Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

tion of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America."

[ocr errors]

Thus the government of the Presbyterian Church was made consistent in its entire and absolute separation of Church and State. The completed work became a bulwark of Christian liberty, and it stands to-day four square to all the winds of Cæsarism and the Papacy.

But these Presbyterian Fathers did more than this. They made a luminous and comprehensive statement of the general principles” by which they had been governed in the formation of the plan. These principles are basilar and structural—they enter vitally into our government and discipline. They are at once its foundation and its vindication. For the clearness and comprehensiveness of this declaration of principles, which constitutes the first chapter of our Form of Government, for its balance and poise, for its grasp of fundamentals, for its truths whose very statement when once understood, makes them seem almost axiomatic, for its safe-guarding of sacred rights, for its just limitations put about liberty to keep liberty from license, and for its equally just limitations put about power to keep power from tyranny -for all this, and also for the lofty spiritual tone and the calm judicial temper pervading it, I know nothing to match it, of its kind and within the same compass, in all literature. It has been too much hidden under a bushel. In a ministry of forty ycars, I have never once heard it publicly referred to. In the histories I have consulted, it is passed by with the barest mention. It is my desire, in this article, to make it as a city set on a hill, that it may give light to those who are yet in darkness as to Presbyterian Government and Discipline, and that it may more widely do what its authors hoped it would when they gave it to the world, viz.: "Prcvent those rash misconceptions and uncandid reflections which usually proceed from an imperfect view of any subject."

These Fathers of American Presbyterianism were “unanimously of opinion :"

First. “That 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.”

This supreme assertion of freedom of conscience is taken from the bosom of the Confession of Faith, where it had been placed by the Westminster divines when they wrought out the doctrinal standards in the famous Assembly of 1643. Our American Presbyterian Fathers copied it from the Confession, and lifted it to the foremost place in the Form of Government, where it leads the brilliant galaxy of principles for which many have died, and millions more have been willing to die. It is our immortal Presbyterian Declaration of Independence It matches and surpasses Thomas Jefferson's world-famous manifesto, “That all men are creatcd cqual, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Let me repeat this first principle of Presbyterian Government : “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.” To this the Fathers added in this same first section the following irresistible sequitur : “Therefore, they consider the rights of private judgment in all matters that respect religion as universal and inalienable. They do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time be equal and common to all others,"

True to this declaration they swept everything out of the Confession that looked at all like union of Church and State. And they made clean work of it. Not a vestige of the union of Christ and Cæsar was left. No King but

Christ. No vicar of Christ, usurping lordship. A conscience free from all commandments of men that are not commandments of God. The right of private judgment in matters of religion inalienable. Nay, more—no alliance with the State whatsoever--no aid to any religious constitution by the civil power save in the protection of rights common to all. That is to say, no public money for sectarian use.

These are the ringing words by which the Presbyterian Church irrevocably commits herself to the crown rights of her Lord and King. The principle is held by other evangelical faiths. But it has been given a rare historic setting by Presbyterians; notably when the Free Church of Scotland, in 1843, left her earthly all rather than bow to the behest of civil magistracy, and her four hundred ministers turned their backs upon manses and glebes and benefices, surrendered an annual income of at least a half million dollars and boldly walked forth to be God's freemen. And notably again, when the American Presbyterian Church placed this principle first and chief of all in the charter of her God-given rights—set it as the crown jewel in her diadem of Christian loyalty and liberty.

I need hardly say to you that there are portents of a coming time when we and other faiths of God's free hosts, may be obliged to stand for this principle as with faces of steel and consciences incarnate, against a wily, grasping, ecclesiasticism, whose history is black with the record of her usurpation of powers that belong to our Lord and King alone.

I pass now to a consideration of the second principle affirmed by the Fathers in the first chapter of our Form of Government.

They are unanimously of opinion :

Second. That, in perfect consistency with thc above principle of common right, every Christian church, or union or association of particular churches, is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion, and the qualification of its ministers and members.

This statement seems almost axiomatic. It is the common law of organization. Safe-guarded interests are impossible without it. The bride of Christ must keep her robe unsoiled. She has a God-given stewardship. Shall anybody be admitted to her communion ? Shall she put her imprimatur on every veriest tramp that claims to be commissioned of heaven to preach the Gospel ? How could she keep her peace, or care for truth which Christ has committed to her, if she flung her gates and her pulpits wide open, and let the whole motley world in to her communion and her ambassadorship, without condition and without limitation! If terms of church and ministerial fellowship are to be made at all, who shall make them and determine their nature and spirit, if not the Church herself, in the light and under the law of that Word which Christ has given her. It is true that in the exercise of this right, any particular church, or association of churches, may err, "in making the terms of communion either too lax or too narrow." But even in this case, said these Presbyterian Fathers, "they do not infringe upon the liberty or rights of others, but only make an improper use of their own."

Now what are the terms of communion imposed by the Presbyterian Church? Looking into the New Testament record of the early Church, she found only one condition of church membership, viz: belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as a Saviour; and that, and that only, she has placed at the door of her communion. She demands no assent to an extended creed. She presses no questions about a system of doctrine. She seeks to know simply whether the applicant for admission to her fold is a Christian-a loving, obedient disciple of Jesus Christ. If he be that, he is welcome to all the privileges of her Church membership. Any true child of God, of whatever name or creed, may come knocking at the door of the Presbyterian Church and asking, “What doth hinder me to be baptized ?" and the swift answer shall be, "If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest.” He may have imperfect views of Christ, he may stumble at the Trinity, he may have doubts about the mode of baptism, he may be an Arminian as to the decree, or a Pelagian as to the human will, or a Lutheran as to the Lord's Supper, or a Sabellian, a Swedenborgian, a Congregationalist, a Prelatist; no matter. Has he the spirit of Christ, and does he believe there is none other name given under heaven among men whereby he can be saved? Then the Presbyterian Church says his place is within Christ's visible fold; and without a question as to his orthodoxy in any other regard, she opens wide her doors to welcome him. And her ground and warrant for this is, that, according to the Scriptures, there should be no conditions of church membership, which are not conditions of salvation. Surely the Church should receive to her fold anybody that she has reason to believe Christ would receive to his. What possible right have we to make it harder to get into the Church than it is to get into heaven?

This is no new, no individual opinion--outside judgment to the contrary notwithstanding. It is the historic position of the American Presbyterian Church. In the Adopting act of 1729, more than one hundred and fifty years ago, when the question of subscription to the doctrinal standards was up for settlement, while the Synod claimed the right, and avowed the necessity, of demanding of the ministers an assent to all the essential and necessary articles of the Confession of Faith, it made this distinct avowal concerning all applicants for admission to church membership; viz: "We are willing to admit to fellowship in sacred ordinances all such as we have ground to believe Christ will at last admit to the Kingdom of Heaven."

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »