Taken from the book:
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE
KINGDOM OF CHRIST
by James Moir Porteous.
(Published in 1888.)
The first open meeting of the Presbyterian party was held in Plumbers’ Hall, London, on the 19th June 1567, but their worship was interrupted. Officers of the civil court burst in and dragged some of them to prison. Twenty-four persons were kept in Bridewell for a year, because they had dared to forsake the Church of the bishops, and to set up a separate assembly for divine worship. And yet the validity of ordination without a bishop was recognised in the Thirty-nine Articles, which about this time were ratified by Parliament. Prophesying, or meetings for conversation on a portion of Scripture, after explanation by a minister, were now held in the diocese of Peterborough. These were also suppressed by authority, as nests of Puritanism. That the controversy was much the same as at present is seen in the positions maintained by Whitgift, in reply to an admonition presented by the Puritans to Parliament. The Bible, he maintained, is a rule of faith, that is, of doctrine, but not of government. The teachings and practices of the apostles were defective on this point, the Church not being fully developed. That of the fourth century was so, and therefore authoritative as an example.
Five miles from London, on the Surrey side of the Thames, lies the village of Wandsworth. There, in 1572; the first regular Presbytery was constituted. Fifteen ministers of London and eleven ruling elders were present. The offices of the Church were described in ‘The Orders of Wandsworth.’ This was the first fully constituted Church on Presbyterian principles in England. Now the Church possessed a vital principle embodied in a systematic organisation. If crushed out of sight for a time, this sprang to life anew. Archbishop Parker did all he could by imprisonment and banishment. The Queen seconded his efforts. Grindal was imprisoned and suspended for daring to appeal to her Majesty, and no book against Prelacy was allowed to issue from the press.
These oppressions gave rise to the Congregational or Independent form of government. Those embracing it were termed Brownists, from Robert Brown of Norwich, who first in England devised the plan. With others, he questioned whether the Prelatic Church established was a true Church of Christ, and whether its pastors were true pastors. Of a hot and impetuous nature, he denounced the Church and fled to Holland, but recoiled to another extreme. On his return he consented to become Rector of Northampton. At length he ended his dishonoured days in the county jail. Brown went further than most of his followers, not only renouncing communion with the Church of England, but with all other Churches who refused to adopt his model. His plan was threefold “” (1.) A Church was confined to a single congregation. (2.) Its government was democratic. (3.) Its officers and members were without distinction of order.
These Brownists were in no favour with the vast body of Puritans. The Puritans either retained connection with the Church in a sort of half-conformity, or associated themselves in Presbyterian Churches. Numbers were persecuted. There were hundreds suspended who could not sign Whitgift’s articles, declaring the Queen supreme over the Church, and that the Book of Common Prayer contained nothing contrary to the Word of God. The Court of High Commission imposed an oath causing persons to criminate themselves “” Prelacy thus calling in the aid of the Inquisition to enforce her claims. Still Presbytery progressed. Not fewer than five hundred ministers signed a book of discipline for their own guidance in 1586. This was drawn up by Travers, and published at Geneva. It is entitled, ‘The Sacred Discipline of the Church described by the Word of God.’ It suggests “” (1.) The erection of sessions composed of ministers and elders, (2.) chosen by the people; (3.) Provincial and (4.) national synods; and further (5.) an Å“cumenical council, composed of representatives from every national synod.
It was at this period, when the minds of the ministers were matured as to the scriptural form of government, and when the people were favourable to embrace it, that Prelacy took higher ground than ever before. Dr. Bancroft, in 1588, proclaimed that ‘bishops were a distinct order from priests or presbyters, jure divino.’ Prelates must now at length be obeyed, seeing they have authority directly from God. The supporters of Prelacy were amazed at the novelty.
Dr. John Reynolds, regarded as the most learned man in England, and Professor at Oxford, gave forth no uncertain sound. Writing to Sir F. Knollys, he declared that the equality of the order of bishops and presbyters was ‘the common judgment of the Reformed Churches,’ and ‘our own.’ ‘All,’ says he, ‘that have laboured in reforming the Church for five hundred years have taught that all pastors, be they entitled bishops or priests, have equal authority and power by God’s Word.’ ‘Among others we have bishops, the Queen’s professors of divinity in our universities, and other learned men, as Bradford, Lambert, Jewel, Pilkington, Humphreys, and Falke, who all agree in this matter, and so do all divines beyond sea that I ever read’ (‘Boyse on Episcopacy,’ pp. 13-19).
