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 XIII.
Presbyterial Position and Anticipation.

"Come, then, and, added to Thy many crowns,
Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth,
Thou who alone art worthy! It was Thine
By ancient covenant, ere Nature's birth;
And Thou hast made it Thine by purchase since,
And overpaid its value with Thy blood.
Thy saints proclaim Thee King, and in their hearts
Thy title is engraver with a pen
Dipped in the fountain of eternal love.
Thy saints proclaim Thee King; and Thy delay
Gives courage to their foes, who, could they see
The dawn of Thy last advent, long desired
Would creep into the bowels of the hills,
And flee for safety to the falling rocks."

T HIS threefold inquiry has produced one result. Essential scriptural principles in combination presented Presbytery as the form of government which Christ has instituted for the beneficial regulation of His kingdom. The successive examination of governments devised by men, Separatism, Erastianism, Libertinism, as also of governments localised and centralised, again presented Presbytery as the only form in which the chief features of good government are, or can be, harmonised. History, past and contemporaneous, presented the practical confirmation. Presbytery, in its essential characteristics, more or less has been found and adopted by Christians in almost all ages and countries as the government instituted by Christ. The early Christians, the Culdees, the Waldenses, and others, during times of darkness and persecution, the Reformers and Reformed Churches, wherever they were not crushed in blood, recognised and acted upon that scriptural plan.

That adoption is not confined to one spot of earth, or to a small section of the Church, as some suppose. Upwards of NINETY MILLIONS of people in many lands — including at least TWENTY-ONE MILLIONS of Lutherans — have embraced this plan. These results of our investigation are as surprising as they are gratifying. If numbers are to be looked at, Presbytery deserves some consideration. It is the largest Protestant Church in the world.

On every ground, Presbytery, or the association of elders of equal place and power — who nevertheless honour the true gift of aristocracy, piety and zeal coupled with genius and learning — is the right position which every branch of the Church ought to occupy in order to confident and joyful anticipation.

The harmonious exercise of true liberty, real authority, and permanent unity is here largely found, while that exercise is capable of extension to the remotest boundary of this spiritual kingdom. This plan is most favourable to the maintenance of sound doctrine. Fergusson of Kilwinning (1652) declared: 'So long as Presbyterian government stood in its integrity, we might, in the Lord's strength, have defied Satan to have brought error into Scotland.' It is favourable to the cultivation of knowledge and learning, although rich livings are not possessed. England ought to produce fifteen for every one minister in Scotland who has at all distinguished himself. In the roll of her worthies, 'Can England produce fifteen metaphysicians as Reid, fifteen biblical critics as Campbell, fifteen historians as Robertson, fifteen philosophers and thinkers as Chalmers?'

Presbytery has proved itself most favourable to civil and religious liberty. Loyalty has displayed itself. 'Did Scotland ever set up a commonwealth, as England once did? It is known what they adventured and suffered for the monarchy when England abjured it.' 'I had,' exclaimed that great patriot, the Marquis of Argyll, about to be sacrificed in this great cause, 'no accession to his late Majesty's horrid and execrable murder, by counsel, or knowledge of it, or any other manner of way. And I pray the Lord preserve his Majesty the present King, and to pour out His blessing on his person and government.' So Presbytery has proved friendly to all the true rights of man. It has advanced both civil and religious liberty. (See 'Miller on Presbytery.') That the civil constitution of New Zealand, as noted, has been based upon this plan of government, and works admirably, is a strong attestation. Often persecuted, only when maddened by tyranny have Presbyterians been goaded on to deeds of desperation. That not to Calvin, but to his enemies, must be ascribed the condemnation and execution of Servetus, has been proved by the late Dr. Tweedie in his 'Calvin and Servetus.'

'Scotland,' sald Lord Macaulay in 1828, 'has had a Presbyterian Establishment during a century and a half. Yet her General Assembly has not, during that period, given half so much trouble to the Government as the Convocation of the Church of England gave to it during the thirty years which followed the Revolution.'

Indications have been beheld of a rapid approximation to the essential features of Presbytery. Those branches of the Church of Christ that have hitherto localised the government find that the Independent or Congregational theory is sadly defective. The various schemes adopted, as 'The London Missionary Society,' 'The Congregational Union,' 'The Baptist Union,' together with an expressed desire for something more authoritative and definite, all tend to indicate that the spirit of enlightening influence has only to be bestowed to bring them to the cordial adoption of Presbytery. Then there is the Society of Friends, with their ministers, elders, stated and orderly meetings or assemblies; and the various departments of Methodism, with their leaders (or elders), their annual conferences or assemblies having much authority, and with increasing desire for a proper systematic representation of the people. Nor are there wanting other tokens, as in the reconstruction of the Irish Episcopal Church, with its lay delegates, vestries, diocesan synods, and councils of the whole Church, to show how speedily the King of Zion can bring order out of confusion, and make men to part with their lordly rank and power as well, when once His time has fully come.


presented by professed Christians are in Separatism and Centralisation.

