The James Begg Society

The James Begg Society

Publishers of Protestant, Reformed Christian Literature

The Government of the Kingdom of Christ.— Part III.
by Rev. James Moir Porteous.
(Published in 1888.)

Chapter I:
Stars in the Night.

"Those who gave early notice, — as the lark
Springs from the ground, the morn to gratulate;
Who rather choose the day to antedate,
By striking out a solitary spark,
When all the world with midnight gloom was dark, —
These harbingers of good, whom bitter hate
In vain endeavoured to exterminate."


E IGHTEEN centuries ago, one meek and lowly traversed the hills and vales of Palestine. Accompanied by a few poor followers, He proceeded from city to village, stood by its shores, reclined on its hills, and sailed over the bosom of its lakes. A herald preceded Him with the message, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Three years He Himself taught the blessedness of its subjects, fulfilling all righteousness, calling, training, and commissioning officers of that kingdom. At length He expired, dying the cursed death of the cross, while over His head was written: 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.' That same Jesus liveth by the power of God. He is exalted a Prince and a Saviour, and shall come again with terrific majesty to judge the world.

Only for a time did that kingdom appear to be destroyed. Soon after the crucifixion, its agents spoke and acted with power. The facts concerning Jesus Christ, His incarnation, His character of unequalled benevolence and purity, His atoning death, His victorious resurrection and ascension, were everywhere attested. Persecution and death added fuel to the flames of zeal. New disciples were instructed and empowered to advance His glory. They lived for one end, to worship and serve the Saviour. Thus, His chariot advanced through many lands. The kingdom was established, and the promise rejoiced in: 'He must reign,' 'All nations shall call Him blessed.'

Then, in Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and many other places, the grand essential principles of presbyterial church government were more or less fully practised. This position has been established by an examination of the testimony of Scripture. This is one secure foundation, and nothing can add to its strength. The structure — government by presbytery — cannot be overthrown. No weapon formed against even this outer rampart of the kingdom can prosper. Every tongue rising against it in judgment is condemned.


4 B.C. The Saviour.

JESUS CHRIST in Bethlehem.

31 A.D. The God-Man crucified,
and gloriously crowned.

REDEMPTION accomplished.
The Christian Church organised.

64. Nero slays.

(68) Paul martyred.
Apostolic Church governed
by presbyters.

70. The piteous w ail of

JERUSALEM destroyed by
Titus Vespasian, son of Emporer.

95. Tribulations a lloted.


99. What is that to thee?

Death of John.


101. Clement wrote to
the Corinthians.

CLEMENT of Rome.
The Church essentially presbyterian.

104. Christians wantonlysacrificed.


106. A bishop exposed in

the ampitheatre.

IGNATIUS of Antioch,
to whom forged epistles ascribed.

119. Their blood c alls for vengance.


136. They bestowed on it a
heathen name.

Jerusalem called

147. Courageous Justin’s Apology


167. They burn the noblePolycarp.

POLYCARP of Smyrna.
The church essentially presbyterian.

196. He became a violentMontanist.


197. Cruelly tortured by persecutors.

Britain Christianized.


202. An edict to exterminate
the faith.

Published by Severus

202. The first writer in France (died)

IRENEUS of Lyons.

218. A devout Christian

Rhetoritian (died)

CLEMENT of Alexandria.

235. The fury of the heathenlet loose.

HIPPOLYTUS banished. — A presbyterian.
Change of polity progressing.

249. By f ar the s everest t rial.


254. D eath of the A l exandrian S cribe.


257. Africa laments her Apostle.

CYPRIAN of Cathage. Change marked.

272. Designs of the persecutors



302. A general exterminationdecreed.

X. PERSECUTION. Diocletian E.

312. He gave Christ his affections.

Prelacy confirmed.

313. A grand change in history.

Christian liberty.

(For 200 years) they dwelt
in excavated ways.

CATACOMBS discovered.

325. They agree in defining the Logos.


356. He gained his laurels at Nice.


385. Hebrew rendered into Latin.

JEROME or Hieronymus of Palestine
attested authority of Presbytery.

395. A hero of theologicalliterature.


397. The great ItalianPrelate.

AMBROSE of Milan died.
Rome protested against.


