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James Dodson



“He is the head of the body, the church.”—Col. 1:18.


THE head is an essential, vital, and dignified member of the human frame. It is the most elevated and influential, the crowning and ruling organ; the source of motion and sensation, and the seat of intellect and emotion. It is at once the palace and the throne of the soul, whence that invisible occupant issues his mandates to the body, impels its motions, regulates and controls all its members. It is truly a noble and commanding organ. Of Christ it is said, that “he is the head of the body, the church.” He is her head by paction and appointment; and she is his body by donation, purchase, and conquest, and by the dedication, profession, and choice of her members. His headship originated in the federal arrangements of trinity in the eternal counsel of peace. A triune Jehovah is the foundation of all power, and the primary head of creation; but the Son, by special appointment, is the sole, supreme, and immediate head of the kingdom of grace. In the economy of grace, it was the office of the Father to appoint: “Yet have I set, or anointed, my king upon my holy hill of Sion;”[Ps. 2:6.] “I have made a covenant with my chosen; I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations.”[Ps. 89:3, 4.] Hence says the Son, “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, ere ever the earth was.”[Prov. 8:23.] “I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me.”[Luke 22:29.] The Son was appointed to the general office of mediator, which includes the three particular offices of prophet, priest, and king: Thus he became the prophetic, sacerdotal, and regal head of the church.

In the further prosecution of the subject assigned us for lecture, we propose, first, to discuss the nature and fact of Christ’s headship over his church; second, the nature and fact of her independent jurisdiction; and, third, trace the development of these great principles in the history of the Second Reformation Church of Scotland, and in the subsequent struggles of her representatives.

First, The nature and fact of his headship. He was the church’s originating head, her father and founder; her prophetic head, the revealer of her doctrines, hopes, and prospects. He gave her existence, for she is neither a self-originated, nor a self-constituted body. He was the founder of the church militant from the beginning; the invisible leader of a spiritual army against the powers of darkness, and the erector of a kingdom which is destined to destroy the empire of Belial. He is styled the everlasting Father, or Father of an everlasting mediatorial kingdom, its paternal head and protector; “He is before all things, and by him all things consist, and he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning.”[Col. 1:17, 18.] He is her creator and preserver, her efficient cause, and all-presiding head. He is represented as the architect and builder of the ecclesiastical edifice: “For this person was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.”[Heb. 3:3.]

But Christ is the vital, as well as the originating head of the church; “I am the vine,” says he, “ye are the branches.”[John 15:5.] As the root is the source of life to the branches, so is Christ to the church. There are withered and unhealthy branches connected with the vine, so there are many that have an apparent union to Christ, who derive no nourishment, because they are only connected with the church visible. He is, nevertheless, the source of life to the church invisible, for he is the head of that spiritual association. The head is the source of sensation. The nervous system either originates or terminates in the brain, and spinal column which proceeds from it. And as the bead is the source of vital influence to the body, so is Christ to the church; “Not holding the head, from which all the body, by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.”[Col. 2:19.] “And gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.”[Eph. 1:22, 23; and ch. 2:1.] Christ, therefore, is both a vital and a quickening head—vital influence descends from him to the members of his spiritual body. The law of the spirit of life in Christ delivers from the law of sin and death.

Further, he is the church’s regal or legislative and protecting head. It is the office of the head authoritatively to direct the body, and so it is the office of Christ legislatively to rule in his house. He is the leader and commander of the people. As the human body is a regularly organized substance, in subjection to the head, so the church is a regularly organized society, with her laws, officers, and ordinances, in a state of subjection to Christ, her official and legislative sovereign. “Speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto him in all things, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”[Eph. 4:15, 16.] From the Son the Old Testament church received the pattern of her tabernacle, the order of her ministers, and form of her ritual. It was God the Son who appeared to Moses upon Sinai, and promulgated the moral and ceremonial law for her benefit. “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him;” and Stephen, in his dying speech, styles the person who appeared to Moses, The Angel of the Lord. Under this official designation, the Son frequently appeared to the patriarchs and prophets, and by the mouth of Malachi declares himself the Lord of the temple and messenger of the covenant; “And the Lord, or Sovereign, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in.”[Mal. 3:1.] “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government, or sovereignty, shall be upon his shoulder;”[Isa. 9:6.] in allusion to the sceptre, or key, the symbol of power, which was anciently borne upon the shoulder. “Behold,” says Zechariah, “the man whose name is the BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord, and bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”[Zech. 6:12, 13.] He was the legislative and protecting sovereign of the Old Testament church, and the predicted king of the New. “Tell the daughter of Sion, behold thy king cometh unto thee.”[Mat. 21:5.] When he entered our world, Herod feared the new-born king. When brought to the bar of Pilate, he was asked whether he was not a king. He confessed and denied not, but immediately explained that his was not a secular kingdom, “My kingdom is not of this world.” In terms of his own acknowledgement, he is a king, and he has a kingdom, laws, officers, and subjects in the external government of his church, and for the extension of which we daily pray, Thy kingdom come. He is possessed of a legislative authority, and exercised it both in relation to the New and the Old Testament church, by repealing the ceremonial law, appointing new ordinances, and modifying old. If Moses was faithful as a servant, so was Christ as a son, and ruler over his own house. “Let the children of Zion therefore be joyful in their king,” and triumphantly exclaim, “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king, he will save us.”

But Christ is not only the legislative, he is also the supreme executive head of the church. As the head is the supreme executive organ of the human body, so is Christ the supreme administrator of the kingdom of grace. He does not now appear visibly in person at the head of the executive department of his kingdom. He is the nobleman who hath taken his journey into a far country, and left the administration in the hands of responsible servants. In his absence it is carried on through his spiritual officers and courts; still he is the supreme executive head. An appeal lies ultimately from every ecclesiastical decisions on earth, to his court of review in heaven, “For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.”

