History of the Scotch Church from the Accession of James II. to the Revolution Settlement and the Emigration to America (4)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER V.concluded

By the ratification of the Confession of Faith the great principle that Christ is the sole Head of the Church, and—its direct consequence—the Church’s spiritual independence of an earthly sovereign, were affirmed. This was one of the chief principles for which the Presbyterian Church had so long contended, and no settlement could be satisfactory to Presbyterians that did not secure the Church her freedom. It was now necessary, as the next most important legislative measure, to protect, as far as possible, the religious rights and privileges of the members of the churches. This was done by an act which made void the power of presenting ministers to vacant churches, and transferred to the people the right of selecting their pastors. By this it was intended to abolish patronage entirely, and to permit the voice of the people to be supreme in the choice of ministers. Thus the independence of the Church and State, in their respective spheres, was clearly defined and asserted, while the many causes for jealousy between them, and which had produced so much friction in past times, were now happily removed.

To give effect to these legislative enactments, a General Assembly was called, to meet in Edinburgh in October. Many and formidable were the difficulties it had to face and overcome. Within the Assembly were many jarring and discordant elements, scarcely possible to be reconciled; while without, and pressing for consideration, were the well-known wishes of the king for a union between the prelatic clergy and the restored Presbyterian ministers, under the same form of church government. Within the Church were three parties—the ejected ministers, numbering about sixty; the Cameronians, only three in number; and the indulged ministers, who had conformed more or less to prelacy, and whose numbers were more than twice that of both the other classes combined. It was evident, therefore, that no measure could be carried in the Assembly by the more strict and faithful ministers if the latter party should resolve to oppose it; and it was too much to expect that men who had submitted to the tyrannous acts of the preceding reigns would forfeit the favor of William, by opposing his desire to have the prelatic clergy included in the established Church.

We have referred to these things, not to excuse the weak policy of those who temporized at this important juncture, but to show the causes which were in operation, and which led to the compromise finally made. It was the duty of the Assembly to see that none of the inherent and essential principles of the Presbyterian Church should be overborne or sacrificed through any plea of expediency. By yielding to the policy of William, and adopting measures of comprehension that retained large numbers of the prelatic clergy within the national Church, a grievous error was committed, and its disastrous influence was long felt in Scotland. These Episcopalians were not overscrupulous. They did not hesitate to subscribe with alacrity the Confession of Faith in order to retain their positions. But their presence in the Church and their influence acted as a poison in the Presbyterian system. It was the noxious seed of “moderatism,” which proved in the succeeding century the upas tree of the Church of Scotland. Her jure divino Presbyterianism on one hand, and her Arminian, if not worldly, moderatism on the other, were most disastrous to her peace and purity. But while we regret that the revolution settlement was imperfect in this respect, we must never cease to be grateful to the persecuted Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which maintained the great principle of the spiritual independence of the Church of Christ and the right of Christian people to choose their own spiritual advisers, and in this way secured an amount of civil and religious freedom, in both the Church and the kingdom, far greater than had ever before been enjoyed.

In tracing this history from the introduction of the Reformation in Scotland to the revolution, where we now leave it, we have constantly been reminded of the intimate connection between civil and religious liberty, and that the latter not only influenced, but produced, the former. It is true that the resistance of the Scottish Church proceeded from a higher principle than simply to assert and maintain the civil liberties of the country. The contest, on its part, was waged in defence of the central principle of religious freedom—that the Lord Jesus Christ is the sole Head and King of the Church, and that, within its domain, the civil magistrate has no right to intrude with his authority. This great principle, when fully recognized by the civil ruler, preserves the consciences of men free from the control of external power; and where the conscience is free, the subject cannot be made a slave. This fact was most clearly perceived by the brother tyrants Charles and James, and they employed the oath of supremacy as their chief weapon to destroy this grand and fundamental principle of religious liberty. If it could be overthrown, it would be easy to build upon its ruins a despotic government. But our Presbyterian fathers, recognizing the fact that civil and religious liberty exist or perish together, were constrained to contend equally for both; and what the world to-day enjoys of both, it owes very largely to the unconquerable fortitude with which they encountered the perils and endured the sufferings which cruel, persecuting and despotic rulers inflicted.

With such a history and with such a providential training, it would indeed have been strange if the descendants of these heroic defenders of the faith should not manifest a strong attachment to the Presbyterian form of doctrine and government wherever they made their homes in America. Past experience had shown their fathers, even if they themselves had not learned it by personal experience, that prelacy and Romanism were the natural allies of the despot—that they had always been ready to bend their supple knees to secure royal favor, and to submit their necks to the yoke of bondage which the oath of supremacy imposed upon the subject—and consequently both were to be distrusted and opposed. With a zeal, therefore, born of knowledge, they not only made very strenuous efforts, but endured many privations, in order to successfully establish Presbyterianism in the New World, for they felt assured that in its extension, all could enjoy freedom of conscience and constitutional liberty. The principles which moulded their characters, and the spirit which actuated those who came from Scotland to this country, made them not only an important element in the Presbyterian Church, but a tower of strength to the young nation when it was compelled to resist the exercise of arbitrary power by England.

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