411. A serious controversycommenced.


461. He sets up an impiousclaim.

LEO the Great called
Vicar of Christ.

476. The succeeding period is Medieval.

GOTHS, etc.


b, c = 1,
f = 2,
h = 3,
j, k, s = 4,
l = 5,
g, m, n = 6,
p, q, z = 7,
r = 8,
d, t, v = 9,
w, x, y = 0.

— See Facts and Dates, by Dr A. MACKAY.

It is, notwithstanding, an interesting question, Whether history confirms this declaration? Have Christians, in former and later times, formed and acted upon this testimony of Scripture? Their opinions and practices are of no value as an ultimate standard. Still, that truth, possessed from the Bible, may be more joyfully acknowledged and promoted in the company of the faithful. The preceding table reminds of the period of great tribulation through which the Church of the first three centuries was called to pass. Some attention to the selections already presented from the Christian writings of that period, shows most fully what a difference there is between inspired and uninspired documents. Consequently, on the one hand, it must be remembered that there were many hindrances to the complete organisation of the Church; and, on the other, that this evidence at best is not such a foundation as can be built upon with implicit confidence.

And yet the testimony presented is sufficient to prove that during the first three centuries, several essentials of presbyterial government prevailed, whilst there is no evidence whatever of Prelacy as such. Thus it is evident

  1. That the only officers in the Church, during the ministry of Clement and Polycarp, were Presbyter-bishops and deacons.
  2. That the election of these officers was with the consent of the membership of the several churches.
  3. That a distinction amongst ministers arose after the middle of the second century, when the presidents or moderators of Presbytery assumed the title of 'Bishop,' which distinction became more prominent about the end of the third century.
  4. That no exclusive power was claimed by these 'Bishops' as an inherent right. And, consequently -
  5. That whilst the government was being gradually corrupted, it remained for three centuries substantially presbyterial.

The cloud in the middle of the second century was very small. By the end of the fourth century, it had darkened the whole of the ecclesiastical firmament. In the fifth, Leo, Bishop of Rome, advanced a claim, hitherto unknown. Prelates saw that this eloquent and clever man was immoderately devoted to the extension of his power; and with one voice they cried, 'Peter speaks in Leo.'

When the fiery car of persecution was arrested, heresies and schisms prevailed. The presbyters felt unable to cope with the prevailing desire for rank and power. Intrigue, worldly ambition, and other vices, rather than godly sincerity and simplicity, were manifested. The absence of a settled purpose to rectify existing evils according to the Word of God, led to the gradual corruption of the Church. In such circumstances, only a continual miracle could have prevented the growth of Prelacy. Satan, as an angel of light, wrought havoc in the Church. Jewish and heathen practices were added to the scriptural doctrine and government, until at length the 'Mystery of iniquity' was developed. (See Killen's 'Ancient Church.')


It is not a very uncommon thing, in some places, for the day to become as the night. In London, such a dense fog occasionally thickens and settles down, that the beams of the sun are almost effectually obscured. Then all the appliances of art are required as in the night season. In addition, the extraordinary agency of torches and guides are requisite, that the difficulty of thick darkness may be so far overcome). Such a moral fog spread over the professing Church of Christ. It rolled on and on. It thickened and settled down until the rays of the Sun of Righteousness were almost wholly obscured. Souls in their difficulty and danger sought for human guides, and torches of human invention. It was as if they were in thorough ignorance, that the Sun was shining in His brightness above these clouds.

And yet, some rays of light did pierce the gloom. These rays were reflected to the joy of many a weary soul. And still their light is pleasant to behold, although they seem to twinkle before the eye. Lovers of the darkness have done all that in them lay to prevent any from perceiving that light. Three methods have been adopted. Firstly, Witnesses for Christ have been maligned. The worst opinions and practices have been ascribed to those who endeavoured so to shine. Secondly, They were mercilessly persecuted. Their very existence was chased from the earth. Thirdly, The memory of them has been destroyed. All memorials that could possibly be reached, have been committed to the flames. This sufficiently accounts for that indistinctness of vision by which they are beheld. Notwithstanding all this materials exist by which some of these stars reveal themselves. A continual testimony was presented against Prelacy and Popery. That witness-bearing unto the truth existed both without and within the great apostacy. Written documents, held by the Church of Rome, maintained the ancient faith and practice. Sound principles were upheld by individuals, found within and beyond its communion.


