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Scotland's Influence on Civilization
Grand Results of the Conflict for Liberty


IT is easy enough for us now, after several centuries of uninterrupted progress in Scotland, to look back into her heroic ages, to see the meaning of the great principles then so fiercely contested, and to trace the results which have flowed from the vindication of those principles. In no part of the world is the true philosophy of history more easily discerned than in the history of Scotland. And in no part of Scottish history have her gallant people given to mankind a more important and impressive lesson for all ages than in the heroic times of Wallace, Bruce and Knox, and their successors of the Solemn League and Covenant. Through all the dark pages God's hand is clearly seen protecting his true Church and establishing the right.

It must never be forgotten that Scotland had a double battle to fight---first, that of national independence and constitutional liberty against her more powerful neighbor, and then the harder, nobler battle for conscience and a pure Church, against both papal and prelatical domination. There are few sublimer chapters in history than those which recount the deeds of the Scotch Reformers of the sixteenth century, the Presbyterian Covenanters of the seventeenth century, and the never-to-be-forgotten founders of the Free Church in the nineteenth century. The time was long, the causes of the conflicts were different, but the battle was substantially the same. The rights, liberties and principles of an evangelical Christianity and a pure spiritual Church, preached in Scotland by the martyred Wishart and Hamilton, heroically defended before kings, queens and nobles by Knox and Melville, vine dicated and established by Henderson, Gillespie, Rutherford and their compeers, solemnly sworn to by the whole people in their national League and Covenant, cemented with the blood and attested by the last breath of thousands of martyrs in the "killing-time" of the bloody Claverhouse, —these grand principles of a Reformed religion and an evangelical Presbyterianism, for ever asserting Christ's cross and crown and covenant in a free State and a free Church, we have lived to see carried to their consummation and establishment under the leadership of Thomas Chalmers and his five hundred coadjutors in the memorable Free-Church movement of 1843, the deed and the day of Scotland's greatest ecclesiastical glory.

It was in vindication of these principles that John Knox had dared to tell Mary Stuart the truth even at the cost of her queenly anger and her woman's tears. At a time when men were beheaded or driven into exile for their sentiments, and when kings had power to send a subject to the scaffold for a word, it required courage of the highest order to stand up as Andrew Melville did before James VI. and utter these memorable words: "Sir, we will always reverence Your Majesty in public; but since we have this occasion to be with Your Majesty in private, and since you are brought into extreme danger of your life and crown, and along with you the Church of God are alike to go to wreck for not telling you the truth and giving you faithful counsel, we must discharge our duty or else be traitors both to Christ and you. Therefore, sir, as divers times before I have told you, so now again I must tell you, there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James, the head of the commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom lie is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member. Sir, those whom Christ has called and commanded to watch over his Church have power and authority from him to govern his spiritual kingdom, both jointly and severally; the which no Christian king or prince should control and discharge, but fortify and assert, otherwise they are not faithful subjects of Christ and members of his Church. We will yield to you your place and give you all due obedience, but again I say you are not the head of the Church: you cannot give us that eternal life which we seek for even in this world, and you cannot deprive us of it. Sir, when you were in your swaddling-clothes, Christ Jesus reigned freely in this land, in spite of all his enemies. Permit me, then, freely to meet in the name of Christ and attend to the interests of that Church of which you are the chief member."

Well and nobly said, brave Melville! Well and nobly done ! Never was a grander truth more manfully stated and more stoutly stood by through all Old Scotia's battlefields by all her truest sons and daughters. That granite truth so nobly wrought out of Scottish quarries is today the very corner-stone in our glorious temple of civil and religious liberty. The struggle had been long and fearful; it had lasted a hundred years; it had cost the sacrifice of generations of suffering men and women driven into exile or wafted to heaven in a winding-sheet of flame; but the triumph was glorious at last.

The result was a free Church and a free State, corelated to God and to the people, but each independent of the other in the proper sphere of its jurisdiction. The result was a vindication in a manner never before understood in any land of the true spiritual import of those memorable words uttered by Christ before Pilate's bar: "Render unto Cesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." That great truth incorporated in the Westminster Confession is the basis of all religious liberty and of all the Presbyterian Churches in the world: "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also."

This grand deliverance of scriptural truth, so clearly formulated in the Presbyterian Standards and so bravely maintained at every cost in Scotland through the centuries following the Reformation, may be regarded as the essential article of all true ecclesiastical polity and of all religious liberty. To maintain it intact and to hand it down to posterity was well worth the blood and the treasure which it cost the heroic founders of the Scotch churches. Certainly there is not a Presbyterian church in the world to-day which does not thank God for this glorious inheritance of Christian liberty, and rejoice that our Scottish forefathers were able to stand up for it in the hour of peril and bring it safely with them through the fiery ordeal. If the Scottish heroes who suffered unto death for Christ's covenant and crown had rendered no other service to mankind, this sacrifice alone in behalf of freedom of conscience had been enough to immortalize the service and entitle them to the gratitude of the latest posterity.