But while Christ is the supreme executive head of the church, he is also the sole and exclusive. As the head of the body is one, so Christ is the one and only head of the church universal on earth. The Father hath placed the crown of ecclesiastical supremacy upon his head, and he refuses to share it with any deputy under heaven, and he needs no assessor or coadjutor. He has delegated his incommunicable headship to none, neither to popes, nor princes, patriarchs, nor parliaments. The church knows only one head and husband, which is Christ. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”[Eph. 5:23, 24.] The supreme administration of the government of the family belongs to the husband—it is utterly inadmissible for a third party to step in between him and his wife, and assume the administration; and as it would be criminal for her to be espoused to such an usurper, so it is not to be endured that a third party, whether prince or prelate, should thrust himself in between Christ and his spouse, and under him assume the supreme administration. Such heads are daring intruders, and sacrilegious usurpers of a portion of that supremacy which legally belongs to the one husband and head. In vain we search the law of God in quest of precepts or precedents for such heads in the persons of popes, or princes. They are nondescripts in the preceptive parts of the law of Christ. True, Erastians tell us that princes are only temporal heads, and not in the same sense or degree with Christ. What! in the same sense or degree! This would be too gross to aver; nay, flagrant treason against his throne. But neither is it candid nor correct to say that they are only temporal heads. The sovereigns of Britain assume not only a supremacy over the temporalities of the church, but an ecclesiastical supremacy over things in themselves strictly ecclesiastical. This supremacy is an inherent prerogative of the British crown. We demand the warrant from the law of Christ. There we read that the Father gave his Son to be head to the church, and over all things for her benefit; but we have yet to learn that he gave another. The Son gave some apostles, and some prophets, pastors, and teachers; but we nowhere read that he gave either popes or princes to be supreme legislative or ministerial heads.

In conclusion, upon this branch of our subject: Christ is the everlasting head of his church. He has been her prophetic, pontific, and regal head from the beginning; the head of her doctrine, worship, discipline, and government. Her unity and continuity in all ages, virtually imply the unity and continuity of her head. The New Testament church is the Old continued under modifications. The unbelieving Jews were cast out, and the Gentiles grafted in, and Christ is the one head of the church visible and invisible, collective and several; “for the head of every man is Christ.” He is at once the head of the church militant and triumphant, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[Phil. 2:9-11.] He is the church’s immortal and eternal head. The mode of administration may change at the general resurrection and final judgment, but the head will continue the same. The Son incarnate will continue at the head of the church triumphant, the lamb on the throne, the immutable and immortal sovereign of his glorified body.

Having now briefly established the fact of Christ’s headship, and adverted to its nature, the way is prepared for the discussion of the independent jurisdiction of his kingdom, into the nature and fact of which we next enquire. It belonged to the legislative head of the church to make provision for her subjective government, by instituting a jurisdiction distinct from the civil, and by appointing a co-ordinate ordinance of rule. This he did; and it is inherent in its nature. By inherent we mean, that the church is governed from within, and not ab extra, or from without; that she has communicated to her the power of self-government, and a distinct and definite jurisdiction of her own. The Israelitish church and state were formally distinct in their laws, sanctions, and administrations. The judicial law was peculiar to the state; the ceremonial to the church; and the moral common to both. We read of rulers and judges, priests and levites, and of the priests judging between clean and unclean; of the matters of the Lord and matters of the king; of the criminal sanctions of the judicial law, and the separations, confessions, and exclusions of the ceremonial; of ecclesiastical excision from the congregation, putting out of the synagogue and temple, and of the reprehension and punishment of some who usurped the office of the priesthood, or presumed to perform its functions. We read too of the rulers of the synagogue and sanhedrim Our Lord seems first to have been brought before an ecclesiastical court, charged with a spiritual offence; and then before a civil court, charged latterly with an offence against Caesar. From such data we conclude, that the Old Testament church had distinct laws and censures; officers and courts to administer them. The same head appointed church officers to administer word, and sacraments, and censures, under the New. “And hath set some in the church, first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers, helps, governments,” or governors, the abstract for the concrete.[1 Cor. 12:28.] Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in every church, and the former instructed Titus to ordain them in every city. These were not only spiritual functionaries, but rulers, as is obvious from the nature of their duties, the manner of their performance, and the obedience due to them. “He that ruleth with diligence”—“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour”—“Remember them that have the rule over you, submit yourselves.” To these rulers were exclusively committed the keys of doctrine and discipline, or the power of administering word and sacrament, and of inflicting and removing the censures of the church. “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shalt be loosed in heaven.”[Mat. 16:19.] “If thy brother trespass against thee, tell it to the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”[Mat. 18:17.] The church at Corinth Was required to expel the incestuous person; and surely she must have had the power independently of the state. Titus, after the first or second admonition, was enjoined to cut off an heretic. The angels of the churches of Pergamos and Thyatira are reprehended; the one for tolerating such as taught the doctrine of Balaam, and the other for suffering Jezebel to remain in ecclesiastical fellowship. Church officers, therefore, must have had the power of administering the laws of Christ’s house, else they would not have been censured for their dereliction of duty. Besides, the primitive church had the power within herself of appointing her own office-bearers, and the presbytery of ordaining them. Timothy was ordained by the presbytery; and certain who ministered in Antioch laid hands on Paul and Barnabas, and sent them away as missionaries to the heathen. At a subsequent period, they were sent up from the Church at Antioch to Jerusalem, to obtain the judgment of the apostles and elders in a particular case. They convened and considered the matter, and gave a decision. Paul and Silas, as they passed through the cities, delivered to them the decrees to observe, which were ordained of the apostles and elders, convened in ecclesiastical council in Jerusalem. The primitive church, therefore, possessed the power of self-extension, reformation, and government, full power within herself to manage her own affairs, and to act upon her own internal regulations.