the difference between prelates and presbyters was somewhat set forth in the declarations of �rius. Because of his heresy the statement by him appeared at a disadvantage. Epiphanius replied on behalf of Prelacy. His arguments are regarded by its defenders as weak and unsatisfactory, but they have not since devised any better. Jerome brought forward the scriptural argument for Presbytery, which is still regarded as conclusive and unanswerable.

In Italy also, Popery, or full-blown Prelacy, was protested against. Milan is represented as being not only a beautiful city, but as having something celestial about it. This arises from the material of which it is built being so frequently lit up by the Italian sky — its snow-white temple floating, as it were, above the middle of the city. ('Pilgrimage' by Dr Wylie). There, in the fourth century, Ambrose proclaimed celestial doctrines, thereby preparing the inhabitants for a more glorious city. Ambrose held that no power on earth is superior to the Bible; that the sense of any obscure passage can only be determined by a comparison of passages referring to the same subject; and that no one can be the successor of Peter, unless he hold the faith of Peter. Augustine further there maintained that there is no bodily presence of Christ in the Supper, and that there are but two sacraments — while rejecting idolatry in worship. The spirit of Ambrose, who had closed the gates of the cathedral in the face of the Goths of Justina, and had caused the Emperor Theodosius to perform a public penance, did not soon die out. Their mutual influences were powerfully felt in the Churches of Lombardy. For many centuries the Milanese fought the battle of independence with Rome. Only after all others were put to silence, were the Milanese, as the Culdees, subjugated in the twelfth century.


the principle of election of church officers by the people, in the natural, legitimate, and honest sense, was still the law of the Church.

In the latter, nine bishops of Upper Italy united in protesting that they were independent of the Church of Rome.


the principal corruptions that characterise the Papal Antichrist, had become very generally prevalent. Image worship, transubstantiation, auricular confession, purgatory, and the supremacy of the Pope, with other innovations, increased, deepening and widening until, in the sixteenth century, they were rendered imperatively binding on all in communion with the modern Church of Rome.

In the middle of the seventh century, Mansuetus, of Milan, denied that the Pope was head of the Church.

The Paulicians in Armenia were then found propagating the apostolic faith. Constantine, of Mananalis, near Samosata, extended his hospitality to a wandering missionary. In return he received the gift of most of the New Testament, in two manuscripts. The one contained the four gospels; the other, the fourteen epistles of Paul. These rare and costly gifts were by him fully possessed, and became priceless in his estimation. Attentively read, Constantine attached himself to the most prominent, powerful, and successful of the apostles. Paul's actions and writings claimed his imitation and approbation. Paul was his master under Christ. That pupil became a teacher. The Divine Word was by his disciples understood as the Holy Spirit, through Paul, enabled. This prominence of Paul secured for these numerous disciples the name of Paulicians. Their instructors were known by the titles of Paul and his companions. Constantine was Sylvanus, others were Timothy, Titus, &c. These Paulicians were acknowledged by their enemies to be men of very extensive scriptural knowledge, eminent holiness, and most untiring energy; holding images and relics in detestation as objects of idolatry; although baseless accusations were made against them. The leading object in Constantine and his followers was to restore Christianity to its primitive simplicity. Men soon arose qualified for the ministry, and churches were speedily organised throughout Armenia, Cappadocia, Pontus, &c. Regions once renowned for Christian piety were again blessed with the possession of the light of life.

By many these Paulicians are represented as heretics, but they are recognised by the Rev. E. B. Elliott, in his 'Horae Apocalypticae,' as the true Church of Christ (II. p. 240-519). 'There appears,' he says, 'in the record of the Paulikian asserted heresies, albeit given by enemies, a marked and constant tendency to Christ, not from Christ. I have rightly judged them (I mean the really faithful of the body), even as Christ was not of the world....... And thus it was that the world hated them; and showed its hate, not only by persecutions...... but by blasphemies — which even some more candid of their enemies have judged to be false...... They were indeed, according to the tenor of the Apocalyptic prefiguration, a line of true witnesses for the Lord Jesus.'

