Imatges de pÓgina

ancestors in England, in regard to church government, and, irrespective altogether of the Church of Scotland, further inquire, do they entertain the principles of their Presbyterian progenitors on this subject? These questions bring us precisely to the purport of the present Article. Prior, however, to our entering upon the investigation, we will venture to affirm, that never did posterity prove more unlike parentage than in the present instance; and with as much consistency might the English Presbyterians, or more properly, the Unitarians of England, claim connexion with the Church of Rome, as with the original Presbyterians of this kingdom, for they do not possess, in common with them, one feature of their enlightened piety, not one essential doctrine of their Christian faith, and not one single fragment of the Presbyterian principle for which they nobly contended.


In the brightest and best days of England's Christianity, let it be remarked, that the Presbyterianism of the ancient Puritans, while it had the Scriptures for its basis, had the Church of Scotland for its model. True it is, the Presbyterians of England could never procure the church's independence of the civil power, as to discipline and her internal management, which the Scots Church had obtained; but with these exceptions, the principles and practice of Presbytery in England were at one time similar to those in the sister kingdom. And the grounds of this uniformity can be easily traced. In those days preachers from Scotland made frequent visits to England, and the great popularity of these clergymen, with the members of both Houses of Parliament, as well as with the people generally, gave them much facility in the communication of their views respecting a Christian church. England, too, as well as her northern neighbours, had in that age considerable fellowship with foreign churches, whose attachment to the truths of the Gospel and the principles of Presbytery could not fail to make a salutary impression. The views of Calvin being very generally diffused over the Continent soon after the light of the Reformation from Popery had sprung up there, and John Knox, the pupil of that distinguished Reformer, having introduced Calvin's principles of church-polity into Scotland with remarkable success, the English nation had instructions on this subject. from every direction, which, to their honour, they practically regarded. A combination of other events, under the providence of God,

Russel's History of England, p. 413,

occurred at this stage of England's history to procure for Presbytery a favourable reception. The second great revival of religion in Britain, for at least twelve years downwards, from 1683-the disputes which took place between King Charles and his parliament, urging the councils of the nation to invite the Scots army to their assistance-and the leaders of the northern army being ardently desirous of a uniformity in religious worship throughout the three kingdoms, led to the important results which afterwards happened. For effecting this uniformity, the houses of parliament entered into a solemn confederation and vow, and also convoked an Assembly of Divines at Westminster, for the purpose of drawing up a Confession of Faith, a Directory for Public Worship, and a Form of Church Polity for Scotland, England, and Ireland. The force of truth embodied in these valuable productions, the conformity of the sentiments contained in them, with the piety which then prevailed in the high, as well as humble walks of society, and the evident advantages which the ministrations of men, regulated by such principles, would accomplish, induced the representatives of the nation to abolish the hierarchy, and to establish Presbytery in its stead.

The judgment of the Westminster Assembly settled, that, "according to the word of God, and the example of the best reformed churches," the government of the church consisted in congregational, classical, and synodical assemblies. Immediately after the "Solemn League and Covenant" had passed, in September, 1643, Presbytery virtually became the religious establishment of the kingdom; but now the parliament had formerly ratified the recommendation of the assembly. It having been decreed that the parishes of England should be brought under the exercise of these different assemblies, the regulations, which passed into a law upon 14th March, 1646, required the eldership of every parish to meet once a week, the presbytery of each province once a month, and the pro

vincial synod twice a year. * Having thus ascertained the precise nature of the church-polity recommended by the Westminster Assembly of Divines, ratified by the parliament, and practised to a great extent in England, let us further inquire what sanction the Presbyterian form of ecclesiastical government obtains from the word of God. The CHURCH, independent of all civil authorities, it is readily granted, has the sole power of judging, in all cases of discipline, and in all

* Neal's History, p. 249, vol. III.

