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The Attainments of the Church of the Second Reformation.

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The Attainments of the Church of the Second Reformation.

James Dodson

By the Rev. JAMES KERR, D.D., Glasgow.


[This lecture was delivered before the First International Convention of Reformed Presbyterian Churches, 1896.  It is taken from the volume entitled, "First International Convention of Reformed Presbyterian Churches. Scotland, June 27-July 3, 1896." Glasgow: Alex. Malcolm & Co., 1896.]


WHILE this title intends a statement of the attainments of the Church of the Second Reformation in her ecclesiastical capacity, the spiritual attainments of the leaders and members of that Church must not be forgotten. Indeed, the spirituality of the Reformers of the time was their highest and brightest attainment. The leaders of the Church of the Second Reformation were public witnesses for God indeed, but they were also men of God. They were men of lofty patriotism, but they were also men of the deepest piety. Illustrious Reformers they were indeed, but they were also illustrious saints. A Church may attain a high character for an intelligent grasp of the great doctrines of Revelation, and for the fearless application of them to the public questions and institutions of their times, but behind all there is a radical defect if a public testimony be not the expression of an impassioned devotion to the Saviour. Such a Church may hold in her hand Creeds and Confessions in perfect accord with the Scriptures, yet is she like the marble figure of human form in the gallery of art—beautiful indeed outward, but no throbbing pulse, no living soul. When the leaders and members of a Church, which maintains a Scriptural testimony, are men of genuine piety, then that Church illustrates the striking Apocalyptic figure of "A Wonder in Heaven: a Woman arrayed with the Sun, the Moon under her Feet, and on her Head a Crown of. Twelve Stars." The Second Reformation was "a great religious revival," a time when sinners were saved and saints sanctified. In the seraphic fervour of the Reformers is found an explanation of the rise and progress and breadth of the Reformation. The saintliness of their character was the secret of their power. "They grew as the lily and cast forth their roots as Lebanon." They that "do know their God shall be strong and do exploits."

I. The Church of the Second Reformation accepted and contended for the Supremacy of the Word of God. The Word of God was the measuring line by which the Reformers would have all measures and methods in Church and State tested and regulated. Under the growth and weight of superstitious rites, dogmas of Popes, and decrees of Papal Councils, fix mediaeval times, the Church had been smothered and well-nigh crushed to death. The iron fetters of their captivity were almost too heavy for her to bear. But the time of her emancipation came. An eye from heaven saw her affliction, and an arm from heaven moved for her deliverance. "Thus saith the Lord: Let my people go that they may serve Me." The Reformation was a great mental and moral upheaval. Mind and conscience united in a magnificent rebellion. The Reformers announced in trumpet tones the inspiring doctrine embalmed in the Westminster Confession: "God alone is Lord of the conscience; and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men." The Reformation was a rebellion accompanied by a submission. The conscience withdrew from obedience to the will of man and came into obedience to the will of God. The Church achieved her emancipation by achieving her submission. Her mind accepted the thoughts of the First Mind in the universe—God in His Word is now her sole Judge in appeal. By that Word the Reformers moved Scotland, and brought the Church and kingdom to the feet of Christ—yea, exalted them to the right hand of God.

The present assailants of the infallibility of the Scriptures are being thrown back in confusion. While the higher critics cry "Bibliolatry" at those who accept the inspiration and plead for the infallible authority of the Bible, they are putting forward, theories which, if accurate, must infer the rejection of the Old Testament Scriptures as a mass of myths, invalidate the authority as teachers of the writers of the New Testament, and tear the crown of infallibility from the head of the Lord Jesus as the "faithful and true Witness." If the Word of God be a book of myths, then banish it from our homes and schools, and arrest its circulation among the heathen at home and abroad. But the phalanxes of these "higher critics," armed with the weapons of infidelity, stolen from their graves in the past centuries, are wavering all along the line. Their theories, which they deemed impregnable, are being battered into brushwood by bricks from Babylon. In their chagrin and despair, they axe flinging their tomahawks at one another; and may their self-extermination come speedily. Their theories will soon be like men at their best—"All flesh is as grass; and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass: the grass withereth and the flower fadeth, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever." By this Word of the Lord the pious and learned Knox, Melville, Gillespie, Henderson, and Rutherford introduced and established the Reformation in Scotland, and by that Word alone can true Reform in Church and State be directed and maintained in any land.

