(by Rev Donald Beaton)
As a Church we are small in numbers compared with others. Many in the religious life of the world have never heard of us, and of those who know of our existence there are few who understand our position. We have been misrepresented and misunderstood so that to many we are but “the offscouring of all things” and not worth taking notice of except in order to ridicule us. In view of this we have not a very bright prospect from the point of view of worldly favour, but we have a priceless heritage; a heritage which we ought to do our utmost to hand down undefiled to coming generations.
What Our Free Presbyterian Heritage is
In our Free Presbyterian heritage there is an open Bible – and a whole Bible at that. The creed of our Church is that the Bible is the inspired, infallible and unerring Word of the living God, and that it is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy Him. We have no place for the mutilated Bible of the so-called Higher Critics, and have never accepted them as guides to tell us what is the Word of God and what is not. It is not consistent with our heritage to teach for doctrines the commandments of men, or to make our people follow slavishly that which is built on the sandy foundation of speculation.
Preaching the Gospel
It is our heritage to have a full-orbed gospel, which emphasises man’s ruin by the fall of Adam, redemption through the blood of Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. In the preaching of that gospel there is a declaration of the whole counsel of God in respect of the misery of all who reject the glorious remedy provided to meet with man’s lost and ruined condition, and in respect of the unspeakable glory of all who accept that remedy. Where such preaching is faithfully done there is a single eye to the glory of God and the good of immortal souls. There is no pandering to the desires of the flesh, and no suppressing of facts for fear of displeasing men and women who may be important in their own estimation. The preacher realises full well that he is under the all-seeing eye of that God to whom he must render an account, and to give that account with joy he must quit himself as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Together with an eye to the glory of God there is zeal for the souls of his hearers and this should cause a preacher to preach each time as if it was the last time on earth he was to do so. It is not a small part of our heritage as a church to have such preachers.
Distinguishing the Lord’s People
In our heritage there is a separating of the precious from the vile as regards a profession of religion. Kirk-sessions throughout the whole Church exercise their functions in examining those who seek to partake of the sacraments. It is well that this should be so, for otherwise many with a boldness which is not from grace would presume to make a public profession. Not only do the Kirk-sessions perform their duty in this respect but each minister before dispensing the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper does it in what is popularly called “fencing the table.” This has been done in the Church in Scotland in its best days. In the Directory for Public Worship agreed upon by the Westminster Assembly of Divines and ratified in 1645 both by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and by the Scottish Parliament, we read in connection with this duty:
Next, he (the minister) is, in the name of Christ, on the one part, to warn all such as are ignorant, scandalous, profane, or that live in any sin or offence against their knowledge or conscience, that they presume not to come to that holy table; showing them, that he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself: and, on the other part, he is in an especial manner to invite and encourage all that labour under the sense of the burden of their sins, and fear of wrath, and desire to reach out unto a greater progress in grace than yet they can attain unto, to come to the Lord’s table; assuring them, in the same name, of ease, refreshing, and strength to their weak and wearied souls.
It is no small part of the preciousness of our heritage, in these days of indiscriminate admission to the Lord’s Table, that this duty is yet faithfully carried out among us.
What Our Free Presbyterian Heritage Cost
This priceless heritage is not ours without great cost. It was handed to us at the expense of much labour, sweat and blood. To see the truth of this we do not need to go beyond our native land.
Reformers and Covenanters
Who has not heard of John Knox, George Wishart, Andrew Melville, and Alexander Henderson and a host of others too numerous to be mentioned? Their life and their struggles on behalf of true religion is bound up with the history of Scotland in such a way that no one can read the history of our native land without realising the important part they played in handing us our religious heritage. This is why Romanists and pro-Romanists are doing their utmost to falsify Scottish history, and cast a slur on the memory of those God-honoured witnesses for the truth.
It is ordinarily looked upon among men as a despicable thing for one to traduce the memory of any one who is no longer in a position to defend himself, but evidently it is quite allowable to deal thus with our Reformers and Covenanters. Was it for personal gain that these Reformers and Covenanters suffered all the trials which they endured during their lifetime and ran the risk of being execrated after their death? One glance at their lives should be sufficient to enable one to answer that question in the negative, for their actions clearly proved that they were actuated by zeal for the glory of God, and a holy desire to hand the pure Word of God to coming generations. Through much labour, sweat and blood they were able to hand us a priceless heritage, and in doing so shook the very foundations of the Church of Rome. Hence the assiduity of the emissaries of that apostate church in their endeavours to cast aspersions on our Reformers.
Not only did our heritage cost much at the First and Second Reformation, but it also cost a great deal at the Disruption. The duty of the civil magistrate is to protect the Church of God and not to arrogate to himself any of the powers which belong to the Church. The history of the Church of Scotland may be said to be one long series of conflicts on this very point. The civil magistrate time and again encroached on the sphere which properly belonged to the Church till at last these conflicts culminated in the Disruption. Was this step, taken to vindicate the Crown Rights of the Redeemer, without cost to those who took part in it? The annals of that time will bear ample testimony to what it cost, and how cheerfully the cost was faced. The Most High, however, made up for His witnesses all the loss they endured by giving them much of His presence in the midst of their trials. Not only was it made up for them in spiritual matters but He who has for His possession the earth “and the fullness thereof” supplied all their temporal needs, so that they had churches and manses in place of those they had to leave for conscience sake, and proved to them also that the silver and gold of the earth are His. What God gave that generation of His temporal mercies they left to the generations that followed.
Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland
To the generations that followed the men of the Disruption the words of Christ might be applied, “Other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours,” and they gave one of the clearest possible proofs of how ruined man, when left to himself, will abuse God’s gifts. The funds which God gave for the support of His Cause were used for the dissemination of infidel views in her colleges and among her ministers, so that they forgot God and rebelled against Him. “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.”
It was not, however, God’s purpose to leave Himself without a witness in Scotland, and when the once glorious Free Church of Scotland, by an Act of her Assembly constitutionally passed through the Barrier Act, cut herself adrift from a belief in an infallible Bible and adherence to the subordinate standards based on it, and refused by a large majority to rescind that God-dishonouring and wrath-provoking Act, one voice, and one voice only [that of Rev Donald MacFarlane], was heard in her Assembly raising a testimony for God and His Word, and purposing, in the strength of grace, to bequeath the heritage of the First and Second Reformations, and of the Disruption, to generations to come. The raising of that solitary voice in the Assembly of 1893 started an exodus from the Declaratory Act Free Church, which though not accompanied by outward pomp, and of which the world took no notice but to deride, was the means of preserving the Church of Christ in Scotland to this day.
What was the cost? The one who raised that voice and all who supported him were turned out of churches and manses which they and their forefathers helped to build, and had to worship God on the hillside, where the local schools were not convenient to hold them, and even in the latter case, their former friends who used to be loud in their denunciations of the Declaratory Act, often used their position as members of School Boards in order to deprive them of any protection against the elements when engaged in the solemn act of worshipping God. With the vast majority the movement was unpopular, and all who supported it were reckoned as fit objects of scoffing and persecution. Not the least part of the trial was separation from former friends. There were those whom one learned to look to as men who would stand for the Cause of Christ when a crisis would come, and whose warnings to their fellow-creatures gave enough ground for such expectations, but who proved to be men of words more than men of actions. Those who bequeathed our heritage to us had to look away from such men, and God fulfilled His promise to them. “And every one that hath forsaken houses or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”
Reprinted from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, January 1941