Roused by their growing importance, the Greek emperor persecuted the Paulicians for a hundred and fifty years. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of this Church. Numerous flocks and pastors arose. Sergius, one of their pastors, held for years a distinguished place. Image worship was then in high favour. Theodora, the Greek empress, was determined to have it universally established. Beyond all her predecessors, Theodora pursued the Paulicians. By her blind zeal, and the rage of the multitude, they were devoted to destruction. Inquisitors pervaded Asia Minor in the search. Not fewer than a hundred thousand are believed to have fallen by gibbet, fire, and sword. (Jones' 'Waldenses,' vol. i., p. 350). A remnant were preserved. They went everywhere preaching the Word. Many a dark corner of Europe owed to this persecution the knowledge of salvation. Still exposed to intolerant severities as they retreated westward, many at length found shelter in the mountains in the north of Italy, and along the southern extremity of France. In the eighth century many were found settled in Thrace, and their existence was traceable in Mount H�mus on to the seventeenth century. This star thus shone throughout the gloom of the long dark ages, until the clouds had begun to break up, and the Sun of Righteousness had arisen upon Europe.

From the circumstances mentioned, it is impossible to obtain information as to the polity maintained by the Paulicians. As, however, they kept close to the instructions and practices of Paul, and as they aimed at a return to apostolic practice, it is not difficult to infer what, in essentials, their views and actions were in the government of their Churches.


appeared the Venerable Bede. Learning, abandoned on the Continent, retired amongst the British and Irish at this period. Next to the Emperor Charlemagne stood the Venerable Bede, so-called because of his eminent virtues. Born and educated in County Durham, in England, Bede lived and died at Jarrow. His works filled eight folio volumes. Although never freed from the yoke of Rome, and honest, but credulous, still he lived as a presbyter to set the people free. His studies, instructions, worship, and writings, must have had a powerful influence on his own and succeeding ages. The earliest translation of the New Testament into the language of the people — the Anglo Saxon — was written by him. He referred the Archbishop of York to Timothy and Titus, for rules suitable for the ministry. In his last hour he was engaged in dictating to one of his disciples the 20th chapter of John. 'It is finished, master,' said the scribe. 'It is finished,' replied the dying saint; 'lift my head, let me sit in my cell, in the place where I have so often prayed; and now, glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.' And with these words his spirit fled.

In Bavaria, government by presbyters prevailed from A.D. 540 to 740. Then the pontiff Zachary, in a letter to Boniface Moyunt, affirms that he had imposed Vivilo upon that province as its bishop, the presbyters not having received episcopal ordination. To him it was uncertain whether or by whom the pastors in Bavaria had been ordained.


Claud of Turin flourished. He was born in Spain. Distinguished for his acquaintance with the Scriptures as chaplain at the court of Lewis, Claudius was, in A.D. 821, appointed Bishop of Turin. Most zealously he laboured to instruct the ignorant. Copiously he commented on the Book of Life. Setting himself against image worship he removed and destroyed all pictures and images in his diocese. He denied that the cross was to be honoured, and condemned pilgrimages. The only work of his that has been published is his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. There he maintains that (a) every one of the apostles was on an equality with Peter, and (b) that Christ is the only Head of the Church. He further held (c) that bishops and presbyters originally were on a footing of perfect equality. Little wonder that his other works are still allowed to remain in manuscript. The specimen was more than enough for the Church of Rome. The pontifical supremacy had been opposed before. Even in Italy, Anglisbertus, Bishop of Milan, had refused to acknowledge it. And now, in this ninth century, that opposition was placed on a scriptural basis, and the people taught to disown the usurper. This was all the more important, because of the preference given to human writings. The practice was to make the Scriptures speak only as the Fathers did. Claud taught the apostolic rule, to compare spiritual things with spiritual. His testimony was thus clear and full. Prevalent corruptions, superstitions, and evil practices, were fully exposed, until his death in A.D. 839. The labours of that reformer contributed mightily to preserve purity and independence in some churches. His instructions spread and were preserved. The valleys of Piedmont shared the privilege in the ninth and tenth centuries.