Another feature, however, of the church’s jurisdiction is, that it is spiritual as well as inherent in its nature: “My kingdom is not of this world.”[John 18:36.] It is neither a secular kingdom, nor derived from such. It is spiritual in its nature and formal ends, in its doctrines, institutions, and censures, and designed to promote spiritual objects. “He gave some apostles, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”[Eph. 4:11, 12.] The censures of the church are spiritual in their nature. It is not her province to inflict fines or imprisonment. Her weapons are not carnal; these belong to the state. Her censures are both spiritual in their nature and effects. Ecclesiastical effects more immediately follow the administration of the laws of ecclesiastical society, and civil effects those of civil society. Civil effects too sometimes follow ecclesiastical, as in the case of the deposition or excommunication of a pastor. By error in doctrine or immorality in practice, or by abandoning the constitution of that church of which he has been admitted an office-bearer, he forfeits his claim to her secular interests, and is himself responsible for the civil effects. Nevertheless, the nature and native effects of Christ’s kingdom, determine the distinctive nature and extent of its jurisdiction. It is spiritual in its formal objects and ends, and limited by what is in itself strictly ecclesiastical. The church’s jurisdiction is within herself, and extends only to her own members, and that ecclesiastically. Church and state have things in common, and may take up the same case; but the one treats it as a scandal against the church, and the other as a crime against the state. Hence two independent jurisdictions may co-exist in the same kingdom without confusion or interference from their distinct provinces and objects.

It is an additional feature of the church’s jurisdiction, that it is executive or ministerial. Her Head reserves to himself the power of legislation, or if he has delegated it, to what extent? Is it to alter or amend his institutions? Are his ministers placed as servants or lawgivers in his house? “Ye know that the princes of the gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them, but it shall not be so among you.”[Mat. 20:25.] The power of ecclesiastical rulers is not lordly, therefore, but ministerial. “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage.” “Let a man so account of us as the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”[1 Cor. 4:1.] Church officers are not lords or lawgivers, but servants and stewards under Christ, the Lord of his own house. It is their duty to consult their Master’s will, and, as faithful stewards, to execute it. As an ambassador represents his sovereign, and as a servant acts for his master, so ought ecclesiastical rulers to convene and administer word, sacraments, and censures, in the name of the Lord, and not in the name of the supreme magistrate of the country. “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Where he has not legislated in relation to the mode or order of performing his will, his official servants are warranted to adopt subordinate rules for the application of general principles to particular cases, that all things may be done decently and in order, for the ends of edification, and honour of religion.

But while the church’s jurisdiction is ministerial in its nature, it is also independent or exclusive of foreign interference. The church is not independent of Christ’s supremacy or of his laws, neither are her ministers or members of temporal support; but she is independent of civil jurisdiction, and all foreign interference in things strictly spiritual. This position may be reasoned from the origin of ecclesiastical government, and from its inherent spiritual, ministerial, and inalienable character. From its origin. It is spiritual in its origin, and not derived from the state, and consequently, neither subject nor responsible to it. Church and state are distinct in their institution, constitution, and administration; in their origin and offices, immediate objects, and formal ends. Magistracy and ministry are two distinct and co-ordinate ordinances. The latter originates immediately with Christ as mediator, the former with a three-one God as creator; but is nevertheless one of the all things put under his feet for the benefit of his church, and ought to be administered in subserviency to her interests. The church owes her existence to her Head, and her ministers and members are amenable to him and his lawfully-constituted courts in things ecclesiastical. Peter and John, when forbidden to preach any more in that name, declined foreign interference, and said, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” The laws of Christ have an antecedent claim upon his subjects and servants to the laws of mortals. His officers hold their powers neither of nor under the state, but derive them immediately from himself through the medium of his church. She received liberty from him to meet and worship according to his will independently of civil authorities, to nominate and appoint her office-bearers, to convene her courts, to administer her laws, to judge of the qualifications of her ministers and members, and to admit and exclude according to the laws of his house. The ecclesiastical council of Jerusalem met by virtue of its own authority, and was neither convened nor prorogued by any foreign power. The primitive church had an inherent jurisdiction, and retained it during the three first centuries. This Erastians themselves admit; but allege not only that it ceased, but that it ought to cease under a Christian magistracy. What! the church free under heathen rulers, and a vassal or a slave under Christian! One would have supposed that instead of her liberties being less sacred and inviolable, they ought to have been more; that instead of the spiritual jurisdiction being merged into the secular, that it would have retained its distinct functions and character. Unless, however, it can be shewn that it was only temporary, and that it was delegated to the Christian magistrate, we are bound to maintain its permanency and independence. Moreover, Erastians must adduce some other argument than Christ’s headship over nations for the benefit of his church, an argument irresistible in relation to the christian magistrate’s power, circa sacra [concerning sacred things], but utterly irrelevant and worthless in relation to his power in sacris [in sacred things]. It is inconclusive to reason from power without to power within the church. Civil authorities have no right to enter within her sacred jurisdiction, to interfere with her internal policy, to usurp or suppress her government, cancel or annul her ecclesiastical decisions as such. The sanctity of its character ought to protect it against the encroachment of the secular powers. It is surely enough for them that they possess the sword, without grasping the keys. But if one must be supreme, whether is it more reasonable that the sod should rule the body, or the body the soul? that a secular body should rule the spiritual, or that the spiritual should act as the soul of the secular? We are far from claiming exemption to ecclesiastics from civil jurisdiction in things civil, like the Church of Rome. We would avoid the extreme of Papal jurisdiction over the state, on the one hand, and of Erastian supremacy over the church, on the other. Each ought to be best qualified for managing its own distinctive and peculiar department—the church for exercising the keys, and the state for wielding the sword. It would not be more incongruous than incompatible to see the secular authorities administering word, sacrament, and censures. The keys have been committed to church officers, and they are not at liberty to surrender them at pleasure. They are only servants in their master’s house, and bound faithfully to defend it in his absence. They are not at liberty to throw it open to every intruder, to allow strangers to enter and take possession, to assume the administration and supersede the authority and freedom of his own servants. They are not at liberty to transfer their services to another master, to act under his direction, unless they mean to become the servants of another. They are not at liberty to alienate their Master’s property, or become accomplices in robbing him or his house of its spiritual privileges or blood-bequeathed liberties. They are not at liberty to transfer their allegiance to a foreign power, to act under his dictation, unless they mean to betray their own sovereign, and sacrifice his legitimate influence in his own kingdom. They are bound faithfully and honestly to maintain their Master’s honour, and defend the liberties of his kingdom, until he descend to call them to account: “Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” His servants cannot conscientiously or consistently serve two masters, or bear faithful allegiance to two sovereigns and supreme heads of the church. Subjection to a foreign power is incompatible with her fidelity to her own Lord, or the integrity of his supremacy over his own house. As a body, she owes subjection to her own Head; as a spouse, constancy to her own husband; as a servant, obedience to her own master; as a subject, allegiance to her own sovereign; as a soldier in her militant state, attention to the orders of her own captain and commander; and as a vessel, she ought to be regulated by her own helm, and guided by her own sun or morning orb, and not by the lurid star of this world’s politics. “Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be in everything to their own husbands.” The church is a free society, though bound to Christ; let her therefore manfully maintain that liberty wherewith her head and her husband hath made her free.

