PATRONAGE OPPOSED TO THE INDEPENDENCE
OF THE CHURCH, AND TO THE SCRIPTURAL RIGHTS OF THE CHRISTIAN PEOPLE.
THE advantage of an authoritative rule respecting the appointment of ministers, might be easily illustrated. A relationship of such importance being the result of the process, so solemn is the whole transaction in itself and in its issues, that it cannot be regarded as unworthy of the Divine wisdom to supply us with directions concerning the way in which men are to be called to the discharge of ministerial functions. The opinion that a few general principles have been given us in Scripture, but that the precise application of them, it was beneath the dignity of revelation to shew, is contradicted by the fact, that formal regulations have been prescribed regarding some steps in the process by which ministerial authority is conferred.—We read of the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. To enter upon the discussion of any point affecting the polity of the church with the preconceived theory, tacitly or avowedly entertained, that it did not merit the honour of being expressly regulated in Scripture, is presumptuous.
The same principle, if adopted in the prosecution of doctrinal investigations, would invest with plausibility the worst tenets of Neology. It tends to the disparagement of the Mosaic institute, abounding throughout with specific directions of remarkable minuteness.
We have premised these observations in order to justify an appeal to Scripture as the sole arbiter in the controversy which has now prevailed in our country for centuries, with reference to the proper method in which ministers should be called to their office. An unwillingness to test the question at issue by the authority of the Divine word may spring from conscientious impressions that no definite conclusion can be inferred from its statements, so far as election to the pastoral office is concerned. All the stronger, on that account, is the duty resting upon those who entertain a very different conviction, to give prominence to the Scriptural grounds on which they contend, not only that extrinsic control in the appointment of ministers in the church is pernicious and unlawful, but that they should be chosen and called by its members alone.
Certain complexities with which, in the course of discussion, this question has been entangled, require from us at the outset the free acknowledgement that important rights belong to church courts in settling a minister, which they cannot refrain from exercising save at the risk of detriment to the souls under their charge, and at the peril of their Master’s displeasure. They must deal with candidates for the ministry; be satisfied of the purity of their motives; examine their qualifications; and should a call be tendered to any one of them, they must judge of his fitness for the sphere of duty in which it is proposed that he should labour. It is their undivided prerogative to ordain; and any recourse to foreign influence by which they may be coerced into the exercise of it, so that an individual might reap the fruits of a benefice, is wholly beyond vindication or excuse. It is an Erastian act for an Erastian end. Nor is a congregation at liberty to concuss church courts, into the ordination of a person deemed by them unfit either for the sacred office, or the place in which that office is to be exercised. Such a proceeding would be a violent transference of authority from the rulers to the ruled.
What place then ought to be assigned to the people in the selection of their pastors? In some churches they have been excluded entirely from any share in a transaction so intimately connected with their highest interests. Under a system of rigorous and unmitigated patronage, they cannot be said to exercise any control in the appointment of their ministers; for to lodge objections against a presentee on account of unsound doctrine, immoral life, or deficient learning, is no privilege in the matter, since it can be done by individuals not in communion with the church. Patronage, however, in a modified form, has been advocated, with this provision, that the church courts have power to reject the presentee on the ground of the simple dissent of the majority of such heads of families as are members of the church.
The view which we feel called upon to maintain, which we deem clearly warranted by Scripture, which when faithfully acted upon is most calculated to promote peace and godliness in a church, and which comes to us recommended by the greatest weight of authority, if the decisions of eminent men are at all admissible in the settlement of the question, is thus emphatically expressed in the First Book of Discipline, drawn up in 1560, the era of the Reformation from Popery in this land: “It appertaineth to the people and to every several congregation to elect their minister.” The Reformed Presbyterian Church has steadfastly upheld this principle, and seized every fit opportunity to testify against the evils of patronage. In a document, embodying a memorial of grievances which our church addressed in 1690 to the Scottish Estates, when they were convened for the purpose of establishing a government in the room of the abolished despotism of the Stuarts, the following language may be found; “Another pillar of prelacy, the constant support of it and stop to reformation, does yet continue, while this burdensome bondage of patronage is not removed, whereby the church is robbed of the liberty of choosing her own guides entrusted with her greatest concerns.” In coming forward now to denounce patronage, under any shape, and under any modification, as alien to the free spirit of presbytery, as an impediment to ecclesiastical reform, and a hindrance to the growth of godliness; and as a grievance, which so long as endured patiently and without remonstrance, stamps upon a church the guilt of treachery to Christ, no less than treachery to itself, we occupy no untrodden ground; we but renew, according to the measure of the grace of faithfulness bestowed on us, the solemn protest of our fathers, foremost after the Revolution in remonstrating against the continuance of this yoke. They had not forgotten the grievance from which their church had in 1649 experienced so brief a period of emancipation. The evils of patronage were not lost in the remembrance of even graver wrongs sustained during the Scottish reign of terror; and when an opportunity of securing Its removal seemed to present itself, they were not slow to embrace it. Smarting under the harrowing reminiscences of lengthened persecution, and convinced by bitter experience of the despotism of the ecclesiastical system which that persecution was intended to establish, they condensed a volume of meaning into their denunciations of patronage, when they stigmatized it as “a pillar of prelacy.”
In vindicating our protest against this encroachment on the liberties of the Christian people of this country, we confine ourselves, in present circumstances, to three propositions illustrative of our views regarding it.
I. Patronage, under any form, is incompatible with the spiritual independence of the Church of Christ.
By patronage, we understand the right of certain men, on the ground of property alone, to nominate ministers to parishes or congregations. This definition may comprehend, not only those cases in which one man exercises the right of nomination, to the exclusion of all other parties, but those also in which men, on the ground of merely civil and secular qualifications, co-operate with a congregation in the selection of a minister. The evil which we condemn appears in many forms, whether we regard its incipient workings, or more direct manifestations. Wherever men, on account of superior wealth or elevated rank, assume the power of dictating a minister to the members of Christ’s flock—there is patronage. Wherever men, unconnected with the church by membership, are permitted on account of some largess bestowed by them for the erection of a place of worship, to enjoy a share in the election of a minister there is patronage. Wherever, on condition of contributing to the support of a congregation, the interference of men neither holding nor seeking to hold the privileges of membership, is sanctioned in the choice of a pastor—there is patronage. Wherever, by the Erastian legislation of a state, a civil right to nominate ministers is conferred on men who may be members of any church, or members of no church whatever, there is patronage, and there is a church enslaved.
(l.) Now the inconsistency of such rights, especially in the form last mentioned, to which our attention shall principally be confined, with the spiritual independence of the church, is a plain and necessary consequence from the very nature of the latter. The church is a kingdom under the administration of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a kingdom of which he is the supreme and sole Head. “This truth,” to use the words of the famous Gillespie, “that Jesus Christ is a king, and hath a kingdom and government in his church distinct from the kingdoms of this world, and from the civil government, hath this commendation and character above all other truths, that Christ himself suffered to the death for it, and sealed it with his blood.”[1.]
But patronage tramples on the rights of the ruler of this kingdom, and it tramples on the rights of the subjects of this kingdom. In the whole compass of the Word of God, no authority can be found for the theory that the civil magistrate may prescribe laws for the church. If on the contrary it frowns rebuke on any secular interference with the internal administration of the blessed kingdom of Jesus, the inference is inevitable that a civil enactment transferring the nomination of ministers from the church in which it has been lodged, to persons beyond its pale, is an insolent invasion of the prerogatives of its Head. It is an admission of Erastus, who has earned for himself a “bad eminence,” by originating the heresy which bears his name, that the civil magistrate, in the management of ecclesiastical affairs, must implicitly follow the directions of Scripture, “which,” as the old heretic asserts, “he ought to adopt as his rule in all things, and from which he must not deviate by a hairsbreadth.” Unless then the Lord Jesus has invested civil rulers with express authority to undertake ecclesiastical legislation, to the extent of regulating the appointment of ministers, their interference in the matter is an act of folly and of crime, which even Erastus, on his own principles, could not defend. If the state has received no power whatever from Christ to take such a step, the law by which men, on the ground of a civil qualification only, dictate ministers to vacant parishes, is unauthorised intrusion within the precincts of the sanctuary. It were blasphemy to suppose that the exalted Head of the church, through negligence, omitted to arrange, or to invest the church with authority to arrange, the right procedure on this point; and if the state is not empowered to make the desired arrangement, we must look to the church as the proper and only competent source whence regulations on the subject should emanate; unless the latter be forestalled in the exercise of such authority, by a clear decision of Scripture. This is indeed to escape the frightful conclusion at which we have hinted, but to concede at the same time, that the state, in establishing patronage, is guilty of sacrilege, by wresting from the church a sacred right with which she has been invested by her Head. How iniquitous then is patronage; since its defenders must take refuge in an impious charge of incompetency against the Lawgiver of Zion, or acknowledge themselves embarked in the vindication of a measure which defrauds the church and dethrones its Head!
As Christians therefore, we cannot but regard patronage as a presumptuous intermeddling with the prerogatives of Christ.—As citizens, all in connection with a state by which it is enforced, must protest against it as a departure from the proper sphere of civil magistracy. Can that government be free from guilt which intrudes into Christ’s kingdom, cancels, his legislation, and usurps power over his subjects which He never gave, and to which they by vows too solemn to be trifled with, are pledged in conscience never to submit? Nomination to the ministry may seem an affair of small moment in the estimation of some; but if this branch of ecclesiastical polity must be modified by civil enactment, where is the usurpation to end? What privilege with which Christ hath blessed his church is secure? Is not a precedent established by which her liberties, so far as the outward enjoyment and exercise of them are concerned, may perish in an hour—may perish as they perished in our land before, by the frantic legislation of a debauch? And had nothing resulted from the law of patronage but unmixed good, instead of boundless evil, still it were worthy of reprobation, as involving the recognition of a principle which would lay the crown of the Mediator at the feet of an earthly prince.
Patronage then is inconsistent with the right of the Head of the church, to legislate in all matters pertaining to the internal administration of His kingdom. But it is inconsistent likewise with the privileges of his subjects. What is Christian liberty? It implies emancipation from the dominion of sin, deliverance from Divine condemnation, the enjoyment of the Spirit, and free access to a throne of grace. But our Confession of Faith does not stop here; it contains the following statements, “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to his word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commandments, is to betray true liberty of conscience.” A reference to the texts cited in the Confession for the purpose of supporting these statements, will shew that worship is here a general term, inclusive of government, as well as the ordinances, to which it is more strictly applied. It will be admitted that patronage is the commandment of men; it will be admitted that there is nothing in Scripture by which the system can be vindicated; and the conclusion follows, that it is an infringement of Christian liberty.[2.]
