« PreviousContinue »
that very Viceroy, whose servant had restrained him, was compelled to afford him liberty and protection.
"Such is the frailty of humanity, that even men whose very profession it is to know and teach the truth, have been the subjects of blind and bigoted prejudice; and thus ecclesiasties have invaded the authority of civil government, in a manner most unwarrantable, and injurious to the rights and liberties of men. Oftentimes the pampered priestly dignitary has been the despot, and at his mandate the sovereign has become as a menial before him, and given up government and liberty into his hands. Thus the Romish Church triumphed over the Roman state,-degraded the kings of France,-deprived Henry, Emperor of Germany, of his crown, humbled Frederick Barbarossa,-compelled a king of Arragon to sue for pardon on his knees,-held the kings of Spain as vassals,—and domineered over John and Henry, kings of England, and even, though with difficulty, extended their tyranny to the kings of Scotland.
"But from all this our creed doth set the sovereign free; he is not bound to take his notions of right and wrong from clerical enactments, but can appeal to a higher standard; and, again, the subject is not bound to submit to his enactments, when they are beside the Word of God.' It affords protection to the sovereign and to the subject, and is most wisely calculated to set civil government in its proper place, avoiding the extremes of those who would give it an entire supremacy and control in religion, and of those who, upon the pretence of liberty of conscience, would despise all authority, and overturn all rule, of which wanton class there were many in the days of the Westminster divines.
"The permission to call Synods was intended only for extraordinary emergencies. In the act of 1647, prefixed to the Confession, it is limited to apply to kirks not settled or constituted, in point of government;' and the same is intimated in the second book of discipline, x. 7; there it is allowed to times when the kirk is corrupted, and all things out of order.'
"All communities, whether civil or religious, are exposed to scenes of sudden change; and at such a time, unless that power which is suddenly assumed be well regulated or restrained, ruinous consequences may ensue. Who would blame that peasant, who, when he saw the armies of his country routed, took the implement of his husbandry, and beat back the fugitives? Would it have been enough to have said to him,-thou art only a peasant; keep by thy husbandry; suppress all patriotic fire? Or who would blame the magnanimous Walker, who, when the city of his habitation was besieged, and the religion, and lives, and liberties of his fellow-men at stake, and not a moment to be lost, laid aside the book, and grasped the sword; descended from the rostrum, and took his station in the camp?
"Similar occasions of danger and emergency may occur in the Church, when those who love her, and are fired with zeal in her service, will take power into their hands, whether you will or not. It was wise, therefore, in our forefathers, to make provision for such an emergency, that so those not officially connected with the Church, might neither be deterred from lending their aid in her extremity, nor, having once exercised authority, and tasted its sweets, be tempted still to maintain it. History assures us that such occasions have occurred. It was by the help of the civil magistrate the Reformation of the Church of England was achieved. The churchmen themselves were hostile to such a work, and but for the magistrate persevering against their will, it might have been long re
tarded. The Church of Scotland, in her practice, shewed, that though she granted civil rulers their reasonable place, she did not render the homage of a slave, but whether with their help or with their hindrance, she would promote the work of God. They were hostile to her reformation, and attempted to retard it; but though she revered and honoured their authority, yet she had respect to a higher, and resolutely followed His commands.
"Would the framers of the Confession, knowing the proneness of civil power to despotism, having experience of it at the very time the Assembly was sitting,-for they were engaged in a dispute on the extent of this claim, with the very Parliament under which they sat, they refused it undue power, and, on the account of that refusal, the appointment of Synods and Presbyteries in England was withheld; having seen it in the light of the martyr's stake,—would they be disposed, at this very period, to yield to it more than its due share of authority?
"In all her struggles, the Church of Scotland maintained these principles in her standard; and her doings and contendings shew that she yielded no undue supremacy to civil power. In 1581, in Morton's and Melville's time, about the commencement of her struggles in the Reformation from Prelacy, the Assembly set their face against an unseemly paction between the Court and Montgomery, wherein the latter agreed to receive from the Court the Archbishopric of Glasgow, with a view to revive Prelacy. While the Assembly were deliberating on this Simoniacal transaction, the business was interrupted, first by an intimation from the king not to go on in the matter, and next by a messenger at arms forcing his way into their presence, and charging the Moderator and members to desist procedure. Notwithstanding so outrageous an insult, the clergy addressed a cool remonstrance to the king, and, in defiance of the civil power, calmly proceeded to prove the libel, and inflict the censure of deposition and excommunication. In another instance, shortly after this, when the Assembly sent a remonstrance to the Court, on their harsh and revengeful conduct, the Court, to intimidate them, threatened them with assassination. 'Come what God pleases to send,' was the reply; 'the commission shall be executed.' When the bold remonstrance was read in the Royal presence, Arran, with a scowling countenance, looked around, and said, 'who dare subscribe these treasonable articles?' Melville coolly replied, we dare, and will render our lives in the cause,' advanced to the table, affixed his signature, and was followed by the rest.
