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 V:
Switzerland and the Reformers.

"Now Israel may say, and that truly,
If that the Lord had not our cause maintained;
If that the Lord had not our right sustained,
When cruel men against us furiously
Rose up in wrath, to make of us their prey;

Then certainly they had devoured us all,
And swallowed quick, for ought that we could deem;
Such was their rage, as we might well esteem.
And as fierce floods before them all things drown,
So had they brought our soul to death quite down."


U LRICH ZWINGLE inflicted another mortal wound upon the Papacy. He was a wise and learned Presbyter in Zurich, Switzerland. Before Luther publicly contended against Rome, he had found the truth. Surely, this is the finger of God! In 1519, he publicly opposed Samson of Milan, an indulgence seller, as Luther had Tetzel in Germany. Without concert, or aid, both were led to the same truth and the same result, while, from peculiar circumstances, Luther has the honour of first publicly declaring open war with Rome. Although labouring in the narrower sphere of a Swiss Canton, Zwingle's labours ought not to be overlooked. In learning, in judgment, and in progress, Zwingle even outstripped the Reformer at Wittenberg. Zwingle was born in the Canton of St Gall in 1484. Teaching at Basil, he himself was taught. Wittenbach, his professor, was not ignorant of Rome's errors, and imbued his pupils with the desire of free inquiry. For ten years Zwingle was pastor at Glarus, casting aside human authority and zealously expounding the Scriptures. Removed in 1516 to Einsiedlin, Rome's monkery and trickery were more fully exposed. Chosen to the cathedral in Zurich, he stipulated for liberty to expound the whole Book of God. In 1519, he openly opposed Samson, and obtained his expulsion from the canton. Reformation went forward. Luther's writings were read, but not by Zwingle, lest others should call him a disciple. Accused of heresy in 1523, Zwingle triumphed in a Council, in proof of sixty-seven propositions, embracing fundamental truth; and in 1524, Public Worship was by his advice reformed in Zurich.

The magistrate - being a Christian - was entrusted with the government, the council of the two hundred administering the affairs of the church. This plan, which was also carried out in St Gall and Schaffhausen, was Erastian rather than Presbyterian. And yet Zwingle, in the year 1523, vindicated the rights of the people to representative government, and thus made a commencement of the Presbyterian system.

His testimony continued with much power till the year 1531. According to the usage of his country, as a true patriot, he bore the standard to the battle-field, when the canton was invaded by a Popish force. By the enemy he was slain and his canton defeated; but the truth which he lived to maintain, and his noble example in upholding it, live on in undying glory.

In opposition to Luther, who, while rejecting transubstantiation, held consubstantiation, Zwingle maintained that the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper are merely symbols representing Christ and the blessings that flow from Him, in the commemoration of His death. Luther's view was inexplicable - that somehow, partakers of the communion truly received the body and blood of Christ along with the bread and wine. This led to the controversy that occasioned the conference at the Marburg, producing the separation of Protestants, that cannot but be lamented, into the Lutherans and the Reformed.

John Calvin was the second founder of the Reformed Church in Switzerland. A native of Noyon in France, he came and taught at Geneva. Even by his enemies he is venerated for his genius and learning. His labours and writings have produced immense results. John Calvin will be held in everlasting remembrance. The Reformed Church - so called at first in France - was not confined to Switzerland. Simultaneously in many lands the work of Reformation arose, and was carried forward by many labourers. Although John Calvin was at the head of a small portion of the Swiss Church, his influence was greater, and extended wider, than that of any other man. Directly, he did little to extend or introduce reformation; but he did much to consolidate and enlighten in doctrine, discipline, worship, and government. Most national churches, except the Lutheran, embraced the doctrine he taught, because it is the doctrine of the Bible.

Geneva became the focus of light to the world. Here was produced a model and pattern of what might bless mankind. Persons of rank and fortune flocked from France, Italy, and other lands. A college was established by the senate of Geneva. in 1558, in which Calvin, Beza, and other learned and wise men gave instructions to students from all places. These, returning to their native countries, propagated the precious lessons they had received. Even after the death of Calvin in 1564, the influence of the Swiss Church powerfully promoted the work of reformation.

At first, that Church had vast difficulties with which to contend. Farell and Froment had been driven from Geneva. Returning in 1533, they, in company wlth Viret, gathered a numerous Church, which now the Council supported. That Church was Presbyterial in its arrangements when John Calvin arrived, although he completed its organisation. In the year 1538, Calvin and Farell inveighed against the conduct of the Council, who endeavoured to introduce the ceremonies agreed on at Berne, as to the sacraments. The Council with a high hand banished both these teachers from the Republic. But in 1541, Calvin, at the urgent request of the citizens, returned from Strasburg to Geneva, among whom he lived and laboured till his death; but he did not return until it had been agreed that the authority of the eldership would be allowed, the nomination of the elders lying with the local council and the pastors. Calvin held that the Church is free and independent of the State, and ought to govern herself by bodies of presbyters, and synods or conventions of presbyters - the magistrate's position being simply that of protecting care over the Church. He held that all ministers of Christ are jure divino, on an equality of rank and power; and that bishops or other grades of rank are contrary to the word and will of God. At Geneva was seen in actual practice the apostolic mode of government. The administration in the Church was by associated eiders, called a judicatory or consistory. Apostolic discipline was renewed, offenders being excluded from the Church. This organisation was completed with the full consent of the senate and people.


Ignorance asserts that Calvin invented Presbyterianism. Were it supposed that Presbytery was unknown in apostolic times, amongst the Waldenses and others, it must still be remembered that it was in full operation in Geneva, long before Calvin appeared there as a Reformer. That scriptural form of government was adopted in Switzerland in 1528. Zwingle, too, had long before taught the doctrine of ministerial parity. When Calvin arrived, he found it already established by Farell and Viret. Calvin simply completed the organisation by the ordination of elders for the exercise of discipline. This department of presbyterial polity had been long before practically exercised in the Bohemian branch of the Waldensian Church, as well as in the ancient church of the Vaudois. This also Calvin did, not as a borrowed expedient, he claimed for it the authority of the Bible.

Undoubtedly, Calvin gave a more accurate exposition of the scriptural scheme of church government than had ever been given. On scriptural grounds, he denied the supremacy of the Pontiff. By Scripture, he asserted the parity of all pastors, and the necessity of others, not pastors, exercising rule in the Church. So he maintained the permanency of the ministry, and their full authority to perform all functions. So he held that a permanent prelatic-episcopacy is forbidden, as well as destitute of sanction - that there is a clear distinction between ministers and people, and that office-bearers alone should have the regulation of affairs. These principles were so thoroughly based on the Divine Word, as to secure universal adoption by all the Reformers. Hence their unanimity of testimony in favour of presbyterial government. Luther alone seemed unconscious how unlawful it is to introduce a permanent arrangement into the Church, which is destitute of divine authority. That this introduction of an officer having supreme authority over others is unlawful, was held by all the other Reformers. They maintained that the Apostles, neither by word nor act, gave any indication that they were to have successors, and that presbyters and deacons were the only permanent officers established. Hence in their writings and confessions, the fundamental principles of presbyterian government are given as a portion of the unchangeable truth of God.

Calvin held that the election of officers in the Church was legitimate only if 'By the consent and allowance of the people' (Institutes. book iv. ch. iii. 15-27). Shortly before his death, Calvin wrote on Acts xx. the following passage:- "Concerning the word bishop, it is observable that Paul gives this title to all the presbyters of Ephesus; from which we may infer that, according to Scripture, presbyters differed in no respect from bishops; but that it arose from corruption, and a departure from primitive purity, that those who held the first seats in particular cities began to be called bishops. I say, that it arose from corruption - not that it is an evil for some one in a college of pastors to be distinguished above the rest, but because it is intolerable presumption, that men in perverting the titles of Scripture to their own humour, do not hesitate to alter the meaning of the Holy Spirit."

On scriptural principles, Calvin held - First, That a government in the Church is indispensable; and that the Presbyterian, composed of teaching and ruling elders, is that best fitted for the preservation of discipline; second, That the presbytery must be free to prescribe terms of admission, and to enforce expulsion in cases of contumacy.

