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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20

Voluntaryism and the Establishment Principle

Voluntaryism and the Establishment Principle.

Dr Robert Buchanan, in introducing a course of lectures on Church Establishments, at Glasgow, in 1835, said, amongst other things,—"The one great doctrine which we, as Churchmen, maintain, and which Voluntaries deny, is shortly this:—That whenever the ruling powers among any people have been called to the knowledge and belief of that Word which was given for the light and for the life of men, it is incumbent on them publicly to profess their allegiance to the great God and Saviour whom it reveals; and it is their duty, officially, to use their power and influence to bring then-people also to know, and to acknowledge, and to obey the same Divine Redeemer. And the reason wherefore we maintain that this duty is page 34 binding upon them is thus stated in the Confession of Faith, because 'God, the Supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained Civil Magistrates to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and for the public good.' For as the glory of God and the good of men are both mainly promoted through the faith and obedience of the truth as it is in Jesus, they whom God has set in authority over nations for these special ends must be bound to employ that instrument, viz., the diffusion of the Gospel among their people, by which alone these ends can be effectually advanced. This is the real nature of the question at issue.

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If we hold, as the Voluntaries do, that kings and rulers ought not, in their public and official capacity, to profess themselves to be servants of the Lord Jesus Christ—that they ought not, publicly and officially, to recognise His religion as that which alone is true—that they ought not, publicly and officially, to interpose their authority to have its truths made known, and its ordinances observed among the people over whom they have been placed—if, I say, we hold, as the Voluntaries do, that kings and rulers ought not to do any of these things, then we virtually maintain, that though God's revealed will may be a rule for the guidance of private, it is not binding as a rule of public life; that a man may be one thing as an individual, and another thing as clothed with the public office of a Civil Magistrate; that in the former ho may be, and ought to be, a Christian; that in the latter he must be an infidel."

In farther illustrating the evils of Voluntaryism, Dr Buchanan traced the movement directly to Satan. Speaking of all the efforts of that great adversary against the Church of Scotland, and of the recent "times of reviving and refreshing," he exclaims—"What was her old enemy to do now! The tyranny of an arbitrary government was no longer at hand, to be stirred up on the ancient plea of the Church's too great freedom and independence. With matchless effrontery he now comes forth as the very advocate of that freedom and independence he had once laboured to destroy. So jealous is he now of the very appearance of subjection, that he will have her divorced from the Stale altogether."

Dr Candlish, in the Assembly 1853, said—"For my part, so far from having any inclination to accommodate our principles and practice to the principles and practice of other non-established Churches in Scotland, I confess, to my mind, and, I believe, to the minds of many, the Voluntary principle as it is called, has come out since the Disruption as an infinitely worse thing than we ever thought it looked before the Disruption. I thoroughly feel that I have got more insight since the Disruption, within the last few years, into the falsehood in principle and mischiefs in practice of the Voluntary doctrine, than we ever had before. (Cheers.)"