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the importance of judicious selections here. We shall, therefore, now for a little, turn, for gleanings, to
THE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND.
This noble old church--the mother of us all-not at all particularly singular here, but like most of the daughters of the Protestant Reformation, was born and nursed in the prayer-meeting. Protestantism itself is a social religiona religion of the people-a religion for the people; it flings away the shackels of Papal tyranny from the conscience, puts the Bible into the hands of all, and opens for the masses free, social intercourse, and unrestricted Christian fellowship; and it points to the social prayer-meeting for its fullest enjoyment. The Church of Scotland seems, from the very incipiency of her organization, to have recognized the claims of the prayer-meeting as a divine ordinance, more distinctly and formally than other churches of the Reformation, which retained more of the shadows of the Romish ritualism.
It is well known to all familiar with its history, that the Church of Scotland received much of its distinctive character and spirit from its leading Reformer, John Knox. While the reformer was a refugee from persecution in his own native land, he wrote from the continent in the year 1557, to his countrymen friendly to the cause of the Reformation, with the express view of calling the people to a leading and active part in the work without, and independently of the ruling powers both of the charch and of the state. At this time the people were destitute of reformed pastors to lead them in the cause of Reformation. Calderwood records, in his History of the Church of Scotland, thus :
“In October following, he sent some letters to the Lords, and to particular gentlemen, wherein he proved that the reformation of religion and public enormities did appertain to more than to the clergy and chief rulers. His letters being read, it was concluded, after consultation, that they would prosecute their purpose once intended. That every one might be the more assured of the other, a common band was formed, wherein they promised before God, with their whole power and hazard of their lives, to set forward, and establish the true religion.”
Dr. McCrie, in his “Life of Knox," writes of the same letter, (p. 58, thus:
" In this letter he warmly recommended to every one the careful and frequent reading of the Scriptures. He inculcated the duty of attending to religious instruction and worship in each family. He exhorted the brethren to meet together once every week, if practicable, and gave them directions for conducting their assemblies in the manner best adapted to their mutual improvement, while destitute of public teachers. They ought to begin with confession of sins, and invocation of the Divine blessing. A portion of the Scriptures should then be read; and they would find it of great advantage to observe a regular course in their reading, and to join a chapter of the Old and New Testament together. After the reading of the Scriptures, if an exhortation, interpretation, or doubt occur to any brother, he might speak; but he ought to do it with modesty, and a desire to edify or to be edified, carefully avoiding multiplication of words, perplexed interpretation, and wilfulness in reasoning. If, in the course of reading or conference, they met with any difficulties which they could not solve, he advised them to commit these to writing before they separated, that they might submit them to the judgment of the learned ; and he signified his own readiness to give them his advice by letters whenever it should be required. Their assemblies ought always to be closed,
as well as opened, with prayer. There is every reason to conclude that these directions were punctually complied with; this letter, therefore, may be viewed as an important document regarding the state of the Protestant Church in Scotland, previous to the establishment of the Reformation, and shall be inserted at large in the notes.”
In turning over to the letter itself in full, (p. 159, note 25,) we find, farther:
“It shall greatly comfort you to hear that harmony and well-tuned song of the Holy Spirit.-Like as your assemblies ought to begin with confession and invocation of God's Holy Spirit, so would I that they be never finished without thanksgiving."
This letter certainly furnishes a remarkable directory for the government, order, and exercises of the prayer-meeting among the laity. Here are recommended, as agreeable to the teachings of the word of God, prayer, praise, reading the Scriptures, and religious conference; as also the full and free expression of opinion in regard to the meaning of any portion of Scripture that might come before them, without superstitious fear of expounding, as if the exclusive and official prerogative of the clergy. What a glorious deliverance secured by the Protestant Reformation, asserting to every man the right to use the Scriptures, as the noble Bereans did when testing the teachings even of Paul and Silas, who were ordained official expounders of the inspired oracles.
Another historian remarks of this period :
“Especially in many country districts, and in remote localities, the cause of the Reformation was nursed into life and vigor, and the souls of believers were edified by reading the Scriptures, and by united prayer and praise.
Here we may notice a significant incident, which occurred in the time of the Second Reformation in Scotland, and in the General Assembly of 1641. A malcontent, and soon afterward an apostate and bishop, made complaint in regard to some supposed liberties or abuses in these prayermeetings in regard to expounding Scripture, and also of the practice of families grouping together for family worship. Here prelatic proclivities might pervert a prayerineeting into the family worship by proxy. The Assembly passed an Act limiting family worship to the members of the household, and forbidding several families from uniting together in worship, directing each to worship separately; also forbidding the laity to expound Scripture in the prayer-meetings. Hetherington, in his History, notices this Act, and refers to the injurious consequences which long followed.
While it did not prohibit the prayermeeting by any means—for that object avowed would have taken off the mask and have revealed the covert prelatic design-yet the ill-disposed abused it to the harm of religion.
Hetherington, giving the occasion of the action of the Assembly, says:
“ During the domination of the prelatic party, many religious people had withdrawn from the ministry of men from whom they derived no spiritual instruction; but, to supply the want to the utmost of their power, they had adopted the measure of meeting together in private, and engaging in reading the Scriptures, exhortation and prayer, for their mutual edification. Several who had been in Ireland and other countries for a considerable time, had been so confirmed in this custom, that even after the Assembly, the abolition of prelacy, and the restoration of the purer and simpler mode of Presbyterian worship, they still continued their practice of holding these private religious meetings. The more pious ministers saw nothing
offensive or improper in such private meetings of Christian worshippers; but there were others who looked on them with less favorable regard."
It is judiciously remarked by the same author, that the discouragement shown to private fellowship meetings, at this time, produced afterwards the most injurious consequences. He
“ This unseemly and ill-omened contention may be regarded as the first insertion of the wedge by which the Church of Scotland was afterward rent asunder; and it deserves to be remarked that it was pointed and urged on by a prelatist!"
Here is a remarkable historical incident, the only one of the kind on record, in regard to ecclesiastical action of a reformed and reforming church, which seems even to discourage the prayer.meeting, and that, too, led on by a covert enemy, through whose deep design something not suspected or designed by true friends of the Reformation and living piety, was partially accomplished. All evangelical and pious historians of the times concur in lamenting the unfortunate and unhappy mistake of the Assembly of 1641. Though designed by the Assembly to correct some supposed irregularities only, enemies took advantage, to the lasting damage of true religion. At the same time, this section of the history of the prayer-meeting attests its importance, its universal prevalence among the Evangelical Reformed Churches, and that neglect of its observance or hostility was confined to the prelatic and ritualistic party, or to enemies of vital and practical godliness.
We suggest farther here: We have a warning of the peril of hasty " declaratory legislation of General Assemblies.”
It will, perhaps, throw some light upon this portion of our history, as also upon the general history of the prayer