« PreviousContinue »
not receive. To receive it would be to call in question the wisdom of the Church's Head. It would, in fact, be to proceed upon the principle, that He had neglected to enjoin what man now declared to be necessary. So far, therefore, from being narrow-minded in standing out against the innovations that Prelatists wished to introduce, our Fathers stood upon Scriptural ground. It was regard to
, the honour of Christ, as sole Head of His Church, as the alone lawgiver in Zion, that animated them in all their contendings.
While they protested against the view of the Romanist, that the State is subordinate to the Church, and is bound to carry into effect the Church's sentences, they were careful to avoid the opposite extreme of the Erastian, that the Church is the creature of the State, and owes its existence, and the enjoyment of its privileges, to the will of the civil magistrate. They never dreamed that the Church was like a railway company, and owed all its liberty of action to an Act of Parliament. They held that “the Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His Church, hath therein appointed a government in the hand of church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.” The recognition and practical carrying out of this truth they regarded as essential to the Church's prosperity. And the history of the Churches of the Reformation since their time amply justifies them in the importance they attached to the Headship of Christ over the Church. The Erastianism of the Revolution Settlement produced fruit in the Moderatism that has been such a curse to Scotland.
The supremacy of the civil power in England has rendered the Church powerless in the presence of her enemies, and driven from her pale the best of her children: and in France and Germany it has fostered heresy in her ranks, and made discipline all but unknown. Indeed, the teaching of history is, that, lower a Church's regard for Christ as her alone Head, and you take one of the surest means to weaken her influence for good upon the world, and in too many instances make her a haunt for those who desire the priest's office merely that they may eat a piece of bread.
III. We may regard our Fathers as a cloud of witnesses to the truth of our Lord's Headship over the Nations. This great Scriptural truth did not obtain the place in their contendings that the Headship over the Church did; but this was simply because it was not so called in question. They did not so much assert, as assume it. Recognising its truth, they applied, according to the measure of their knowledge, the standard of the Divine Word to the civil institutions of their country as well as to the Church. Believing that men, not merely as individuals, not merely as members of a family, not merely as members of the Church, but as members of the State, as citizens or as magistrates, were under law to Christ, they sought to regulate their civil affairs by the teachings of Scripture. Upon this principle they acted in the National Covenant, and the laws they made for the maintenance and defence of the true religion. They regarded Popery as the enemy of truth, as fraught with evil to man, whether we contemplate him in the life that now is, or in that which is to come, and legislated against it accordingly.
The Fathers of the Second Reformation have sometimes been spoken of as if their aim was a Theocracy, as if they held that magistracy was founded on grace;—but they who speak thus, succeed only in showing their ignorance. Their aim was simply to regulate the affairs of the State, as well as of the Church, by the law of Him who is Governor among the nations and Prince of the kings of the earth. It was not expediency, but the Divine Word, that they took as their rule. Believing the wisdom of God to be wiser than the wisdom of men, they sought to be guided by its teaching. With the Bible before them, they held, that the rulers a people should choose to rule over them should be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness;" yet they rejected the doctrine their enemies have so often sought to ascribe to them, that where there is no grace in the magistrate there is no call to recognise his authority. "Infidelity," says the Westminster Confession, “or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrate's just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him."
I have already said that the doctrine of our Lord's Headship over the Nations was not so much asserted by the Fathers of the Second Reformation as acted upon. As the twenty-eight years persecution rolled on, the persecuted remnant were led more particularly to investigate the teachings of Scripture regarding the duty of rulers to the religion of Jesus in a country favoured with the light of revelation. And, since the Revolution of 1688, it has been the aim of those who have sought to maintain the cause of a Covenanted Reformation, to bring out in its full prominence the doctrine of our Lord's dominion over the nations. The teaching of Scripture on this matter is very plain. To the mediation of Christ we owe everything. Life, and its varied blessings, all come to men through the work of Christ. We receive them, not from Christ contemplated as the God of providence, but as Mediator; for had He not offered Himself as the Mediator, the human race had either not lived, or been brought into existence only to be consigned to destruction. As receiving all from Christ, men are bound, the moment they come to know His law, to submit to His authority, and to regulate all their affairs by the requirements of His Word. Hence we have the injunction, "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, yo judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.”
