September 5: Presbyterianism in Other Churches.

With today’s episode, we come to the end of the first section of Rev. Kerr’s helpful little book, PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE.



In the history of nations there have been, as before stated, two great principles of government contending from the beginning, monarchy and republicanism. In the one case, the people belong to their rulers; in the other, the rulers belong to the people. Under a monarchy the people are the servants, but in a republic they are the masters. Republicanism has the endorsement of God in the fact that the government of his people, as he organized it at first, was on that principle, and after they demanded a king in their civil administration self-government was still maintained in their religious institutions.

In 1 Sam. viii. we have an account of the change in the government of the people of Israel: “ The elders of Israel ” said to Samuel the prophet “ make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” “The thing displeased Samuel,” and he told the Lord, who said to him, “ They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me.” Then follows a catalogue of those royal oppressions which would come upon them for rejecting the government ordained of God, and for committing authority into the hands of one man. In vs. 17, 18, God says, “And ye shall be his servants, and ye shall cry out in that day because of your king, which ye shall have chosen you: and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” The people had reason bitterly to repent of their folly in thus surrendering God-given rights into the hands of a king.

The tendency of monarchy, when unrestrained by constitutions and representative assemblies, is to stereotype the institutions and condition of a people, while self-government encourages progress. As civilization has advanced men have always demanded liberty and a voice in their own government. In some cases this has caused sudden revolutions and great bloodshed. The demand has not always been wisely made, as in the French Revolution. The French kings, infatuated with an idea that they ruled by “divine right,” believed that the people were their property, and oppressed them through many generations. At last, in the reign of Louis XVI., the downtrodden masses arose in their might and overthrew the monarchy. This was right, and they ought to have stopped with dethroning the king, but they were so maddened by tyranny and poverty that they beheaded their unfortunate sovereign. The same history was enacted in England when Charles I. was put to death.

As knowledge increases among them men become independent and are unwilling to be oppressed. They feel that they have a right to decide who shall rule over them; they gradually learn that the government is for the benefit of the people, and not the people for the benefit of the government; and at last they demand the right to elect their own rulers. This is the fundamental principle of all republics; and it is the principle, not the form, which constitutes the real government. Great Britain is a monarchy in form, but it is more of a republic in principle. The people elect their own Parliament, and the Parliament makes the laws. In the British government there are left many traces of the old monarchical principle, but they are slowly being submerged under the advance of knowledge. In France, under Napoleon I., the government was in form a republic, but in principle and reality a despotism. He was called “the republican emperor.” By gradual encroachments this splendid tyrant had absorbed in himself the power of government, until what was republican in form became extremely monarchical in principle. At last it was overthrown. With regard to government, there is little in a name.

The great principle of republicanism is what mankind contend for, and not a name or a form; so, when the British people got liberty to elect their own rulers, they did not care enough for the name of a monarchy to fight about it. They had the substance of a republic, and wisely left the name to take care of itself.

Presbyterianism is ecclesiastical republicanism. The name is of little value as compared with the great principle for which, in Church and in State, martyrs have died. The Presbyterian Church has not the monopoly of this principle among the de-nominations. Presbyterianism is the opposite of episcopacy, and yet it can be conceived that the republican principle might grow up in the Episcopal Church and that it might die out of the Presbyterian body. It may also be conceived that neither denomination should be wholly Episcopal or wholly Presbyterian—that the two principles of monarchy and republicanism should exist together in the same body. But one must predominate. This is really the state of the case. There is no Church or State government which is purely monarchical or purely republican.

The Roman Catholic Church is a monarchy in form and in regulating principle, and it is nothing but a despotism from top to bottom. The Church of England is monarchical in form, but the principle of republicanism has been gradually making its way in the body, until now the people have almost as much power as the clergy. The same statement may be made with reference to the Methodist Episcopal Church. The principle of republicanism has made remarkable encroachments upon this great denomination. True, the bishops still have the power of appointing and removing pastors, which is monarchical, but when agreeable to the people they are allowed to remain much longer in one charge than formerly, and a strong sentiment is growing up in favor of their permanent settlement. Of more importance is the fact that the election of their lower officers is with the people. These officers go on and elect higher ones, called bishops, who are vested with greater powers than belong to the rulers of a spiritual republic. It is a republican house with a monarchical roof.

The Congregational and Baptist denominations have been making progress toward republicanism. They were at first almost pure democracies—that is, people without any rulers, people who made their own laws and administered them without the intervention of anything more than mere committees. The need of greater authority has caused these officers to take power into their hands, but always with the consent of the people. Some distinguished Baptist ministers—Spurgeon and others—have advised that their Associations and conventions be clothed with presbyterial, congressional or parliamentary power—that is to say, with judicial and administrative authority.

This process will go on. It will sometimes be temporarily checked or turned backward for a brief period, but the gravitation of history is toward republicanism in Church and in State. This is not directly the effect of the example of the Presbyterian Church, though other churches are indirectly indebted to that denomination. Geneva has been justly called “the Mother of Modern Republics,” and every historian knows that Presbyterianism was the mother of Geneva.

The logic of experience, which causes men to consider what is the best way to manage affairs, has caused them to gravitate, in civil and ecclesiastical government, toward republicanism. They seek liberty, which they cannot have under a civil or ecclesiastical monarchy or oligarchy, and they desire efficiency, which is hardly attainable in a pure democracy ; so they are adopting the middle principle, of appointing representatives and giving them power to rule, holding them responsible for their conduct of the affairs of government. The study of the inspired word with its expansive truths, that enlarge the range of man’s thinking and teach him to believe himself a son of God; the spirit of universal charity, which animates the whole body of Christians, causing them to do as they would have others do unto them; and the example of Scripture precedents,—have all conspired to republicanize Churches and States. Indeed, it is hardly possible that a community can be thoroughly Christian without in the course of time becoming in some degree republican.

Under the operation of these influences the Churches have been unconsciously approximating toward a common centre. By whatever ways they have come, it is certain that they are nearer together than ever before. May we dare to hope for a time when the denominations shall be like the States of the American Union—free, harmonious and independent, but one in a grand spiritual confederation for one another’s help and for the conquest of the world? The convergence of events seems to point to that splendid consummation.

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