Many charged Bancroft with heresy and an invasion of the Queen’s prerogative; for if bishops have their orders direct from God, then the Queen has no direct authority over them as bishops. Whitgift himself declared that ‘he rather wished than believed it were true.’ These two doctrines the divine right of Prelacy, and its adjunct, royal supremacy over the Church “” contain the essence of despotism. Their operation under Laud proclaimed their virulent effect. At that time their acceptance by the people of England was prevented by the satires of wit and ridicule which secretly but plentifully issued from the Puritan press. These were termed the ‘Martin Mar-Prelatic Tracts.’ Force instead of argument replied by ‘The Suppression of Conventicles Act,’ many being forced into exile, and others put to death. The two root principles of Popery, sacramental regeneration of the religion and apostolical succession of the hierarchy, were planted in the Liturgy and beliefs of the Church, and by the fostering hand of absolutism these brought forth much bitter fruit.
On the ascension of James I. in 1603, he was presented with a petition from the Presbyterians, which declared, ‘That they, to the number of more than a thousand, groaned under the burden of human rites and ceremonies, and cast themselves at his Majestie’s feet for relief.’ This ‘Millenary Petition’ was in vain. The conference of Hampton Court was more for his own display than for their relief. The Puritans sought to have “” (1.) Doctrinal purity; (2.) Faithful ministers; (3.) Scriptural government; and (4.) An improvement of the Book of Prayer. Instead of discussion, they were mocked, and told, ‘No bishop, no king;’ ‘I will make you conform, or harry (banish) you out of the land, or do worse.’ Severities were multiplied. Seventy two of the canons adopted by the Convocation were directed against the Puritans. None were to be ordained who would not heartily subscribe these. Imprisonment or banishment was in store for all who refused. Despotism, not satisfied, mounted higher still. The twelve judges who were in 1604 summoned to the Star Chamber, gave as their legal opinion, that the King having supreme ecclesiastical power, could exercise it without consulting Parliament. Thus, (1.) He might make orders and constitutions for the Church. Further, (2.) The Court of High Commission might enforce these ex officio, and without libel. Further still, (3.) That subjects might not frame petitions for relief without being guilty of an offence, fineable at discretion, and very near to treason and felony. This was a loud toll of the bell, giving intimation that liberty, civil and religious, was about to be banished from our shores.
Parliament now began to enter upon a long-protracted struggle. The issue is well known. The King ventured to dissolve it, and to govern alone. The spirit of the nation was at length aroused. Meanwhile, by the efforts of Henry Jacob, those embracing the opinions of Brown, without his intolerance, met, declared their faith, and pledged themselves in mutual covenant to each other and to their God. Mr. Jacob was chosen pastor, and deacons were elected, in the first Independent congregation, in 1616.
Desecration kept pace with and sustained the regal despotism by the publication and enforcement of the Book of Sports, but the effort was ineffectual. Men were roused to think, and thoughtful men must be free. The storm, delayed by the death of James, soon broke out with redoubled fury when the absolutism of Charles I. was well understood. Perhaps no Parliament possessed men more renowned for sagacity and patriotism than that denominated ‘the Long Parliament.’ Life and liberty being at stake, only trusted men, such as Pym, Hampden, Cromwell, and Selden, were selected. Its committees for religious grievances, affairs in Scotland and Ireland, civil grievances, and Popish plots, show their determination. Laud and Strafford were committed to the Tower as instigators of tyranny. The press, set free, spoke out; and 15,000, by petition, proclaimed that they desired ‘the Episcopal government, with all its dependent roots and branches, to be abolished.’
In these circumstances, and opposed by the royal prerogative, by which the King sought its dissolution, they passed an Act, declaring that the present Parliament shall not be abolished without their own consent. The following protestation was then adopted for securing their liberties and that of the Protestant religion:””
‘I, A. B., do in the presence of Almighty God, promise, vow, and protest to maintain and defend, as far as lawfully I may, with my life, power, and estate, the true Reformed Protestant religion, expressed in the doctrine of the Church of England, against all Popery and Popish innovations within this realm, contrary to the said doctrine.
