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Church Government

James Dodson

Presbyterian ordination.

Presbyterian ordination.


“I know also that a government and discipline in the church (the thing which I now undertake to plead for) is a very displeasing thing to those that would fain enjoy liberty, either of pernicious errors or gross profaneness.”—George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming; or, the Divine Ordinance of Church Government Vindicated. (1646).



Reply to a Letter by Cardinal Sadolet.-1539-John Calvin.-A short reply to a Papist who accused the Reformed of leaving the church, Calvin explains why leaving an institution is not necessarily leaving a church and what it means to return to the true church.

The Necessity of Reforming the Church.-1543-John Calvin.-In this work, Calvin makes a case for the rigorous reform of the church asserting that the reformation of worship is even more important than that of doctrine.

The First Book of Discipline.-1560-The National Church of Scotland.-This was written by John Knox and others to direct the nation in its efforts to bring reformation to the entire nation. It made provision for temporary expedients and the erecting of features intended to be permanent in the Church of Scotland.

The Second Book of Discipline.-1578-The National Church of Scotland.-In this Second Book of Policy, the government of the church is a settled state is set forth with its duties and obligations as a national establishment of religion.

Discourse, Of the True and Visible Markes of the Catholic Church.-1579-Theodore Beza.-An early Reformed Protestant response to the Romish charges that there is no salvation outside of the church. Beza demonstrates that the visibility of the church is to sought in profession of the true religion rather than ecclesial institution.

Triplex Episcopatus.-1580-Theodore Beza.-In this treatise, Beza describes the three different kinds of bishops which have existed in the church. The first is instituted by God; the second by man; the third by the devil. Here is one Reformer’s critique of the system of government using hierarchical bishops and favoring the polity of Presbyterianism.

The Bishops Doom.-1638-Alexander Henderson.-This is the sermon preached on the occasion of the excommunicating of several episcopal prelates, at the beginning of the Second Reformation in Scotland, declares wherein true ordination stands and announces the ascendance of a revived jure divino Presbyterianism.

A Short Relation of the State of the Kirk of Scotland since the Reformation of Religion, to the present time for information, and advertisement to our Brethren in the Kirk of England.-1638-James Melville (1556-1614).-An account of the rise and progress of the First Reformation in Scotland by one intimately involved in spreading the covenanted reformation in the later part of the 16th century. It was published on the eve of the Second Scottish Reformation.

The Government and Order of the Church of Scotland.-1641-Alexander Henderson.-This provides a description of the polity of the Church of Scotland on the eve of the convening of the Westminster Assembly. Herein is provided an account of one of the best examples of the exercise of church government amongst Reformed churches.

Good Newes From the Assembly in Scotland, now sitting in consultation, Concerning their Ecclesiastical Government in the Church.-1642-National Church of Scotland.-This is a letter issued describing some of the features of the church government in Scotland, their several functions coupled with a declaration that they have been consciously conformed to Scripture and the usages of other Reformed churches.

Reformation of Church-Government in Scotland, Cleared from some mistakes and Prejudices.-1644-Alexander Henderson and some brethren.-This is an apologetic work designed to exhibit Presbyterianism as it really was in Scotland not as it was portrayed by its detractors.

The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government.-1645-Westminster Assembly.-The second finished production of the Assembly designed for covenanted uniformity, this contains a full account of the nature and function of Presbyterian church government.

A Treatise of Miscellany Questions:-1649-George Gillespie.-A volume which gathers many of Gillespie’s smaller works on various topics of church government, sacraments, confederacies and the nature and extent of the atonement.

HEAD. IV. - The Sufferings of people for frequenting Field Meetings Vindicated.-1687-Alexander Shields.-In this chapter, the spiritual independence of the church is asserted and the notion that there are sacred places or holy buildings under the New Testament is refuted.

A Treatise of Ruling Elders and Deacons.-1690-James Guthrie.-Published posthumously, this gives an outline and exposition of the offices of ruling elder and deacon in accordance with Scripture and the usage of the Scottish church.

Sermon on “By What Means Ministers May Best Win Souls?”-ca. 1700-Robert Traill.-A sermon detailing the difficulty and carefulness that is to attend the ministry together with exhortations for those who are not in the ministry but seek to profit by it.

Prelacy an Idol and Prelates Idolaters.-1713-James Fraser [of Brae] (1639-1699).-A devastating critique of prelacy and all of its attendant evils and corruptions.

Letters on the Constitution, Government, and Discipline of the Christian Church.-1767-John Brown, of Haddington.-The text is taken from the second edition of 1799. In this work, Mr. Brown gives a succinct view of Presbyterian church government together with what might be considered a commentary upon the Westminster Assembly's Form of Presbyterian Government.

The Treasure in Earthen Vessels or, the Dispensation of the Gospel, Committed to men of like Passions with the Hearers.-1779-John Fairley.-An Ordination sermon for William Steven to the office of minister of the Gospel.

The sin and danger of countenancing the administrations of erroneous teachers pointed out: [in] a sermon preached at Chartiers, in the county of Washington, Pa.-1794-John Anderson.-A sermon which explains what happens when men are given over to hearing the ministrations of erroneous teachers. Anderson discusses the doctrines and practical reasons for maintaining confessional integrity by avoiding sectarian ministers or ministers not of one's own communion.