It is a fundamental principle of Presbytery, that its ministers are clothed not with despotic and discretional, but simply with stewardly and ministerial power. When the state, therefore, takes away the right of nominating ministers from the church, and invests with it other parties not necessarily communicants or members, a power is assumed by the former which church courts themselves cannot exercise—they are bound to act in accordance with the Word of God, the sole statute-book of Christ’s kingdom—the moment they pass all enactment contrary to Scripture, they trespass beyond their divine commission. This is an indispensable article in the creed, not of a presbyterian only, but of all who would be consistent protestants; for if the church has authority to decree one rite or ceremony unsanctioned by Scripture, it has authority to decree a thousand, and Popery is a maligned and misrepresented thing. If a church court barters for any secular consideration, the right of the people to elect their ministers, or its own right to entire control in the matter, it cannot be maintained that the members of such a court are acting ministerially, as servants of Christ for the benefit of his flock. Such an act, having no warrant in Scripture, is lordship, and lordship exercised too, that others destitute perhaps of any religious qualification might share in the unholy sway. If the church itself is not at liberty to bestow upon any the right of patronage, who will contend that what is beyond the power of a Presbytery in a point of ecclesiastical government, is within the power of a Parliament?
(2.) “To trace an error to its fountain-head,” says no mean philosopher, “is to refute it.” Can patronage stand the test of a reference to its origin? Our fathers of the First Reformation clearly held that it could not; and they have recorded their convictions on the subject in language not to be misunderstood. The Second Book of Discipline contains these words; “Because this order which God’s word craves, cannot stand with patronages and presentation to benefices used in the Pope’s kirk, we desire all them that truly fear God, earnestly to consider, that forasmuch as the names of patronages and benefices, together with the effect thereof, have flowed from the Pope, and corruption of the canon law only—and forasmuch as that manner of proceeding hath no ground in the Word of God they ought not now to have place in this light of Reformation.” The Second Book of Discipline, from which this extract is taken, having been drawn up in 1578, eighteen years only after the dis-establishment of popery, may be regarded as a fair expression of the views of the reformers, who were instrumental in securing that memorable deliverance of our nation from antichristian thraldom. To the same effect, we find the reformers of 1649 issuing the following clear decision:—“Considering that patronages and presentations of kirks is an evil and bondage under which the Lord’s people and ministers of this land have long groaned, and that it hath no warrant in God’s word, but is founded only on the Canon law, and is a custom popish, and brought into the kirk in the time of ignorance and superstition,” &c. It is unnecessary for our present purpose to quote further from this Act of the Scottish Estates of Parliament. Such is the verdict of two reformations against patronage; and we feel irresistibly tempted to enquire, if it is because the spirit of Protestantism has evaporated amongst us, that some are to be found reverencing and guarding this rag of antichrist, as if it were the very banner of their cause, without which no reformed church could exist in connection with the state. For interested purposes, endeavours to secure the removal of this grievance have been denounced as the revival of that popish spirit, which at the expence of the state would exalt the church. A strange revival of popery truly! to seek the destruction of the only remnant of its polity existent in Presbyterian Churches!
In the absence, however, of better argument, the defenders of patronage carry us back to its origin in this country. The weapon is a blunt one at the best, but by that weapon they fall. They tell us that according to ancient charters, individuals and communities from a spirit of piety—superstition would have been a better name for the piety of a popish age—built and endowed churches, and that the law, in recognition of the holy benevolence, reserved for them and their successors the disposal of the benefice. It would therefore be acting unfairly by them, to deprive them now of a right for which the church at one time received important secular advantages. Let us never forget, however, that hired charity is but an equivocal virtue, whilst a church that could sanction the bestowment of ecclesiastical privileges for money, will find its prototype in Simon Magus with greater success, than its first Pope in Simon Peter. And besides, it is notorious, that when the Act of Parliament in 1567 was passed, vesting the examination and admission of ministers exclusively in the church, but reserving laic patronages for the ancient patrons, scarcely one-fourth of the parishes in Scotland were thus retained under the yoke. The rest were free, and the method in which they were latterly subjected to the same unholy servitude, was confessedly unjust and illegal. This argument, then, from the origin of patronage, is of no force. If the endowment of churches in the way alleged emanated from a pious motive, the individual might have been expected to manifest care in the selection of a minister, for he would never counteract by an injudicious appointment the good which he sincerely contemplated by the erection of the church. But what security could he possess that his heirs would be actuated by the same upright motives? The transmission of the civil right of patronage could afford no guarantee for the transmission of the original piety through which that right was established.
But let us see to what this argument for patronage, on the ground of its origin in pious donations, when prosecuted to its fair consequences, conducts us. Let the truth be fully told. Patronage is the offspring not only of popish times, but of popish principles. In the thrilling words of [Theodore] Beza, “where were those collations, whether ordinary or by devolution, first devised, but in the devil’s own kitchen?” Ambitious men, not satisfied with civil pre-eminence, gradually obtained the right of nominating to benefices, in order that their importance in the eyes of the vulgar might be enhanced by investiture with a spiritual prerogative. There was another fruitful source of patronage. Wily ecclesiastics, intent upon wealth and aggrandisement, fostered the notion that by human merit Divine favour was acquired. Largesses to the church were exhibited as meritorious in the highest degree, by many plain-spoken statements, and many convenient inuendoes. In return for such kindness, the right of patronage was assigned to the deluded votaries of superstition. And can men seriously, on the score of its origin, advocate the continuance of an unblest innovation, thus surreptitiously introduced to darken and disfigure Christ’s Church? If our fathers, in 1578, looking heedfully to the fact that patronage sprung from principles opposed to the very essence of the gospel, proclaimed it unworthy of a place in the light of reformation which they enjoyed, when “the reverend face of the Primitive Kirk” which Knox sought to restore, was yet but dimly seen through the lingering shades of antichristianism; alas! for their degenerate posterity, that still bow under the yoke, in instances not a few, lavish in their admiration of it, and sanctioning the creation of new patronages, at the imminent risk of fostering the same delusive idea of meritorious service to the church! The fact that patronage originated in a mercenary barter of ecclesiastical privileges for worldly emolument, is conclusive against its consistency with the spiritual independence of Christ’s kingdom.
(3.) In further illustration of this truth, the incompatibility of the civil right in question with the freedom of the church, we may notice, that it has ever been established in Scotland for the introduction and support of Prelacy. James VI., distinguished for his reckless intermeddling with ecclesiastical privileges and affairs, was always, for selfish and sinister ends, enamoured of Episcopacy. He seems to have watched every opportunity of conforming the Scottish Church to this kind of ecclesiastical government. As a specimen of his unscrupulous interference with her sacred jurisdiction, we might refer to the case of Robert Montgomery, minister of Stirling, whom in 1581, the Duke of Lennox presented to the vacant bishopric of Glasgow. A fierce controversy was the result between the king and the church. The Presbyterian ministers were filled with detestation at the simoniacal paction into which Montgomery had entered, by accepting the bishopric on the condition that he should receive an annual pension, whilst his infamous patron Lennox drew the revenues. Nor were they slow to discern in the policy which James was pursuing, and of which his arbitrary proceedings in this case furnished a significant intimation, the germ of alarming danger to the church. Accordingly, in the course of their process against Montgomery, they unanimously passed an act, that “no man seek an ecclesiastical function, office, promotion or benefice, by an absolute gift, collation, or admission of the civil magistrate, or patron, by letters of horning, or whatsomever other means than is established by the Word of God and the acts of the General Assembly.” Whilst the civil law remained unaltered, they resolved to comply with it, but they added, in a clause intimating their ardent longing for a time when the erastian enactments in favour of patronage, to which they traced much of the danger threatening the church, should be abolished, “the acts no ways to be prejudicial to the late patrons, and their presentations, until the time the laws be reformed according to the Word of God.” But the tide of royal encroachment had set in at this time with a flood too full and boisterous to be effectually repressed by the efforts of the assembly. By a succession of civil enactments, of which one passed in 1594 was so illegal, that even Sir George Mackenzie condemns it, the king contrived to acquire the patronage of the churches which had escaped this servitude at the reformation. In a few years, by a course of which it is difficult to say whether the arbitrary violence or nefarious duplicity is more to be execrated, James accomplished the darling object at which he had been studiously aiming.—Men favourable to his views were nominated to parishes as they became vacant. Royal influence silently leavened the church with unfaithfulness, till Presbytery was abolished by the votes of assemblies, from which public virtue seems to have almost entirely fled; Episcopacy was restored; and the clergy, at the bidding of an erastian king, consummated their infamy by forging their own chains. Is there no lesson here for the instruction of posterity? Are we to be deaf for ever to the voice of Providence, which thus in the evolution of human affairs thunders eloquent condemnation of the sin of permitting the slightest vestige of erastianism, and patronage is erastianism, to pollute the precincts of Zion? Was it no retribution on a sinful compromise with this plague-spot, which the early reformers in the cruel exigency of their position were forced to spare, when it spread and festered, till the whole church was tainted, diseased, and dead? And thus at the opening of the seventeenth century, Zion was suffering, and suffering justly, a twofold punishment, in the fact, that while she wept by the streams of Babel, the Canaanite lived at ease in the land of promise. To whatever system of state-policy, to whatever collateral influences, the downfall of the goodly structure, reared by the labours of Knox, and preserved so long by the firmness of Melville, may be ascribed, patronage was a manifest instrument in effecting it.
Another lesson from history corroborates our assertion, that Patronage and thraldom are synonymous terms. It served a second time to introduce Prelacy. In 1638, the light of the Divine countenance had again fallen on the Scottish Church; a second Reformation had commenced. Godliness revived in our land. By what energy of purpose, by what intrepid resolution, by what patriotism, holier than earthly ties can foster, for its flame was lighted at the altar of God, the Reformers of 1638 achieved deliverance from the bondage of Episcopacy, under which the land had groaned since 1606, is matter of familiar history. With the blessing of God crowning their efforts, oar nation enjoyed once more the sweets of civil and religious liberty. Patronage, among other evils, was removed, and Presbyterianism, in vigorous and unthwarted operation, diffused its healthful influences through our land. The hopes of the Reformers were, however, doomed to a sad reversal, and the fabric which they had erected, to a sudden overthrow. Charles II. was restored, and scarcely had he re-ascended the throne of his ancestors, when with matchless perfidy the whole work of the Reformation was destroyed, and the wise legislation of preceding years cancelled with a rapidity that astonished the actors themselves in the iniquitous drama. And patronage was not forgotten. Its utility as an engine for the accomplishment of despotic ends, was too well known. In the very first Parliament which Charles convened, royal sanction was given to Patronage; and in 1662, scarcely two years after the Restoration, another act was passed,[3.] according to which every minister was interdicted from lifting his stipend, unless in the course of that year he obtained a presentation from the patron, as well as a collation from the bishop of the diocese in which he lived. Nor were the minions of the king content that this presentation should for the future be necessary in the appointment of ministers. The act was retrospective. It obliged those who were already in the full exercise of the pastoral office to comply with the Erastian mandate, or forfeit their living. Nearly four hundred ministers chose the latter alternative, and suffered the loss of all things; “By which means,” says [John] Brown of Wamphray, “there were some hundred of parishes left destitute, and the shepherds were scattered up and down the land, seeking a sheltering place for themselves; it was a sad and lamentable sight to see the sad farewell betwixt the loving pastor and his beloved flock, and the tears, the cries, and the bitter groans, that were there. Now were the breasts pulled from the mouths of the young infants, the table was drawn, and the people were made to wander up and down the mountains, seeking the Word of the Lord, and could not find it. They had silent Sabbaths and empty pulpits.” The faithfulness of these heroic men was yet more severely tried during the long years of positive persecution which followed. Blood flowed like water; Scotland became an Aceldama, and the cloud of the Divine displeasure thickening over an apostate kingdom, darkened each hour into a deeper shade the sackcloth of the witnesses. How instructive the fact that the restoration of Patronage was the ominous prelude of these disasters, among the first steps in the course of complicated and consummate depravity, on which Charles had so recklessly embarked! And may no truth be gleaned from the connection here signified between Patronage and Prelacy?
Another leaf from authentic history, and we close this historical proof of the inconsistency of patronage with the spiritual freedom of Christ’s kingdom. It was modified to a certain extent at the Revolution. The provisions of the act in 1690, by which Protestant heritors, though unconnected with the Church, were permitted to co-operate in the nomination of ministers, we cannot but condemn. The act in itself was an unauthorised interference, by the civil magistrate, with things clearly beyond his province, and in the provision referred to, it invested certain parties with religious privileges by a civil tenure. Such, however, was the condition of the Scottish Established Church for some years. At length, in the reign of Queen Anne, a plot was laid for the restoration of the Popish dynasty of the Stuarts, and for this purpose prelacy must again be re-established, and that prelacy might be re-established, it was deemed indispensable to revive the law of patronage. Such was the practical sorites [i.e., paradox created by a series of syllogisms] which the Jacobites determined to enact. In evidence of this statement, among other MS. letters preserved by [Robert] Wodrow, there is one addressed to an Episcopalian in 1708, by a Jacobite who had been once a bishop. The letter explicitly declares, “The matter must first be sounded at a distance, and a just computation of our strength made, and some previous settlement made,—such as restoring of Patronage and the granting of indulgence, with liberty to possess churches and benefices; and this will undoubtedly make way for an entire re-establishment of the ancient and apostolic order of bishops.”
More evidence might be adduced, but the fact that the revival of Patronage formed part of Bolingbroke’s devices for restoring the Pretender, will scarcely be questioned by any one at all acquainted with the history of the period. Is it not an instructive circumstance, that on the three occasions on which Patronage was imposed on the Church, it was, directly or indirectly, with the view of paving the way for prelatic usurpations? Nay more, one end contemplated on all these occasions was the subversion of our civil liberties too. Is the inference wrong, that Patronage and Presbytery are antagonist elements? It is sometimes said, in extenuation of the tardy and temporizing steps by which this grievance has been sought, within recent years, not to be destroyed, but mitigated, in the Establishment of this country, that a patron merely ushers a presentee to the door of a church court, and leaves him there, so that after all little deprivation of its privileges is experienced by the Church, through the existence of this civil right of the patron. It is not true.[4.] Without waiting to consider whether or not Church courts in the Establishment have the power claimed by them of rejecting a presentee, if a majority of male heads of families in the parish dissent; should we even concede, for the sake of argument, that they are left in the full enjoyment of this power by statute, what follows? Is the Church free? No one taking an enlarged view of the indirect consequences resulting from the operation of Patronage, fore-seeing that the present revival in the Establishment may be blighted by the concerted opposition of patrons, pledged to nominate such licentiates only as are favourable to their interests;—no one taking these elements into consideration can deny that this grievance, mitigate and modify it as you please with a thousand regulations, is inconsistent in effect as well as theory, with the freedom of the Church. Bolingbroke and his associates were no such raw tyros in legislation, as the contrary view implies. If Patronage then in any form is opposed to the independence of Christ’s kingdom, the rights of its Head and the liberties of its subjects; if it is incompatible with the free spirit of Presbytery; if it arose in Popish superstition; if it has ever been introduced for the advancement of Prelatic usurpations; if civil liberty has been lost by it already, and in some unforeseen, indeed, but not therefore impossible crisis of national affairs, may be injured by it again; why should not this root of bitterness utterly, and without delay, be extirpated from the vineyard of the Lord?
II. The toleration of Patronage by a Church is connivance, on its part, at the sin committed by the patron in the exercise of such a right.
We are often told that whenever Patronage is placed under a system of checks and restrictions so as to be practically inefficacious for perpetrating much mischief, it may be tolerated and sanctioned by the Church. We have seen that the Patronage under which our brethren of the Establishment groan, cannot be of such a nature. Is it likely that the genius of Bolingbroke, aided as he was by many crafty accomplices in his conspiracy against British Protestantism, would give birth and being to a measure so practically worthless, for the main end contemplated by it, as to be neutralized entirely by a few ecclesiastical regulations? Is it likely that for such a measure he would risk the peace of the country, at a time too, when it was more needful for his purposes that its growing apprehensions should be lulled, rather than quickened into intense excitement? But even conceding that the Jacobite ministry of 1711, had committed a blunder in legislation, and that patronage, by a side-wind of ecclesiastical restrictions, could be deprived of its energies for evil, we have to advance firmly, that to sanction the Patron’s right in any shape is to connive at Erastian interference, to contract guilt, to incur danger.
Who can deny that the privilege of nominating a minister to a parish, held solely by the tenure of the civil law, is indefensible on any Scriptural ground? Whatever course of reasoning the abettors of this system may adopt in vindication of it, they will have the prudence, if not the candour, to recede from this test of its excellence. But are there no materials in Scripture for arriving at the conclusion, that the civil right of the patron is not merely unsanctioned by, but positively opposed to, the will of the Great Head of the Church? It is impossible to read the inspired word with any degree of care, and yet fail to perceive the stringent and peremptory terms in which domination over the members of Christ’s flock is condemned. We are told to “submit ourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Is the nomination of a minister, in total disregard of the consciences and consent of the people, to be considered for a moment such submission? We are told to do nothing through strife, but in lowliness of mind each to esteem another better than himself. Is the Patron’s right, virtually implying the ignorance or incapacity of the people, and even of the Church courts themselves to make the proper choice of a minister, anything short of legalized insult? and is it not, therefore, natively fitted to create the most angry contentions? When the apostle James tells us, not to have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons, and not to render to any man, because decorated with a gold ring or gay clothing, the seemingly empty compliment of assigning him a superior place in our assemblies, when he tells us that in thus respecting persons, we commit sin, how much more sinful is it to bestow or to enjoy not merely a conventional dignity, but actual lordship over the flock! And finally, hear the great legislator of the Church himself: “The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, but it shah not be so among you.” If within the pale of the Church, government was to be conducted on principles entirely the reverse of those on which secular dominion in that age was exercised, how much more strongly does this precept of the Saviour strike against Patronage, which is not the sway of a native prince over his own subjects, but the usurpation of a foreign prince over subjects pledged to a holier allegiance, and sworn to oppose his slightest invasion of their sacred soil? How a patron, sincere in his desire to walk, not according to the sparks of his own kindling, bat the light of God’s word, (and that there are patrons of eminent godliness is not to be disputed,) can reconcile his civil right to present to a benefice, with these plain scriptural injunctions, surpasses comprehension. Let patrons ponder the solemn responsibilities which by virtue of Parliamentary enactment they so rashly assume. Whatever care they may exercise in making proper appointments to the sacred ministry, is it a burden which a serious mind would covet, (and the absence of seriousness argues radical unfitness for the trust,) to select a pastor for immortal souls, to fill up an office the most momentous and responsible on this side of the grave, to be instrumental, perchance, in inflicting on thousands a limitless amount of evil, to enter upon the task of choosing a minister in spite of the long remonstrances of an oppressed Church, and to do so, though Scripture is directly contravened by the proceeding? What more than mortal wisdom is required in the man who in such circumstances would be a patron? Let him look at the nature of the right which by civil enactment he enjoys. Are not many destitute of even a pretence to religion, usurping the same unholy lordship over the heritage of Christ? Has it not been the consequence of this system that many a parish for generations has been overspread with spiritual barrenness and blight? Are not patronages bought and sold like flesh in the shambles? Can he supplicate the God of heaven to grant a blessing on the sacrilegious merchandise? I can understand a parish sinking under the yoke in despair, and despair engendering indifference, and indifference ungodliness, and ungodliness perdition. I can understand even a Church paralyzed by the voice of the civil law, and the arm of the civil power, in its struggle for emancipation from Patronage. But I cannot understand a Christian patron, persisting in the exercise of a right which sets at nought the clearest precepts of Revelation, and the cardinal principles of Christ’s kingdom.
We say, then, that for a Christian Church to submit on any terms whatever to patronage, is to connive at this sin of the patron.
III. Our third proposition remains to be stated. Patronage in any form is sinful, because inconsistent with the Scriptural right of the people to elect their ministers.