The co-ordinate jurisdictions of church and state are mutually distinct and independent. The church has no formal jurisdiction over the state as such, and the state has no formal jurisdiction over the church. The ministers and members of the church are subject to the state in things civil, and the ministers and members of the state, if members of the church, are subject to the spiritual courts, in things spiritual. The ministers of religion are more immediately the guardians of faith and judges of doctrine; the ministers of state are more immediately the guardians of law, and judges of its violation. It does not belong to the state to prescribe the terms of the church’s ministerial or Christian communion, to appoint her officers, to convene her courts, to dictate her constitution, or administration, in her doctrine, worship, discipline, or government, or exercise an appellate jurisdiction over her censures; as little does it belong to the church to appoint the rulers of the state, convene its courts, enact its laws, and execute their sanctions, by assuming the sword. The jurisdictions of both are final. Church and state are each of them supreme in its own sphere—the church in things spiritual, and the state in things temporal. The church gives effect to her own laws, ecclesiastically; and the state to its, civilly. The latter is relatively free to sanction, and give civil effect, or not, to ecclesiastical decisions; and the former is free to approve, or not, of civil enactments, and give them effect ecclesiastically, as in the case of national fasts and thanksgivings.

But though the church and state are mutually distinct and independent kingdoms, yet they owe each other mutual duties, and may enter into a friendly alliance for their mutual benefit, without compromising their independence? All depends, however, upon the character of the ally, and terms of the alliance.[1.] That alliance is bondage, which necessitates the church to act under the direction of an extraneous head. What would the Sovereign of Britain think, could her subjects no longer act under her authority? What would she think, were her ministers compelled to act under the authority of the king of France, and transfer their allegiance to a foreign kingdom? Would she not indignantly ask, Who is the Sovereign of these realms, Philip or Victoria? The independence of Britain is gone when a foreign power dictates her constitution, controls her administration, nominates her ministers, convenes and prorogues her legislature, cancels or claims an appellate jurisdiction over her decisions. The independence of Turkey is gone, when she lays herself at the feet of a foreign power, and acts under the dictation of the autocrat of all the Russias. Let those churches that have entered into Erastian alliances, renounce the secular advantages, rather than sacrifice the headship of Christ, and liberties of his church. If some of them have placed themselves in an illegal position, let them resolutely set themselves to obtain the entire repeal of the civil supremacy within the church, and legal revision of the compact, if they are determined to cleave to their ancient ally, by whom they have almost all along been enthralled. Let not the subjects of Christ betray their allegiance, or consent to any conspiracy against his crown or kingdom. Let them resist every foreign invasion, rise and defend his royal supremacy, hallowed with blood. To arms! soldiers of Immanuel, and fight nobly for his sacred jurisdiction. If the men of the world are jealous of any encroachment upon their dominions, ought you to be less of any upon your Master’s? On! on! resolute and noble-minded Scotsmen!

“Bear aloft our Sion’s banner, 
Crimsoned o’er with martyrs’ blood; 
It hath waved thro’ lapse of ages, 
Undestroyed by fire or flood. 
On the field of deadly combat
It hath wav’d amid the strife, 
And our fathers, to preserve it, 
Peril’d fortune, home, and life.”