SEPARATISM is the artful foe of Presbytery, as of all other organised Churches. Many have discovered, when too late, the folly of giving any countenance to those who proved themselves to be wolves in sheep's clothing. Not too soon can the branches of the Presbyterian Church wake up to the importance of guarding the sheep and lambs of their folds from their ensnaring wiles.

'Their policy is to gather Churches out of Churches; to open a door in existing bodies, not for the exit of the faithless and false-hearted, but of the pious and the good, and to leave to the denominations generally the exclusive privilege of evangelising the masses......When they have succeeded in making a few proselytes, the peculiar doctrines of Brethrenism are then urged, at first with caution, but afterwards with no esoteric reserve, till the neophytes are ultimately induced to withdraw altogether from the communion of their respective Churches..... They are bitterly opposed to every Church which assumes to bridle the wantonness of individual pride, and which offends that pride by putting one man in a position of official superiority towards his fellow' (London Quarterly Review).

CENTRALISATION presents obstacles to the scriptural government of the Church from without and from within.


The conflict is to be waged with Popery, the greatest embodiment of despotism that has made full proof of her destructive tendencies — a system that will be overthrown if her votaries are to be set free — 'that wicked, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.'

Prelacy also is a great antagonist, whose efforts require to be most vigorously counteracted, both as assuming an unwarrantable and uncharitable, because unscriptural position, and as preparing the way for the most perfect development of centralisation.

The Prelatic Church proclaims herself the antagonist of Presbytery. One Prelatic doctor threw out the following bait a few years ago to the people of Scotland, when asserting that efforts were being planned and put forth to introduce that system into every parish, and specially to draw into the net 'our poorer neighbours:' —

'We have to offer something more, and, as we believe, something better and more scriptural in all respects. A better worship, because resting upon better authority; better security for its propriety and reverence; a better ministry, both on other accounts, such as its priority, its universality, and because more congenial to the graduated order of society in a monarchical state; a better doctrine, because more truly evangelical in the unlimited offer of the redemption which Christ has wrought, not for a privileged and predestined few, but for all mankind.'

Let Prelacy be heard speaking without the mysticism of such ensnaring declarations and recent 'mission' services, and Presbyterians would be more upon their guard. The following utterance, for instance, is unmistakable:—

'To the catholic and apostolic Churches of England, Scotland, and Ireland, every individual within their district is bound to unite himself, as being exclusively and solely the way of salvation established by divine authority among us.' 'The Church of England does not hesitate to denounce those who separate from her as guilty of most grievous sin. Her canons pronounce that whosoever shall hereafter separate themselves from the communion of saints, as it is approved by the apostles' rules in the Church of England, and combine themselves together in a new brotherhood, accounting the Church of England unfit to be joined with in Christian profession, shall be excommunicated, and not restored till after their repentance and public revocation of such their wicked errors (Can. ix., 1603). Those even who maintain such schismatics, and allow them the name of a Christian Church, are equally excommunicated by the Church of England' (Palmer's 'Treatise on the Church,' vol. i. pp. 109, 214, 218).

These are mere human assertions, that might be passed over unnoticed, because destitute of the slightest support in Scripture. Condemned by the precepts and practices of Christ and His apostles, such declarations only prove the unblushing presumption of Prelacy, and the credulity of those who suffer themselves to be ensnared. The only show of authority for Prelacy is to be found in antiquity, but that is only from the fourth century. Even had it a seeming foundation in the earlier centuries, of what avail is antiquity when contrary to the Word of God.

As Flavel said:—

'Antiquity is a venerable word, but ill-used when made a cloak for error. Truth must needs be older than error, as the rule must necessarily be before the aberration from it. The grey hairs of opinion are then only beauty and a crown, when found in the way of righteousness. Copper, saith learned Dumoulin, will never become gold by age. A lie will be a lie, let it be never so ancient. We dispute not by years, but by reasons drawn from Scripture. That which is now called an ancient opinion, if it be not a true opinion, was once but a new error. When you can tell us how many years are required to turn an error into truth, then we will give more heed to antiquity when pressed into the service of error than we now think due to it.'