Geneva was too narrow a sphere for Synodical action. - Hence Calvin made no provision for it there; but Courts of Review were by him introduced into the plan of government which he drew up for the French Church. This is a matter that of necessity must be modified by circumstances. Although Calvin did not introduce Presbytery, he first clearly unfolded it as the scriptural and practicable plan; and at the cost of a severe struggle he first obtained its practical establishment. In Basle, elders were elected by the people, on the recommendation of Œcolampadius. These were associated with the pastor, but their action was afterwards modified by the State.

The Reformers contended against the Priesthood, Prelacy, and the Papacy - the three leading features of the Romish system. They maintained and established the leading features of Presbyterial government, as that which they found laid down in the Word of God.

The liberty of the people was strongly contended for. The authority of the presbyters was not less fully secured. The Reformers held that the Church is not only entitled but bound to have officers, and that there should be just the two kinds that are mentioned in Scripture. Calvin gave an accurate exposition of the scriptural scheme; that by Divine appointment (1.) the ministry is separate and perpetual; (2.) presbyters are competent to all necessary duty, including ordination; but that (3.) the administration is not confined to pastors, but is shared in by chosen and ordained officers. The unity of the Church was further maintained. This is beheld in the various assemblies held for the regulation of Church affairs.


Prelatic controversialists endeavour to destroy the force of the fact that the Reformers, almost without exception, embraced Presbyterial principles as those of the Word of God. They first of all conceal the distinct utterances of the Reformers on this subject, then they give garbled quotations from incidental expressions. This is generally done by copying from others without any examination of the writings of the Reformers. Bancroft, in 1593, made the first collection of these garbled extracts, in an insolent book called 'Survey of the Pretended Holy Discipline.' It merely excited prejudice without discussing the subject, pretending that the Reformers had no fixed principles, and that Presbyterianism was the invention of Calvin for selfish purposes.

The defenders of Prelacy have another refuge. The poor Reformers, say they, were compelled by stern necessity to set up Presbyterianism. Consequently, all those who have no such plea of absolute necessity, are guilty of heinous offence. This also is a pure fabrication. The assertion rests on no evidence whatever. The Reformers openly and continually declared that they were following implicitly the guidance of the Word of God; and there is no reason why the sincerity of these declarations should be called in question.

Dr Wordsworth, in 'Theophilus Anglicanus' - used as a textbook for students (Ed. 1863, p. 105) - gives most of the passages handed down from the days of Bancroft and Durel, endeavouring to prove that the Reformers were forced into Presbyterianism against their real convictions of the scriptural authority of Prelacy. Thus from Melancthon's apology for the Augsburg Confession: 'We are exceedingly anxious to preserve the ecclesiastical polity and the orders in the Church, ALTHOUGH APPOINTED BY HUMAN AUTHORITY. For we know that this Church polity WAS ESTABLISHED BY THE FATHERS in the way that the ancient canons describe with a good and useful design.' Melancthon then throws the blame of overthrowing this established order upon the Romanists, asserting that the other side were willing to yield the bishops their jurisdiction, 'if they would only cease to rage against our churches.'

This quotation, with the words in capitals left out, was recently quoted by the Rev. Mr Chadwick, a prelatist in Belfast, as if (1.) it were part of the Augsburg Confession, instead of the apology, and (2.) as if it expressed the real views of John Calvin, who signed the confession. He also tried by the same process to pervert the words of Beza, but has been admirably exposed by Dr Watts.

Beza, after quoting from Nazianzen, a Greek Father of the fourth century, an important testimony against Prelacy, adds:- 'I wish that it were again and again weighed by those who rightly condemn the abuse of that authority and desire its reformation, but yet conceive that those grades are to be retained in the Church, to whom I will then yield when they show one man absolutely free from all ambition, or a sure method of restraining those who are ambitious.'

Calvin, it is true, was moderator of the Presbytery of Geneva as long as he lived. One good reason was that no other would take the chair when he was present. After his decease Beza declined to have a similar mark of respect paid to him. He insisted that the practice of having a constant moderator should be abandoned, as likely to lead to injurious consequences. Experience has amply testified that the tendency of such an arrangement is to introduce a proper Prelacy.

