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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter III.—The Knox Period, a. d. 1555—1560.
Section 7. The Organization of the Reformed Church of Scotland


The ground was now cleared for the erection of a new ecclesiastical edifice, and solid foundations laid for the structure in a Confession of Faith which could justly claim to be "grounded Hipon the infallible truth of God's Word." But what was to be the fashion of the new Fabric? Were the builders ready with a settled plan?

The plan of the Reformed Church was ready as early as the 20th of May, 1560, while the siege of Leith was still proceeding. On the 29th of April the heads of the Council had delivered to Knox and his colleagues " a charge, requiring and commanding them, in the name of the eternal God, and as they should answer in His presence, to commit to writing, and in a book deliver unto them, their judgment touching the Reformation of Religion;n and in three weeks thereafter "the Buke of Discipline" was finished, in which with "unity of mind" they offered to the Lords a series of heads or conclusions "concerning doctrine, administration of sacraments, election of ministers, provision for the sustentation of ministers, ecclesiastical discipline and policy of the Kirk." In the preparation of which work " the ministers," as has been justly claimed for them by one of our church historians, " took not their pattern from any kirk in the world; no, not from Geneva itself, but laying God's word before them, made reformation according thereunto," and in the submission of which to the judgment of the Council they heartily agreed that by the standard of the Divine word it behoved to be tried in all its parts. "Most humbly," they said, " we require your honours, as ye look for participation with Christ Jesus, that neither ye admit anything which God's plain word shall not approve, neither yet that ye shall reject such ordinances as equity, justice, and God's word do specify. For as we will not bend your wisdoms to our judgments further than we be able to prove the same by God's plain Scriptures, so must we most humbly crave of you, even as ye will answer in God's presence, before whom both ye and we must appear to render accounts of all our doings, that ye repudiate nothing for pleasure nor affection of men, which ye be not able to disprove by God's written and revealed Word." It was not to be expected that a book of Church order and discipline containing a great number and variety of practical proposals, could be quickly assented to. The "sustentation of the ministry," the endowment of schools and colleges and universities, and a legal provision for the poor, were questions of public economics which touched the private interests of those who were now enjoying the ecclesiastical rents and revenues, out of which it was proposed to provide for all these important objects, and it was inevitable that such questions should be long of reaching a solution. In truth, the ministers had grievous cause to complain of the conduct of many of the Protestant nobles in this respect, for many of them " perceiving," as Knox says, " their carnal liberty and worldly commodity somewhat to be impaired thereby, grudged at the Book of Discipline, insomuch that its name became odious unto them. Everything that repugned to their corrupt affections was termed in their mockage 'devout imaginations.' Some were licentious; some had greedily gripped to the possessions of the Kirk, and others thought "they would not lack their part of Christ's coat, as by the preachers they were oft rebuked. There was none within the realm mair unmerciful to the poor ministers than were they which had greatest rents of the churches." When such causes of difficulty were at work, it is no wonder that there was delay in submitting the book to the judgment of Parliament, and that it should even have been considered necessary to obtain the opinions of the continental Reformers upon its principles. On the 25th of August, Randolph tells Cecil that "the Book of Common Reformation was being translated into Latin, with the view of being sent to Calvin, Viret, and Beza, in Geneva, and to Martyr, Bullinger, and others in Zurich."