Expediency also has been found of no avail in the support of Prelacy. In England the supremacy of the Crown over the Church is still maintained by Prelacy. As that supremacy led to the arrest of thorough reformation, and to civil and religious despotism, so in similar circumstances these principles will lead to similar results.

Here, then, is a system insidiously ensnaring, and openly attacking that scriptural system which was bought, preserved, and bequeathed by the blood of our fathers. It proclaims that Presbyterians are guilty of most grievous sin, that their Bible principles are wicked errors, to hold which is to be excommunicated. This system only wants the power now, as of old, to rob men of the rights of conscience and liberty. The doctrine of the divine right of Prelacy, which was only put forth fifty years after the Reformation, and which was then strenuously opposed by Prelatists as a startling novelty, is now promulgated with unblushing effrontery as such an undoubted truth, that its nonacceptance is fatal to the souls of men.

Surely it is time that professing Christians aroused themselves to the facts — first, that this system is totally destitute of divine authority; and second, that as responsible and free agents, they dare not divest themselves of these rights of liberty and conscience. Prelacy comes to rob us of these rights, by claiming absolute supremacy and lordly rank and power. It does so, while God has given it no such authority, and while He demands that we stand fast in that liberty wherewith He hath made us free, and be no more entangled with that yoke of bondage. As we would be faithful to Christ, that tyranny must be resisted which would assert absolute dominion over conscience falsely in the name of God. But what is that 'something more and better and more scriptural' which Prelacy offers to Scottish Presbyterians? Divest the pill of its sugar, and it is found essentially to be Popery.

The Rev. Frederic Aubert Gace, M.A., vicar of Great Barking, Essex, in his Church Catechism asks:—

'Is not the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, as it is denominated by law, considered by the Church as one of its branches? — No; and therefore there is a branch of the true Church of Christ in that country which, for the sake of distinction, is called the Episcopal Church.

We have amongst us various sects and denominations who go by the general name of Dissenters. In what light are we to consider them? — As heretics; and in our Litany we expressly pray to be delivered from the sins of "false doctrine, heresy, and schism."

Is, then, their worship a laudable service? — No; because they worship God according to their own evil and corrupt imaginations, and not according to His revealed will, and therefore their worship is idolatrous.

Is dissent a great sin? — Yes; it is in direct opposition to our duty towards God.

But why have not Dissenters been excommunicated? — Because the law of the land does not allow the wholesome law of the Church to be acted upon; but Dissenters have virtually excommunicated themselves by setting up a religion of their own, and leaving the ark of God's Church.

What class of Dissenters should we be most upon our guard against? — Those who imitate the most nearly the true Church of Christ.

Is it wicked, then, to enter a meeting-house at all? — Most assuredly; because, as was said above, it is a house where God is worshipped otherwise than He has commanded, and therefore, it is not dedicated to His honour and glory; and, besides this, we know the risk of being led away by wicked, enticing words. At the same time, by our presence, we are witnessing our approval of their heresy, wounding the consciences of our weaker brethren, and, by our example, teaching others to go astray.

In what light are we to regard Roman Catholics? — These are in a different case from "Protestant Dissenters." The Roman Church is a true branch of the Catholic Church, but as the Church of England, or the Anglican Church, already exists in this country, and has existed from the first planting of Christianity in England, the Roman Catholics, by having distinct churches in this land, are schismatics, setting up altar against altar, and are therefore to be discountenanced and reproved' (Quest. 84 — 101).

No Prelatic Church is more essentially Romish than the Scottish Episcopal. In it 'the right of consecration and ordination belongs to the order of bishops only' (1st Canon). This declaration of Scottish Prelacy shows that these bishops ordain alone. Ordination in the Church of England is by the bishop along with the presbyters, of whom three at least require to be present. But in the Scottish Episcopal Church this power is altogether withheld. 'To believe,' says Dr. Wordsworth (charge 1853), 'that presbyters alone are competent to carry on the succession of an apostolical clergy, and to administer validly the sacraments of the Church, is to hold a doctrine than which there can be none more practically mischievous, or more justly excommunicable in the case of those who hold it; because there can be none which destroys more directly the essence of the Christian communion.' Presbyters are thus denuded and excommunicated if they avow the right of ordination.