Let not the manly heroes of the covenant, who sacrificed their all on earth, for their Lord’s supremacy, and spiritual liberties of his people, and whose hands and heads were placed upon the portals of the capital of their country, rise up in judgment against you at another day. Soldiers of Jesus! your Lord demands your service: fly to his armoury, and equip yourselves for the battle. The conflict for his supremacy must ultimately become an European question. Let the cry of treason! treason! resound through the world. Acquit yourselves like men embarked in a noble cause. Your impatience under Erastian fetters, may make others feel their chains, and sigh for freedom. Your unconquerable zeal for religious liberty may fire the minds of millions throughout the Erastian churches of Europe, and prompt them to follow your example. The weapons of your warfare, however, are not carnal. Encounter the enemy with the Acts of the Apostles, as well as with the Acts of Parliament, and Heaven will become your ally. Plant your feet upon the rock of inspiration, and you are impregnable, and not upon the slippery icebergs of political expediency, which are destined to melt and crumble away before the rising of the millennial sun, and the fearful shocks and upbreakings that must precede that auspicious day. But ah, in these concussing times, let those churches that glory in their freedom, beware of prostrating themselves at the feet of the secular polities of the age, of being dragged inglorious captives at their chariot wheels, or of being practically compelled to surrender the church’s spiritual independence, at the dictation of party politicians, whether within or without the church, who would render her a slave to their political creed, and tools merely to promote their party objects.

With these reflections, we pass to the third division of our subject; namely, The Headship of Christ over his church, and her independent jurisdiction, as developed in the history of the Second Reformation Church of Scotland, and in the subsequent struggles of her representatives. These sacred principles formed the rising spire which surmounted the grand national temple of the Second Reformation. A noble fountain which has long been choked up, when cleared out, begins to flow, and the current to form in a particular channel; and a swollen river, after clearing its way from a fearful gorge, begins to move on, and the current to ridge up and take the lead in the centre; so in the impetus of the Second Reformation, these great principles took the lead in the centre of the current. After a long and darkening night of Prelatic intrusion, of Erastian intrigue, encroachment, dictation, and violence, the slumbering energies of Scotland awoke, and embodied themselves in the renovation of the national covenant, that splendid deed of national homage to the Redeemer’s immediate headship over the church, and delegated headship over the nations. The resolute covenanters craved free Assembly, and a free Parliament. His majesty was ruling, and wished to rule without either; and met their demand with intrigue, evasion, and delay; thinking to gain time for an appeal to arms. Still they insisted upon a free general assembly, free as to its members, matters, and manner of ecclesiastical procedure. At last his majesty complied, upon learning that the church had resolved to convene upon her own intrinsic authority, should his concurrence not be obtained. It met in Glasgow, on the 21st of November, 1638. His majesty’s Commissioner attempted for some time to restrain its freedom, but finding that it would not be an echo of the royal pleasure, dissolved it in his master’s name. A protest was taken, the headship of Christ asserted, while the moderator declared, that since the Commissioner had been so zealous for the honour of his master, they ought not to be less so for theirs. It was put to the assembly from the chair, if they adhered to the protest that had been read. The roll was called, the votes marked, and with a few exceptions, they resolved to abide by the post of duty.[2.] The following day, the assembly was discharged by proclamation, upon pain of treason. They went on, notwithstanding, with their business; declared null the corrupt and unconstitutional assemblies, under the sway of prelacy; condemned the Court of High Commission, because it gave to ecclesiastical persons the power of both swords, and to persons merely civil, the power of the keys and kirk censures; tried, and deposed the Bishops for ecclesiastical and other delinquencies; declared Episcopacy abjured by the confession and covenant; abolished it ecclesiastically; revived Presbytery, as delineated in the Second Book of Discipline; condemned the civil places of ecclesiastics, as incompatible with their spiritual functions, and dangerous to the liberties of the church; and prohibited the subscription of the Confession, according to the Sovereign’s interpretation and Erastian prescription. Besides, this assembly revived the Act of 1596, ordaining that none seek presentation to benefices without the advice of the Presbytery, which was empowered to judge of the fitness of the presenter, for the particular charge; and enacted another law, that in the matter of presentations, “respect be had to the congregation, that no person be intruded in any office in the kirk, contrary to the will of the congregation, to which they are appointed.”[3.] In masculine style they closed their labours, by passing an Act assertatory of their inherent power to call their own assemblies, appointed time and place of next meeting, and instructed supplication to be made for the ratification of their ecclesiastical constitution, and as they had thrown down the walls of Jericho ecclesiastically, that every remaining support might be withdrawn civilly. His majesty answered the assembly’s supplication, by a proclamation of war. He was determined to maintain his absolute supremacy in church and state, at the expense of blood and treasure. He crossed the English border in person, at the head of his array, and sent his fleet along the coast to the mouth of the Forth. The Covenanters, as Christian citizens, were compelled to rise in self-defence. Their standards were soon planted upon their native mountains, and their banners unfurled, with the motto, “For Christ’s crown and covenant,” blazoned upon them in letters of gold. They were not averse to negotiate, and in their negotiations, among other things, they demanded a free assembly, and a free parliament, and that all ecclesiastical matters should be determined by the assembly, and civil matters by the parliament. His majesty ultimately complied, and substantially agreed, that those things which were decided by a free assembly, should be ratified by a free parliament. An assembly was convened in Edinburgh, at which an Act was passed, which in substance embraced most of what was done at the previous assembly, and of which the Commissioner approved in his majesty’s name, and promised to secure its ratification in the approaching parliament. Accordingly, in 1640, that ecclesiastical constitution was ratified by Act of Parliament; an Act which in express terms recognises “general assemblies rightly constitute as the proper and competent judge, in all matters ecclesiastical.”[4.] Besides, the parliament of 1640, passed an Act, abolishing prelacy, civilly, and annulling “all and whatsoever Acts of Parliament, laws, and constitutions, in so far as they derogate, and are prejudicial to the spiritual nature, jurisdiction, discipline, and privileges of this kirk, or general, provincial, Presbyterial assemblies, and kirk sessions; and which Act in so many words declares, “that the sole, and only power and jurisdiction, within this kirk, stands in the kirk of God, as it is now reformed.”[5.] The presentations which belonged to the bishops fell into the hands of Presbyteries, which could provide a minister, “with the consent of the parish,” and “upon the suit and calling of the congregation, without any presentation at all.”[6.] His majesty was present in person, at the parliament of 1641, and gave his royal assent and sanction to all these, and other Acts, in favour of the church of the Second Reformation. To redress in part the grievance of Patronage, he was prevailed upon to present one from a leet of six, furnished by the Presbytery, with consent of the majority of the congregation. In 1643, application was made for the restriction of the leet to three in the Lowlands, and one in the Highlands, on account of the difficulty of obtaining six well-qualified persons. Then at least the question of lay-patronage began to be agitated, and in 1649, through the influence of the church, the obnoxious statute was got entirely repealed; “at and before which time,” says the Act of restoration, under Charles II, “the patrons were most injuriously dispossessed of their patronages.” Lay-patronage, or a civil right in the appointment of spiritual officers, is extrinsic of the church, and incompatible with her intrinsic authority and spiritual independence. Then, however, the power of appointment was brought entirely within the church from, first to last. She was left to frame her own regulations; and whatever may be thought of their propriety, they were her own at least, and not imposed from without; and they possessed this recommendation, that they recognized no property qualification upon the part of persons nominating more than consenting. In 1645, the assembly adopted the “Directory for Worship,” the first-fruit of the labours of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, then sitting in London; and applied to parliament to give validity to their Act civilly, which they confirmed. They were relatively free to give or withhold civil effect; still this did not preclude the church from giving it effect ecclesiastically. The assembly likewise approved of the propositions respecting church government and ordination of ministers, under their own explanations, reserving the right of further discussion respecting “the distinct rights and interests of Presbyteries and people, in the calling of ministers.” In those times, the absence of a royal Commissioner did by no means sist the procedure of the Assembly; as little was his presence deemed necessary to its validity. There seems to have been none sent to that of 1640, nor any from 1643 to 1649. His majesty, in his letter to the assembly of 1646, alleges that he could not conveniently send one, but promises to use his endeavour to maintain the religion of the country, “as it is established in doctrine, worship, and church government.”