Though the proposition which we have now enunciated, could not be supported by very satisfactory evidence, patronage, incompatible with the spirituality and freedom of the Church, were deserving of instant extinction. Were its harmlessness proved, it would still be incapable of vindication, because its origin involves an assumption of ecclesiastical authority by the magistrate, clearly Erastian, and because any religious community submitting to it, even in its least objectionable form, would be guilty of connivance at the sin. Happily, however, the intimations of Scripture are so express, as not only to strengthen the whole preceding argument against Patronage generally, but to place beyond a doubt by what party the initial step should be taken in the process, terminating through the concurrence and agency of the Church courts, in the full investiture of a person with the pastoral office. It is the Divine right of the people to elect their ministers.
(1.) The most powerful reasonings urged against the intrusion of a presentee upon a reclaiming people, when carried out to their legitimate consequences, afford strong presumption of the people’s right of choice. Non-intrusion is defended by all appeal to those passages of scripture which intimate the obligation under which the people lie to receive such ministers only as speak the truth in the love of it. To determine whether a preacher delivers a message agreeably to the divine standard is identical with the great protestant right of private judgment. In order therefore, to justify the induction of a presentee in opposition to the voice of the people, it must be shown that no such right of private judgment belongs to them, for it cannot be held in abeyance to the decisions of a presbytery. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God, for many false prophets are gone out into the world,” is language addressed by the apostle John to private believers. “Beware of false prophets,” is caution tendered by our Lord to the “great multitudes” to whom he preached the sermon on the mount. The Bereans receive special commendation because “they searched the scriptures daily to see if those things were so,” which even an inspired apostle delivered to them. And, in immediate connection with an injunction not to despise prophesyings, the Thessalonian converts are commanded to “prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.” The inference drawn from such texts in favour of non-intrusion is, that the members of the church are empowered by them to reject such preachers as in their conscience they deem incapable of ministering to their edification. But can judgment exercised to this extent be fairly discriminated from choice, which is the most direct exponent of the determinations of the reason? If the people are to reject unfit teachers, is it not a co-ordinate duty incumbent on them to choose a fit one? They are to try the spirits, and if they are bound to bid away from them spirits savouring not of divine things, the conclusion seems equally good that they are to choose such spirits as are indeed of God. The inference sometimes drawn from the injunction of John is, Reject upon trial the false spirits. Why should it not be, Choose upon trial the true spirit. It may be urged that choice is not the only alternative of rejection, and that people may receive though they do not choose. But if they have capacity to discern worth commended to them, surely they have equal capacity to discern worth when sought for by themselves. They are expressly enjoined to “covet earnestly the best gifts.” And what scriptural warrant can be produced for giving to any other party the power of nomination? It cannot be found in the ordination of elders by the apostles and the evangelists, unless proof can be given that the people did not previously nominate. Probability lies, however, on the side of the opinion that the apostles in these instances selected those who were to be entrusted with the sacred deposit of church power, at the recommendation of the different churches to which they belonged. It was impossible otherwise, in a brief visitation, to ascertain, except by the testimony of the fellow-disciples of the elected, whether or not the latter were qualified for the office to which they were called. The supposition that the apostles in these circumstances exclusively chose elders by special inspiration may be true, but there is no scriptural foundation for it; and if true, it would destroy the force of their example as an authoritative precedent to which the modern usages of the church should be conformed.
Another class of passages has been cited from scripture in support of non-intrusion. The induction of a presentee in opposition to the will of the Christian people has been regarded, and justly, as incompatible with the endearment which revelation authorizes us to expect should exist between a pastor and his flock. “Feed the flock of God,” says Peter, “not as being lords over God’s heritage, but as being ensamples to the flock.” And from the remarkable antithesis between the last members of this sentence, the inference may be deduced that the slightest appearance of arbitrary and lordly rule in the ministerial office is calculated to defeat the ends for which it was instituted, by fixing deep disgust in the minds of the people, and so destroying the influence of ministerial character and example. But if a forced settlement is not arbitrary procedure, we may abandon the use of words as unfit to be symbols of thought. Language similar to that which we have quoted from Peter may be found elsewhere in scripture. If such passages indicate that a minister should be appointed in accordance with the consent of the people, they are equally valid in proving that he ought to enter on his office at their spontaneous call. Far more reciprocity of endearment and interest will exist between the people and the man of their choice, than between the people and a man against whom they can offer no objections indeed, but who may be yet surpassed in fitness to edify them by many whom they would call if they had the power. The people must never be placed in circumstances where all they can say is, We have no objections to the presentee. This were a cheerless estimate of one of the finest ties by which man can be bound to man—they must give positive and cordial assent to his appointment over them. To obey their future pastor in the Lord, they must receive him in the Lord, and to secure confidence in him as the most qualified of all on whom their choice might have lighted to feed and edify their souls, is surely the best method of eliciting that unreserved submission to his official authority from which their spiritual advancement may with most likelihood, under the divine blessing, be anticipated. Any system which unnecessarily and capriciously checks this desirable flow of Christian feeling is a snare on Mizpah, a net spread upon Tabor.
(2.) But besides the general tenor of scripture on the subject, we have direct and divine warrant for the great principle that “it appertaineth to the people, and to every several congregation, to elect their minister.”
Analogical reasonings in favour of the popular right have been founded on some passages in the Old Testament scriptures. For the same end references have been made to the Jewish synagogue. Our limits forbid a detailed examination of these sources of argument. Three ways of appointment to office prevailed under the Mosaic economy. It took place either by the direct and extraordinary call of God, by natural descent, or by the choice of the people. As the two methods first mentioned are now confessedly discontinued, it follows that the third, the call of the people, may be regarded as the precedent which the apostles followed in the election of Matthias. The inspired narrative is as follows: “And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of the names together were about an hundred and twenty) Men and brethren, This scripture must needs have been fulfilled which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus, for he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue Aceldama, that is to say, the field of blood. For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein; and his bishopric let another take. Wherefore, of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Acts i. 15-26. Upon a calm perusal of the whole narrative, it seems impossible for any man, unbiased by the prejudices of a system, to dispute, that if to be viewed as an authoritative example at all, the procedure of the disciples on this occasion warrants the members of the church to choose their ministers. If this passage is to be set aside as having no reference to the question at issue, as is often done, in a tone and style betraying more of the presumption of wilful ignorance, than strength of sincere conviction,—if the interpretation we have affixed to it be erroneous, we feel entitled to demand of our opponents the most powerful arguments in support other views on this point. They must be aware that infant baptism, and the change of the Sabbath, and the duty of family worship, cannot be defended by a. scriptural precedent so clear and strong as the election of Matthias serves to establish the right of the people to choose their own pastors. They must be aware too, that if they question the soundness of the inference deduced from it, they set themselves in opposition not merely to the Christian members of the church, disposed, as they may imagine, to put on any passage of scripture a construction favourable to their privileges, but also to a multitude of distinguished writers, not likely to be influenced by any such considerations. It will require some learning at least to entitle one to dissent from a view of this passage in the Acts, entertained by such men out of the many that might be named, as Chrysostom, Cyprian, Calvin, Rutherford, and Owen.
Let us consider the argumentative import of the passage. After the ascension of Christ, the disciples had met together to the number of an hundred and twenty. Peter calls their attention to the necessity that the vacancy created in the apostolic office by the apostacy of Judas should be supplied. The recommendation was adopted—two men were chosen, Joseph and Matthias; and it must be specially observed that they were chosen by the disciples, females, it would appear, as well as males. In order to determine whether of the two so elected, should finally be numbered with the eleven, they gave forth lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias. It is inferred that since the body of the disciples on that occasion chose Joseph and Matthias, the members of the church now have a scriptural warrant to exercise a similar privilege.
In order to be convinced of the accuracy of this inference, we have but to review the objections which have been urged against it. This passage, according to some, affords no conclusive authority for the right of the people, inasmuch as the transaction recorded in it may be viewed as the extension of Christ’s direct agency in constituting the apostolic college.[5.] In what does this direct agency consist, which is to supersede the value of this transaction as a rule and precedent for the church in coming times ? There were two steps in it, the voting, and the appeal to the lot. The more direct the agency of Christ in the former, the greater is its value as a precedent; for He who shall be with his church alway to the end of the world, can hallow with his providential interposition now a christian congregation engaging with faith and prayerfulness in the election of a minister. But perhaps the strength of the somewhat unintelligible argument we combat lies in the appeal to God made by the lot. Now from a canon of the council of Barcelona, held in 599,[6.] we learn that it was customary to fill up vacant bishoprics by choosing two or three individuals, and then by the lot, leaving the ultimate determination to Christ. Will it be contended that the direct agency of Christ extended over six centuries, and closed with the Spanish mode of electing bishops? We grant that the lot falling upon Matthias was equivalent to a divine call; but does it not follow that the votes of the disciples were confirmed all the more strongly by the fact? If the appointment of Matthias must be ascribed to the direct interposition of the great Head of the church, how clear the inference in favour of the popular right in this passage, when we find Him permitting the disciples to select two, one of whom by his own peculiar act succeeded to the vacant place in the college of the apostles!
Again, it is asserted that the disciples did not appoint Joseph and Matthias, and that the election was confined to the eleven apostles. But is it not said “they appointed two?” and the context clearly shows that by those who did so, the hundred and twenty must be understood. Why otherwise did Peter address all the disciples assembled? Look at the whole tenor of the narrative: “Peter stood up in thy midst of the disciples”—“they appointed two”—“they prayed”—“they gave forth their lots”—“and when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” It were a sorry specimen of criticism, truly, to place upon the simple and unambiguous narrative under review a construction so harsh, forced, and unnatural, that we could not determine when the pronoun “they” must he referred to all the disciples, or to the apostles exclusively.
But we are told that those who were concerned in the election of Matthias constituted only a small portion of the disciples. The number was large when we consider that persecution was lowering on the infant church, and however small, it is sufficient to indicate that the members of the church should be consulted in the selection of its office-bearers. Besides, if such deference was paid to a section of the disciples, is there any reason to suppose that a different course would have been followed by the apostles had all the five hundred brethren been present, by whom Christ was indeed seen at one time, but of whom many might not be inhabitants of Jerusalem?