This Scottish Church shows herself essentially Popish in holding views akin to transubstantiation and wafer adoration. They beseech God that these 'creatures of bread and wine may become the body and blood of Thy most dearly beloved Son.' 'I cannot,' said Lord Mackenzie in his judgment, 1849, 'overlook the circumstance that a large party of the Episcopal world think that the Communion Service teaches the doctrine of transubstantiation.' 'The Communion Office,' said Lord Brougham, 'varied most materially from that of the Church of England.' 'If this did not amount to transubstantiation, it was a very near, near approach to it, almost the nearest he had ever seen beyond the Romish pale.' (See further proofs in Williamson's 'Church Government,' 1869.) Their teachings are — (1.) 'That the Eucharist is a material sacrifice; (2.) That the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ; (3.) That the Eucharist is a sin-offering, and that the benefits thereof are applied, not to the living only, but also to the faithful departed' (Rev. G. H. Forbes). Apostolical succession is part of the 'something better.' It is strongly maintained by this Church.

These human inventions have no promise of the divine blessing. They may attract attention, being congenial to depravity, but instead of elevating, they debase the soul, substituting gradually spurious and superstitious devotion for the spiritual worship of Jehovah. No wonder that even sensible persons, who yield to these seductions, are frequently given over to strong delusion. Is the experience of centuries of will-worship to have no effect, if not upon silly women, at least in arousing and warning men professing to be wise?

There are those in Episcopal Churches who do not fully sympathise with the Prelatic position. Thus Dean Ramsay, in the last edition of his 'Reminiscences,' exclaims against the language employed by the 'extreme Anglican party,' and the use of the phrase 'mission service,' as if there 'no Christian Church was already planted.' He goes on to say:— 'I do not see why we should not have an interchange between our pulpits and the pulpits of the Established and other Presbyterian or Independent Churches. Such ministerial interchange need not affect the question of orders, nor need it, in fact, touch many other questions on which differences are concerned.'

To avoid misrepresentation, the writer asked the Dean to give this explanation:— 'Am I to understand that you are prepared, first, To recognise the office of the ministry as valid in Presbyterian and Independent Churches? and, secondly, That you are as ready to allow Presbyterian and Independent ministers to preach in Episcopal churches as they might be to grant a like opportunity in the churches in which they minister to Episcopal clergymen?' In his courteous reply he avoids giving a distinct yea or nay.

Dean Ramsay, holding that no polity is prescribed either by Scripture or the Thirty-nine Articles, and that, although not commanded, Episcopacy is 'lawfully warranted or sanctioned by Scripture and antiquity,' adopts Paley's 'Theory of Expediency,' and consequently finds that 'it is impossible to deny grace and the divine sanction given to Presbyterian communities, and to individuals in them, as well as to Episcopalians.' (See pp. 287-294 of this work.) Having much in common, pulpit-teaching, apart from 'the question of orders' and sacraments, is a matter on which to agree. 'The pulpits of each may thus be mutually open.'

Manifestly the principal thing is in all this evaded. (1.) It is the general impression that 'by law' the Episcopal Churches are not at liberty to admit any to preach who have not been ordained by 'a bishop.' Only where the 'bishop' does not take note of it may another so minister, but it is in the power of the bishop to inhibit the practice. Besides, (2.) From their standpoint the question of orders and sacraments is everything. These are regarded as essential to a valid ministry, preaching as nonessential. To admit Presbyterian ministers simply to the position of lecturers — as in a literary institution — whilst Presbyterians do not refuse to recognise the validity of Episcopal orders, is obviously wanting in fair dealing.

The question of orders cannot be left aside. If, however, Episcopal ministers are left free personally to recognise that valid ministry, and to open their pulpits, Presbyterians will not be found wanting in the work of earnest Christian co-operation. We can cordially reciprocate the closing words of this venerable Episcopal clergyman, whilst any compromise of this essential principle cannot be yielded:— 'Zeal in promoting our own Church views, and a determination to advance her interests and efficiency, need be no impediment to cultivating the most friendly feelings towards those who agree with us in matters which are essential to salvation, and who, in their differences from us, are, I am bound to believe, as conscientious as myself. Such days will come.' More than this, however, is absolutely necessary.

Christian co-operation is one thing. Co-operation with the express stipulation to reserve 'orders and sacraments' is another. Whilst every one is free on his own responsibility to co-operate with all whom he can regard as Christian brethren, care must be taken that essential principles be not thereby yielded. The several branches of the Presbyterian and the other evangelical bodies require no such reservation. From whence then does this express stipulation arise? Is there not a reluctance betrayed expressly to condemn two roots of the Papacy that have unfortunately been allowed to retain a place in Episcopal Churches — viz., apostolical succession, and baptismal regeneration? If this be so, caution is necessary in acceding to such offers, that an opening be not given for the teaching, even by inference, of such fundamental errors.