the terms Cathari and Albigenses appear to be different names given to the Paulicians, who were forced by persecution into other lands. They were, in the tenth century, very numerous in Thrace, Bulgaria, and Slavonia; migrating also into Italy and France. A person opposing the worship of images, and power of the priesthood, is said, without good reason, to have originated the Albigenses. In Italy the Paulicians were termed Cathari; in France they were called Albigenses, from Albi, a town of Aquitaine, where a council was held in A.D. 1176, who condemned them. The name Albigenses appears to have been given to all who in that district were opposed to the views and practices of Rome.

Hence the Albigenses must not be confounded with the Waldenses, although the remnant of them finally united with the Vaudois. In the eleventh century they came into prominence, chiefly in the south-east province of France. They held the purity of scripture doctrine, although their beliefs were traduced by the Church of Rome. Whether they held the false views ascribed to them regarding Christ, cannot be certainly known. They constantly denied that they were heretics, and this averment was accompanied by all that could give it weight. Against this inoffensive and Bible-loving community the Pope issued his bull, commanding all men to take up arms to go against them, and 'to crush them like asps.' In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries their extermination was almost wholly accomplished. 'They were slain for the Word of God, and the testimony which they held.' Their blood also still crieth, 'with a loud voice, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell upon the earth.' Those that escaped extermination took refuge in the ark of the Alps. Every effort to effect reformation was arrested by the power of Rome.

So far as can be ascertained, these Albigenses held by scriptural and essential principles in the arrangements of their community. Their readiness to unite with the Waldenses, instead of forming a distinct community, is proof of this. In these Alpine vales they not only found a resting-place, but united in upholding the doctrines and practices of the apostolic Church.


the corruptions and despotism of the Romish Church were very great. Then Cathari, Waldenses, and many others, were found all over Europe, especially in Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. Languedoc was much pervaded by these so-called 'heretics,' the Earl of Toulouse affording them protection. To extirpate them by all possible means the Inquisition was devised and set to work.


arose John Wickliffe, justly termed 'the Morning Star of the Reformation.' This learned, faithful, and distinguished scholar, taught at Merton College, Oxford, from A.D. 1350 to 1371. His efforts were directed chiefly to recover the Church from her idolatry. This he did by upholding the doctrine of 'election by grace.' Wickliffe also fearlessly exposed the evils incident to the orders and priests of Rome. He further contended against the supremacy of the pontiff, proclaiming that Peter had no superiority over the other apostles. He went further still in maintaining the essentials of scriptural government in the Church. 'One thing,' he declares, 'I boldly assert, that in the primitive Church, or in the time of the Apostle Paul, two orders of clergy were thought sufficient — viz., priest and deacon. And I also say, that in the time of Paul a priest and a bishop were one and the same.


several stars shone forth, as John Huss, Jerome of Prague, and the Lollards.

John Huss was not only a minister, but also professor of theology in the university at Prague in Bohemia. The works of Wickcliffe had been brought into Bohemia in A.D. 1405. Then John Huss held Wickcliffe in contempt. Examination of his writings dispelled this prejudice, and led him more fully to study the Word of God. Thereafter he preached vehemently against the vices of the clergy, and strongly commended the writings of Wickcliffe. At Bethlehem his proclamation of the gospel was full of power. But in 1410 he was accused before John XXIII. By that pontiff he was excommunicated, his books denounced, and he forbidden to preach. Summoned to the Council of Constance in 1414, it is well-known that the plighted faith of a safe-conduct in coming to be tried by the council was broken. The most solemn pledge for the security of his life and liberty had been given to John Huss. Notwithstanding, this safe-conduct was violated. Huss was delivered over to the secular power as one accursed of God and man — he was consumed by fire. Men have searched in vain for the cause of such cruelty, until the general verdict has been, that John Huss was most unjustly put to death. And yet it is easy to see how the members of that council so readily gave their voice against him. For (1.) by discourse and writing he had excited the indignation of the people of Bohemia against bishops, priests, and monks. Their honours, influence, and emoluments, were in danger if he were again set free. No money or pains were spared to persuade his judges to condemn. Then (2.) he had personal enemies in the council who rejoiced as partisans to crush their opponent, and that he was in their power. These causes operated strongly; but (3.) the chief cause was the refusal to acknowledge his errors until his views were first proved to be erroneous. This was his great crime and intolerable heresy — refusal to submit to the dictation of the pontifical government.