Another objection against the argument for the popular right from this passage, is founded on a mere supposition that all who were present at this meeting of the disciples were church-officers. The seventy, it is alleged, whom Christ commissioned; were conjoined in this transaction with the disciples, whilst the suffrages of the private members of the church were excluded. A very simple process of addition and subtraction will shew that there must have been in the room more than the apostles and the seventy. But no evidence can be adduced that any of the seventy were present, and if present, they were not there as members of that short-lived institute which expired with the execution of the mission on which those who belonged to it were dispatched.
Still more extraordinary is the argument of our opponents derived from the circumstance that it was an apostle and not au ordinary office-bearer that was in this instance chosen. Who does not see that if the disciples were privileged to vote for an apostle, so much stronger is the proof that the Christian people now are entitled to elect inferior office-bearers, sustaining not a relation to the church at large, but to the congregation over which they are to be appointed?
Most absurd of all is the reasoning that the disciples in this instance could not have made a bad choice, and that all whom they might have selected were equally qualified for the office. The statement is untrue, for the ultimate appointment of Matthias by divine intimation proved that one of the number eligible had superior qualifications, and if true, how equitable that the people should choose now, when there may be an inequality, without an absolute defect of fitness among candidates for the ministry?
And, lastly, is it objected, that if the election of Matthias is an authoritative precedent, the lot should he retained? Be it observed, however, that the disciples nominated and chose the two persons, and this is quite sufficient to establish the view for which we contend. It was popular election. So far as human intervention could go, God authorised that it should be employed; but since an apostle required to have a direct call from God, the lot was used that the divine will might be signified on the matter. The divine and extraordinary nature of the appointment which Matthias in the end received, mightily strengthens the argument for popular election. Though God must have beforehand determined the successor of Judas, though he might have given direct and immediate intimation of the object of his choice, the instrumentality of the disciples is put in requisition up to the point at which divine decision and interference were indispensable.
Such are the principal objections by which it is attempted to overturn the argument in favour of popular election grounded on this passage. Most of them admit of a crushing retort upon those who urge them. Some of them are based on unsupported assertions. Scarcely any of them merit serious refutation, and the sole reason which justifies the expenditure of time in the consideration of them is, that no better method can be devised of exposing the weakness of the cause in support of which they are adduced.[7.]
The election of the seven deacons remains to be considered. Acts vi. 1-6.
Dissatisfaction had been expressed by the Grecians because their widows had been neglected in the daily ministration. To prevent any umbrage being taken to the prejudice of their spiritual authority and momentous functions, the apostles devolved the service of the tables upon an inferior class of office-bearers, instituted for the purpose. It is of importance to remark that the trust and duty of selecting the deacons were imposed on the “whole multitude” of the disciples.—This much is certain and indisputable.
To evade the force of the argument for the popular right in the appointment of ministers, which these proceedings of the church in primitive and apostolic times embody, it has been argued that the election of the deacons arose out of a peculiar exigency of the church. To allay the ferment which had arisen from the manner in which the funds of the church were administered, or were conceived to have been administered, expediency, it is alleged, dictated the entrusting the distribution of them into the hands of persons appointed by the disciples themselves, that the authority of the apostolic office might not be prejudiced. But is the inference not obvious that if the apostles in this way suffered the people to choose their deacons, an equal tenderness for their feelings might suggest the propriety of giving them the choice of their pastors, that no prejudice might arise against the ministerial as well as the apostolic office? Not that deference to popular caprice is to guide the conduct of ecclesiastical rulers, but when no principle is compromised, and no insubordination sanctioned, lawful rule will be confirmed by the admission of the people into all legitimate freedom.
Allegations have been made that since the deaconship is not a spiritual office, the election of the deacons affords no rule according to which the appointment of ministers should be conducted. We concede at once that the office was solely intended to make provision for the church’s temporalities. But look to the qualifications exacted by the apostles of those whom the people should select for the discharge of this trust. They were to be men of “honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” Surely if the disciples had capacity to judge whether or not seven of their number possessed these most important gifts and qualifications, they were capable of exercising the same discrimination in choosing their pastors. A pastor must be of “honest report”—a pastor must be “full of the Holy Ghost”—a pastor must be “full of wisdom.” We are prepared for the objection that ministers must possess the gift of communicating their knowledge, and therefore the election of a deacon from whom this qualification was not demanded, is no warrant for the election of ministers by the people. No man, however, can question that the people, if really evangelized, can best judge from whose preaching they reap the most advantage; and it is worthy of notice, that in point of fact, one of the most admirable specimens of eloquence and reasoning found in scripture, is the address of Stephen, one of the seven, to the Jewish sanhedrim. Philip too, another of the seven, latterly filled the office of an evangelist, and with such success that his ministrations, through the divine blessing, triumphed over Samaritan bigotry, and secured a vast accession to the fold and flock of Christ. Taking these facts in connection, we draw the inference that if the people were consulted by the apostles in the election of the deacons, with much stronger reason ought they to be consulted in the election of their ministers.
Take another reference to scripture. Acts xiv. 23. “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed.”
We have seen that the people were consulted in the election of an apostle,—we have seen that they were eon-suited in the election of the deacons,—and, if our present reference to the divine word be legitimate, we will find them, with the sanction and concurrence of the apostles, sharing in the appointment of men to the intermediate office of the eldership. The bearing of this passage in the Acts upon the subject under discussion depends upon the proper rendering of the word here translated “ordained.” It signifies to choose by votes, and that it bears this signification in the passage under review is an opinion supported by the authority of Calvin, Beza, Erasmus, Owen, and a host of eminent theologians. So naturally indeed, does the rendering which we have affixed to the word occur to any one conversant with the original, that in the old English versions of the Scriptures, and even in the first draught of the present authorized version, the word was translated “ordained by election.” Courtly prelates, however, that the interests of their order might not suffer, drew their pen through the words “by election,” when the last version was presented to them for revision.[8.] The term was originally employed to denote the act of a Grecian assembly testifying by outstretched hands their preference for any motion, or their designation of some particular individual to any office or duty. It is vain to contend that this, the primary import of the word, had vanished before the days of the apostles, and that mere appointment had come to be its prevailing signification; for it is used in 2 Cor. viii. 19, in the primary sense to which we have adverted—“Chosen of the churches to travel with us.” Nor can we understand it to refer in a technical sense to the rite of ordination, which is expressed by a word entirely different, επιθεσις, not χειροτονια, whilst the very context, intimating that the transaction denoted by the word here translated “ordained,” had occurred previously to the prayer in which ordination, in the technical meaning of that word, is according to ecclesiastical usage conferred, seems fairly to warrant a discrimination between the two parts of the sentence, of which the former relates to the election of the elders by the people, and the latter to their ordination by the apostles.[9.]
The passage then must be rendered, “And when they had chosen elders.” As a last resource, however, our opponents contend, that the choice in question was the choice of Paul and Barnabas, not of the churches, over which these elders were ordained. But why may not the whole ceremony be regarded as the joint act of the apostles and the people,—the people choosing the elders, and the apostles confirming their choice by conferring ordination on the objects of it? There is surely something decidedly improbable in the idea that Paul and Barnabas would of their own authority, select individuals for the eldership, with whom they must have had scanty personal intercourse. There is no improbability, however, that in such circumstances they would defer to the voice of the people. They are here, accordingly, said to choose elders, inasmuch as they presided over, and confirmed their election, just as the Roman historian Livy, sometimes tells us that the Roman consuls appointed their successors in office, though the world knows that they merely presided over their election, by the people; just as it is said in Exodus xiii. 15, that Moses chose the elders, who in reality were formally chosen, as we are told in Deut. i. 13, by the people.
(3.) That ministers in Apostolic times were elected by the people, is evinced by the fact, that for several centuries after the Christian era, this right continued to be exercised by the latter.
We do not contend that the practice of the Church in these early centuries, save as it is recorded for our instruction in the Inspired Word, possesses the binding authority of a standing rule for the church of every age. In quoting therefore from christian writers of those times, we do not elevate them to the rank of supreme umpires in ecclesiastical controversy, judges of the last resort in all questions affecting the doctrine and polity of the church. We leave such a course to be pursued by Papists, and by sectarians of a recent school, who would be Papists, if they had manliness enough to avow the consequences to which their principles fairly lead them.
Nor, however, must we be deterred by the perversion of ecclesiastical history to erroneous ends, from availing ourselves of its aid in determining the customs which prevailed in the earliest times of the Church. If the election of ministers can be shewn to have been in the hands of the people for six or seven centuries, after christianity had quitted the confines of Palestine, a presumption seemingly resistless is established in confirmation of the previous argument from Scripture, in support of the popular right. If this right was not enjoyed in apostolic times, how are we to account for its early introduction in the economy of the Church? Must we suppose that it originated in an act of insubordination in primitive times, and was exercised in contravention of all ecclesiastical, perhaps even of apostolic authority? It is believed that no one could seriously entertain such an opinion. No one ever has expressed it.
There is one circumstance too, which imparts augmented value to any argument in favour of the popular right, from the practice of the Church in the early times to which we advert. The commencement of the Mystery of iniquity was manifest as much in the deviation of Church government from the simplicity of the apostolic model, as in the corruptions of Scriptural doctrine. Among the features of Antichrist disclosed to us in the prophetic intimations of Paul, pride receives marked prominence. Lust for ascendancy was the germ of all those innovations on the liberty of the Church of which the full-blown expansion was visible, when Europe, benighted with superstition, ratified the claim of the Pope to infallible and universal supremacy. This desire of ecclesiastical domination was soon manifested. The unscriptural distinction between the laity and the clergy was established in the course of the second century.[10.] The cautions tendered by the apostle against lordship over Christ’s heritage, obviously imply a nascent spirit of domination which required to be curbed, or rather destroyed.
Yet the right of the people to appoint their ministers withstood for ages the swelling tide of clerical ambition and encroachment. The privileges of the people were gradually subverted, whilst the clergy were aggrandized at their expense. The popular election of ministers remained, and the right of the people was only overlooked in certain instances, so as to prove that they were exceptions from a general rule. It must have rested therefore on strong basis of divine warrant and prescription, when ambitious ecclesiastics, engaged m a systematic course of aggression on popular privileges, refrained from intermeddling with it.