An exhibition has been lately made of the professed charity and pity of Prelacy for Presbyterianism. Dr. Stanley, the Dean of Westminster, both by talent and bland words has done his utmost to win over Scottish Presbyterians to Broad Church views — that is, to view all questions, not only of Church government but of doctrine, with supreme indifference — as if any opinion whatsoever may be rightly held and practised. Unfortunately for the Dean's cause, he has made such great blunders and misrepresentations, that none who know the history of the Church of Scotland can possibly be deceived. And then, his bias in favour of Prelacy has betrayed itself in the epithets heaped by him on men of firm principles. Their conduct, according to the Dean, was 'stubbornness, devoting themselves not only to death, but at times to absurdity.' They were merely 'bigots' and 'fanatics,' while men who forsook Presbytery in testing times, and sought the place and power of prelates, were 'saints.' So thinks the Dean, but such is not the verdict of Scotland's sons. Such efforts and misrepresentations, by any means to gain golden opinions for Prelacy, and to diminish the horror with which its history is regarded in Scotland, show the vast importance of having the people of every land well instructed, not only in their Church history, but in essential scriptural principles. Then, that professed charity which demands the concession of everything vital, whilst it carefully reserves such questions as those of 'orders and sacraments,' will fail to impose.

The Rev. Dr. Rainy, Professor in the New College, Edinburgh, in three lectures on the Church of Scotland, has given an admirable reply to the misconceptions and inferences of Dean Stanley. The following sentences sufficiently show that Scottish people are accustomed to scrutinise not only men but their professed principles, although they be enveloped in the thickest mountain mist:

'Everything that is theoretically good and true has its practical witness in itself, from which it receives daily confirmation. So it was with Presbyterianism. Presbyterianism meant organised life, regulated distribution of forces, graduated recognition of gifts, freedom to discuss, authority to control, agency to administer. Presbyterianism meant a system by which the convictions and conscience of the Church could constantly be applied by appropriate organs to her affairs. Presbyterianism meant a system by which quickening influence anywhere experienced in the Church could be turned into effective force, and transmitted to fortify the whole society. Presbyterianism meant a system in which every one, first of all the common man, had his recognised place, his defined position, his ascertained and guarded privileges, his responsibilities inculcated and enforced, felt himself a part of the great unity, with a right to care for its welfare, and to guard its integrity. From the broad base of the believing people, the sap rose through sessions, presbyteries, synods, to the Assembly, and thence descending, diffused knowledge, influence, organic unity through the whole system. Yes, Presbyterianism is a system for a free people that love a regulated, a self-regulating freedom — a people independent, yet patient, considerate, trusting much to the processes of discussion and consultation, and more to the promised aid of a much-forgiving and a watchful Lord. It is a system for strong Churches — Churches that are not afraid to let their matters see the light of day — to let their weakest parts and their worst defects be canvassed before all men, that they may be mended. It is a system for believing Churches, that are not ashamed or afraid to cherish a high ideal, and to speak of lofty aims, and to work for long and far results amid all the discouragements arising from sin and folly in their own ranks and around them. It is a system for catholic Christians, who wish not merely to cherish private idiosyncrasies, but to feel themselves identified with the common cause, while they cleave directly to Him whose cause it is.... When Episcopacy shall have trained the common people to care, as those of Scotland have cared, for the public interests of Christ's Church, and to connect that care with their own religious life as a part and a fruit of it, then it may afford to smile at the zealous self-defence of Scottish Presbyterianism......

'Episcopacy is fated, I fear, to bring other things in its train. From the circumstances of its long history; from the fact of its being established, where it is established, rather on grounds of tradition than of Scripture; from its being associated with festivals, and ceremonies, and like inventions, methods of church life which rest on the same traditionary ground; from its being the link on which hangs suspended a whole system of salvation by church and sacraments, which depends on Episcopal succession it follows that wherever Episcopacy comes the rest follows behind. Episcopacy led up to Popery, though many a bishop fretted and fought against that result. So, though many a sincere and honest Episcopalian Protestant detests the system I am speaking of, he can never get rid of it. It comes, and it comes not merely as an element or fact, but as a singularly arrogant and imperious force, demanding for itself and its principles a complete ascendancy, and forcing on the Churches where it is the alternative of submission or perpetual strife about the very first principles of Protestant truth......

'There are those who hold that there is a point of Church government so momentous that error about it excludes from the fellowship of salvation, and leaves a man to God's uncovenanted mercies. Only, if his ignorance be invincible ignorance (not by his own fault), it may be hoped that those unrevealed mercies will overtake his case. Bishop Jolly, the same whom Dean Stanley described, wrote thus:— "Every Christian is bound to maintain communion with his proper bishop, and to join with none but such as are in communion with him, .... that being the only way to be in communion with Jesus Christ, the invisible Bishop and Head of the catholic Church. ... As the one bishop is the principle of unity to a particular Church, by our union with whom we are united to the one invisible Bishop Jesus Christ, so schism in any diocese consists in a causeless separation from the communion of the one bishop, whereby the schismatics are separated from the communion of the invisible Bishop, and so from the whole catholic Church in heaven or earth." And afterwards, dwelling on the greatness of the sin, and protesting against those who hold these views being thought uncharitable, he says:— "At the same time, they make great allowance, as they trust our compassionate Saviour does also, for the case of those whose invincible ignorance or prejudice will not let them see the truth of those principles." In like manner, in a work by Rev. John Comper, of Aberdeen, published in 1854, at the desire of Bishop Wordsworth, and dedicated to him, the author, after describing at large the inefficacy of ministrations not in the line of apostolical succession, proceeds:— "I anticipate the inquiry, Do you therefore deny salvation to all who are not happy enough to live under an apostolically derived and regularly ordained ministry? (!)...... I can safely reply we do not assert that salvation cannot be had by any out of the apostles' fellowship. There is such a thing as involuntary, invincible ignorance ......He who knows well how far error is the result of the force of early instructions, will award to each according to his deserts, saving, as we trust and do not doubt, in His own inscrutable ways, those whose errors are their misfortune and not their fault, being involuntary and invincible; and as surely — for His Word has affirmed it — consigning the wilful deniers of His one truth to the fate of those who make or believe a lie, which, in the awful words of Holy Scripture, is 'to be damned.' Of individuals, indeed, we judge no man. To his own Master each standeth or falleth." That is, he will not judge who is or is not invincibly ignorant. Do I say that all this is uncharitable. Not at all. I make no doubt Bishop Jolly would have gladly rendered any charitable office to the soul or body of any of us. I impute no want of charity. But I say — What a gigantic and disgraceful superstition, and, be it remembered, one by no means peculiarly Scotch!'

'This pre-eminence of bishops,' said Andrew Melville, 'is that Dagon which once already fell before the ark of God in this land, and no band of iron shall be able to hold him up again. This is that pattern of an altar brought from Damascus, but not showed to Moses in the mountain, and therefore it shall fare with it as it did with that altar of Damascus; it came last into the temple and went first out. Likewise the institution of Christ was anterior to this pre-eminence of bishops, and shall consist and stand within the house of God when this new fashion of altar shall go to the door.... If ye should, as God forbid, authorise the authority of bishops, and their pre-eminence above their brethren, ye should bring into the Kirk of God the ordinance of man, and that thing which the experience of preceding ages hath testified to be the ground of great idleness, palpable ignorance, unsufferable pride, pitiless tyranny, and shameless ambition in the Kirk of God.'


arise, obstructing the full and beneficial exercise of Presbyterial government.

Erastian domination led to the secessions of the Cameronians, the Erskines, and Fisher, as well as to the Disruption of 1843 in Scotland. Presbytery was, at those periods, held theoretically and practically by the Church of Scotland, and yet the allowance of that evil influence within the Church nullified the beneficial power of Presbytery. These are beacons of warning not to be unheeded.

Centralisation is the most insidious internal evil to which Presbytery is exposed. This tendency arises from man's natural love of power. From it schism has evolved, and thereby also intense opposition to Presbyterian government has been nourished in the minds of many Nonconformists. Not only do Prelatists cry out that 'the presbyter is much more tyrannical than the priest'; men evidently in search after the truth on this subject exclaim against its tyranny and corruption. The late Dr. Carson asserted:—

'If we can show from the history of the Church of Scotland that the Presbyterian form of Church government has had a general tendency to promote corruption either in members, doctrines, or practice,...... it is of no avail to display in the abstract the advantages of the constitution...... Though in their definitions of their authority, they (Presbyterians) confine themselves to matters of inferior moment, ...... it is yet plain that in practice, they carry it to the most extravagant length. There is nothing they are not supposed equal to when assembled..... They will encroach by degrees; time will familiarise the world to their pretensions, and sanction their usurpation by antiquity..... None will be louder than the clergy in maintaining that Christ is the only king and lawgiver of His Church, as long as Christ will condescend to reign and give law through the clergy, and not through His Word.... The clergy will claim honour for Christ, if Christ will consent to share it with the clergy. Like Oliver Cromwell, they will exercise every act of sovereign authority under the modest name of protectors of the realm' ('Reply to Brown,' pp. 13, 18, 19).