In things strictly ecclesiastical, the church acted separately, and upon her own intrinsic authority; and in things of a two-fold character, like soul and body, or partly civil and partly ecclesiastical, she acted more in concert with the state; as in the case of the mutual adoption of the national covenants, those national securities for the civil and religious liberties of the country. She was vigilant, and ever jealous of anything in the form of Erastian supremacy. When the English Parliament was resolved to reserve to itself an appellate jurisdiction over the censures of the new Presbyterian establishment in the south, the Scottish Assembly and Parliament promptly remonstrated, and insisted that the jurisdiction of the church ought to be final.[7.] When the Confession of Faith came down from the Westminster Assembly, it was carefully read, examined, and considered. But though it contained an express assertion of Christ’s sole headship over his church; of her distinct government and jurisdiction in the hands of church officers, and of their right to exercise the keys of the church; and of the power of spiritual courts ministerially to determine controversies of faith; and though it declared that the magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of word and sacrament, or the power of the keys of the kingdom; yet it was not adopted without certain limitations.[8.] In the act of approbation, the intrinsic power of the church to convene her own assemblies, in her ordinary and settled state, was distinctly asserted. So zealous was the assembly against Erastianism, that ministers were censurable for silence respecting it; and recommended to study the controversy that they might more effectually confute the gainsayer. In the renovation of the Solemn League it was expressly condemned, while the parties pledged themselves to defend the church against all who might attempt to supplant her liberties. That deed itself was virtually directed against regal supremacy, as the national covenant had been directed against Papal. The one kept down an earthly ecclesiastical head within the church, and the other brought down a civil. The national church in these times honoured the true head, and he pre-eminently honoured her by his presence and Spirit, and rendered her a singularly efficient and useful institution.[9.]

In 1648, after careful examination, the Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, were adopted by the Assembly as subordinate standards; and application was made to the Parliament of 1649, for legal securities in the peaceable possession of them. After due consideration, the Confession and Catechisms, with the Assembly’s Acts of adoption, were ratified, and the legal securities granted; and thus civil effect was given to the church's ecclesiastical constitutions. Upon the accession of Charles II. the Scottish Parliament ordained, that before he was admitted to the exercise of royal power, he should swear to preserve the established religion as then professed; and that he should agree “that all matters civil be determined by the Parliaments of this kingdom, and all ecclesiastic matters by the General Assembly of this Kirk.”[10.] They restricted and suspended their allegiance, as they had practically done towards his father, from 1643, until he should give the necessary securities for the religion and liberties of the kingdom. These he gave; sware, and subscribed the national Covenants; mounted the throne of Scotland upon specific conditions; and yet, appalling to relate, little sooner was he restored to power after the interregnum of the Protectorate, than he rescinded all the securities for the established religion of Scotland, abolished Presbytery, restored prelacy, patronage, and the supremacy; and brought the head of the pious and patriotic Argyle to the block, the very nobleman who had set the crown upon his own head. A blacker case of perfidy, profligacy, and perjury, perhaps the sun himself never shone upon.[11.]

