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Presbytery and me tried by the Scriptures; but when the royal ordinance of preaching, and the noble office of a preacher is at stake, of which I have been deprived, surely you will not hesitate to yield me that common right. They laughed him to scorn; they called it misplaced talent, a mispleading of his cause in order to carry bye intents, an insult to the dignity of the venerable court. In this cause, as well as in the others, this was a common way of arguing,-If these men will broach their new and heretical doctrines, can they not hie them out of the church and preach them far and wide? nobody will meddle with them; why then will they be troubling us, and breaking their own vows? To this argument he addressed himself like a sound-minded and right-hearted churchman; teaching them, that the privilege of preaching other doctrine than that which the church held, came from the Act of Toleration, and pertained not to him as a member of the church, but as a subject of the king, with which they had nothing to do in their jurisdiction; that for him or any man voluntarily to go out of the church is an act of schism, which could only be justified by the apostasy of the whole church; and for them to suggest such a step was to give up the reins of discipline, and to cast the keys, and the power of the keys, behind their back; to invite divisive courses, to propagate dissent, and to court disunion, which above all things they ought to abhor. But considerations like these are all out of date. It is true they are in the Scriptures, and in the canons of all churches, and no where more strongly insisted on than in the Confession of Faith; but what of that? it is not the contents of the Confession, but the signing of the Confession, which is now in question. Oh! I wonder how God had patience with such awful hypocrisy. I question whether there were three men in that presence who did assent to every thing written in the Confession exactly as it is there written; I question whether one tenth, one fiftieth part of them have considered it from end to end. And yet they decreed that any man might be deprived of his preacher's office, and so also of his minister's office, who had any scruples upon any article of that book, or differed from any of its articles. That book, not the Bible, is then the written word to the Church of Scotland; that book, not the Holy Ghost, is the life of a preacher; the men who composed that book, not the God-man who purchased us with his blood, is the Head of the church. And most men hailed the decision as a sound and honest decision. Like rulers like people, blind leading the blind, babes ruling over babes, deceivers dealing treacherously with those who love to be deceived.
From this case it clearly appeared, that the doctrine and practice of the present race of churchmen goes upon this principle, that not the Scriptures, but the Westminster Confession, is the foundation and ultimate appeal of the church, by which all
controversies are to be tried. I had long suspected this; and as a minister I had felt it more than once to be present in the minds, and especially in the actings, of the office-bearers of the church. Their first question was always, What saith the Confession of Faith? And I had found that this was esteemed a high point of honesty; and that it was looked upon as an act of common and open dishonesty to doubt or gainsay any thing in the Confession of Faith, or even to try it by the word of God. But surely I was not prepared to find such a principle promulgated and acted upon in the supreme court of the church. Since that time I have talked over this subject and argued it with a great many persons, and have found them almost without exception eclipsing the word of God by these traditions of men. And if I advance any doctrine out of the Scripture I am straightway met by the question, What says the Confession of Faith? This hath led me to reflect much upon the subject of creeds and confessions, and to study their history in the church; and I have come to the conclusion, that, while it is the right and the duty of any minister with his church to put forth a confession of their faith unto the world, in the form of a testimony for the truth against the error, it is a wrong thing for them to impose it upon another church, or upon another generation, as a complete testimony for the truth against all error, seeing that new errors arise which require new antidotes. This I find to have been the way in the primitive church; and I think it ought to be the way still. The power of trying and proving all office-bearers should be vested in the living ministers and members of Christ, acting upon the word, and guided by the Spirit of God. To attempt to do this, or any part of it, by a dead book, is to resile from our responsibility and to surrender our privileges. The church standeth in persons, not in articles. The church is not supported by, but is the support of, the truth; is itself the pillar and ground of the truth. And the Holy Spirit in the church is the living witness of the truth, whose guardianship to add to is in fact to subvert it altogether. And I believe that by nothing hath the Spirit been so quenched as by this substitution of the wisdom and the rule of some synod, in the room of his living presence and uttered voice. This conclusion has been forced upon me by the desperate dishonour which I see done on all hands to the word and Spirit of the living God, which alone are able to sanctify and quicken the soul.
