church. Her people have been deprived of the privilege of choosing their teachers. They have been forbidden to meet for the government of the Church. Their very modes of worship have been prescribed for them. It was the care of Calvin, and of his pupil John Knox, to vindicate for the Church the freedom which Christ has bestowed upon her. And it is one of the glories of the Church in Scotland, that it has taken a foremost place among the assertors and defenders of our Lord's Headship over the Church. The long struggles in the reigns of James VI. and Charles I., and latterly during the twenty-eight years of persecution, are mainly to be regarded as struggles for the sole Headship of Christ over the Church. The State invaded the Church's province, and would wrest from her the liberty with which Christ had made her free. Against this invasion our Covenanting Fathers lifted up their testimony. Said Melville to King James, “I must tell you there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland. There is King James, the head of this commonwealth ; and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member. And they whom Christ has called and commanded to watch over His Church, and govern His spiritual kingdom, have sufficient power of Him and authority so to do, both together and severally, which no Christian king should control or discharge, but fortify and assist.” And when, in the reigns of Charles II. and James II., to say “God save the king” was to recognise the right and power of the State to regulate the affairs of the Church, and direct its government, doctrine, and worship, as seemed good to it, our Fathers stoutly refused to use any such form of words. Margaret Wilson, whose story has in recent days been called in question only to establish its truth all the more firmly, suffered death rather than say “God save the king." Men who would have taken any oath to advance their own interests, be its language what it may, have blamed her for her stubbornness. It was, however, not stubbornness, but Christian principle, and a determination to give to no creature what is due only to Christ. Headship over the Church, Scripture assigns to Christ, and to Christ alone. To give to any creature the title of Head of the Church, is to give a title which Jesus claims as His own; and to suffer any ruler, whether ecclesiastical or civil, to prescribe the doctrines of the Church's faith, or the forms of her worship, is nothing less than to suffer him to assume what belongs only to Christ as Head of the Church. In His Word, Christ has told us both who are to be the office-bearers in His Church, and what the characteristics of the worship of His people. Beyond His Word we are not to go for instructions. Our only resort is to be to the law and to the testimony. Innovators upon the Church's worship and government have pleaded many reasons for their innovations. They have represented our Fathers as narrow-minded, as sticklers for what was trifling and insignificant, as bigots, disposed to fight, rather than suffer the slightest deviation from what was their use and wont. But these representations recoil upon the innovators themselves; for if their proposed innovations were trifling and insignificant, why make them ? why disturb the peace of the Church by pertinaciously striving for their introduction ? But our Fathers took higher ground. They showed that Christ, as Head of the Church, had not commanded them,—that in His Word nothing was said of them. It mattered not what their character was; if He had said nothing of them, it was enough for them steadfastly to refuse them. They would not burden themselves with that of which His Word was silent. What His Word had not commanded they could