A long, dark, and stormy winter, of eight and twenty years’ persecution, commenced. Those who suffered during that period, were eminently confessors and martyrs for the crown of Christ. Their invincible attachment to his royal prerogatives, and uncompromising opposition to Caesar’s usurpations, exposed them to awful and appalling calamities. Conformity to prelacy, and submission to that sacrilegious supremacy which introduced it, were enforced by fines and forfeitures, tests and oaths, bonds and imprisonments, torture and banishment, and death itself. Upwards of a third part of the ministers were ejected because they had been admitted subsequent to the abolition of patronage, and could not in conscience accept a presentation from a patron, collation from a Bishop, and subscribe the qualifying oaths.[12.] Many of them refused to lay down their commissions at the command of an Erastian head, and began to exercise it in private houses, and subsequently in the fields. This became a capital offence, nay, even to hear the gospel preached by their outed pastor. Many of the people, rather than abandon the pastor of their choice, or be driven by soldiers to hear the worthless and soul-starving hirelings of the supremacy, hazarded their lives; and took cheerfully the spoiling of their goods. The ejected ministers were severely tried by ensnaring indulgences, which sprang immediately from man’s supremacy; and alas, many of them were tempted either to compromise, or betray their Lord’s.[13.] It became a crime to acknowledge the covenants, and all writing, printing, preaching, praying, which had a tendency to excite dislike to his majesty’s ecclesiastical supremacy, or to the Episcopal form of church government, were declared seditions.[14.]

“For England’s shame, O Sister Realm! from wood, 
Mountain, and moor, and crowded street, where lie
The headless martyrs of the Covenant, 
Slain by compatriot-protestants, that draw
From councils senseless as intolerant
Their warrant. Bodies fall by wild sword-law; 
But who would force the soul, tilts with a straw
Against a champion cased in adamant.”


Christians, for their conscientious adherence to Christ’s crown and covenant, and unwavering opposition to absolute power in church and state, were driven from their homes, to herd with the beasts of the field; harassed by spies and informers; suffered in their religion and liberty, person and property; and, besides, were denied the means of all legal redress; pastor and people, peer and peasant, male and female, young and old, were indiscriminately harassed, fined, starved, imprisoned, hanged, drowned, banished, or beheaded; often buried like felons, or denied the rites of sepulture; quartered, and their heads and palms of their hands set upon some conspicuous place, for the purposes of intimidation and disgrace, while their bones were left to bleach on the tops of the mountains. A standing army was kept up to suppress the preaching of the gospel in the fields, and to force prelacy and the supremacy upon a reluctant and reclaiming people. Their substance was drained by fines, or eaten up by soldiers; the jails were full, if many of the churches were empty. The stroke fell heavy upon the conscientious and manly asserters of Christ’s supremacy, but they chose rather to suffer than sin. It was so near the heart of the Scottish martyrs, that they began seriously to doubt the propriety of longer acknowledging that man as their lawful sovereign who had rendered the supremacy one of the inherent prerogatives of his crown. This was not the only reason for declining his authority, but it was perhaps the principal. “As to the causes of my suffering,” said the intrepid, conscientious, and venerable Cargill, in his last speech from the scaffold, “the chief is, not acknowledging the present authority as it is established in the supremacy and explanatory act. This is the magistracy I have rejected,—that which is invested with Christ’s power. Seeing that power taken from Christ, which is his glory, and made the essential of an earthly crown, seemed to me as if one were wearing my husband’s garments, after he had killed him. There is no distraction we can make that can free the conscience of the acknowledger from being a partaker of this sacrilegious robbing of God, and it is but to cheat our consciences, to acknowledge the civil power, for it is not civil power only, that is made of the essence of the crown.”[15.] Females, in those times of blood, were not ashamed to acknowledge their Lord, nor backward to suffer for his crown. With firm and intrepid step they ascended the scaffold, uttered their dying testimonies, sung sweetly the praise of heaven, despite the din of drums and cavalry; and rather than see the crown torn from the head of their Redeemer, laid their own heads upon the block. Witness the language and deportment of Isabel Allison and Marion Harvey in their last moments. Said the former, “I declined their authority, and told them that they had declared war against Christ, and usurped his prerogatives, and so carried the sword against him, and not for him. I think none can own them, unless they disown Jesus Christ. Let enemies, and pretended friends say what they will, I could have my life on no easier terms than denying of Christ’s kingly office. Thus, I lay down my life for owning and adhering to Jesus Christ, and his being a free king in his own house.” Said Marion Harvey, respecting the cause of her death, “It is for adhering to the truths of Jesus Christ, and avowing him to be king in Sion, and head of his church, and the testimony against the ungodly laws of men, and the robbing Christ of his rights, and usurping his royal prerogative, which I durst not but testify against.”[16.]

Wives too, during this reign of terror, rather than see their husbands betray the church’s only head and husband, beheld them shot before their eyes, and after the savage soldiery had withdrawn, carefully gathered up their shattered remains, wrapped them in their winding sheet, and then sat down and bedewed them with their tears, with their fatherless children around them.

“Who has not paus’d above the Martyr’s name, 
The best and brightest on the roll of fame, 
And felt his soul with thrilling rapture glow; 
Yet grief’s sad tear dissolve his heart in woe!— 
The stolen hour for worship’s holiest hymn, 
Breathed on the moorlands, when the stars burned dim;— 
Hung o’er his slumbers in the rocky cave, 
Or seen him exil’d far beyond the wave;— 
Had heard the stirring watchword of the fight, 
‘Christ and his crown—our country and our right.’”[17.]