"About this period, the clergy fought the battle alone, without the aid of the nobility or government. In 1604, James delayed the meeting of the Assembly. The Presbyterians were afraid of his designs, and met, constituted, and continued sitting till November of the following year. The same monarch introduced Prelacy, and called an assembly in 1607; but the Church stood firm, and resisted his encroachment. The same attempt was repeated in 1608 and 1609, but with no better success. "When an order was isued from the Court, in 1613, commanding the Scottish clergy to go forward with the service-book on the following Sabbath, the language of calm defiance was uttered from every pulpit. At the period of the second Reformation, 1637, the Reformers, fearing treachery on the part of the king, resolved to indict an assembly on their own authority. Accusations were thrown out against them that they had evil designs upon the king's authority. In reply, they pleaded the Church's right, in virtue of her foundation on the sure head, Christ.
They said that power to declare dwelt with the king, but not power absolutely, not power to call simpliciter, but secundum quid, or the Church would not have granted it.
"In November, 1688, when the Assembly met in Glasgow, Hamilton, who was Commissioner, commanded them, in the king's name, to read an appeal from the prelates. The cry was raised,-'No reading;'things not going on in his own way, he, in the name of the king, dissolved the Assembly. Henderson spoke after him, telling the members that they acknowledged the king's authority, but there was an authority independent of it, and all, excepting three or four, declared their determination to sit still until they had finished their business, which they did.
"The attempt was made to get them to admit that it was an illegal assembly, but they declared that while they breathed they would not yield the genuineness of the Glasgow Assembly.
"The Church of Scotland's practice of providing a place in its assembly for the sovereign or his representative, was a thing permitted, and not enjoined or absolutely necessary. There were thirty-nine meetings of the General Assembly before the King sat in any way; his authority was acknowledged from the first, but none ever sat there till about 1581. The practice of constant attendance originated in James' fondness for theological discussion. The presence of the King or Commissioner is not essential to constitute an assembly,-at first they were held without their knowledge or consent. He is not the head of the assembly, nor even a member,-nothing is enacted by him or addressed to him, except deserved thanks for his Royal care.
"To establish the charge, that the Church expected the magistrate to ascertain from her what is the truth, and then to use the power of the sword in supporting what he has thus learned to be truth and good order, and in suppressing what he had been taught on the same authority to be blasphemy, Mr. C. quotes chap. xx. sect. 4.
"And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another; they, who, under pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity, whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation; or to the power of godliness; or such erroneous opinions or practices, as, either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the Church; they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the Church, and by the power of the civil magistrate.'
"The Confession, as we have already seen, permits no such dogmatic authority to the Church, as that she may peremptorily declare what is truth, but refers to the word of the Lord as the supreme authority. It declares that the conscience is free;' and in a chapter which Mr. C. has already mentioned with approbation, xxvi. 1, 2, it inculcates reciprocal good offices, and charity among Christians. The language of the 20th chapter is perfectly reconcilable with these; it is evidently language equally important and applicable to both Church and State, to shew that those maintaining and acting upon such opinions as are there described, shall not be permitted to plead with the State in justification of offence, the deference she owes to conscience or a religious opinion, or, again, elude the censures of the Church by pleading that they do not compose her members, and are not amenable to her discipline. If a Roman Catholic, in violating an oath, in breaking treaty with heretics,
should expose himself to the magistrate's authority, would it be sufficient for him to say, 'you must not proceed against me, I own another superior?' The language of this part of the chapter, may,' and not shall be, proceeded 'against,' shews that it is a permission, and not an imperative command, not for every case, but where it may be absolutely necessary. Again, the phrase, may be lawfully called to account,' reminds us of the orderly manner in which all things are to be done, for which the Confession makes ample arrangement.
"Besides, it is not every one who holdeth singular and unsound opinions, but as the former paragraph intimates, they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it; or for their publishing of such opinions as are contrary to the light of nature, or the known principles of Christianity.' Observe, too, it is not for opinions that are merely erroneous, but that are injurious, so that it is a precept whose chief view is not to detect and overturn every idle error, but to defend the truth and the power of godliness, and the external peace of the Church.