Act of the Reformed Presbytery in North America for a Public Fast with the Causes thereof.-1795-Reformed Presbytery, in America.-This act contains the lament of the scattered Covenanters in the wilderness of North America after many of their erstwhile brethren, together with their ministers, united with two bodies of Seceders to form the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, in 1782. Mssrs. King and M’Kinney were sent to America to revive the cause of covenanted reformation as outlined in this act.

The Ecclesiastical Catechism.-1806-Alexander McLeod.-A discussion of church government in the form of a catechism by an early “American” Reformed Presbyterian father.

The Constitution, Character, and Duties, of the Gospel Ministry.-1808-Alexander McLeod.-An ordination sermon for Gilbert McMaster, wherein M’Leod gives a very full discussion to the character of the Gospel ministry and its use in the church.

The Duties of the Gospel Minister.-1809-John Cowan.-An excellent sermon, from the ordination of Andrew Symington, on the duties of Gospel ministers outlining the care they must exercise and the preparations they ought to have to fulfill that office. Included is a very interesting and pointed charge to the congregation instructing them regarding their responsibilities toward their new pastor and charging them to fulfill their duties towards him.

Strictures on Occasional Hearing.-1820-James Douglas.-A thorough investigation of the doctrine of “occasional hearing” wherein Douglas expounds and vindicates the practice of refusing to hear or wait upon ministers from corrupt communions. This is the second edition which is corrected and expanded. It also contains an instructive addenda on how Covenanters ought to pray for civil rulers under immoral constitutions and administrations of government.

On the Right of Females to Vote in the Election of Ministers and Elders.-1822-Thomas McCrie (1772-1835).-This is a short examination on the question of women voting in church elections. McCrie discusses some of the reasons and the history behind excluding women from suffrage in the church.

Honour Due to the Teaching Elder.-1829-Gavin Rowatt.-In this sermon, at the ordination of James M’Gill, Mr. Rowatt sets forth the various duties which the congregation owes to those who labour among them in Word and doctrine. This is a sermon which highlights the fact that a pastoral relation is not simply a matter of ministerial duties—there are also congregational duties.

Ministerial Work and Sufficiency:-1832-Gilbert McMaster.-In this discourse, McMaster explains the need for the Gospel ministry and considers the doctrine of ordination together with its duties and responsibilities. Throughout he shows the need for reliance upon Christ for the sufficiency of its accomplishment.

LECTURE II.-1841-James Ferguson (1797-1862).-An essay setting forth the complete spiritual independence of the government of the Church of Christ from the interference of the civil magistrate or any other institution. Jesus Christ has set a government in his Church distinct from that of the state.

Characteristics of the Witnessing Church.-1843-Robert Lusk.-In this extended essay, Lusk recounts the history of the witnessing church together with an account of its declining in numerous ways which made it necessary for the erection of a new presbytery concerned with keeping the principles of Covenanters alive.

The Deacon.-1841-James M. Willson.-A very thorough discussion of this office including its necessity, perpetuity and use.

Attachment to Zion.-1852-James W. Shaw.-A communion sermon that addresses matters of ecclesiastical fellowship and the use of terms of communion.

Occasional Hearing.-1852-Anonymous.-An article which appeared in the Covenanter Magazine, edited by J.M. Willson, which explains why confessional communicant members of the RP church should not attend the ministry of the Word by sectarian ministers outside of the church.

Occasional Communion.-1852-Anonymous.-An article which appeared in the Covenanter Magazine, edited by J.M. Willson, which defends the practice of confessional communion against the lax and latitudinarian practices creeping into the church.

The Validity of Ordination by a Minister and Elder.-1860-William Sloane (1787-1863).-A short piece explaining what may be done in Presbyterial government when necessity calls and a session only has one minister and one ruling elder.

Interchange of Pulpits.-1860-Anonymous.-This short piece raises the question of pulpit exchange and occasional hearing by way of giving a brief response to a question raised on the subject.

Intercommunion in Hearing the Word.-1860-William Sloane (1787-1863).-Old Light minister Sloane expands the answer of true Reformed Presbyterians on the matter of pulpit interchange and occasional hearing. This is both an answer to a previous unsigned article and a robust defense of the Covenanter position.

Occasional Hearing.-1860-William Sloane (1787-1863).-This article constitutes a continuation of Mr. Sloane’s excellent exposition of the doctrine of occasional hearing. In it, he addresses a common quibble of the proponents of intercommunion, that preaching for those we cannot hear is equal to occasional hearing.

The Discretionary Power of the Church.-1875-John L. Girardeau (1825-1898).-This sermon expounds upon the Regulative principle and its necessity in the life of the church especially in the exercise of ecclesiastical power.

The Duty of the Church to be One—To be Undivided—Unseparated.-1877-John McAuley.-A short article discussing the desirability and the true methods of seeking unity and peace in the church.

The Public Preaching of Women.-1879-Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898).-Dabney brings the answer of Scripture to the rise of the feminism and faddish notion that women may be preachers of the Word of God. Along the way, he also discusses the use of headcoverings, or veils, in the public life of women.

Moral Obligation of the Tithe.-1890-Thomas E. Peck (1822-1893).-A Southern Presbyterian discusses the question of tithing and demonstrates that the tithe is connected to Old Testament usages which have been abolished with the coming of the Gospel.

Paul on Women Speaking in Church.-1919-Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921).-What exactly did Paul mean when he prohibited women from speaking in the church? Warfield examines the Greek and the grammar to explain what he meant.