It were idle to say that such assertions have no foundation in the past or present of the Presbyterian Church. One entitled to be heard, the late Dr. Cunningham, has frankly owned that the danger is so far a real one, and has pointed out how alone it can be removed:—

'There have been many instances in which individuals possessed of authority or influence in the Church and in ecclesiastical councils have, on the one hand, exhibited, under the profession of a great zeal for truth, a great want of Christian forbearance and discretion, and practised odious and offensive tyranny; or, on the other hand, under a profession of moderation and forbearance, have sacrificed the interests of truth and sound doctrine.'

Presbytery, theoretically, is the one system that has the full sanction of Scripture, but, practically, it can only be wrought by humble and spiritual men, so as to promote the glory of God and the well-being of mankind. In the hands of men imbued with worldly policy and statecraft — planning in the dark, and accomplishing their designs by every means, however questionable — Presbytery has been, and may be, employed for tyrannical ends. These instances, it is true, are few in comparison with the vast number in which harmony and benefit result. But in order to the conservation of true liberty, authority, unity, and for the removal of stumbling-blocks lying in the way of others — (1.) centralised power in the hands of a few must be carefully repudiated; (2.) Thorough equality of rank and power in all presbyters asserted; and (3.) The graces of self-denial and humility exercised.

These rules were never more necessary than at the present day. They will be carried out by the truly good and great. Abuse of presbyterial government must be repudiated, not only in theory, but practically, so that this divine plan may be recommended and largely adopted.

Dr. Lieber expressed a great truth in declaring that 'He who has power, absolute and direct, abuses it; man's frailty is too great; man is not made for absolute power.' That power unchecked tends to abuse, and will corrupt the sincerest of men, is undeniable, and universal experience. 'It is a wise maxim to resist the beginnings of evil. Perpetual vigilance is the price of liberty.' From the slightest and most insignificant beginnings stupendous results have arisen.

'The forms of ancient despotism may never again be revived, but there is an evil worse than tyranny, which may be produced by alienating the affections and confidence of the great body of the people from the persons of their rulers. The Church or State which is reduced to this deplorable condition is without strength or energy; like the body, when the nerves have lost their power and the vital functions their tone...... The public opinion of the Church must be consulted by its rulers; and while they should hold themselves above the paltry influences of popular clamour or whim, they should earnestly seek to understand the under-current of feeling and thought which pervades, animates, strengthens, and consolidates the whole body of God's children. There are chords of sympathy which they must touch, if they would make their government a living, effective reality' (Dr. Thornwell).

Let Presbyterians seek grace so to act that 'nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves;' then may they have thorough confidence in this form of government, and because of confidence in the King of Zion, indulge in joyful


The system which Christ hath appointed, and which He hath so largely blessed, will, in His own good time, in all its essential features, be harmoniously adopted and exercised by His Church in all the earth.

Every legitimate effort must be put forth to bring this government into harmony with the apostolic model. For example, such questions as these may be put — (a) Ought not managers or congregational committees to give place to properly constituted deacons' courts? and (b) Ought not that office to be regarded also as a mode of training for the higher office of the ruling eldership? (c) Ought not some preference or honour to be given to men who for years have hazarded their lives in heathen lands? (d) Ought not every branch of the Church to respect the discipline of the other, so that rightful exclusion from one should be held to be from all, until there be proper restoration? (e) Ought not the disparity between teaching and ruling elders to be, as at first, simply a difference of gifts, and all tendencies to a difference of rank, as exclusion from laying on of hands at ordination services, or election to the office of moderator of church courts, to be carefully guarded against? (f) Ought not the entire membership to be stirred up to the full and appropriate exercise of their power and influence, so as to appropriate to each his work under direction of the eldership? (g) The General Council meetings should bring about that universal assemblage of representatives of all the branches of the Presbyterian Church after which our fathers longed? George Gillespie felt and wrote clearly regarding this great consummation of scriptural government:—

'Beside provincial and national synods, an œcumenical (so called from οιχουμενη, that is, from the habitable world), or, more truly, a general, or, if you will, AN UNIVERSAL SYNOD, if so it be free and rightly constituted, and no other commissioners but orthodox Churches be admitted (for what communion is there of light with darkness, of righteousness with unrighteousness, or of the temple of God with idols); such a synod is of special utility, peradventure also such a synod is to be hoped for, surely it is to be wished that, for defending the orthodox faith, both against Popery and other heresies, as also for propagating it to those who are without, especially the Jews, a more strait and more firm consociation may be entered into. For the unanimity of all the Churches, as in evil it is of all things most hurtful, so, on the contrary side, in good it is most pleasant, most profitable, and most effectual' (36th of 111 Propositions).