Garbled extracts, apart from their real meaning, are also quoted from Calvin, or those in which the words Episcopus or Episcopate are used in their scriptural sense, to make an appearance of support to the Prelatic assertion. Calvin's own declaration is unmistakable:- 'In that I call these who rule the churches bishops, presbyters, pastors, ministers, indifferently, I do so according to the usage of Scripture, which employs these terms as synonymous, giving the title of bishop to all who discharge the ministry of the Word' (Institutes lib. iv. cap. iii. 8).

In reference to Melancthon's apology, it should be remembered that, overwhelmed with danger to the Protestant cause, that Reformer was far too ready to make any concession for the sake of peace. Considering both the place and jurisdiction of bishops to be of human appointment, he was ready to concede not only bishops but the supremacy of the Pope, jure humano - if only the gospel were safe - as if such a thing could possibly be. So acting, he was a thorn in Luther's side, who wrote - 'I have received your apology, and wonder what you mean by wishing to know what and how much you may yield to the Papists. For my part, I hold that there is only too much yielded to them already in the apology.'


All Christian sects are tolerated, but the 'order of the Jesuits is vigorously excluded from every part of the Republic.' The government of the Protestant Church, Calvinistic in principle and Presbyterian in form, is under the supervision of the magistrates of the various cantons, to whom is also entrusted, in the Protestant districts, the superintendence of public instruction. Education is very widely diffused, particularly in the north-eastern cantons.

Switzerland is divided into twenty-two cantons, three of which are subdivided. In 1880 it had a population of 2,836,264, of which 1,667,109, or 59 per cent., are Protestants, and 1,160,782, or 41 per cent., are Roman Catholics, with 7,373 Jews. Roman Catholic priests are much more numerous than Protestant ministers. No one incurs penalties because of religious opinions.

The Council of Neuch�tel, in Switzerland, has, by a majority of a single vote, decreed the complete separation within the canton of Church and State. The worst article in the constitution of 1848, which expressly reserved 'the spiritual supremacy of the State' in all matters, was abolished in 1858. In its stead it was enacted that 'the administration of the Church in all matters spiritual belongs exclusively to the synod.' But then the acts of the synod, whatever they were, required to be countersigned by the Council of State - in cases of suspension and deposition of ministers, there lay an appeal to the civil powers - and, to complete all, it was expressly provided that all disputes about the meaning or application of the constitution were to be absolutely settled by the civil courts. The income derived from ecclesiastical property (for there is to be no confiscation or secularisation of the endowments) will be paid over each year to the representatives of the churches and parishes to which that property respectively belongs; the glebe houses will be appropriated, as before, as dwellings for the clergy, and the churches will be at the command of the various religious communities for the celebration of public worship, the majority in each district having first choice of the hours of service. How will this work? The Evangelical Church of Neuch�tel, without State connection, has one synod or presbytery. Of 45 ministers 27 live outside the cantons. It has 3,335 male members above 21 years of age.

The National Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton de Vaud has 8 Conseils d'Arrondissement or Presbyteries, 6 elders and 3 pastors from each, professors of theology, and 3 State delegates from the Synod. Seven members, holding office for three years, form a commission. The pastors are appointed by the State out of lists given by the congregations, whose duties are performed by suffragants during vacancies.

The Free Evangelical Church of the Canton de Vaud has one Synod composed of pastors, professors, and of elders delegated by the Churches. the Free Evangelical Church of Geneva is the result of renewed Christian faith and life. It consists of one Presbytery, with three organised congregations.


Those marked thus (*) are in union with the State.


Protestant Population.





Rhodes Ext�rieurs





" Int�rieurs







*Bale Ville





*" Campagne







































St. Gall



























Unterwald, Haut and Bas






























Membres actifs.




















  1. What testifies that God's Spirit brought about the Reformation?
  2. Give an account of Zwingle's life, labours, opinions, and death.
  3. Prove that Calvin did not invent this polity, and show what his great work in connection with it was.
  4. Expose the artful practices of prelatists; name some who have endeavoured to promote this mode of controversy, and refute some of their assertions.
  5. What is the present condition of the Swiss Churches?