But Randolph's valuable letters permit us to get a glimpse of another influence which was at work among the Lords, and which doubtless contributed somewhat to the difficulties which stood in the way of the civil recognition of the Book of Discipline. Cecil had instructed Randolph to suggest to the Protestants of Scotland the desirableness of conforming their ecclesiastical arrangements to the model of the Church of England, so that there might be a common order for both kingdoms; and Randolph had not been remiss in acting upon these instructions. "I have talked of late," says he, " ith them all,"—meaning Knox, Willock, Goodman, and the other preachers,—" to search their opinions how a uniformity might be had in religion in both these realms. They seem willing that it so were, and many commodities are alleged that might ensue thereof. Howbeit I find them so severe in that-which they profess, and so lothe to remit anything of that which they have received, that I see little hope thereof. With others I have dealt more liberally (/. e. more freely) than with them. They find it so expedient that there shall lack no good will in them thereunto." Some of the laymen, it would seem, were much more disposed to imitate the English model than the divines. But the general feeling, both of the clergy and laity, was against the suggestion ; for Randolph adds, that " he perceived not their opinion towards England to be such," that they would be content to submit the Book of Discipline to the judgment of English divines. " Howbeit they will not refuse to commune with any learned of our nation to hear their judgment." So early in the history of British Protestantism had the idea of a uniformity between the Scottish and English Churches been started and pressed; and so early were complaints made on the side of England, that Scotsmen were severe in their ecclesiastical opinions. From the first moment that the scheme was broached there was, in Randolph's judgment, " little hope of it."

The effect of all these causes of delay was, that the Book of Discipline was not approved of by any organ of the civil authority till the 27th of January, 1561, and even then only by a majority of the lords of secret council. It was never ratified by Parliament as the Confession had been, and could never, therefore, save in part, be carried into effect by the Church. But the book was in the highest degree honourable to its authors. Apart altogether from its claims as a platform of Church order and polity, its views on the subject of public education were far in advance of the age, and have not even yet been exceeded in breadth and liberality of conception. Scotland at the present day is vastly worse off in point of educational provision than she would have been in John Knox's time, if Knox had been allowed to carry out his views; and there is something like a challenge to posterity to produce any better scheme, in the language which he makes use of, when incorporating rt with his history. He declares that he does so " to the end that the posterity to come may judge as well what the worldlings refused as what policy the godly ministers required; that they, if God grant unto them occasion and liberty, may either establish a more perfect, or else imitate that which avaritiousness would not suffer this corrupt generation to approve."

Still there was much of the Church order and policy laid down in the Book of Discipline, which, being purely ecclesiastical, the Church by her own authority could immediately carry out; and there were several important points, too, requiring the concurrence of the civil authority, in which no difficulty was experienced in obtaining that concurrence. No time was lost in giving effect to these parts of the plan, and in thus imparting form and organization to the new Church.

What were the general views of the Scottish Reformers regarding the essential characters of a true Church of Christ, will be best seen in the following "Notes of the True Church," as laid down in their Confession.

"The notes of the true Kirk of God, we believe, confess, and avow to be, first, The true preaching of the word of God, in which God has revealed Himself to us, as the writings of the Prophets and Apostles do declare. Secondly. The right administration of the Sacraments of Christ Jesus, which must be annexed to the word and promise of God to seal and confirm the same in our hearts. Lastly. Ecclesiastical discipline, uprightly ministered as God's word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished. Wheresoever then these former notes are seen, and of any time continue (be the number never so few, above two or three), there, without all doubt, is the true Kirk of Christ, who, according to his promise, is in the midst of them."

Holding these fundamental views of Church life and order, the Reformers acted upon them from the first, and were careful to carry them out in their integrity. In fact, before the Confession was drawn up, they had already organized congregations or " particular kirks" upon these principles in all the principal towns in the kingdom; in which, along with the pure preaching of the Word, and the scriptural administration of the Sacraments, discipline was exercised upon the members, for the nourishment of virtue and the suppression of vice.

Immediately after the conclusion of the war, some of the reforming nobility and barons, and the commissioners sent to Parliament by the burghs, were associated with the ministers in a council or board for making several ecclesiastical arrangements and appointments which were of primary necessity. This council was the germ of the "National or General Assembly," which did not hold its first meeting till the 20th of December, 1560; but being only of a temporary or provisional character, it limited itself to two measures which could not be postponed without injury to the spiritual interests of the kingdom; viz. the distribution of ministers, and the appointment of superintendents.

The number of ministers at first was exceedingly small, no more than twelve; and of these John Knox was appointed to labour in Edinburgh, David Lindsay in Leith, Christopher Goodman in St Andrews, William Christison in Dundee, John Row in Perth, Adam Heriot in Aberdeen, David Ferguson in Dumfermline, and Paul Methven in Jedburgh. While these ministers confined their labours to the principal towns, the remaining four were appointed to take the pastoral oversight of whole districts, travelling from place to place, and by continual preaching bringing the Gospel into the remotest rural parishes. These were called Superintendents, and were thus distributed :—John Spottiswood to the province of Lothian and the Merse ; John Wynram to Fife and Perthshire; John Willock to Glasgow and Ayr; and John Carswell to Argyle and the Isles. To these was early added the name of John Erskine of Dun, who, though not educated for the sacred office, was judged eminently qualified for it by his gifts and graces, and having received ordination, was appointed to superintend the province of Angus and Mearns. The Book of Discipline recommended that there should be ten of these ecclesiastical provinces ; but for lack at first of qualified men, and afterwards of adequate funds for their support, the whole number of Superintendents was never completed, and the Church was obliged to have recourse to the expedient of appointing special commissioners to visit the districts which could not otherwise be provided for, till she was able to take order for the ecclesiastical supervision of the whole country by the appointment of presbyteries. The office of the Superintendents was a mere provisional arrangement, rendered necessary for a time by the paucity of ministers; and as soon as practicable it was superseded by the institution of presbyteries, conformably to the proper normal development of the Presbyterian platform.

It has often been contended that the provincial superintendent in the early reformed Church of Scotland was only another name for a diocesan bishop, and that the order of bishop, afterwards more formally introduced by the interference of the civil power, was only an expansion of this original germ. But this is an entire misconception. The Superintendents were not a distinct order of the ministry; "they were elected and admitted in the same manner as other pastors, and they were equally subject to rebuke, suspension, and deposition as the rest of the ministers of the Church." It was a part of their charge, indeed, to plant churches, and appoint ministers to the countries committed to their care; u but in the examination of those whom they admitted to the ministry, they were bound to associate with them the ministers of the neighbouring parishes." It was also a part of their function "to examine the life, diligence and behaviour of the ministers, as also the order of their churches and the manners of the people, admonishing where admonition needeth; but they could not exercise any spiritual jurisdiction without the consent of the provincial synods, over which they had no negative voice, and they were accountable to the General Assembly for the whole of their conduct"1

The paucity of ministers rendered necessary another arrangement of a temporary kind; viz., the appointment of Readers and Exhorters. The Book of Discipline recommended that "to kirks, where no ministers can presently be had, should be appointed the most apt men that distinctly can read the Common Prayer and the Scriptures, to exercise both themselves and the kirk till they grow to greater perfection; and in process of time he that is but a reader may attain to the further degree, and by consent of the kirk (/. e. the particular congregation) and discreet ministers, may be permitted to minister the sacraments, but not before he is able somewhat to persuade by wholesome doctrine, besides his reading, and be admitted to the ministry as before is said. Some we know that of long time have professed Christ Jesus, whose honest conversation deserved praise of all godly men, and whose knowledge also might greatly help the simple, and yet they only content themselves with reading. These must be animated, and by gentle admonition encouraged, by some exhortation to comfort their brethren; and so they may be admitted to administration of the sacraments." Here then was a wise provision both for the present necessities of the people, and for the future enlargement of the numbers of the ministry. Many of the readers first became exhorters, and afterwards ordained ministers; till at length, in 1581, the office of reader being no longer necessary, and " as being no ordinary office " within the Kirk of God, was abolished. From 1560 up to that year, the number of ordained ministers had rapidly increased. In 1567 the Church had 257 ordained ministers, besides 151 exhorters, and 455 readers. In 1574 the ministers numbered 289. In 1581 " it was thought meet to fix the number of parish kirks at 600, and at every kirk to have a minister."