‘And further, that I shall in all just and honourable ways endeavour to preserve the union and peace betwixt the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland; and neither for hope, fear, nor any other respects, shall relinquish this promise, vow, and protestation.’
The Court of High Commission and Star Chamber were now abolished. Soon after, horror and alarm were excited by the outburst of Popery termed the Irish Massacre. The ‘Declaration of the Commons, &c, July 25, 1642,’ proves that this plot was between the Queen and the Irish Papists, and that the King knew of it.
A remonstrance was carried in the Commons, and presented to the King, and dispersed throughout the nation. The bishops were tried as the authors of the nation’s grievances. They were then removed from the House of Lords, in order that they might no longer ‘be entangled with secular jurisdiction;’ and on the 10th September 1642, there was passed ‘An Act for the utter abolishing and taking away of all archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissaries,’ &c., and ordaining that, after the 5th November 1643,’ there shall be no archbishops,’ &c.; declaring that every episcopal office ‘shall cease, determine, and become absolutely void.’
Thus the hierarchy was overthrown by a Parliament composed of men favourably disposed to Episcopacy, while they had determined on no other form of Church government.
THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY.
The sword was unsheathed, and battles followed each other in the dread civil conflict between the King and Parliament.
One of the articles in the grand remonstrance of December 1641 had expressed the desire of the Parliament that there might be ‘a general synod of the most grave, pious, learned, and judicious divines of this island, assisted by some from foreign parts professing the same religion with us, who may consider of all things necessary for the peace and good government of the Church; and to represent the result of their consultations, to be allowed and confirmed, and to receive the stamp of authority.’ The Parliament accordingly determined that an Assembly of Divines should be held to complete the necessary Reformation. As the King would make no concessions to liberty, the Parliament issued an ordinance calling the Assembly of date 12th June 1643.
Nine months had elapsed since the Bill had been passed abolishing Prelacy; and now a choice must be made either to restore that system, with all its intolerable tyranny, to adopt the Presbyterian form, or, further, to have no national Church, with the peril of national anarchy. The exigencies of the period prevented any such assembly, unless called as it was by the Parliament. Although this appeared to give to it an Erastian taint, the evil, if any, was unavoidable. The good produced, although not of the extent desired, was yet of incalculable value. The document calling the famous Westminster Assembly of 1643 is of great historical interest. It stated that, ‘Whereas it hath been declared and resolved by the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, THAT THE PRESENT CHURCH GOVERNMENT BY ARCHBISHOPS, BISHOPS, their chancellors, commissaries, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and other ecclesiastical officers depending upon the hierarchy, IS EVIL, and justly offensive and burdensome to the kingdom, a great impediment to reformation and growth of religion, and very prejudicial to the state and government of this kingdom; AND THAT THEREFORE THEY ARE RESOLVED THAT THE SAME SHALL BE TAKEN AWAY, AND THAT SUCH A GOVERNMENT SHALL BE SETTLED IN THE CHURCH AS MAY BE MOST AGREEABLE TO GOD’S HOLY WORD, and most apt to procure and preserve the peace of the Church at home, and nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland and other reformed Churches abroad: And for the better effecting hereof, and for the vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the Church of England from all false calumnies and aspersions, it is thought fit and necessary to call an assembly of learned, godly, and judicious divines, to consult and advise of such matters and things touching the premises, as shall be proposed unto them’.
That Assembly was composed of 151 members. Of these 10 were lords, 20 were commoners, and 121 were divines. Only 6 of the 151 were Scotch. These 6 were Alexander Henderson and George Gillespie of Edinburgh; Samuel Rutherford of St. Andrews, and Robert Bailie of Glasgow; and two elders “” John, Lord Maitland, and Sir Archibald Johnston of Warriston. The attendance averaged from 60 to 80. These men were of all shades of opinion on the subjects to be discussed.
On the 1st of July the Assembly was opened in the Westminster Abbey, by a sermon from Dr. Twisse, the prolocutor, on the words, ‘I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.’ The business then proceeded in Henry VII.’s Chapel.
Clarendon declares that ‘about twenty of them were reverend and worthy persons, and episcopal in their judgments’ (Lightfoot, p. 5). Bishop Westfield, of Bristol, was present, and Bishop Brownrigge, of Exeter, by apology, showed that he did not condemn the calling of the Assembly.
