From the very beginning, since men began “to call upon the name of the Lord”, that is, according to Calvin, when “the face of the Church began distinctly to appear, and that worship of God was set up which might continue to posterity,” it may be gathered that those in authority, in households, first of all, and then, in separate communities, as men multiplied on the face of the earth, acknowledged the obligation they were under of supporting and advancing the interests of the kingdom of God. We have already touched on what Moses in the law and the prophets teach us as to the importance which was attached to this principle down through the ages. Kings and rulers were to be “nursing fathers” to the Church and it was clearly foretold that the neglect of this duty would be their ruination. “For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee (ie the Church) shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.”
It must then rank among the things that are to be most surely believed among us that Christ is King of Nations as well as King of saints and that consequently it is the duty of nations as such, and civil rulers in their official capacity, to honour and serve Him by recognising His Truth and promoting His cause. After His resurrection, over the course of those 40 days before His ascension, we are told that Christ taught His disciples much “pertaining to the kingdom of God”. In commissioning them to go forth as His ambassadors to all nations, the doctrine of His supremacy over all things in heaven and earth was surely found among the “all things” which He commanded them to teach. The Book of Acts bears ample testimony to the fact that they fearlessly asserted that “there was another king, one Jesus”.
Scotland, of all the nations under heaven, was honoured in that it was, in the purpose of God, set apart as the battlefield on which the crown rights of the Lord Jesus Christ as King of saints were to be defended. On its soil, it was established that He and He alone was the King and Head of the Church. At a critical time in the Church’s history, the honour of defending the Saviour’s crown rights as King of Nations was also bestowed on it, for it was within Scotland’s borders that the true and scriptural relationship between church and state was to be most clearly defined and practised. “It was”, as the Rev Donald Beaton expressed it, “the battle-cry at the First and Second Reformations and at the time of the Disruption, and though not much is heard of it today, yet it was a doctrine for which men were willing to die, and to give up their earthly all in its defence. The Crown Rights of Jesus Christ was a rallying cry to band together the best of Scotland’s sons and daughters in days of sore adversity and bitter controversy.” (1)
The Disruption in 1843, preceded by ten years of bitter conflict, drew world-wide attention to the nature of the Establishment Principle, and the writings and documents left behind by the men who contended earnestly for it bear testimony to the thoroughness with which they examined the whole matter, the importance which they attached to it, and the devotion and loyalty to Christ by which they were motivated. They have, for that reason, in the words of Rabbi Duncan, uttered on the occasion of William Cunningham’s death, “left behind them names and remembrances, sweet, sacred, hallowed”. The state had for too long invaded the lawful jurisdiction of the Church; it was time to take a stand, and the Disruption fathers took that stand at the expense of leaving behind them all the benefits which connection with the state conferred. With heads held high, they went out of that Assembly taking with them the constitution of the Reformation Church of Scotland. Earlier in the proceedings, the solemn Protest of the Church of Scotland against the wrongs of the civil power was read in the presence of the Queen’s Commissioner, after which it was laid on the table. The Moderator then, having gracefully bowed to the Royal Commissioner, led the exodus, and to some the Moderator’s last action appeared to signify that the Church was now bidding farewell to the state.
The Establishment Principle, however, was not left behind. Thomas Chalmers made this clear from the Moderator’s chair when the first meeting of the Disruption Free Church of Scotland Assembly was held. “We hold”, he said, “that every part and every function of a commonwealth should be leavened with Christianity, and that every functionary, from the highest to the lowest, should in their respective spheres do all that in them lies to countenance and uphold it. That is to say, though we quit the Establishment, we go out on the Establishment Principle – we quit a vitiated Establishment, but would rejoice in returning to a pure one. To express it otherwise: We are the advocates for a national recognition and support of religion – and we are not Voluntaries.” (2) In the eyes of Lord Cockburn, a contemporary of Chalmers, the Disruption was “the most revolutionary event in modern British history”. “Protestantism,” he wrote, “was our first Reformation; Presbytery our second; this erection of Presbytery freed from State is our third.” (3)
The opening paragraph of the 1842 Claim of Right summarises for us the position of the true Reformation Church of Scotland at that time:
“Whereas it is an essential doctrine of this Church, and a fundamental principle in its constitution, as set forth in the Confession of Faith thereof, in accordance with the Word and law of the most holy God, that ‘there is no other Head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ’ and that, while ‘God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under Him over the people, for His own glory, and the public good, and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword’; and while ‘it is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honour their persons, to pay them tribute and other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority for conscience’ sake’, ‘from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted’; and while the magistrate hath authority, and it is his duty, in the exercise of that power which alone is committed to him, namely, ‘the power of the sword’, or civil rule, as distinct from ‘the power of the keys’, or spiritual authority, expressly denied to him, to take order for the preservation of purity, peace and unity in the Church, yet ‘the Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His Church, hath therein appointed a government in the hand of Church officers distinct from the civil magistrate’; which government is ministerial, not lordly, and to be exercised in consonance with the laws of Christ, and with the liberties of His people.” (4)
It is asserted here that the Church and state are independent but at the same time – without encroaching upon one another’s province and functions – under the obligation of affording each other mutual assistance in pursuing a common aim, that is, the advancement of the cause of Christ in the nation. The Government of the day refused to accept the Claim of Right and the Disruption was the inevitable outcome of their intransigence. What was enunciated in the Claim of Right was, of course, not new; the Disruption only brought to light what had been already settled at the Reformation; and the Reformation had, in turn, only re-affirmed the doctrine and practice of the apostolic Church.