It was not till the year last mentioned that the division of the whole Church into Presbyteries was effected, and that the provincial assemblies or synods, as distinguished from the national or general assembly, were fully organized. But all along the germs or rudiments of these different courts had existed In every considerable town a weekly meeting, called "The exercise," was held, which was attended by all the ministers and most gifted readers of the neighbourhood, within a radius of six miles, for exercising themselves in the interpretation of the Scriptures; and it was these district " exercises " that were afterwards converted into presbyteries. In every province allotted to the care of a Superintendent or Commissioner, it was the duty of that functionary to assemble the ministry and representative elders of the province twice a year, and to associate them with himself in the exercise of his jurisdiction ; and it was these assemblies that were afterwards consolidated into provincial synods.

The General Assembly, though for some time small in numbers, was from the first complete in its organization, and a most powerful organ of church-life. At its first meeting in Edinburgh, already referred to," there were not above twelve ministers, but there were sundry ruling elders, commissioners, to the number of thirty, to assist them in that good work, which the Lord so blessed that appointment was made of other forty-three, whereof some were to read the Word in the mother-tongue to the people, and some also to preach and exhort as pastors. Item, it was resolved that there should be two general assemblies holden every year, which was ordinarily observed for a long time, so that at every assembly, by the blessing of God, the number of Christ's ministers increased, and the number of the godly professors also grew exceedingly."

Here then, in its very first meeting, may be seen in vigorous action the two principles upon which the power of the General Assembly has always mainly depended; viz., its mixed constitution as a council of ministers and elders—the latter representing and giving effect to the views of the Christian people—and its freedom and independence of action, in relation to the civil power. At its very first meeting the Assembly freely determines how often and when it will meet again; and the " Freedom of Assemblies" was from the first regarded as the palladium not only of the Church's liberties, but also of her purity and usefulness as a religious institution. "Take from us," exclaimed Knox, when arguing with the Protestant courtiers in 1561— " take from us the freedom of Assemblies, and take from us the Evangel; for without Assemblies how shall good order and unity of doctrine be kept ?"

The worship of the Church and the administration of the Sacraments were rigorously reduced to the unadorned simplicity of apostolic times. Every vestige of Popish corruption and superstition was swept away; and not only so, but every religious practice and observance was laid aside which could not be shown to have a distinct warrant and sanction in the word of God. There was no Church in Europe which in this sense was so thoroughly purged and reformed. Not a single " root of bitterness " was left in the soil which could afterwards spring up and trouble the peace and purity of the Church. The Church which was followed most closely in this respect by the Scottish Reformers, was that of Geneva, and " The Book of Common Order "—a directory of public worship drawn up by Knox and others for the use of the English Reformers in that city, upon the model of a similar work by Calvin—had been introduced to some of the congregations before the Parliament of 1560. Some others had made use of the second Prayer-book of King Edward VI.; but this liturgy never received the sanction of the General Assembly, and was soon everywhere superseded by the Book of Common Order, which had been thus formally approved. Such a liturgical help was indispensable at a time when most of the congregations of the Church were dependent upon the services of readers and exhorters. Yet the ordained ministry was not bound to a rigid adherence to these liturgical forms, but might freely use the gifts of prayer and utterance with which it had been endowed. We find instances of this freedom and variety in prayer among the most distinguished preachers during the sitting of the Parliament. "The Bishop of Galloway," says Randolph, "preacheth earnestly, and prayeth heartily, for the Queen's Majesty, our Sovereign, and greatly extolleth her benefits. Mr. Willock, specially by name, prayeth both for France and England. Mr. Knox, universally, for all princes living in the fear of God, desiring Him to turn the hearts of other, and to send them in the right way."