So near the hearts of the persecuted wanderers was the headship of Christ, that it was practically blazoned upon their banners, interwoven with their dying testimonies, and afterwards inscribed upon their grey grave-stones, erected in the solitary wild to mark the hallowed spot where they fell The very country was laid under martial law, and soldiers received a running commission to shoot these cowering or fleeing sufferers like the wild fowl of heaven. Thus Scotland was turned into a hunting field, while worthless curates, mitred bishops, crouching minions, and political bigots were hounding on a ruffian soldiery to the game of blood. There were still, however, some to struggle and suffer, rather than acknowledge either a profligate or a papist as the head of their church, or accept of that as a favour which they were entitled to demand as a right. At last Heaven smiled upon the hallowed struggles of these noble heroes of the covenant. Their piety and patriotism, their principle and privations, their constancy in torture and in death, made a deep impression upon the pub-lie mind, excited extensive sympathy, and a secret feeling of resistance. At last the grasping popish usurper of the supremacy over a protestant church was hurled from the throne.[18.]

A respite came in the memorable Revolution of 1688. The old men, however, who had seen or heard of the glory of the first national temple, wept when they beheld that of the new erection so far inferior. The genuine representatives of the martyrs stood sighing and moaning without, wrestling and praying, unheeded and unheard, beside the torn banners of the covenant, bewailing the tarnished lustre of Christ’s crown in Scotland, and the continued usurpation of it in England. As the hoary-headed Jew stood leaning over the top of his staff, and praying in the valley of Jehoshaphat that the Lord would return to Jerusalem, the city of his fathers’ sepulchres, and render it a meet habitation for the advent of Messiah the prince; so they stood weeping, and praying as they wept, that the Redeemer would again return, and wear his crown, in its untarnished lustre, in the land of their fathers’ blood. “Arise, arise, O Lord, lift up thy feet and do not tarry, remember all the ills thy foes have done within thy sanctuary.”

“"Come, then, and, added to thy many crowns, 
Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth, 
Thou who alone art worthy! It was thine
By ancient covenant, ere nature’s birth; 
And thou hast made it thine by purchase since, 
And over-paid its value with thy blood. 
Thy saints proclaim thee king! and in their hearts
Thy title is engraven with a pen
Dipp’d in the fountain of eternal love. 
Thy saints proclaim thee king! and thy delay
Gives courage to their foes, who, could they see
The dawn of thy last advent, long desir’d, 
Would creep into the bowels of the hills, 
And flee for safety to the falling rocks.”"

COWPER.—Book vi.

[go to LECTURE III.]


[1.] Further than a solemn assertion of the duty of nations to Christ and his church, or of the sacred principle of the Christian magistrate’s power, circa sacra [concerning sacred things], we cannot enter, without interfering with the subject of a separate and distinct lecture in this course. It only belongs to us to shew what is not the duty of nations to the church and her Head. It belongs to another to shew what it is. It is not their duty to rob him of his crown and her of her liberties, and spiritual independence; or to render her a mere servile appendage, or engine of the state.

[2.] Stevenson’s Church History.

[3.] Acts of Assembly, and Records of the Kirk of Scotland. 

[4.] Act iv. Parl. 2. Ch. 1. 

[5.] Act vi. Parl. 2. Ch. 1. 

[6.] Act viii. P. 2. C. l, and Cunningham’s Defence of the Rights of the Christian People.

[7.] Neal’s History of the Puritans.

[8.] Act of Assembly prefixed to the Confession.

[9.] Kirkton’s secret and true History of the Church of Scotland.

[10.] Act XV. 7th February, 1649. 

[11.] Shield’s Hind let Loose.

[12.] Kirkton. Brown’s Apologetical relation, as quoted in Cunningham’s Defence.

[13.] See Brown’s History of the Indulgence.—Wodrow.

[14.] Aikman. 

[15.] Cloud of Witnesses. Glasgow, 1836.

[16.] Cloud of Witnesses for the Royal Prerogatives of Christ.

[17.] Covenanters, and other poems.

[18.] Specimens of the use which poets have made of the noble struggles of the men of the covenant, in behalf of the civil and religious liberties of their country:

“Thy persecuted children, Scotia, foiled
A tyrant’s and a bigot’s bloody laws: 
There, leaning on his spear, (one of the array
whose gleam, in former days had scathed the rose
On England’s banner, and had powerless struck
The infatuate monarch and his wavering host), 
The lyart veteran heard the word of God
By Cameron thundered, or by Renwick poured
In gentle stream: then rose the song, the loud
Acclaim of praise; the wheeling plover ceas’d
Her plaint; the solitary place was glad; 
And on the distant cairns the watcher’s ear
Caught doubtfully at times the breeze-borne note. 
But years more gloomy follow’d; and no more
The assembled people dared, in face of day, 
To worship God, or even at the dead
Of night, save when the wintry storm raved fierce, 
And thunder-peals compell’d the men of blood
To couch within their dens; then dauntlessly
The scatter’d few would meet, in some deep dell
By rocks o’er-canopied, to hear the voice, 
Their faithful pastor’s voice: he by the gleam
Of sheeted lightning, op’d the sacred book, 
And words of comfort spake—over their souls
His accents soothing came,—as to her young
The heath-fowl’s plumes, when, at the close of eve, 
She gathers in, mournful, her brood, dispers’d
By murderous sport, and o’er the remnant spreads
Fondly her wings; close nestling ‘neath her breast, 
They, cherish’d, cower amid the purple blooms.”


“The life and death of martyrs, who sustain’d
With will inflexible those fearful pangs, 
Triumphantly display’d in records left
Of persecution, and the covenant—Times
Whose echo rings through Scotland to this hour.”


“Eternal Hope, with bright prophetic eye, 
Pierc’d the dark shades that round the future lie; 
Beheld the cloud of suffering pass away, 
And Scotland smile beneath a happier day; 
Religion, Freedom, wave the olive wand, 
Walk undisturb’d and smiling through the land; 
The fruitful harvests of their sufferings rise
In peace and love beneath congenial skies:— 
A grateful country, and approving Heaven, 
Glow’d on the twilight of life’s stormy even.”