II. The Church of the Second Reformation was Calvinistic in doctrine. Throughout the Scriptures, the great doctrines of the Calvinistic system come up continually into view. These doctrines are older than Calvin, with whose name they are associated. They were found by Calvin and his fellow-Reformers in the Word of God. They were taught by Paul. They were taught by Him who taught with Authority. The distinctive feature of the Calvinistic system is that it gives prominence to the sovereignty of God. It is jealous of the honours of the King, the Lord of hosts. Its various doctrines are marshaled around the Throne, and from Him who sits upon it they derive their royal splendour. In their distress of mind and soul under Papal superstition and misery, the Reformers found rest and strength in touching the sceptre of the Sovereign of the worlds. They had a vision like that of John in Patmos: "Behold! a door opened in heaven . . . And, behold! there was a throne set in heaven, and One sat upon the throne." Their hearts beat high, and their eyes brightened, as they saw amid "the armies of heaven" One with "many crowns on His head." They needed such a sovereignty as the Scriptures enthrone, if they were to face the otherwise insuperable difficulties by which they were confronted, and bring the nation into captivity to the Saviour-King. That theology has no royalty in it that slights the sovereignty of God—it is crownless, weak, worthless, a cumberer of the ground. Calvinism may be denounced as "a rigid form of belief," but, if so, it is "like our own Ben Lomond, an unchanging witness for the majesty of God, transmuting the very storms that have raged around its brow into fountains of gushing purity from its heart."

Calvinism was an indispensable factor in the production of the Reformations in the Continent and the British Isles. All the creeds and confessions of the Reformed Churches are Calvinistic. The Papacy and Calvinism have ever been irreconcilable, and ever shall. In John Calvin, Rome found a champion of liberty from priestcraft and popedom, against whom it has ever launched its bitterest anathemas. In its refutation of the Pelagian system, with the Arminian and other allied errors, the Synod of Dort performed a work for all time. Calvinism has ever proved itself the foe of ritualism and the friend of purity of worship. It has also ever proved itself the foe of tyranny and the patron of the rights of man. It has been the moving spirit in framing the free constitutions of the world. By it, the Scottish Reformers shattered the despotisms of Pope and Prelate and Prince—for the absolute sovereignty of God alone can overthrow the absolute sovereignties assumed and asserted by humanity. If Calvinism fail, political liberty will fail. If Calvinism die, Protestantism will die. If Calvinism perish, Christianity will shrivel away—its right hand will be struck with a fatal paralysis. If Calvinism be lost, the heart of the Missionary Churches will fail in its action—for a Calvinistic pulse alone carries the guarantee of the evangelization of the world. It is pleasing to be able to chronicle some evidences of a Calvinistic revival. American theology gives a prominent place to the "five points." The ring of the recent Pan-Presbyterian Council was more Calvinistic than ever. And before this system yet every despotism in the world shall be flung off and all earth’s institutions become royal in submission to that Sovereign who sits on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

III. The Church of the Second Reformation was a Covenanting Church. Her Covenant character was a distinguished attainment. The individual who enters into Covenant, with God "reaches to things that are before." He is a man of noble stature who makes God his own, and vows with all his heart to maintain the kingdom of God. The light of heaven shines upon him, into him, through him. So, a Church. When a Church enters into Covenant with God, she shines forth as the morning, "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners." She is clothed with the glory of her Covenant God. When, in the reign of Asa, the people entered into a Covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul, "all Judah rejoiced at the oath." And when, in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh, in 1638, the people renewed their National Covenant, all Scotland rejoiced at the oath. And when, a few years later, the Solemn League and Covenant was entered into by the people at Edinburgh, and at. St. Margaret’s, Westminster, all Scotland and England rejoiced at the oath. Both Covenants obtained extraordinary popularity. The Church and nation decked themselves with ornaments and adorned themselves with jewels. Britain’s Covenants with God were gems on Britain’s crowns—her Covenant-crown her most brilliant ornament. At that time the people were a Covenanted host. In the exercise of that spiritual life which constrained them to enter into Covenant, deepened by their genuine surrender to God, they stood upon their feet an exceeding great army, all bannered and marshaled, ready to do battle for the Lord of Hosts. "Great was the day of Jezreel."

Never till there be a revival of the spirit that prompted those large-hearted national and inter-national deeds, shall these Covenanted lands reach that love and loyalty to Christ which are indispensable to any Christ-honouring reforms in Church and State. Not till that spirit be revived shall the various branches of the Church of the Reformation be willing to have the "ear nailed high on the door-post" by a return to Covenant obligations. But when that revival comes, then they shall never rest till this "nailing up" be performed in the presence of assembled friends and foes. Then, too, may a union of those "Fragments," scattered through alienation to Covenanted attainments, be expected—a union which shall honour the memory of the Scottish Martyrs, and glorify the God of Scotland’s Covenanted Reformation.

When the Reformed Presbyterian Church begins to be ashamed of the designation "Covenanting," she has commenced to lay aside her ornaments and dishonour her Lord. By that spirit she forfeits the right to claim a near relationship with those brave Covenanters whom their Covenant God sustained amid the fires of persecution and perfected in the furnaces of martyrdom. The Reformed Presbyterians of the States and Canada seem fonder of this designation than Reformed Presbyterians at home. Everywhere beyond the Atlantic "Covenanter Church" arrests the attention of the British Reformed Presbyterian, and its repetition in tones of a touching esprit de corps induces him to think that this American phraseology might be imported with advantage into the Old World. There should be no risk run by Reformed Presbyterians of invalidating their title to succession to the Scottish Covenanters. As a Covenant heritage, their possession is specially honourable. "He is our fathers’ God; we will exalt Him."

IV. The Church of the Second Reformation was an Established Church. In their great work of ecclesiastical and national Reformation, the Reformers taught the doctrine of the Universal Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ—a supremacy extending from "the roofless heaven to the bottomless pit." In obedience to the Word of God as the infallible standard for men in ail the relations of life, in loyalty to Christ as King of the Church and King over all for the Church, and in the spirit of a lofty Christian patriotism, they ever contended that nations, as such, should acknowledge the Supremacy of Christ, and conform their constitutions and whole administration to the requirements of the regal rights of King Jesus. The Scottish Reformers never dreamt of the theory, of national secularism—a theory current under the plausible designation of "religious equality." National religion was one of the main pillars of the Reformation structure. A State which refuses to recognize the Lord Jesus as its rightful Sovereign through His enthronement by the Father is—as, indeed, Calvin had taught before the time of the Scottish Reformers "not a legitimate sovereignty but an usurpation." The Reformers taught that the nation, as such, should exalt the Will of God in its national spirit, policy, and "instruments," and that it was its duty—yea, its honour—to enter into the most friendly alliance, consistent with the independence of both, with a Church constituted and administered according to the Will of the Lord. Spinoza, the celebrated infidel, was the earliest writer who opposed any alliance between Church and State. Of this theory of a State declining to extend any special favours to a Church, however Scriptural, an eminent father of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the last generation has written: "My heart revolts at the thought of the Church of Christ being tolerated in any kingdom." The expulsion of religion from politics would mean anarchy in the realms of citizenship. A Scriptural Church has the right to require the nation, as such, to do her service, as she has the right to require the nation to perform any other duty enjoined upon nations in the Scriptures. She has the right to "speak Thy Word to kings," and has, therefore, the right to tell the State: "The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee (the Church) shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted." Nay, she is bound to call upon nations and their rulers to aid in the fulfilling of the purpose of God, which intends the extension of the Church of Christ throughout the world. And the nation and its statesmen who acknowledge the claims of the Christ of the Church and the Church of Christ to recognition by the national conscience will not long decline to acknowledge their claims to recognition by the national purse.

