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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20

No. II.—The Confession of Faith and Endowments

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No. II.—The Confession of Faith and Endowments.

In the 23d chapter of the "Confession of Faith," sec. 3, it is said to be the duty of the Civil Magistrate to "take order" that "all the ordinances of God be duly settled, administered, and observed." It has been justly held that these words refer to the establishment of the Church at first, and the continued maintenance and support of Divine ordinances by the Civil Magistrate. To "settle," Dr Johnson says, means, amongst other things, "to place in any certain state," "to establish," "to fix inalienably by legal sanctions."

The following are given as Scripture texts to illustrate and prove the duty thus said to be incumbent on the Civil Magistrate. Isa. xlix. 23—"And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers." Ezra vii. 23—"Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done, for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?" This text, quoted by the Westminster Divines, refers to the command of Artaxerxes immediately preceding, viz., "That whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, let it be done speedily, unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much." Most people would surely regard this as of the nature of an endowment. They afterwards quote Ezra vii. 27—"Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem." These texts wore furnished at the request of the Parliament of England, and they would be without meaning if they did not imply that material help might lawfully be given, and ought in proper circumstances to be given, by nations to the Church. The faith of the Church, moreover, must always be held to rest not on the letter of the Confession, but on those Scripture truths which the Confession embodies, and to which it refers. Till recently this view was never disputed. We shall give two illustrations of this.

Dr Patrick Macfarlan, in his Letters to his People, * says—"It is predicted of the Kingdom of Christ that the kings of Tarshish and the isles should bring presents; that the kings of Sheba and Seba should offer gifts; but instead of being permitted to interfere in the administration of the affairs of Christ's Kingdom, the prophet adds, 'Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.' 'Kings,' saith the prophet Isaiah, shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers.' It is added, 'They shall bow down to thee with their faces towards the earth, and lick off the dust of thy feet.' These, and a variety of other passages, prove that it is the duty and privilege of civil rulers to protect and encourage the Church of Christ, and to provide for its support and extension in the world; but while the Church keeps within its own province, and occupies itself solely with things spiritual, they are not at liberty to intermeddle in the management of its affairs."

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Dr Cunningham, referring to the same passage in the Confession, in his chapter on "The Westminster Confession on the Relation between Church and State," says—"The introductory words, that he 'hath authority, and it is his duty,' do not necessarily mean more than that it is competent to, and incumbent upon him; and then the next phrase, 'to take order,' on which the meaning of the whole statement essentially depends, can easily be proved, according to the usus loquendi of that and the preceding period, to mean to attend to, aim at, to see about, to provide for, to labour to effect . . . . . The words, then, do not necessarily or naturally mean more than that the Civil Magistrate is entitled and bound to seek to effect the different objects here specified, which are all comprehended under the general heads of the welfare of religion, and the purity and prosperity of the Church of Christ. This is just the principle of National Establishments, which we believe to be not only true but important."—Church Principles, pp. 225—6.

Apart from the Westminster Confession of Faith, this doctrine has been maintained by the Church of Scotland ever since the Reformation.

The old Scots Confession (1560), chap, xxiv., holds that Magistrates not only "are appointed for civil policy, but also for maintenance of the pure religion."

The Second Book of Discipline says—"It pertains to the office of a Christian Magistrate to assist and fortify the godly proceedings of the Kirk in all behalfs, and namely, to see that the public estate and ministry thereof be maintained and sustained, as it appertains according to God's Word."—Chap, x., section 2.

In the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, under the petition, "Thy kingdom come," it is said that this prayer means, amongst other things, that the Church shall be "countenanced and maintained by the Civil Magistrate."—Question 191.

In the Protest tabled by Dr Welsh in St Andrews Church, on 18th May 1843, forming the very act of the Disruption, the subscribers say—"And finally, while firmly asserting the right and duty of the Civil Magistrate to maintain and support an Establishment of religion in accordance with God's Word." They also speak of "our enforced separation from an Establishment which we loved and prized;" whilst the Claim, Declaration, and Protest of 1842 affirms the Establishment principle still more strongly.

In the "Catechism of the Principles and Constitution of the Free Church of Scotland," prepared by the Rev. Andrew Gray of Perth, and published in 1844, "by authority of the Publication Committee of the General Assembly," it is said that rulers (p. 12) are bound "to guard the liberties of the Church; to have respect to the interests thereof in the administration of their affairs, and to employ their power and resources in such a way as shall best contribute to its successful progress within their territory and throughout the world." Of this Catechism Dr Cunningham, in 1847, after the new Formula was made, says it is "now well known in this land, in which I am sure every one will admit the great leading principles of our testimony are most clearly, carefully, ably, and effectively set forth."