"When we recollect that there prevailed, at the time the Assembly sat, both among Papists and the English Sectaries, a multitude of opinions, not merely opposed to Gospel truth, but to the welfare of civil society, against which, consequently, the discipline of the Church formed only a partial defence, we see there was much propriety in the sentiments embodied in this chapter. We wonder how any member of the Synod of Ulster could object to it, seeing that it is a practical rule which the Sy. nod has several times employed. Not many years ago, the Synod, as a body, petitioned the civil power to forbid the abuse of the Lord's day, and the consequent offence to Christians, and injury to the truth, occa sioned by working distilleries on the Sabbath; and the petition was granted:-nay, no further back than last meeting, they resolved to intreat the restraint of the civil power, in regard to an evil more intimately connected with themselves, which they have found Church discipline not sufficiently extensive or powerful to interdiet, viz., the scandal and offence occasioned by those, who, for their misconduct, have been deprived of their ministerial office, yet still continue to exercise one of its civil and religious functions, that of marrying.
"Again, the members of the Synod have felt that the manner of making oath savours of a superstition which they abhor, and is contrary and injurious to the truth; and they have been taking means to call in the aid of the civil power, that this offence and injury may be redressed; and, on the occasion we have mentioned, there was not an individual, even Mr. C. himself, who objected to the requiring of the civil aid. Would Mr. C. find fault with the civil government for interfering with the liberty of conscience of the Hindoo, and preventing the barbarous practice of the Suttee? Would he find fault with them for preventing the flood of iniquity that might be expected to flow over the land, from the unrestrained blasphemies of a Paine, or the pollutions of a Carlile and a Taylor? Or would he join the hue-and-cry that is raised from the infidel member of the Commons, down to the wanton artizan, against any attempt to protect the poor in his privilege of the Sabbath rest, and to honour God in the observance of the day and its duties!!
"Mr. C. bas endeavoured to fix upon the Confession a meaning favouring persecution, hy referring to some other documents, viz., the National Covenant, and Solemn League and Covenant. We are not re
quired to refer to these in signing the Confession: notwithstanding, it would not be difficult to shew, that the passages cavilled at in these documents were elicited by an extreme necessity to defend religion, and life, and liberty.
"Mr. C. needs not to be told what the Papists, against whom these clauses were directed, then were; nor what, we believe, they still remain. He addresses Roman Catholics, in a work of his, published in 1824, thus, The truth is, that your Church is fettered by rules that were adopted under the influence of the court of Rome, which, for ages, was the most tyrannical court in Europe, the very centre of political intrigue, and the ringleader in conspiracies against the liberties of mankind.' Again, 'a brief sketch of the Council of Trent will shew you that some of the regulations are more nearly connected with a plot against the liberties of men than you are aware.' It is well known, that at the period the Covenants were framed, Roman Catholics struggled to overthrow the monarchy, as in the case of Queen Elizabeth ;—that in one diabolical effort they endeavoured to destroy the King and Parliament, as in the case of the gunpowder plot,-that they maintained principles which taught that, in dealing with heretics, as they pleased to style, and do still style Protestants, they were not bound to observe justice to their property, fidelity in their promises, or respect for their lives;-in short, that they were filled with a spirit of inveterate hostility against their lives, their liberties, their government, their laws, their substance, and their religion. It was, then, from the experience that this was their character, and these their aims, that our forefathers framed the resolutions referred to, in their own defence. The very words Mr. C. has quoted, shew us that such was the case,-they describe those to whom the words refer, as 'adversaries of God's true religion, as common enemies to all Christian government.' They agree to endeavour the discovery of incendiaries, malignants, evil instruments hindering the reformation of religion, dividing the King from his people, or making any factions among the people, that they may be brought to public trial.' Now, in all these expresssions it is evident the offence is not merely ecclesiastical, but also civil ;-that the trial was not secret and tyrannical, but public;-that there is not the smallest evidence that any would have been disturbed on account of their opinions, if they had maintained these opinions in peace, and without detriment to their neighbour.
"That the framers of the Westminster Confession had no disposition to inculcate persecuting principles, is very evident, from all that we know of their lives and of their writings. That they never did persecute, Mr. C. admits. After the historic testimony of Robertson, Burnett, &c., few will charge them with the practices, but, we maintain, they are unrighteously blamed with having had the disposition.
The recorded opinions of the individual members of the Assembly are the best interpreters of their conjoint enactments. Hear the language of Bailie, one of the Scottish members. If once, (says he), the government of Christ were set up amongst us, by the sword of God alone, without any secular violence, to banish out of the land these spirits of error, in all meekness, Christian humility, and love, by the force of truth convincing and satisfying the mind of the seduced,-episcopal courts were not fitted for the reclaiming of minds, their prisons, their fines, their pillories their nose-slittings, their ear-cuttings, their cheek.burnings, did but hold down the flame, to break out in season with greater rage. But the Reformed Presbytery doth proceed in a spiritual method, evidently fitted for the gaining of hearts. Could he write such sentiments, and yet