Jerome of Prague was the friend of Huss. He was a master of arts and student of the Word, and had greatly helped to carry on the work of reform in Bohemia. To obtain the precious writings of Wickcliffe he had gone on special purpose to England. Thus aided, Jerome had disseminated divine truth far and wide. Summoned also to the council, his demand for a passport, or pledge of safety, was granted. The grant was worse than the refusal. It contained such a 'salvo to justice,' and to the interests of the faith, that it was worse than useless. Led at length in chains, he was cruelly maligned by the council. Through fear of death he yielded to their mandates, and renounced the opinions which the council condemned. Retained in prison, he received strength anew to confess Christ. He boldly avowed his convictions, and was committed to the flames in A.D. 1416. These noble martyrs held the same views as Wickcliffe as to ministerial parity. Their adversary — afterwards Pius II. — declared that they were 'a pestilential sect, holding no difference of order among those who bear the priestly office.'

These fires were not extinguished at Constance. The smoke from them, as from Patrick Hamilton afterwards in Scotland, 'infected all it blew upon.' A religious war for thirteen years raged in Bohemia. The liberty of drinking the cup at the communion, and the administration of the ordinance in their native tongue, were all the benefits that arose from that struggle to the Bohemians. God's time for reformation had not fully come. Generally they were content with these concessions, remaining in communion with Rome. Still the Bohemians held by the principles which Huss and Jerome had promulgated. As they could not have them fully carried out, they did what they could in the circumstances. They drew their ministry from the Presbyterian Waldenses, and had the office of ruling elder in active operation. They contended that there was but one order of ministers. Earnestly they longed for a fuller reformation, and in 1536 the Hussites held intercourse with Luther. Eventually they obtained toleration and freedom from persecution.

The Lollards were followers of Wickcliffe. The word Lollard was at first employed to describe a community of brother weavers who lived and wrought under a spiritual director in the thirteenth century. This term, brought from Belgium, was applied as a term of reproach to the numerous followers of Wickcliffe in England in the fourteenth century, and not only were they persecuted, but that Council of Constance, of infamous memory, in a solemn decree condemned the memory and opinions of that reformer. In A.D. 1428 Rome's minions actually dug up the bones of Wickcliffe and had them publicly burned! The term Lollard is, however, not an inappropriate expression, as it means, from its German derivation, 'one who sings or prays much.' In the vulgar of the old German, therefore, a Lollard was a man who was continually praising God with sacred songs. Those distinguished for piety might well endure this reproachful term, although it was meant to denote those who concealed great vices under the cloak of religion.

The first Lollard who suffered death in England was William Sawtre, who held that 'a priest was more bound to preach the Word of God than to recite particular services at canonical hours.' Paul Crawar, 'the medical missionary,' as he would now be termed, who came from Prague in Bohemia to preach the gospel in Scotland, was also consumed by fire at St Andrews in 1431. Before him James Resby, a follower of Wickcliffe, had suffered the same fate at Perth in 1422. Their crimes were the same. They dared to proclaim the salvation of Christ, disowning the power and authority of the Popish prelates. Besides these, there were other Lollards in Kyle, a district in Argyleshire, who in 1494 narrowly escaped a similar doom. Only by the intervention of the monarch did these thirty persons of distinction escape with admonition. These facts testify that the truth was spreading far and wide in the fifteenth century. Multitudes in secret received and embraced the grand essential truths of salvation. They breathed after deliverance from the tyranny and corruptions of dominant Popery, and consequently for the scriptural constitution and government of the Church.


  1. Show how the foundation of the kingdom was laid, its influence extended, and what were the prevailing features of its government.
  2. In what way may the history of the Church be adduced, and what is its testimony as to the first three centuries?
  3. Give the three methods employed to prevent the lights of succeeding centuries from being observed.
  4. Name some of those who contended against Prelacy or Popery from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries.