Q. What is the present position of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the British Isles, in relation to the civil institutions of those kingdoms?
A. It is that of avowed dissent, and of faithful testimony against the immoralities in the civil constitutions of those kingdoms.
Q. Upon what ground did the Steadfast band of witnesses for the covenanted reformation in Scotland, adopt the position of dissent from the civil government of these lands, as well as from the churches which were at once established and corrupted by it?
A. The extreme tyranny of the government then in existence was only one of the grounds on which they rested that dissent. They further complained, that the government was erected on the ruins of a scriptural reformation, to the preservation of which these nations were solemnly bound: that the ecclesiastical were the mere creatures of the State; and that the principles and the policy of the great Romish apostasy were so conspicuous in the constitution and administration of both church and state, as to stamp the whole with the character of Antichrist.
Q. Were matters altered much for the better at the memorable revolution [i.e., of 1690, the ascension of William and Mary to the British throne]?
A. At the revolution, these nations adopted and acted upon the views of the covenanters in regard to the first ground of complaint only. The tyrannical government was indignantly overthrown, and one of a much more equitable and moderate character was substituted in its stead. But while the public spirit and energy of the nations were displayed in shaking off the yoke of oppression, and in asserting their own rights, no effectual attempt was made to vindicate the rights of the Redeemer. The covenanters were not ungrateful for the large increase of liberty and privilege secured to them by the revolution; but they could not accede to an arrangement, however beneficial to themselves, of which these were made essential conditions: That the crown rights of the Messiah should be compromised, and the antichristian corruptions interwoven with the constitution, both of church and state, should remain undisturbed.
Q. What is the first specific exception which Reformed Presbyterians in Britain take to the British constitution?
A. In their own language, they explicitly state as their first objection to the British constitution, That there is no direct or explicit acknowledgment of the supreme authority of the scriptures in the constitution and administration of civil government in these lands. In the actual administration of the government of these kingdoms, it seems to us that this principle has been practically disregarded. It does not appear that the responsibility of nations to the moral governor of the world is fully understood or felt. No strenuous attempt has heretofore been made, by almost any class of society, to select men possessing scriptural qualifications to occupy the halls of legislature, or to fill public offices; and it has rarely occurred, we believe, that any course of policy has been abandoned, merely because it was condemned in the word of God. Here we rest our first complaint, that the authority of Jehovah is virtually set aside, while the homage and allegiance of the nations have been tendered to the great idol of POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY.
Q. What is their second ground of dissent?
A. At no period, say they, since the revolution, have these nations and their rulers formally acquiesced in the divine decree which has invested the exalted Messiah with the government of the nations: “Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth; serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way.” We know of nothing, either in the deeds of constitution, or in the administration of the government of these kingdoms, which can justly be regarded as a proper acquiescence in this authoritative appointment. There is no formal recognition of the supremacy of Christ, as Mediator, over the nations; no acknowledgment of those vows of allegiance that were formerly pledged to him in the period of the Reformation; no care employed to make the interest of his kingdom the primary object of concern. The favour that has been extended to churches in these lands has been manifestly vicious in its principle, and has tended to corrupt these churches, rather than to advance the cause of religion.
Q. What is the third ground of this dissent?
A. With these evils may be conjoined the open and arrogant invasion of Christ’s supremacy over his church. He has solemnly commanded his disciples to own no other master. He claims the exclusive right of prescribing a government and laws to his church; and there is not a single hint in the sacred volume of his having appointed an ecclesiastical viceroy to whom he has delegated his own authority. The usurpation of such a dominion constitutes one of the highest charges against the Man of Sin. Yet according to the statute laws of the empire, an Erastian supremacy over the churches of England and Ireland is held to be an essential right of the British crown.
Q. What evidence is there of this unhallowed claim?
A. “The king,” says Blackstone, and of course the queen, too, “is considered by the laws of England as the head, and supreme governor of the national church.” The Papal jurisdiction in England was destroyed by Parliament upon the express ground that “the king’s majesty justly and rightly is, and ought to be, supreme head of the church of England.” The first of Elizabeth enacts that, “all jurisdictions, spiritual and ecclesiastical, should forever be united to the imperial crown.” And in her 37th Article, the church endorses the impious claim. It runs thus: “The king’s majesty hath the chief power in this realm of England, unto whom the chief government of all the estates of this realm, whether they be ecclesiastical or civil, IN ALL CAUSES, doth appertain.” Thus do both church and state agree in declaring it to be a fundamental principle of the constitution, that the king or queen is supreme head in all causes civil and ecclesiastical. A more grossly unscriptural element, therefore, has been introduced into the church of England than is to be found in that of Rome. In the fearful impiety in making a sinful mortal head of the church, indeed, both have concurred; but then the head of the church of Rome must be an ecclesiastic, and a man—female popes are not esteemed quite canonical—whereas the head of the church of England is a lay or civil person; and may be a man, a women, or a child ! ! ! Her erastianism, therefore, is emblazoned on her very forehead.
Q. Has a copious stream of erastian encroachment flowed from this polluted fountain of royal supremacy?
A. Yes. Her clergy, for instance, have all their authority to rule and ordain from the sovereign. In 37 Henry VIII. cap. 17, it is declared, that “archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, and other ecclesiastical persons, have no manner of jurisdiction ecclesiastical, but by, under, and from his royal majesty; and that his majesty is the only supreme head of the church of England and Ireland.” Words could not more explicitly declare that instead of having their authority from the Lord Jesus Christ, these dignitaries derive it immediately from a poor erring mortal. Hence, also, the clergy cannot meet in convocation, or enact anything, or perform any act of ecclesiastical discipline, without her majesty’s authority and permission; and the appointment of all bishops belongs to the sovereign, &c, &c.
Q. Does the power of the state to model and remodel, to overturn and reconstruct the church at pleasure, to decree rites and ceremonies in her, to form canons for the regulation of her government, to select the persons who shall fill all her most important offices, and even to determine her confession and creed, therefore remain undisputable?
A. Yes. All this is evident from the above statutory enactments.
Q. Is it not at once repugnant to religion and to common sense, that the church of Christ should be thus subjected to the arbitrary will, or caprice, of a legislative assembly, composed of Protestants and Papists, of Christians and libertines, of sincere believers and scoffing infidels, and in which the enemies of religion so greatly outnumber her friends?
A. Yes; and every upright Christian should bear testimony against such enormity.
Q. What is the fourth ground of dissent of Reformed Presbyterians in Britain from the British constitution?
A. The support that has been extended by the state to the church, however munificent, has been so managed that the cause of true religion has been more injured than promoted by it.
Q. How is this charge sustained?
A. It is sustained, 1. By the fact that this support has been lavished most abundantly on those Protestant churches which have been most inefficient and corrupt: and even in them it has been employed to pamper luxury and gratify ambition, while a large portion of those ministers by whom pastoral duties were actually performed, have been left to struggle with poverty, and multitudes of the people to perish through lack of knowledge. 2. It has invariably been used as an instrument for reducing the church into a condition of political subserviency. The revenues of the church have been dealt with as a spoil, which civil rulers have distributed among their political partisans and supporters. They have been employed to sustain a lordly aristocracy, rather than to feed the people with the bread of life. They have largely contributed to silence the voice of faithful remonstrance, which it is the duty of the church to raise against the iniquitous measures of public men, and to influence the clergy to inculcate upon the people lessons of indiscriminate and slavish submission, whatever aggressions have been made upon their liberties—civil or religious. 3. The mode of levying the revenues of the church, both in England and Ireland, has been unhappily calculated to excite odium against her and her ministers, and to call into exercise a class of passions exceedingly unfavourable to the progress of the gospel. 4. The principle upon which that bounty has been bestowed upon the churches is essentially corrupt and vicious. In all the measures of government respecting the church, we have searched in vain for any higher principle than political expediency as the prime mover. It is impossible to believe that an enlightened regard to the authority of God, a discriminating love of divine truth, an earnest desire for the promotion of true religion, can dispose a government to patronize every system of religion—be it true or false. Yet it does not appear that the British government, since the Revolution, have ever withheld its fostering care from any religious system, merely on the ground of its falsehood. Presbyterianism is conceded to the inclinations of the people in Scotland; Episcopacy, more in favour with men in power, is established in England and Ireland, and more richly endowed than any church in Europe. But when a wretched expediency seems to require it, Popery is taken under the fostering care of government in the Ionian Isles; its corrupting seminary at Maynooth magnificently endowed; successive companies of its priests directly supported from the public treasury, sent out to propagate its destructive errors in the British colonies, and it is honoured with a legal establishment in Lower Canada! Nor is the climax of inconsistency and iniquity complete, until the functionaries of a Protestant government are degraded into tax-gatherers for the wooden gods of Hindostan, and the priests of a debasing and bloody superstition!