Another important feature of resemblance between the Scottish and the Genevan ecclesiastical platforms was the prominence given to the exercise of Discipline as an institution of Christ, and an indispensable guarantee for the purity of the Church's communion. The principal function Of the elders of the Church, as distinguished from the ministers, was to take part with the latter in the administration of discipline; and such elders had been appointed as soon as separate congregations began to be formed, " when as yet there was no public face of a kirk, nor open assemblies, but secret atfd privy conventions in houses or in the fields." Randolph saw with wonder the religious submission with which the exercise of discipline was received in the church of Edinburgh even by persons of rank and station.

"It is almost miraculous," says he in a letter to Henry Killygrew, "to see how the Word of God taketh place in this country. They are better willing to receive discipline here than in any country that ever I was in. Upon Sunday last, both before noon and after, there were at the sermons that confessed their offences, and repented their lives before the congregation. Mr. Secretary (Cecil) and Dr. Wotton were present The Wednesday after, three others did the like. We think to see next Sunday a lady of the country, named the Lady Stenhouse, by whom the Bishop of St. Andrews hath had, without shame, five or six children, openly repent her life, God send us great increase hereof to his honour."

Nor was it only the Church courts that exercised this disciplinary jurisdiction ; the magistrates of all the cities and principal towns of the kingdom zealously seconded the Church in her efforts to restrain vice and impiety, and to promote habits of religion, sobriety, and purity among the people. The municipal records of that age are full of examples of such an exercise of civic authority; and occasional instances occurred, in which the punishments inflicted upon offenders were so severe and ignominious, as to excite sympathy and tumultuous opposition on the part of the less religious and moral portion of the community. Still, on the whole, these records of municipal zeal form an honourable memorial of the Reformers of the age. They show what an earnest spirit of improvement was diffused by the young Church throughout the whole of society, and what a powerful current of new moral life was poured at that era into all the arteries of the nation. The methods adopted, indeed, to bring about a renovation of the national life, were not always such as we can now approve. Both civil and ecclesiastical power was often, as we must think, unduly stretched to gain the ends of public religion and morality. But it was a grand thing to witness almost a whole nation in earnest to prosecute such noble aims. And it was a splendid testimony to the purity, and power, and usefulness of the Reformed Church of Scotland and her Presbyterian order, that it was under her teaching and discipline that a nation which, of all European peoples, had become the most corrupt in religion and morals, was enabled to recover itself from that debased condition, to shake itself from the dust, and to put on again the beautiful garments of truth and righteousness, and to enter upon a new and high career of Christian civilisation and progress, upon which it has never ceased to advance to the present time.

Well might John Knox, the great hero of this Reformation, exclaim, on looking back from the year 1566 upon the immense difficulties which had been overcome, and the splendid triumphs which had been won—"How potently God hath performed in these our last and wicked days the promise that is made to the servants of God, that they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall lift up the wings as the eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint. For what was our force? What was our number? Yea, what wisdom or worldly, policy was in us to have brought to any good end so great an enterprise? And yet in how great purity God did establish among us his true religion as well in doctrine as in ceremonies! To what confusion and fear were idolaters, adulterers, and all public transgressors of God's commandments within short time brought! The public order of the Church, yet by the mercy of God preserved, and the punishment executed against malefactors, can testify unto the world. For as touching the doctrine taught by our ministers, and as touching the administration of sacraments used in our churches, we aire bold to affirm that there is no realm this day upon the facte. of the eartji that hath them in greater purity; yea, we must speak the truth whomsoever we offend,—there is none, no realm we mean, that hath them in the like purity. All praise to God alone, we have nothing within our churches that ever flowed from that 'Man of sin.' And this we acknowledge to be the strength given to us by God, because we esteemed not ourselves wise in our own eyes, but understanding our whole wisdom to be but mere foolishness before our God, we laid it aside, and followed only that which we found approved by Himself Our First Petition was,' That the reverent face of the primitive and apostolic Church should be reduced again to Ae eyes and knowledge of men.' And in that point we say that God has strengthened us till the work was finished*

AS THE WORLD MAY SEE."

THE END.


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