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spiritual matters which come before her. But what does the term church signify? None can in consistency with truth affirm that it means exclusively, all the members of a Christian society, for frequently in the Old Testament, when the congregation-an expression often synonymous with the word "church"-is represented as judging in certain cases, it assuredly signifies the representatives of the congregation, or "the elders of Israel;" and no one can be acquainted with the writings of the New Testament, without knowing that the original term translated "church," is applied to an assembly in general, whether for civil or religious purposes-whether to the universal church, or to the rulers of a given portion of the Christian church. "The church," however, being supposed by many never to be taken in the last-mentioned acceptation, but always to import the members of a Christian society, it may be useful to settle at present this point, essential to the cause of Presbytery. "Not only, however, does the word church signify," says Dr. Brown on churchgovernment, "a number of congregations united in such a manner as to have one common government, while at the same time they had each their particular rulers; but it appears even sometimes to mean the office-bearers of the church, as distinguished from the members. In this sense it seems to be taken in Acts, viii. 1, where we are told that there was a great persecution on the same day against the church which was at Jerusalem; and that they were all scattered abroad about the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Now, that by the church here specified, who were all scattered abroad except the apostles, is intended only the ministers, and not the members, appears not only from this, that all those who are mentioned of them who were scattered abroad, as Philip, ver. 5, and Simeon, and Lucius, and Manaen, chap. xiii. 1, were ministers; but that even after it is affirmed here, that all the church were scattered abroad except the apostles, it is asserted in the third verse, that a church still remained different from the former, and a church which Saul persecuted, and the men and women of which, he committed to prison. But if the whole of the church referred to in ver. 1, were scattered abroad except the apostles; and if, at the same time, it be instantly subjoined, that there was still a church after this at Jerusalem, of which those alone are mentioned who were not ministers; is it not obvious that, in the former verse, the churches who are spoken of, and are declared to have been all scattered abroad except the

apostles, can have been the ministers only of that Christian church?" Unquestionably the monosyllable church may, and in the Sacred Scriptures often does signify, the rulers distinguished from the members, and the sense in which it is used must be learned from the evident intention of the inspired writer in the passage where it occurs.

Our convictions then upon this subject urge us to affirm, that assemblies composed of men selected for their piety, experience, and wisdom, have, under both dispensations of the church, governed her affairs. Under the ancient economy, in addition to the inferior judges of the congregation, a council of seventy "bore the burden of the people" with Moses; and in the New Testament, it distinctly appears, that the government of the church is rested in the hands of bishops, pastors, elders, or presbyters, and rulers, all of which terms apply to ordinary ministers of the Gospel, who are, in all respects, upon an equality with each other in rank and office. In consequence, therefore of their ministerial character, this distinct order of men in the church must take the oversight of the people, guide and feed the flock, as faithful shepherds, and, in virtue of their office, dispense the ordinances, and exercise the discipline of the congregation. While this language applies to ministers, without any limitation, in respect to the dispensation of religious ordinances, there occurs to us only one thing which we have to subjoin, as regards discipline; and that is, the Scriptures appoint a distinct order from that of the teaching Presbyter, to unite with the minister in carrying on the affairs of ecclesiastical government. The ruling Presbyters, the apostle Paul designates "helps in government," and "as ruling with diligence" and he explicitly mentions the two sorts of Presbyters, in his first Epistle to Timothy, when he says, "Let the elders or Presbyters that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine."

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The jurisdiction of ministers and elders when assembled, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to consult in regard to the interests of his kingdom, extends to all the members and vital concerns of his church. It warrants them to examine into the healthful state of his whole mystical body under their charge-to pronounce upon the soundness of the moral system-or to apprize incautious souls of deeply affecting symptoms which indicate the rapid

progress of dangerous disease; and also to perform the painful work of amputation, when the spiritually disordered state of any member threatens to impede the stream of social Christian life. Hence these awfully important words of the Lord to his disciples, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." It is the confirmation in heaven of the righteous sentences of Christian councils upon earth, that gives a weight and solemnity to the discipline of Christ's Church-it is the manifest evidence of the Almighty Redeemer's presence in his church, at all times and in every place, which this ratification of the decisions of her authorized councils gives, that proves Christ's interest in his church collectively, and which demonstrates that he and his believing people are one. This unity, proving incontestably that all genuine Christians, wheresoever existing, constitute one body in Christ, precludes the possibility of any section of the true church being independent of the whole, and entitles every individual member, as well as every single church, to the pro tection and communion of the church, in her collective capacity ;-and never, till this principle be fully acted on, shall Christianity exhibit its comeliness, in the attractive form mentioned by an apostle in these words, "In whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord." Very strongly, but in exceedingly appropriate language, did Dr. Owen, a learned and gifted independent minister of the seventeenth century, express himself, when he said, "The church that confines its duty unto the acts of its own assemblies, cuts itself off from the external communion of the church catholic; nor will it be safe for any man to commit the conduct of his soul to such a church."*

But the details, so far as they respect the nature and gradation of church judicature, the Scriptures explicitly lay down, as well as the principle of Presbytery. To distinguish the primary court from the judicatories of a higher grade, the minister and elders of a particular congregation, who compose it, when met in council, have been designated the SESSION. If the name has no sanction from the Sacred Record, the Session's jurisdiction is fully recognised by Paul, when he beseeches the brethren at Thessalonica to know them who

Owen, page 413.


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