Every member, on admission to sit and vote, took the protestation:”” ‘ I,_______ , do seriously promise and vow, in the presence of Almighty God, that in this Assembly, whereof I am a member, I will maintain nothing in point of doctrine but what I believe to be most agreeable to the Word of God; nor in point of discipline, but what I shall conceive to conduce most to the glory of God, and the good and peace of His Church.’ Every Monday morning this solemn protestation was read anew, that its influence might pervade the Assembly.
On the 25th September, the Solemn League and Covenant received the sanction of the Assembly in the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster.
There were three parties in the Assembly. First, the Erastians, holding that the civil magistrate ought to inflict Church censures, he being the source and ruler of all power, civil and ecclesiastical. Secondly, the Independents, holding that every congregation has complete power of jurisdiction. Thirdly, the Presbyterians. The Erastians were chiefly lawyers, with a few ministers. There were some twelve able Independents. The majority were Presbyterian in sentiment, although ministers in the National Church. The deliberations of the Assembly on points of doctrine did not assume the form of controversy “” a great degree of unanimity prevailing. The question of government was that which agitated the members most. This was discussed chiefly under two branches “” Independency and Erastianism. In the former, George Gillespie so confuted the learned Selden, that he is said to have exclaimed, ‘That young man, by his single speech, has swept away the labours of ten years of my life.’ ‘When that learned John Selden again laid before the Assembly all the arguments and all the authorities he could mass together in support of his Erastian views, old Robert Bailie of Kilwinning laid his hand on George Gillespie’s shoulder, saying these emphatic words, “Up, George, and speak for your Master.” Gillespie had been observed diligently writing while Selden spoke; and when his notes came to be afterwards seen, they were found to contain little but a repetition of the words, “Da lucem Domine, da lucem Domine” “” ‘Give light, O Lord!’ Selden was confounded with the effect of Gillespie’s speech, made no attempt to reply, and Erastianism was defeated. Not the slightest Erastian modification was admitted into the Confession of Faith. The fruit of these discussions was given to the public on the 1st December 1646, in the publication of ‘Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici,’ or, ‘ The Divine Right of Church Government, by sundry Ministers of Christ in London.’ The works of Gillespie are also valuable in this respect: the former may be regarded as an unanswerable defence of Presbytery. The Assembly held 1163 sessions.
The result of their long and patient discussions was a declaration in favour of Presbytery. But the Erastians, defeated in the Assembly, were victorious in Parliament. Endeavours were in vain made to obtain its recognition by Parliament as of divine authority. The Independents were also able to subvert the labours of the Assembly. Notwithstanding, Presbyterian government was acknowledged as ‘lawful and agreeable to the Word of God.’ The Assembly maintained, in effect, that Presbytery is divine in all essentials “” the Scripture holding out a Presbytery in a Church, which consisteth of ministers of the Word, and other public officers. While some in the Parliament admitted that Presbytery is divine in the abstract, they thought it of no importance to determine the point “” as, if of Divine institution, it would remain so whether it were affirmed or not. They were content to state that it ‘is most agreeable to the Word of God, and most fitted to be settled in this kingdom.’ This, of course, left it in their power to settle or to change the government of the Church as they thought expedient. Still, what is so agreeable must be divine. At length, by order of Parliament, in March 1646, ruling elders were appointed to be chosen in every English congregation, and ecclesiastical judicatories were also allowed.
These orders were in 1647 carried out in London and Lancashire. In 1648, ‘all parishes and places whatsoever were declared to be under Presbyterial government, except chapels for the King and peers.’ London was divided into twelve Presbyteries. The first provincial Synod met in the Convocation House of St. Paul’s in 1647; others were established throughout the country. Independency was but recent, and had then only a few scattered congregations. Thus Presbyterianism was the established religion of England for a brief space from 1646, but without imposing any penalty on nonconformity. It occupied a distinctive position. ‘During the seventeen years Presbyterianism prevailed in England, the country enjoyed signal benefits. Dr. Owen was Vice-chancellor of Oxford, education flourished, scandalous ministers were ejected, public morals were purified, and national courage was high and unsullied. During its brief reign, Presbyterianism did more for England than has been achieved by Episcopacy during the two following centuries.’ Warmly as Presbyterians advocated the cause of liberty, the overthrow of the constitution and the execution of the monarch met with their solemn protest.