The only argument which can shew face against these plain conclusions is one which I have had to encounter in all shapes, since I took upon me to obey the commandment of the Lord, not forbidding to speak with tongues and prophesy in the church. The argument is, that we are bound by our duty to the church not to do any thing for which we have not warrant
in her constitution until we shall first have taken the sense of the whole church thereupon, and obtained their permission; and also by our duty to the state which doth establish the church upon no other condition whatever, but that she shall abide constant to her articles of faith and canons of discipline. It is thought and believed to be a contravention of our ordination vows to do otherwise. If it really be intended by the ordination vows of a minister that he should be bound up after this manner, then are ordination vows the most awful confederacy, and direct high-treason against the rights of the Lord Jesus, the liberties of man, and the dignity of the priestly office. But I utterly deny and reject such horrible doctrine. The ordination vows laid upon a minister are intended to exhibit him at that time as free from the stain of heresy and the purpose of schism, and to impose upon him faithfulness to the flock of Christ. They are after the nature of the marriage vows, defining the relation in which he standeth to the people, and laying it upon him to fulfil that relation faithfully, as to the Lord Jesus, and not as to any presbytery or bishop, or combination of them. "Now go thy ways," say the Presbytery, after laying on their hands," and fulfil thy office faithfully to God and the Head of the church, and let us not have any occasion to intermeddle with thee any more at all." The priest might as lief claim right to interpose between man and wife because he had married them, and insist on a weekly inspection, as the presbytery or bishop insist upon overlooking a minister who standeth or falleth to his own Master, both his and theirs. Whatever he seeth to be his duty Christward, he is bound with all speed to perform as unto the Lord and not unto man. He may suffer for it; let him suffer as a Christian for well-doing, and not for evil-doing. But this they say is to break up all confederacy and communion, and to destroy the unity of the church. No such thing. It is the previous condition and necessary preliminary unto Christian communion, which is the unity not of slaves chained together, but of freemen, Christ's freemen, animated by one Spirit. Let the ministers of the churches be free to receive the one Spirit of Jesus, and they will come to act together in the harmony of Presbyteries and Synods: but let them be hindered and hampered in this, and they want the element of communion. It is a frame-work holding together a multitude of loose stones, not a building built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, cemented by the Spirit, and bound into one by Jesus Christ the Head of the corner. Slaves cannot understand this doctrine; but those whom the Son hath made free know it well to be the truth, the only truth. What I am stating is not only the immutable law of the ministerial office, but it is the practical working of it in every church which is good for any thing. What parish minister in Scotland thinks that he should
go up to the Presbytery with any new matter which occurs; and what Presbytery would endure it? And in his daily words and actings is he to look to them, or to Jesus; to church-law, or to the word of God? And if, in looking to Jesus and the word of God, he hit against the church court and the church law, which ought to go to the wall? Jesus, or the church court; the word of God, or the laws of the church? Out upon such effrontery. I am ashamed to argue with it any more: let it be turned out of doors.
The question of obligation to the state is still more easily disposed of, and hath in fact nothing to do with the matter. For if the church hath bartered away any of her liberties and immunities for the favour and countenance she hath of the king, she has done what she may never do, and can never do, because she is Christ's spouse, and not her own mistress. This is the fornication and adultery which constitutes her a harlot and the mother of them; "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots." But, so far from retaining this noble freedom to serve Christ, and to bring him with her to the service and blessing of every thing which doth abide on earth, the Church of England first, and now last the Church of Scotland, have become the basest panders to the powers that be. And in the late issues some were not ashamed to lay their hands upon the Confession, and to say, By this we live. Shame befal them! They are mounted on a throne of spiritual dignity before they know the duty of a serving-man.
The origin and principle of an establishment is the baptism of the king, who thereby becometh bound to serve the Lord in the Spirit, and to order all the house of his kingdom in the fear of the Lord, and according to the orders of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Head of his church. And because God looks upon a king as answerable for all his people to the utmost of his power, he straightway addresseth himself to the work of teaching his people in the ways of the living and true God; and to this end he calleth to his hand what ministers of the Gospel and men of God he can find in his dominions, to preach the Gospel, and openeth unto them every door of entrance into the hearts of his people. He erecteth houses wherein his people may assemble to hear the word, and giveth the preacher a portion of his meat, if need be ; he ordaineth rest from labour on the Lord's day, that there may be leisure to hear the preaching of the word, and to meditate in the law of the Lord and all other things he doth for the bringing of the fear of God and the service of the Lord Jesus into his land, and amongst his people; being thereto obliged by his baptismal covenant, for the salvation of his own soul, and for the blessing of his kingdom. In all this he obeyeth the great Head of the church, acknowledging Him in all his ways, just as the
father of a family in his household, or a pastor over his flock. He doth not usurp the place of a minister to rule in the church, nor of any father to meddle in his house; but simply doth his own part within the bounds of his proper habitation, and the limits of his royal prerogative. This is the true doctrine of an establishment of religion. It ought to be nothing more than the king's endeavour to exonerate his own conscience before God unto Jesus, whom God hath constituted the Prince of the kings of the earth. He meddleth not with any man's conscience to overrule it, as if he could make him believe this way or that way; only he is at charges that none of his people should be ignorant of the right way of faith. Whether the subject believes as the king believeth maketh no difference in their duties by one another. The duty of a king is the same to every free-born subject of his kingdom, and to every denizen thereof, be his faith what it may; only he must not delegate any part of his function, whether to judge or to execute judgment, to rule or to counsel, into any hands but such as are obedient unto the Lord Jesus. The whole corporation of the governors must be Chrisian, be the governed what they may; and every delegate of the king must shew himself no respecter of persons, but deal out impartial justice and protection to all the people.
Least of all doth the king intermeddle with those who bear rule in the house of God, the pastors, elders, and deacons of the churches. He findeth the church in existence in his dominions when he is baptized into it, and straightway becometh bound to support it in all ways within his power. If he should discern that it hath departed from the faith once delivered to the saints, and hath come to be undisciplined in the pure ways of holiness, it is his part to seek after its reformation by all the means in his power. But in doing this he must himself be under subjection to Christ in all things, and keep his place as a dutiful servant of his, baptized into the obedience of all his commandments. So far, therefore, is the church, or the king, from being bound to abide by any covenant or agreement which, in times past, they may have entered into, but which now they have discovered to be opposed to the mind of Jesus, that they are called upon, the moment they discover this, to set about the removal of the let and hindrance. It is a vile attempt to thrust Jesus out of his supremacy, for either king or church to attempt to constitute a new obligation, resting upon the foundation of their own consent and covenant. I do not say but that covenants may be necessary; for what are all laws but covenants? but no covenant made between man and man can dissolve us from the eternal and indispensible obligation of loving and serving God and his Christ in all ways whatsoever. The doctrine, therefore, that any minister of Christ's church is bound by the acts establishing