But while the Reformers were not supporters of national secularism, they were, as certainly, not advocates of Erastianism. Their souls scorned the attempts by Princes and Parliaments to enthrall the Church by Erastian fetters. If here to-day, they would not, therefore, be found within the present Establishments. Under conditions as difficult as those of the present time, they solved the problem of the relations that should subsist between Church and State—a problem that is not being solved by the ecclesiastical leaders of this generation. The alliance between the Church and State of their days illustrated the principle of Establishment so perfectly that neither yielded up to the other any of its inherent rights, while both, in love to Christ and each ether, joined hands in the promotion of the glory of their one universal Lord. The Church in the exercise of her independent jurisdiction framed and adopted her creeds and standards; the State, in the exercise of its independent jurisdiction, considered and "ratified" the deeds of the Church. There was an Establishment, but there was no compromise of their rights by either of the contracting parties; both Church and State maintained throughout their own inherent independence. "A civil establishment of religion," wrote Dr. Andrew Symington, than whose name a brighter shines not in recent Covenanting history, "according to the sound and Scriptural theory of such a national institute, implies no barter of the Church’s privileges for the countenance and pay of the State, but a civil confirmation of privileges already possessed by the Church, in solemn donation from her exalted Head."

So successful had the efforts of the Church of the First Reformation been that, in 1560, the first Confession of Faith was ratified and approved by Parliament, and the first Book of Discipline was approved by the Privy Council of Scotland; and, in 1569, the Parliament recognized, by specific Act, the Reformed Church of Scotland "as the only true and holy Kirk of Jesus Christ within this realm." The Church was now Reformed from Popery, had adopted the Calvinistic system of theology—now designated Calvinistic—and had entered into several Covenants, and was in that character established. "At this time," writes D‘Aubigne, "the Reformed Church was recognized and established by the State—a triumph similar to that of Christianity when, under Constantine, the religion of the Crucified One ascended the throne of the Caesars."

In commending the achievements of the Reformers of the Second Reformation in erecting an established Church, Dr. Symington says: "But above all these, to the Christian, to the lover of the Saviour and His Church, this period is pregnant with instruction and with promise, the brightest day of Scotland’s Church—a day in which millennial glory seems to dawn. A Church, holding directly after her Head in heaven, with doctrines, and institutions, and polity based immediately on the Holy Scriptures; with standards so excellent; with ministers so pious and faithful; with people so enlightened and devoted; allied to a Christian reformed State, without any encroachment upon its independence or compromise of her own; with schools for Scriptural education and seats of learning consecrated by sound religion; and banded together in holy Covenant; and standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made her free, and resolutely prosecuting her proper purposes, presents, an object commanding admiration. This is the Church of Scotland with ,which we aspire to the honour of being identified."

Thus, at the Reformation, the Church was Biblical, Calvinistic, Covenanted, and Established. The influence of the Reformed Church created a reformed State. The representatives of both united in the acts of Covenanting; both entered into dose alliances; both served Him who was Lord over all. At the brightest period of that Reformation, those two crowns of Christ were seen in blended splendour,—His crown as King of His own kingdom and His crown as King of kings. A sight of the unity and power of these crowns will yet unite the Churches and exalt the nations. In a Christ-honouring Church—one throughout the earth—and Christ-honouring nations there will come a Third Reformation, broader and more lasting than any that has yet blessed the world—a time of ecclesiastical splendour, for "the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be as the light of seven days in one." In this great campaign, which shall never cease till Christ take to Him His power and reign, should not Britain and America lead the van? The Churches in both dominions and the States—republican and regal—would all spring into unprecedented honour by submitting themselves more fully to their one common Lord. His larger presence, and gracious power would gild the chairs of Presidents and adorn the thrones of Princes. The stars of America would be more brilliant and the lion of England more majestic; and the two peoples would bring the two hemispheres to the Throne of Him who sits on the Throne of thrones. This world that crucified Him shall yet crown Him, and Calvary’s darkness shall yet be illumined with Millennial glory.