On the ascension of Cromwell to supreme power, the strength of Presbyterianism began to decline. Its establishment anew in 1660 was but a brief respite. Other parties then dissented and departed from the Church of England. Presbyterians remained within her, and sought her thorough reformation. Only when expelled did they quit her communion. Some would even have been content with the platform proposed by Archbishop Usher, but they were thwarted by the republicans of the Long Parliament, and subverted by the royalists of the Restoration.
On the proclamation of the Act of Uniformity in 1662, requiring all who had not received episcopal ordination to be reordained by the bishops, and to assent to everything in the Prayer-Book, then the struggle commencing with the reign of Edward VI came to a head. Upwards of two thousand Presbyterian ministers refused to comply. They were in consequence expelled from their churches and homes, and driven into great distress. They could not in conscience acquiesce in those terms of communion prescribed by the unprincipled court of Charles II. That dark day, the 24th August, when, a century before, the Huguenots were slain, was the fatal day. ‘It raised a grievous cry over the nation, for here were many men, much valued, and distinguished by their abilities and zeal, now cast out ignominiously, reduced to great poverty, and provoked by spiteful usage, (Bishop Burnet). Presbyterianism has since that great crime in the year 1662, formed a separate communion in England. Her roll of worthies embrace such men as Baxter, Howe, Manton, Bates, Seaman, Mead, Annesley, Jenkyn, the Calamys and Henrys, distinguished alike for piety and learning. From that suicidal expulsion the Established Church has never recovered.
ENGLISH PRESBYTERIAN AND OTHER CHURCHES.
At the Revolution in 1688, Presbyterianism sprang afresh to do her work in the land. Within thirty years after the passing of the Act of Toleration (1689), her congregations in England numbered 800. There were 40 in London alone, and 59 in Yorkshire. Fully two-thirds of the dissenting interest claimed to be Presbyterian. In the earlier part of the eighteenth century, the Church was pervaded by doctrinal soundness. Watson, Ridgley, Flavell, Williams, Shower, Crusoe, and others, have left a classical store of evangelical literature.
The blight of Rationalism fell upon all the Churches of the Reformation more or less. This English Church did not escape the infectious disease. Two checks were not applied. (a) Subscription to the Westminster Standards was not enforced; and, (b) The Presbyterian system was not in all respects in operation. Hence the disastrous result. Rationalism, merging into Arianism, terminated in unblushing Unitarianism, or, as it should be termed, Socinianism. The churches were deserted, some of them extinguished. Although these churches had neither eldership nor presbytery, the name ‘English Presbyterian’ was retained, to enable the Unitarian to possess himself of the endowment left by pious ancestors. This declension from the faith of Christ is not peculiar to Presbytery. It is said that six of the pupils of the pious Doddridge embraced Arian principles. But on this account, unhappily, ‘Presbyterian’ has been regarded as equivalent to ‘Unitarian.’ Had the ancient discipline been preserved, the briar would speedily have been rooted out. But when men became Unitarian they ceased to be Presbyterian. Discipline and government being at an end, doctrinal errors were rampant. When a meeting was held in Salter’s Hall, London, only 53 out of 110 voted in favour of the doctrine of the Trinity. Socinianism was, however, excluded from the Northumberland Presbytery. In 1850, there were 217 Unitarian congregations. These have no sessions, and no courts uniting the congregations under a common jurisdiction.
A resurrection of genuine Presbyterianism went on from 1812 to 1836. This has been recently and fully detailed (‘Presbyterianism in England in 18th and 19th centuries,’ by Rev. John Black). Presbyteries that were connected with the Church of Scotland became a separate organised synod in 1836. After severance, a portion in 1843 took independent jurisdiction in alliance with the Free Church of Scotland, and it became incorporated with those congregations in England that were connected with the United Presbyterian Church. Thus the Presbyterian Church of England was formed at Liverpool in 1876. The Moderators of the two Churches solemnly constituted the united body on the basis agreed on, and at the same time the Rev. Dr. Graham of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (which had recently been united with the Free Church) was received. A digest of the forty days’ proceedings from the inception of the union until its completion has been preserved by Professor Leoni Levi, LLD. It is hoped that ere long the congregations still in connection with the CHURCH OF SCOTLAND may be assimilated. That synod has still 4 presbyteries and 18 charges and ministers in England, together with 16 chaplains to Her Majesty’s Forces.