It was strikingly appropriate that a service to freedom and to mankind so great and inestimable should find honorable mention at the First General Presbyterian Alliance, held in 1877 at Edinburgh, the very seat and centre of the memorable conflict. That great council, gathered from the Presbyterian Churches of all lands, in the bosom of this venerable mother-Church of the widely-dispersed family, was itself a demonstration of what Scotland had done for Christendom by the long struggle for civil and religious liberty. It was one of the many results of the conflict, and no inconsiderable one at that; for the men there assembled from so many widely-separated Christian lands were themselves representatives of the very principles for which the Scottish forefathers had so long and so bravely battled. One of the delegates from the United States, Archibald A. Hodge, D. D., of Princeton, New Jersey, speaking of this priceless Presbyterian birthright of civil and religious freedom, in pertinent and truthful words thus called to remembrance the place and the period from which it came: "In the original conflict these principles were brought into antagonism with absolutism both in Church and State. They first, though at the sacrifice of countless martyrs, especially in France, Holland and Scotland, broke the power of the hierarchy and conquered liberty in the sphere of religious faith and practice. More gradually, but by inevitable consequence, they secured popular liberty in the sphere of civil and political life. The conditions of modern times, to the wants and tendencies of which it is our duty to adjust and apply Presbyterian principles, are largely the outcome of the influence exerted during the past three hundred years upon the life of European nations by those Presbyterian principles themselves."

Another representative from America on that occasion, Moses D. Hoge, D. D., of Richmond, Virginia, also called to remembrance the principles and the heroes of the great conflict in the following impressive words: "The saddest, and yet the brightest, pages of our ecclesiastical history are those which recount the struggles of our fathers in behalf of the sacred rights of conscience. I need not speak of the practical power of our principles as they have been so often illustrated in the heroic conflicts for the right and the true, whether in the glens of Scotland, or in the villages of France, or on the northern coast of Ireland, or among the mountains of Switzerland. A portion of the people of my native State trace their ancestry back to the noble race of men who were compelled by Bourbon tyranny to flee from their once happy homes on the fertile plains of Languedoc or in the delightful valleys of the Loire, and who found an asylum on the high banks of the James River in Virginia or on the lowlands of the Cooper and Santee Rivers of South Carolina. Others of my Virginia people are the descendants of the men who contended for Christ's crown and covenant at the foot of the heath-clad Grampians, or who fought the dragoons under Claverhouse at Bothwell Bridge, or who at the siege of Londonderry held out to the bitter end against James himself. There is yet in a branch of my own family the old family Bible which their Huguenot ancestors carried with them first to Holland and then to Virginia. Its covers are worn, its leaves are yellow and faded; they have often been wet with the salt spray of the sea and the salt tears of the sorrowing exiles; but, though the names are growing dim on the family register, I trust they are bright in the book of life; and now, thank God! the descendants of the Huguenot and Covenanter, and of the noble martyrs of the North of Ireland, are found dwelling together in one happy ecclesiastical household on our peaceful Virginia shores, with none to molest or make them afraid, yet ready, as I trust in God—ready once more, if need be—to brave and peril all for the testimony of Jesus and for the defence of the faith once delivered to the saints."

One of the grand results secured by the long and bitter conflicts in Scotland was the settlement on a permanent basis of the true scriptural doctrine of religious tolerance. Clear as was the teaching of Christ on the subject, the princes and rulers of this world, and even his profound followers in the Churches established by law, were slow to learn the great truth. It is a truth which the papal Church never learned, being one diametrically opposed to its whole doctrinal and political system. Nor has it been always fully understood and practiced even in Protestant lands where the Erastian principle of state supremacy in matters of religion has been asserted. But from the dawn of the Reformation it was fully understood by the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and for ages maintained at every cost, even when there were some within her bosom who coveted alliance with the State and stood ready to sacrifice the independence of the Church and the rights of conscience at the bidding of lordly power. The great doctrine of a broad universal toleration—so strongly maintained, and at last secured, by the Presbyterians of Scotland—was but the necessary logical sequence of the fundamental article of their ecclesiastical creed that God alone is Lord of the conscience in all matters of religious opinion. Where there is no authority to bind the conscience except God and his inspired word, every man is necessarily free to exercise his own private judgment in ascertaining what the truth is, and his own conscience in accepting and following the truth. This is true religious liberty, and this the basis of religious toleration.

It was the true moral glory of the Scottish Reformers, and of their successors through the ages that followed, that they understood these essential principles of Presbyterianism and dared to maintain them in the face of all opposition. It is true that they did not always live up to them with an absolute consistency, for in ages of intolerance and persecution and Erastian interference on the part of the civil power they were sometimes driven to the wall and compelled, in self-defence, to strike back the iron hand that showed no toleration and sought only to crush them. Still, through all oppressions from without and amid all the feuds and divisions within, they did maintain to the last, and they brought unscathed through the conflict, that glorious heritage of a free Church and a free State, with equal rights of conscience for all classes of men, in which not only Scotland, but the whole Presbyterian world, rejoices to-day. The distinction is as just as it is honorable that through all its history the Presbyterian Church of Scotland has been a liberty-loving, a conscience-asserting and a tolerant Church. The Presbyterian Church has never been, either in Scotland or in any other land, an intolerant or a persecuting Church. It could never have persecuted without violating the fundamental principles of its divine constitution.

It was no empty boast, but the truth of history, when the Right Honorable Lord Moncrief, one of the chairmen of the Edinburgh council, said, "The Presbyterian polity has been the cradle of toleration, and it has always been the stronghold of civil liberty. I do not know a better test of the efficiency and purity of a Church than these two features. A Church which is the enemy of toleration and a Church that is the intimate companion of political oppression I do not think by any possibility can be an apostolic Church. But the Presbyterian Church was the cradle of toleration. I am far from saying that in days when religious opinions were really the politics of the times, and when men's lives hung by a thread, political or religious toleration was much in vogue; but this I do say—that where Presbyterian principles have prevailed there toleration has sprung and flourished, and that in the quarters where the principles of the early Reformers and Presbyterians first acquired strength the principles of toleration followed in their wake. The Presbyterians of the North have had a large part in establishing civil and religious liberty in this country, and I am quite certain that where the Presbyterian polity prevails there will toleration, there will liberty, flourish."


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