Q. Which is the fifth ground of their dissent?
A. In the domestic policy of these nations, there are many things which awaken regret and merit reprehension. While millions have been expended in destructive wars, the education of the people has been neglected. Until a very recent period, this has been lamentably the case both in England and Ireland. An irreligious government, and an ambitious and pampered church, have looked on with equal apathy, while successive generations have grown up in the grossest ignorance. In England a revenue has been expended annually on cathedrals and on the swarms of idle ecclesiastics that, are attached to them, which, under judicious management, might have secured the education of all the poor in that kingdom. From the extensive prevalence of ignorance has arisen a most frightful growth of infidelity and of crime. How little has been done to check the alarming progress of the national sin of Sabbath profanation? With this may be joined the apparent apathy with which government has contemplated, from age to age, the dreadful ravages of intemperance. The views we have adopted of the office and duty of witnesses, imperatively called for-these remarks.
Q. What is the general summary which these witnesses give of the reasons of their dissent from the British constitution?
A. They remark: The guilt and danger of holding-fellowship with the principles, or the policy of the Antichristian system-with the head or the horns of the beast-are represented in Scripture as of such magnitude, that no temporal loss nor suffering can counterbalance them. (Rev. xvii. 3, 12, 13.) Under these impressions, we cannot proclaim attachment, nor vow allegiance to institutions which many good men extol and admire:—1st. Because, in viewing them by the light of scripture, we believe them to be immoral. 2d. Because we hold them to be Antichristian. 3d. Because they were erected on the ruins of a more excellent system, both in church and state, and in opposition to those solemn vows, by which these nations were pledged to preserve that system inviolate. 4th. Because the immoralities of existing institutions were originally introduced, and are still upheld, in opposition to the clearest light of revelation with which any people were ever favoured.
Q. In what manner do these witnesses illustrate practically their dissent?
A. This explanation of our sentiments, say they, will supply the reason why we do not adopt those forms of prayer for the government of these lands, which are publicly prescribed, or commonly used throughout the churches. We fully recognise the obligation that lies on us, to pray for the peace and prosperity of the land that sustains, and for the temporal and spiritual welfare of all classes of its inhabitants. Towards the persons of the rulers we cherish no feeling but that of unfeigned good will. Our heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. But we cannot warrantably employ forms of prayer that would even seem to express approbation of institutions which we believe to be essentially defective and immoral. We cannot pray for the stability of a system which, as long as it is unreformed, is dishonouring to Christ, and an impediment to the coming of his kingdom. The same reasons are still more cogent to forbid our being incorporated or united with the state, so as to become accomplices in, or morally responsible for, its iniquitous public policy. Such as are in ecclesiastical fellowship with us, cannot, without a breach of their testimony, hold fellowship with the civil’ government, by composing a part of the legislature, or by taking those oaths, for the maintenance and defence of the complex constitution, which are required of members of Parliament and others filling public offices, both in church and state. And as the members of our church cannot sit in Parliament themselves, neither can they, consistently, sit there by their representatives, or commission others to do for them what it would be unwarrantable and immoral for them to do in their own persons. Neither can they compose a part of the executive government, by holding offices under the crown, civil or military, which might require them to cooperate in carrying into practice any branch of an unscriptural code of law. Yet we do not feel debarred from doing what may be in our power, as private individuals, for strengthening those wholesome laws which are necessary for the security of life and property, or for promoting the administration of justice, when permitted to do so without being identified with a corrupt constitution. Should these principles -subject us to the charge of uncharitableness or want of patriotism, we would study to confute the charge by the blamelessness of our deportment, and by a life of active benevolence.