In 1851, the General Assembly "unanimously agreed to sanction the page 32 publication of a volume containing the Subordinate Standards, and other authoritative documents" of the Free Church. An Act and Declaration of a historical nature was adopted, and not only printed in the Acts of Assembly, but given as a preface to this volume of Free Church Standards, published by Johnstone & Hunter in the same year, 1851. This Act contains, amongst other things, a declaration, that this Church has "always strenuously advocated the doctrine taught in Holy Scripture, that nations and their rulers are bound to own the truth of God, and to advance the kingdom of His Son. And accordingly, with unfeigned thankfulness did she acknowledge the good hand of the Lord when, after prolonged contests with the enemies of the Reformation . . . . .a national recognition and solemn sanction of her constitution, as it had been settled by her own authority according to the Word, was at last obtained, first in the Act of Parliament 1567, and again, more completely, in the Act of Parliament 1592, then and since regarded by her as the great constitutional charter of her Presbyterian government and freedom."

Again, in reference to the doctrine held by the Associate Synod, admitted in 1839, the same Act says—"And whereas the members of the Associate Synod do heartily concur with us in holding the great principle of an Ecclesiastical Establishment, and the duty of acknowledging God in our national as well as our individual capacity."

The Act goes on to say—"holding firmly to the last, as she holds still, and through God's grace will ever hold, that it is the duty of civil rulers to recognise the truth of God according to His Word, and to promote and support the kingdom of Christ without assuming any jurisdiction in it, or any power over it; and deeply sensible, moreover, of the advantages resulting to the community at largo, and especially to its more destitute portions, from the public endowment of pastoral charges among them," etc.

The Act concludes as follows:—"And finally resolved and determined, as in the sight and by the help of God, to prosecute the ends contemplated from the beginning, in all the acts and deeds of her Reforming Fathers, until the errors which they renounced shall have disappeared from the land, and the true system which they upheld shall be so universally received that the whole people, rightly instructed in the faith, shall unite to glorify God the Father in the full acknowledgment of the kingdom of His Son, our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whose name be praise, for ever and ever. Amen."

In the Assembly 1852, a majority of the Synod of Original Seceders was admitted into the Free Church, on the ground of a Representation and Appeal, which is declared to be in "no respect inconsistent with the Standards of this Church, or with the principles for which she has been honoured to contend in the best and purest periods of her history." Part of the said Representation is as follows:—"We believe that nations in their national capacity, and rulers as rulers, are subject to His (i.e., Christ's) authority, and bound, according to the nature of the powers bestowed on them, to do what in them lies to promote His cause and glory. We believe that the Church and the State being equally ordinances of God, page 33 equally subject to Christ's authority, and equally bound to advance His interests, ought, in accordance with the respective powers conferred on them, to support one another in promoting whatever is good, and especially that they ought to co-operate together for promoting the glory of God and the real welfare of man."

In the Assembly 1853, Dr Candlish moved—"That this Church maintains unaltered and uncompromised, the principles set forth in the Claim of Right of 1842, and the Protest of 1843, relative to the lawfulness and obligation of a Scriptural alliance between the Church of Christ and the State, and the conditions upon which such an alliance ought to be regulated," etc. After stating that there was no present call to apply to the Legislature, the Act goes on to say—"That it is the duty of the Church, all the more on this account, to adopt measures for keeping before the minds of the people, and especially of the rising generation, the principles which this Church holds, and the position which she occupies as the Free Protesting Church of Scotland."

In the Union Committee, whilst the United Presbyterian section maintained, "that it is not competent to the Civil Magistrate to give legislative sanction to any creed in the way of setting up a Civil Establishment of religion, nor is it within his province to provide for the expense of the ministrations of religion out of the national resources; that Jesus Christ, as solo King and Head of His Church, has enjoined upon His people to provide for maintaining and extending it by free-will offerings, that this being the ordinance of Christ, it excludes State aid for these purposes:" the Free Church section unanimously, and throughout, declared that, "as an act of national homage to Christ, the Civil Magistrate ought, when necessary and expedient, to afford aid from the national resources to the cause of Christ, provided always that in doing so, while reserving full control over his own gift, he abstain from all authoritative interference in the internal government of the Church."—Report of the Union Committee, 1807.

It must require a very large measure of courage or credulity, after reading all these quotations, not to speak of many others which might be made, to believe that the Confession of Faith docs not affirm, or that the Free Church is not committed to the maintenance of, the principle of a Church Establishment.

* Edinburgh, Third Edition, Letter II., page 8.

Confession of Faith, chap, xxiii. § 3.