The fact, however, on which this inference is founded has been disputed. It has been denied that in the first centuries the people chose their pastors. Hence the necessity of producing some authorities in corroboration of the statement. We might quote the testimonies of Episcopalian writers, inimical generally to popular privilege, and therefore unbiased authorities for the fact asserted. Lowth, Milner, Wall, Andrews, Bingham, Bilson, and Field, all men of eminence and learning, some of them dignitaries in the Anglican Church, are explicit on the point, whilst Bellarmine, and Father Paul, in connexion with the Romish Church, confess distinctly that the people enjoyed this right in the first three centuries.
To proceed at once to the Fathers: Ignatius, who suffered martyrdom in 107, tells the Church at Philadelphia, “It becomes you as the Church of God to choose a bishop.” Cyprian, in the third century, declares, “That is a just and legitimate ordination which shall have been approved by the judgment and suffrage of all, both clergy and people.” Ep. 68. Ambrose, in the fourth century, addressing the people with reference to his appointment by them, says, “Ye are my Fathers who chose me to be bishop.” Chrysostom, as we have already stated, affirms the right of the people to choose their ministers, in commenting on the first chapter of Acts. Leo the Great, in the fourth century, declares, “Let him who is over all, be chosen by all.”
The decrees of ancient councils might be quoted to the same effect. The famous council of Nice, in 325, thus ordains in an epistle to the Church at Alexandria; “On the death of a President of a Church, let such as have been previously admitted into orders, succeed in the room of the deceased, provided they both appear to be worthy, and the people shall have chosen them.” The council of Constantinople ordained Nectarus, ‘cunctâ dercenente civitate,’ “all the people giving their suffrage for it.”
Instances are recorded, in which the people, standing upon their privileges, elected individuals in opposition to bishops, who sought to influence their suffrages in favour of other candidates.
Finally, when a tendency to flood the Church with an illiterate clergy is imputed to popular election, we deem it enough to present in reply the following list of illustrious fathers, whose services to the cause of Christianity were all secured to the Church through the instrumentality of the people—Ambrose, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Augustine.[11.]
(4.) The right of the people to elect their ministers is sanctioned by the practice of the Church in its best times.
In the primitive age, we have seen, this right was fully acknowledged. Reference might be made to the confessions of various Reformed Churches, in illustration of the deference which they paid to the voice of the people in the election of ministers. The confessions of the Churches of Helvetia, Bohemia, Belgium, and Saxony, might be instanced, as assigning the right of choice to the people.[12.] We have already alluded to the opinions on this point, entertained by the Reformers who drew up the First and Second Books of Discipline for the Scottish Kirk.
During the period of the Second Reformation, no departure from the sound principles held and advocated by the Reformers of the preceding century took place. Assertions to the contrary have indeed been made, but the sole difference between the Reformers of the 16th and those of the 17th century seems to have been, simply, the difference between men contenting themselves under the pressure of circumstances which they could not control, with the clear assertion of a great principle, and men, like the Reformers of 1638, in happier times, intent upon the contrivance and adjustment of a plan, by which the same great principle might be not only embodied in the standards, but exemplified in the practice of the Church.
Let us endeavour to condense into a short space the views of our Reforming ancestors between 1638 and 1649, the golden age of Scottish Presbytery, with reference to the appointment of ministers. First of all, then, perfect unanimity prevailed amongst them, in condemning Patronage. Their minds were not deadened to all conviction of its evil nature, from long familiarity with the system. The Act in which it was abolished by Parliament, in 1649, may be deemed a fair representation of the views of the Reformers of that period, and in that Act patronage is denounced as unwarranted by Scripture, and as a popish custom, introduced into the Church in superstitious times. To illustrate the connection between the views of the Church and the civil enactment in question, we may state, that the Church, eight days before the latter was passed, transmitted to Parliament a document designed to shew the sinfulness of patronages. One principle asserted strenuously in that document is, that the appointment of ministers is confined in Scripture to Presbytery and people, “and therefore, patronages and presentations of Kirks, are sinful and unlawful.”[13.] Secondly, the Reformers, in the times of which we speak, held almost unanimously, that the free consent of the people was essential to the right constitution of the pastoral tie. It is true that Calderwood, in 1649, among other eccentric opinions which the infirmities of old age generated in his singularly erudite mind, contended for the power of the Presbytery to exercise an initiative in appointing ministers; but at the same time, he allowed the majority of the people to dissent, according to the Second Book of Discipline, which forbids the intrusion of an unacceptable presentee. In the Directory drawn up by the Assembly in 1649, by which the admission of ministers was to be ruled, the right of nomination was assigned to the Session, whilst the people were left at liberty to dissent, with this provision implied, that the dissent of the major part of them was conclusive against the settlement.
But further, the consent of the congregation then required as essential to the constitution of the pastoral relationship, was equivalent in reality to popular election. Baillie states, that the plan adopted in the Assembly, and detailed in the Directory of 1649, was the suggestion of Gillespie, who held that the direction belonged to the presbytery, the election to the Session, and free consent to the people in the appointment of a minister. This view was approved of by most in the Assembly, though some wished that ministers should be appointed by the immediate election of the people, the right of examination of course being always retained by the Presbytery. If then the Assembly in the end adopted the non-intrusion scheme of Gillespie, the following quotation from his miscellany questions affords evidence, that the consent of the congregation for which he contended was tantamount to choice. “Unless the people,” says he, “have somewhat more than liberty of objecting, they shall have no privilege or liberty but that which is common to strangers, as well as to them.” And again, “though nothing be objected against the man’s doctrine,” (he is speaking of a person proposed to a congregation as their minister,) “yet if the people desire another, better, or as well qualified, by whom they find themselves more edified than by the other, that is a reason sufficient, if a reason must be given at all.” It is quite evident, that if a congregation on such a ground, may set aside a presentee nominated by a session, they enjoy in substance the right of electing their ministers. But a most important element must be taken into consideration, tending materially to strengthen our argument—the sessions in those times were chosen by the people, and they were then settled upon a basis far more broad than even in the purest Presbyterian Churches of the present day. A multitude of elders existed in a congregation, of whom a certain number was engaged in active service by rotation—a circumstance which explains an Act of the Assembly in 1642, empowering old sessions to elect some of the elders already ordained, to the active discharge of their official duties. Such being the character and constitution of sessions, it is manifest, that when they were so strictly representatives of the people, and when their selection of a minister was so directly modified by popular control, the minister was to all intents and purposes the choice of the people. So the practice of the Church, in relation to this matter, was regarded by some of the most eminent men of that day. Brown of Wamphray, in his Apologetical Relation, with reference to the abolition of Patronage in 1649, mentions, “After this, ministers entered by the call of the people of whom they were to have charge.” The same writer, in assigning reasons on account of which the Presbyterian ministers could not accept of presentations after the Restoration, states, “By their taking presentations now, they do upon the matter declare that they were not duly called before, and so they condemn the way of entry by election.” Dr. M‘Crie, commenting on the provisions of the Directory of 1649, assures us that “it did not give to the session the formal election, but merely the nomination or proposal of a person to the congregation.” From these considerations we conclude, that if the appointment of ministers, according to the last act of the Second Reformation on the subject, was not managed formally by the votes, it was substantially by the voice of the people. Nor must we omit to add, what indeed no one acquainted with the theological literature of the period disputes, that distinct assertions of the right of the people to choose their ministers might be cited from the works of the most eminent Reformers, to whom Scotland was indebted for the establishment of Presbytery in 1638.
(5.) Popular election may be vindicated on the ground of enlightened expediency.[14.]
It seems to be generally thought that evil would result from entrusting Church-courts with the privilege of nominating ministers to vacant parishes and congregations. However excellent might be the members composing these Courts, men in their collective capacity are often seen stooping to actions from which individually they would have shrunk, and Presbyteries, it is feared, would be under temptations to promote the advantage of friends and relatives, sometimes to the neglect of the spiritual interests of a congregation. The proper mode of preventing such results, is to enlarge the constituency, by entrusting the people with the right of choice. Since, however, the fact is admitted, that the mode of appointing ministers by Church-courts is universally condemned, we need not enter into an exposure of its demerits.
It is of more importance to vindicate the expediency of popular election in opposition to patronage, and for this purpose consider, what an evil influence the latter system must exert in the formation of the ministerial character. How surely must its existence taint the motives and misdirect the labours of aspirants to the ministry. Instead of expecting success under the Divine blessing, in his efforts to secure advancement in his profession, through the esteem of his fellow-Christians, a student is led to cultivate, with a care too apt to degenerate into obsequiousness, the favour of a single man. And it would be some mitigation of the degrading task, were security provided that the patron should be professedly, at least, under the influence of sound religion. But when the candidate for the sacred office must compass the object of his hallowed ambition by application to a man, steeped, it may be, in the infamy of every vice, the degradation is complete. Though the people should concur in receiving him as their minister, how revolting, if not to the consequence, at least to the feelings of any man built up in the integrity of Christian principle, and jealous with a sacred jealousy for the honour of an office instituted by the authority and designed to promote the glory of his loved Redeemer, when the initial step by which he becomes a minister of Christ, is taken by a patron, lost perhaps to all the decencies of life, and intent upon damaging the interests of religion! But even were provision made that Christian profession should be requisite to the enjoyment of the right of patronage, there may be such habits and prejudices fostered in the minds of men looking to patrons for promotion, as seriously to injure the likelihood of ministerial usefulness. There may be generated such obsequiousness to the opinions of the higher ranks of society, as may unfit a man for the exercise of that vigorous and unswerving impartiality, which, on the authority of inspiration, we must regard as a distinguishing feature of Christian character. The contempt of the people must ensue, and the ends of the ministry might thus be wholly defeated. Even irreligious men can see the difference between a Latimer, bold in the reproval of abounding vice, though it were gilded by the sparkle of a coronet, and a Montgomery, who, to serve the purposes of a royal minion, could stoop to simony and sacrilege. They fear, though they hate the former; they despise, though they befriend the latter. Most freely do we grant that multitudes of the clergy have risen superior to the temptations which patronage presents to indulge in sycophancy, but our present argument relates to the general tendencies of the system; and that it has an unhappy effect upon candidates for the ministerial office, in directing their minds to an improper avenue to professional advancement, cannot honestly be denied. It is in vain to retort that under a system of popular election candidates may fawn upon the people. We may safely reckon upon some degree of shrewdness and discernment in a congregation, by which in general the employment of unworthy artifices to gain their favour may be counteracted, and in proportion to their number the chances of detection are multiplied.