It has sometimes been maintained that these and similar injunctions are addressed to rulers merely as individuals, and not as exercising authority over others. But there is nothing in the injunctions themselves to warrant this limitation. As an individual, a ruler in no way differs from other men. He is no longer a ruler, but simply a private person. It must, therefore, be in the full sense of the words that kings and judges are here addressed. It may be difficult to lay down rules by which those in authority are to act in particular cases. Much must be left to enlightened wisdom. The great point is, an honest recognition of the supremacy of the law of Christ as
the rule of conduct in all the relations of life. Where this recognition exists, there will be no great difficulty, in the altering circumstances of human society, in shaping legislation to its requirements.
Perhaps one of the chief recommendations of the present union movement among evangelical Presbyterians in England and Scotland is, the prominent place given in the statement of “ Principles which the negotiating Churches hold in common” to this doctrine of our Lord's moral doininion over all things to His Church. In no document bitherto issued by any of the negotiating Churchesnot even in the Westminster Confession of Faith itself,—has it been so emphatically stated, that to the “Lord Jesus Christ is given all power in heaven and on earth; and that all men in their several places and relations, and therefore civil magistrates in theirs, are under obligation to submit themselves to Christ, and to regulate their conduct by His Word.” Speaking for myself, as a Reformed Presbyterian, it is delightful to think that this doctrine of our Lord's supremacy is claimed by all the Churches, for it is thus far more likely to arrest the attention of the universal Church, as well as of the world that the Church would fain bring under the sway of the law of Messiah the Prince. And it is a doctrine well worthy of being held up before the Church and the world. To bring the legislation and the administration of our country into conformity with the law of Christ, would be to remove from it injustice in every form-would be to give it the exercise of that righteousness that exalteth a nation, and thus raise it to heights higher than any in its past history it has attained. Let the Bible everywhere be regarded as the rule of man in all the relations of life, and wrongdoing would pass away, the chains of the slave would be broken, tyranny and despotism would disappear, wars would cease, righteousness would be the cheap defence of nations, and the world's golden age, when men will love each other as they love themselves, would be ushered in.
IV. Our Fathers may be regarded as a cloud of witnesses to the desirableness of a union of the different sections of the Church of Christ.
-The longing for union, upon a Scriptural basis, on the part of the different branches of the Church of Christ, has sometimes been regarded as peculiar to the age in which we live. But it was a characteristic of the Fathers of the seventeenth century as of the present times.
The Solemn League and Covenant was an engagement entered into by moderate Episcopalians, Independents, and Presbyterians, and had for one of its objects, the bringing "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.” The Westminster Confession, one of the results of this desire for union, teaches, that “the visible Church consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion;" and, that "saints, by profession, are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual ser. vices as tend to their mutual edification Which communion,
as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.” There is no Scotch writer, of the period of the Westminster Confession, whose works have been more often reprinted than James Durham, minister of Glasgow, 1647-1658. “Durham on the Revelation," "Durham on
» Isaiah," have long been favourite books in Scotland, and they well merit yet to be read. The student of his pages will soon come to the conclusion that Durham is a representative of his age, and that his thoughts must have been largely those of the best men of his time. He, therefore, may be accepted as a fitting interpreter of the spirit of the Westminster Confession. Whoever has read his chapters on Scandalous Divisions,” in his “Treatise on Scandal,” will bear me out in saying, that he advocates the union of the divided Churches with a fervour and with a catholicity that has not been surpassed in the nineteenth century. The opinions of James Renwick, in the Informatory Vindication—the only document of authority issued by the Societies during the years of persecution,-are quite keeping with the teachings of the Fathers of the Solemn League and the Westminster Confession. Those who had in some measure complied with the demands of the Government are yet spoken of
" brethren whom they love in the Lord, and acknowledged to be ministers of His Church, and with whom they would not refuse accidental or occasional communion as brethren and Christians."