(h) And ought not young men, and especially future ministers, to be trained in a thorough knowledge of the principles, not only of the doctrine but of the polity which they profess to hold; so that by instruction the people may be able to know, defend, and propagate the truth? 'I sat myself for years in various Presbyterian churches of town and country. I never failed to hear the gospel of Christ and the great precepts of Christian morality preached and enforced with great faithfulness, and sometimes with considerable power. But I do not remember to have ever heard on any occasion, except at the settlement of a minister, any attempt made to teach the people why they should be Presbyterians and not Prelatists. I have met with not a few others, who tell that they have sat all their lives in Presbyterian churches, and do not remember to have heard on any Sabbath a single principle of Presbyterian Church polity explained! and yet a knowledge of these is necessary — (1.) To produce consistency of conduct; and (2.) To perpetuate our denominational existence' ('The Apostolic Church,' by Prof. Witherow). If this polity be not divine, it is not only foolish but sinful to stand aloof from other Churches. If held to be divine, then, the highest obligation binds the officers of the Church both to inculcate its harmonious exercise upon all the flock over which they preside, and upon all so far as their influence may extend. Duty to God and the Church demands the avowal, defence, and practical illustration of these principles. Earnestly and perseveringly holding fast, and walking by that whereto we have attained, any disadvantages of Presbytery are more than counterbalanced by its advantages. A compact system of representative unity is secured. Liberty is secured against arbitrary secret tribunals and personal despotism by representation and publicity; while authority is maintained against fitful popular demonstrations and the swellings of anarchy. Truth obtaining its rights, purity, peace, and comfort are the blessed subordinate results; and these again are promotive of the higher, the glory of God.

The Presbyterian Church may well be encouraged in looking back upon the past, and onward into the future, guided by the prophetic Word. Earnestly may she long and labour for that period when the watchmen on Zion's towers shall see eye to eye. Calmly may she wait until the clouds and shadows flee away, for 'the morning cometh, and also the night.' Steadfastly, then, let her maintain and promote the true unity of Church fellowship, that outward unity alone which flows from spiritual unity — unity that consists in thorough harmony of judgment in all essential principles under the government appointed by her King — that of associated presbyters. Then confidently and joyfully may she thus be stimulated to anticipate the coming glory of the latter day :—

'See yonder, in the visions of faith, the great ensign of Messiah, blazing aloft, with its signal and watchword summoning us to instant conflict, under the conduct of our adored Immanuel, and His countless throng of cherubim and seraphim, with their celestial minstrelsy. What, then, ought to be our resolution? Up, up; onward, onward, be our world-wide battle-cry, under the banner and leadership of our Saviour-King! On His head — ah, that precious head — already are many crowns — (1.) The crown of dominion over the kingdoms of creation, providence, and grace; (2.) The crown of dominion over the hierarchies of heaven and the potentates of hell; (3.) The crown of dominion over the Church militant on earth, and the Church triumphant in glory. But one crown is wanting still, (4.) It is the crown of all the earth; and all may be privileged to share in the unspeakable honour of placing it on His head. Awake then, arise, and swearing as it were by Him who liveth for ever and ever, let us press forward, bearing aloft the standard of the cross — resolved that we shall not desist or pause in our onward course and career of victory, till it be triumphantly planted on the last citadel of the hitherto unconquered realms of heathenism; — when all kings shall fall down before Him, and, casting their sceptres and diadems and all other emblems of earthly royalty at His feet, shall unite in crowning Him Lord of all' (Dr. Duff).


  1. Show what one result flows from this threefold inquiry.
  2. Give an idea of the extent and beneficial influences of Presbytery; and also of some approximations.
  3. What are the two chief obstructions, and how ought the first to be guarded against?
  4. State two classes of Prelatic assertions, the essential feature of the Scottish branch, and the position of some who do not fully hold by Prelacy.
  5. In what manner, then, ought Presbyterians to act towards the Prelatic system as such, and towards Christian ministers and people connected with it?
  6. What two forces have operated injuriously within the Church and how are these evils to be avoided?
  7. How may the Church be encouraged and stimulated to anticipate the coming glory of the kingdom?