The evil influence which Patronage exercises on the minds of aspirants to the ministry does not cease when they are fully invested with its sacred functions. Gratitude to a patron may inspire them with forbearance to his views and inclinations. Not to travel beyond the question of Patronage for an illustration, are they under no temptations to waive the condemnation of a system to which they are in part indebted for their ministerial standing, and in grateful deference to him who has exercised his civil right in their favour? Are they under no temptation to regard favourably any views adverse to the rights of the people, if these views lend colour and consistency to their own connivance at a system by which they have been introduced into the ministry? May they not be led to palliate gross Erastianism? May they not even advance to the assertion of tenets impugning the right of private judgment, and thus borrow weapons for the promotion of their cause from the armoury of the Vatican? How much of this laxity of sentiment must be ascribed to the fatal necessities of a false position! How easily were it checked by suffering the people to exercise the rights of which Patronage denudes them!
But the expediency of popular election will be further seen if we consider its tendency to rivet and establish a church in the affections of its members. They cannot be expected to feel an interest in a church which directly, or indirectly, sanctions the state in its robbery of their privileges. When a mode of appointing spiritual rulers over them is adopted, virtually implying their incapacity to perform such a duty for themselves, why may we wonder, if disgust at the despotism should alienate them from a church in which it is practised? If their hearts are in love with the truth as it is in Jesus; if they prize it beyond all price, as their best consolation amid the sorrows of time, and the charter of their glorious destinies, well may their minds kindle into intense anxiety when, in the Providence of God, a pastor must be appointed to dispense amongst them the bread of life, But if in a matter thus involving the infinite interests of their eternity, they must abide the dictation of a patron, sharing with them perhaps no community of religious sentiment, and no fellowship of the Spirit; why should not a conviction of the iniquity of such an arrangement descend with the vividness and power of intuition upon their minds, and settle there with a tenacity not to be shaken by a thousand sophistries? Appreciating the endearment of the pastoral tie, and desirous of a minister who would sympathize with them in their sorrows, counsel them in their difficulties, animate their hopes, stir up their gifts, and so mingle familiarly with them, that in his character and conversation, they read daily the most impressive enforcement of the lessons of the Sabbath, how can they expect with certainty such a blessing, when the principle guiding the selection of their pastors may be, not sympathy with them, but congeniality with a patron, moving in a rank of life entirely different, residing at a distance from their habitations, more anxious to provide for the comfort of a dependent, than the spiritual necessities of their souls? O there is something monstrously wrong in all this, and the wonder is, that a single abettor of the iniquity can be found; that all striving to act according to the mind of Christ, do not execrate with unanimous heart and voice, a system unredeemed by any alliance with good principle, or any tendency to good effects!
On the other hand, the advantage of conforming to Scripture, and suffering the people to enjoy the unmolested exercise of their religious privileges, is no matter of conjecture, no offspring of fanciful speculation. “The States of Zealand,” says Gillespie, “did abolish Patronage, and give to each congregation the free election of their own minister, which I take to be one cause why religion flourisheth better there than in any other of the United Provinces.” The grave closed over that eminent patriot, before, under the blessing of the Lord, Scotland was added to the list of instances, in which right principle has proved the wisest policy, and the Church of our fathers, through the restoration of the Christian people to their scriptural privileges, was beautified with an efflorescence of godliness, so genuine, so extensive, so practical, that the style of historians in describing it swells into the animation of poetry. But proof sublimer still was given, that the surest method of riveting a Church in the affections of its members, is to ratify and recognise without scruple their high standing and inalienable privileges as Christ’s freemen. When the storm of persecution swept over Scotland; when Charles played freaks of despotism, over which angels might have wept; when the fabric reared by the firmness and sagacity of the Reformers was leveled with the dust, and in its stead was erected a hierarchy gorgeous with the trappings of Babylon, and robbing the godly of their privileges, to bestow them with promiscuous liberalism on the godless; when Zion mourned like Rachel over her slaughtered children, and refused to be comforted because they were not; was the cause of the Reformation hopeless? did its banner, with riven shaft and blood-besprinkled folds, lie on our mountains a forsaken and forgotten thing? was the bright model of a church purified from Erastian corruptions, and freed from Erastian trammels, effaced wholly from the remembrance of men? Go to the graves of the martyrs; count them one by one, and learn the steadfastness wherewith thousands, faithful among the faithless, kept their loyalty to the King of saints, and their love to the Church of the covenant. How did they cling to the ministers, who rather than consent to tame surrender of the liberties of Christ’s heritage, took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and the loss of all things! How strongly must a regard for the religious privileges of its members endear a Church to them, when their attachment to it could thus survive the disasters and persecutions of years! Our fathers of the covenant felt the union between Christ and his people. They felt that what defrauded them, dishonoured him. Hence with them the supremacy of Zion’s King was identical with the liberties of his subjects. And knowing that, if they were in Christ, they must in consistency be for Christ, they died martyrs rather than would live traitors.
Let us stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ hath made us free. Let us shun the least entanglement of Erastian bondage. Unless the voice of Scripture is to be silenced; unless the admonitions of all history are to be disregarded; unless the results of ripe experience must be esteemed worthless for the guidance of our conduct, let us resist every yoke foreign to the nature, and fatal to the peace of the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. It is not enough, how. ever, that we protest against a practical grievance with which Zion is vexed. We must probe the evil to its source. Let a loud remonstrance be sounded against the principle on which the government of this land acted, when it imposed Patronage on the Church at first, and on which it persists in imposing it still. It were base to condemn the Erastianism of the British Crown, because in one respect it is burdensome to ourselves, and not because in itself it is sinful in the sight of God. Choosing the high vantage ground of scriptural principle, we shall make no compromise with Patronage, the sin of the state, no less than the shame of the Church. We shall wage against it a warfare of extermination. Let the iniquity forthwith and for ever be blotted from the Statute-book. But if Christians are bound to protest against one form in which the Erastianism of the British Constitution is developed, with how much stronger reason, and with how much deeper earnestness must they protest against that constitution itself, so essentially Erastian, that Patronage is not a casual but a most legitimate emanation from it? So long as the master grievance of ecclesiastical supremacy, transferred by Henry from the mitre of the Pope to the crown of England, continues, no more can an Established Church in these lands expect to be guaranteed against invasion by the State of her sacred jurisdiction and prerogatives, than you can effectually arrest the stream, whilst the fountain springs and flows unchecked.
To our brethren in another community, struggling for emancipation from Patronage, we wish all success. In the reverend name of our common Christianity, we bid them God speed. We cherish no sectarian misgivings, no partisan jealousies. If they cannot in conscience adopt the same views respecting the antichristianism of the British constitution with ourselves, we would not, in unholy petulance, obstruct the progress of internal reform in their Church. Our minds are not so constructed as to refrain from joining with them in denouncing one evil, because they will not concur with us in denouncing another of greater magnitude. Our hearts abjure such policy. The more a man enjoys the sweets of liberty, the more will he be advanced in the dignity of his being, and spurn each lingering fetter away from him. What is true politically, is true spiritually and ecclesiastically. Believing that the more extensive the revival of a spirit of religious freedom in the Established Church, the more will she long for complete deliverance from every Erastian trammel, to which an improperly constituted alliance with the State may have subjected her, we watch her present struggles with interest; we hope, we wish, we pray that she may succeed. We would not oppose her, lest haply, we be found fighting against God; and now that she seems aroused to her utmost border, in the assertion of the rights which belong to her as a Church of Christ, whatever Erastian statutes may have ordained to the contrary, we would fan the spreading sympathy, we would forward the hallowed impulse.
In return for our confidence, we feel entitled to expect due honesty and firmness of purpose. Too long has she been muttering equivocal watchwords—too long has there been a seeming endeavour to save her temporalities by hollow compromise rather than satisfy her people by wise and prompt concession to their righteous demand for ecclesiastical enfranchisement. Timid and temporising men may shrink from this, the only step adequate to her present emergencies; the pride of high churchmen may revolt at such concessions; but in thus restoring her people to their just privileges, she sacrifices no dignity and wins much influence. In conforming her polity to Scripture, she kneels, like our patriot sires on the field, where our nation’s independence was achieved, not to England—not to man—but to God. And an establishment, strong in the affections of its members, may rise superior to unworthy fears, for the state dare not harm her. An establishment with an alienated and discontented people contains the elements of its own destruction.
Let her stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths.—So shall she find rest,—So shall she be crowned with. the blessing of heaven, and prosecute with enhanced vigour and alacrity each glorious scheme of Christian usefulness, and so shall we hail another symptom that the time confirmed to hope by the assurance of prophecy approaches, when Scotland may yet echo with the songs of a unanimous Zion, loosed from every band and washed from every spot, shining as in days when peasant and peer alike were proud to be her door-keepers, the beautiful and befitting bride of a Prince who is divine—of the Lord from heaven.
[1.] Aaron’s Rod Blossoming,—Epistle to the Reader.
[2.] We are assured by one of the most gifted authors of the present day, whose statements on a point of this kind are the more deserving of attention, inasmuch as he belongs to the Episcopalian communion that "apart from a due leaven of popular influence, church power can never be any thing else but a spiritual despotism. Unless this "due leaven of popular influence" exists in the control exercised by the members of a church in the appointment of ecclesiastical office-bearers, we cannot discover any way and form in which it can operate. Patronage, depriving the people of this amount of legitimate influence, natively tends to the establishment of a spiritual despotism, and on this ground also may be regarded as derogatory to Christian freedom. How amply does the ecclesiastical history of Scotland during the past century justify the theoretic conclusions of the author of “Spiritual Despotism!”
[3.] Parl. I. Act 36. and Parl. I. Sess. 2, Act 3.
[4.] On this point keenly litigated in the present controversy, the 16th and 17th section of Park’s learned work against Patronage may be consulted with profit. Having spoken of what the Patron does in the nomination of a presentee he adds, “All that is here left in the Church’s power being, indeed, nothing else but simply to find and declare whether the person elected by the Patron be sufficient, and that only in so far as concerns the merely external qualifications that are simple necessary by the letter of the Church laws, for the office of a pastor in general.” With regard to the circumstance whether he “be fit and proper for the particular charge of such and such a people,” Park proceeds to state, “though the Church, as she is bound, should enter upon these further considerations, and thereupon find cause to reject the person presented by the Patron, yet her determinations thereto would not he regarded as being absolutely inconsistent with the exercise of the privilege of Patronage.” We submit these extracts because they are not liable to the suspicion with which by certain minds any statement to the same effect from a Dissenter is sure to be regarded; and we would avail ourselves of this opportunity to make earnest protestation, that if in any point our views have come into collision with those entertained by the supporters of the people’s rights in the Establishment, it is from no delight to be found in opposition to them, and far less from any desire to serve the cause of the men against whom they are arrayed. Our Church has been accused of abetting moderatism, because we have on some occasions held the members of that party constitutionally right, though scripturally wrong. The error is as gross as if we had been charged with supporting Popery, because we had sought to convince Pascal, that some of his tenets were totally incompatible with the fundamental articles of his Church, and the genius of its creed.
[5.] Spiritual Despotism.
[6.] Bingham’s Origines, Vol. ii. p. 82.
[7.] We are not ignorant of a most extraordinary view which has sometimes been sported with reference to the election of Matthias. It has been gravely contended that the whole proceedings of the infant church on that occasion were null and void, since the promise of the Spirit had not yet been fulfilled; that Matthias was therefore unlawfully elected; that the absence of all mention of him in the subsequent history of the church, is equivalent to an intimation that he never actually served, or was recognized as an apostle; and that Paul was in truth the person who was called of God to fill the station and discharge the duties connected with it, from which Judas by transgression fell.
We cannot but regard this theory as a notable instance of the shifts to which men will resort for the sake of serving a purpose, or saving a system. How stands the simple fact? On the pages of that volume, every portion of which is given by inspiration, and given for our instruction, the election of Matthias is recorded, without one qualifying clause, without one word of abatement, without a single syllable to prevent us from imitating the conduct of the primitive disciples, although that conduct, by the view under consideration, was nothing short of a profane and presumptuous attempt to derange the plans of Jehovah, a reckless interference with matters too high for the church on earth. Reasonings from the example of believers, when that example has been stamped with the seal and “consigned to the immortal custody” of Inspiration, are sanctioned by the practice of the apostles in the writings which they have left us. Where is the specialty in the election of Matthias, on account of which the narrative of it must be discarded, as having no bearing upon the management and constitution of the church in the present day? If it must be set aside, although no intimation to this effect has been given us by inspired authority, it would be difficult—might I not say impossible—to vindicate scripture from the charge of having in this instance given utterance of an “uncertain sound.”
An examination of the whole transaction, and the simple, unhesitating, unqualified manner in which it is recorded, might suffice to deter any one from the adoption of the view to which we have adverted, so erroneous in itself, and so fraught with dangerous consequences. In the spirit of the parting injunctions of his Lord, and with a solicitude that the sheep should be fed, in beautiful keeping with the thrice-told avowal of his love to Him, Peter steps forward and counsels the disciples, by a regard to the exigencies of the church, to choose a successor to Judas: the church unanimously assents to the suggestion, and after a solemn appeal in the name of Christ to the hearer and answerer of prayer, the proceedings are instituted of which the result was the election of Matthias. Let who wilt pervert the interesting narrative of Luke, and charge the ancient disciples with an unjustifiable impetuosity of procedure; we demand strong grounds for abandoning a view of the transaction recorded which makes it teem with practical lessons of the highest value—a lesson of attention to ecclesiastical duties from the conduct of Peter, and lessons from the conduct of the rest of the disciples, of deference to ecclesiastical rule, unity of sentiment and operation; and since they are immediately afterwards said to have been “all with one accord, in one place”—of an utter absence of jealousy at the election of one of their number to the dignity of the apostleship.
The benefit of this high example must forsooth be lost to us, because the promise of the Spirit had not yet been realised! Now there is in this plea a curious over-sight—a strange confusion of thought. Are we to be told that these disciples were altogether destitute at this time of spiritual influence? Ample evidence exists respecting some of them, that they had already believed on Jesus, and the exercise in which they were at this period engaged, waiting in prayer and supplication “for the promise of the Father,” affords more than presumption, when all the circumstances of the case are considered, that all of them had received the grace of faith. And, if this be correct, they must have enjoyed spiritual enlightenment, which might be greatly enlarged, but could not be for the first time bestowed on the day of Pentecost. The apostles too had already, before the ascension of Christ, made fall proof of the miraculous gifts with which their Lord had endowed them. Among the blessed results of the advent of the Comforter on the day of Pentecost, the regeneration of the disciples must not be numbered. The addition of thousands to the church, and the increase in number and degree of the gifts and graces of the members already within her pale, are marvels sufficient to make that day everlastingly memorable in the annals of christianity, without resorting to the notion that the disciples could not previously have acted under a divine and gracious impulse, when in the election of Matthias they filled up the number of the apostles.
The adherents of the crude theory under review must also be reminded of the predicament in which they involve themselves if they persist in the belief that the acts and proceedings of the church before the Pentecostal outpouring, are without force, and of no value as precedents. The change of the Sabbath from the last to the first day of the week is argued from the practice of the primitive disciples; it so happens that this practice commenced before the day of Pentecost, John xx. 19. We cheerfully make our opponents welcome to the benefit of the reply which we anticipate will be made, to the effect that in this instance, however, the practice in question was confirmed by the conduct of the primitive church after the Comforter had come. A little reflection should satisfy them that this argument in reply, if valid to any extent, is valid to their own discomfiture. Does not the fact on which it is based shew that the proceedings of the disciples in electing Matthias, especially when we take into account the parallel election of the deacons, may transmit to us a rule equally binding with that which they have left us in the circumstance that they observed the Sabbath on the first day of the week. Where lies the difference between the two cases, warranting us to view the latter as a standing precedent, whilst the former must be regarded as a serious blunder?
As to the subsequent silence of the inspired records respecting Matthias, the reply is obvious and at hand. A like obscurity rests on the history of other apostles, and we cannot say how soon some of them gained the crown of martyrdom.
[8.] See Currie’s Full Vindication, p. 65.
[9.] We abstain from lengthened critical discussion respecting the precise meaning of χειροτονια. The quotation from the epistle to the Corinthians seems to establish conclusively enough that meaning of the term which renders the passage in the Acts a proof in support of the right of the people to choose their pastors. To break the force of this reference, we are directed to Acts x. 41, “witnesses chosen before of God,” but the word is not exactly the same, and as Beza ingeniously remarks, there is here “a silent antithesis between the χειροτονια of God and the suffrages of the people.” We append a note by a learned German on the term litigated, as it occurs in the work of Chrysostom on the Priesthood. The testimony of a foreigner, uninfluenced by controversial prejudices on the subject, may have more weight than any amount of critical acumen, which an advocate of popular privileges might exert in support of the rendering which we have attached to the term in Acts xiv. 23. “Notare verbum χειροτονειν proprie manure extendere, nemo ignorat. Et solebant jam veteres Graeci in concionibus suffragia ferre manibus vel attollendis vel demittendis (cf. Xenoph. Anab[asis]. iii. 3-22.) unde χειροτονειν jam apud scriptores profanos notat per suffragia aliquem creare, quod vel ex Hesychii et Suidae testimonio patet quorum alter reddidit per καθισταν et ψηφιζειν hic vero χειροτονησαντες explicuit per εκλεξαμενοι Eundem significatum in N. T. quoque tenere hoc verbum praeter Lexicographos docuit Wetstenius N. T. T. ii. 198. Quo significatu, h. v. apud patres ecclesiae optime docuit Suicer in Thes. Eccles.” This note is from an edition of Chrysostom on the Priesthood, by Bengelius, revised and enlarged by Leo, and published at Leipsic, 1834.
[10.] Gibbon i. 291. Jones’ Edition.
[11.] See Cowie’s Letters on Patronage, and Bingham’s Origines.
[12.] Had our limits permitted, we might have quoted statements from the Confessions of various churches, and also from the writings of the reformers of the 17th century, for the purpose of enriching our pages with testimonies in favour of the right of the people, given by men whose piety and learning must ever command respect. We can only refer the reader to Currie’s Jus Populi, &c., and Cunningham’s Defence of the Rights of the Christian People, for an ample and masterly discussion of these topics.
[13.] M‘Crie’s Evidence, p. 360.
[14.] It may be thought an omission that no part of this Lecture has been devoted to the refutation of objections against popular election. If I have at all succeeded in proving that it is a Scriptural principle, any objection which human ingenuity can devise against it, will be light as dust in the balances of the sanctuary. And I am the more confirmed in this view, when it is notorious that the grounds on which by far the ablest and most respectable antagonists of the people’s claims, express dislike to the selection of ministers by the votes of the members of the Church, are based chiefly on expediency. The argument which they commonly urge, fortified doubtless by some examples, is the alleged unfitness of the people to exercise any such privilege. Sometimes men are heard, with more wit than wisdom, expatiating on the uproar and confusion which would be the invariable concomitant of popular election. We believe, however, that such an argument as the latter is beneath serious refutation, being practically contradicted by the testimony of every Church where popular election has prevailed, and because the principle involved in the objection would justify an absolute despotism, and reconcile us to the Roman policy, “solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.” [They make desolation, they call it peace.]
We cannot but think, however, that the former objection, the alleged incapacity of the people, weighs with many conscientious men. Nor shall we be so disingenuous as to refuse the acknowledgement, that cases sometimes occur in which, by unhappy divisions the people betray their own cause, and afford some ground for the allegation of their enemies. We are not in the habit of claiming for the people infallibility, any more than for the Pope. But, if the objection is sound to any extent, we should instantly abolish all Church-courts, for these, too, as well as congregations, are sometimes rent with the most unhappy divisions.
Nor is this all. Wherever this unfitness on the part of the people to choose a minister arises from their worldliness and immorality, then, unquestionably, they are unfit, and by all means let them be excluded not only from this, but every other privilege of the Church. But, if this alleged unfitness arise generally from their incapacity in any circumstances to discern ministerial gifts, then assuredly, the person urging this objection, must be prepared in consistency to advocate thorough and unqualified intrusion. Is it not the highest absurdity, to admit that the people have capacity to sit in judgment upon preachers so as to reject them, and yet cannot be entrusted with the right of choosing? In short, in point of real principle, there is no middle course between high-handed intrusion and popular election. The opponent of the latter, to be consistent in his reasonings, must be prepared obviously to advocate the former. We repeat it: if the people be not fit to choose their ministers, they are unfit to exercise any veto whatever upon their nomination.