The earliest subordinate standards of the Church of Scotland were the First and Second Books of Discipline and the Scots Confession of 1560, all of which laid emphasis upon the fact that the civil power had no right to encroach upon the sphere of the Church. The Scots Confession, which was accepted by the Reformation Parliament in 1560, and in the compilation of which John Knox played the major part, declared the relationship to be as follows: “Moreover, to kings, princes, rulers, and magistrates, we affirm that chiefly and most principally the conservation and purgation of the religion appertains; so that not only they are appointed for civil policy, but also for maintenance of the true religion, and for suppressing of idolatry and superstition whatsoever: as in David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, and others, highly commended for their zeal in that case, may be espied.”
The Second Book of Discipline declared that, “although all the members of the Kirk be holden every one in their vocation, and according thereto, to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ, so far as lieth in their power, yet chiefly Christian princes, and other magistrates, are holden to do the same. For they are called in the Scriptures nourishers of the Kirk, for so much as by them it is, or at least ought to be maintained, fostered, upholden, and defended against all that would procure the hurt thereof. So it pertains to the office of a Christian magistrate, to make laws and constitutions agreeable to God’s Word, for advancement of the Kirk, and policy thereof, without usurping any thing that pertains not to the civil sword, but belongs to the offices that are merely ecclesiastical, as is the ministry of the Word and sacraments, using of ecclesiastical discipline, and the spiritual execution thereof, or any part of the power of the spiritual keys, which our Master gave to the apostles, and their true successors.”
Our own subordinate standard, the Westminster Confession of Faith, teaches that Christian magistrates, in the managing of their office, “ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace”; that “the civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.” Moody Stuart notes the fact that Church Establishment was never called in question among the Westminster divines. “Church government was keenly debated by the Erastians on the one hand and by the Independents on the other; but no man expressed a doubt on Church Establishment; and, indeed, each of them was admitted by a solemn vow as a member of an Assembly, which was summoned by Parliament for the declared purpose of establishing a Scriptural Church.” (5)
The Larger Catechism teaches that “the charge of keeping the Sabbath is more especially directed to governors of families and other superiors, because they are bound not only to keep it themselves, but to see that it be observed by all those that are under their charge;” also, that in the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, among other blessings connected with the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, that the Church may be “furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate”. (6) The fingerprints of the Scottish commissioners are to be found on the two last-named documents, especially those of George Gillespie and Samuel Rutherford, respectively the authors of Aaron’s Rod Blossoming and Lex Rex, two books which to this day are held in high estimation by all who desire to maintain, assert and defend the doctrine of Christ’s kingship over the nations.
Thomas M’Crie shows that the sentiments expressed in the documents referred to are fully in harmony with those found in other Confessions such as the Helvetic, the Bohemian, the French, the Saxony, the Dutch and that of the English Congregation in Geneva – all of which were compiled by eminent and godly divines at the time of the Reformation. It is said that this harmony which is to be observed among the several Confessions of the Reformed Churches “is beautiful . . . and an evidence that there was a special presence of God with them, and also of a plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit upon them; it is likewise a hopeful presage that, when the Lord turns again the captivity of Zion, and when His holy arm shall give the blow unto the throne of the beast, the several churches and their watchmen shall see eye to eye, and with the voice together they shall sing”. (7)
Perhaps Christ’s relationship to both Church and State was never more fearlessly asserted than by Andrew Melville, who did not regard the upholding of the Church by the state to be a secondary matter. Taking hold of the sleeve of James VI, the intrepid Reformer reminded him of the fact that he was “bot God’s sillie vassal” (ie, merely God’s weak servant) and one who, in relation to the kingdom of Christ, was “not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member”. In terms not uncertain, Melville made it plain to his sovereign that, far from doing anything that would “hinder and dishearten Christ’s servants”, he was, in the particular sphere of service allotted to him as a king, rather to “commend and countenance them, as godly kings and good emperors did”. (8)
The king, holding the status of a subject within the kingdom of Christ was, in common with all other subjects, under the obligation of obeying the divine injunction: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Col 3:17). In his exalted station this meant that he was to be wise, that he was to be instructed, that he was to be a nursing father to the Church, and that he was to “serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps 2:11). The promises given to the Church, to which attention has already been directed, indicated to James VI the duties prescribed to kings and all in authority by the great Head of the Church in heaven. The headstrong Stuart kings were, however, not much inclined to submit to what the Scriptures so plainly taught. The Long Parliament, without asking leave of Charles I to do so, called the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and their action in doing so is a good example of the Establishment Principle being put into practice.
1. Commemoration Papers on Westminster Assembly – May 1943.
2. Rev John Colquhoun in Commemoration Papers, p 42.
3. J G Fyfe, Scottish Diaries and Memoirs – 1746-1843.
4. Practice of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, p 120.
5. A Moody Stuart, Is the “Establishment of Religion” Outside the Confession? p 28.
6. Thomas M’Crie, Statement, p 92.
7. Wilson’s Defence – quoted by Thomas M’Crie in Statement, p 92.
8. A Moody Stuart, Is the “Establishment of Religion” Outside of the Confession? p 13.