It is, therefore, altogether to misrepresent our Reformers and Confessors, to speak of them as indifferent to the union of the various branches of the Church of Christ. It was an object that lay near to their hearts. “ To heal all our rents and divisions" is one of the petitions they enjoin in the "Directory for Public Worship.” They kept up a correspondence with the Reformed Churches abroad. The National Covenant, the Westminster Confession, and other leading documents, were all translated into Latin, that the continental Churches might be apprised of their aims and proceedings, and Christian fellowship with each other maintained. In truth, Henderson and Gillespie, and Durham and Renwick, would not have owned as their children the men who look with cold indifference, if not positive dislike, upon all effort for gathering into one the divided Church of Christ. "Good men they might in charity have owned them to be, but wayward and strangely false to the Solemn League and Covenant, whose aims they profess to prosecute.
It is one of the mysteries of our Lord's rule over the Church, that while Antichrist has been nominally one, His true followers have been broken up into parties. This disunion has in some measure been overruled for good. Rival denominations have striven to excel each other in good works, although not always generously. One denomination has sometimes been a refuge from the tyranny of the other. Still it is not comely, it is not in accordance with the teachings of Scripture, that the Church should be divided. Union in the Church, as in the world, is strength. And it is one of the happy signs of the times that are passing over us, that Christian men should now be striving to attain that which was eagerly sought
for by the cloud of witnesses in a former age. It would have gladdened their hearts to learn that their children were thinking of forgetting their long feuds, of living together under one name, and of directing their energies no more on each others destruction, but on a common foe. And it would have more than gladdened their hearts—it would have filled them with joy—to know that the proposed basis of union was their old Westminster Standards, with, superadded, an emphatic assertion of the duty of all men in every relation of life, in Church and in State, to own Christ as their Lord, and to submit to His law.
We cannot, therefore, be wrong to labour for the union of the Churches, upon a basis that seeks so to tell of the glory of Him on whose head are many crowns; and we cannot be wrong to accompany our labours with the prayer our Fathers taught us—"Heal all our rents and divisions.” The world has long taught us the advantages of union. Our coin, in the rose, the thistle, and the shamrock enstamped thereon, plants very different in nature, but which, intertwined with each other, have, under God, made our country the home of the free, the nursery of invention and discovery, the hive of industry, the colonizer of the ends of the earth, the mistress of the ocean, and the very chief among the nations, teaches us surely that God's people would do well to be one. Let us learn the lesson that the children of this world, in their generation wiser than the children of light, thus teach us. Let us walk in the steps of the cloud of witnesses for the royal prerogatives of Christ Jesus, and aim at a “ Covenanted uniformity in religion betwixt the Churches of Christ” in these Covenanted lands. Above all, let us imitate Him whose prayer for His divided Church was, that they all might be one.
I have thus endeavoured to unfold to you some of the great principles for which Fathers in a bygone age contended. I commend them to your earnest study, that you may adopt them and maintain them as your own. They are Bible principles. They are honouring to Christ. They are principles good not only for Scotchmen or Englishmen, but for mankind. They are principles that must be held by the people of God in every land; and they are principles whose universal reception will bring in millennial times. As they believed on Jesus,-as they regarded Him as the alone Head of the Church,
-as they respected His law as the law of man in all the relations of life, -as they strove to bring the disunited people of God into one,-so let us. Instead of coming short of their attainments, let us strive to surpass them, so that if the memory of our Fathers be forgotten, it shall only be by the greater excellence of their children in all for which they themselves were excellent.
John HENDERSON THOMSON, Eaglesham.