« EdellinenJatka »
green mountains which now delight our eyes, and cultivated the fields which now produce our harvests—to know something of those who once occupied the same pulpits and the same seats in the house of God, which we now occupy-and, above all, to know something of the men who laid the foundations of those important social and religious institutions, whose eminent advantages it is now our privilege to enjoy.
The hope of gratifying, at least to some extent, these tendencies of human nature, and of rendering that gratification conducive to the higher object of advancing the sacred cause of Christian truth and charity, has induced me, at the repeated solicitation of my valued friends of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster, to undertake a task which must necessarily be one of some labour, and which I shall endeavour to execute with the least possible offence to my fellow Christians of other churches. My object is not to produce a laboured and erudite record, filled with minute details and lengthened documents, but simply to give "an Outline of Presbyterian History, in Ireland,” as connected with events which have, in past times, exercised a powerful influence on the progress of religious truth and liberty, and which may continue to affect the most important interests of society in all coming time. As Presbyterianism, however, did not originate in Ireland, a few preliminary statements will be necessary to a proper understanding of that portion of Ecclesiastical History, which it is my principal object to illustrate.
The name Presbyterian is derived from the Greek word which sig. nifies an elder, or a person of mature years; and it had its origin in the poculiar circumstances of the Apostolic Church. The only adoquate teachers of religion, immediately after the ascension of our blessed Saviour, were his commissioned apostles, to whom he said
into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." In the execution of this glorious commission, they gradually collected around them, first in Jerusalem, and then in many portions of Asia and Europe, societies of men and women, who, on renouncing Judaism or heathenism, were admitted into the Christian Church by the ordinance of baptism. In these Societies, there were necessarily some men of superior intelligence, gravity, and personal influence who readily acquired a correct knowledge of the gospel; and possessed an aptitude for explaining its principles to others. When the apostles, therefore, went forth to establish new churches, these individuals, being persons of eminent piety, and usually of a reverend age, became the pastors or teachers of the several societies to which they respectively belonged. They were, therefore, sometimes distinguished by the name of presbyters or elders, on account of their age; and sometimes by that of bishops or overseers, because they had the superintendence of a particular congregation. Every one knows, at least every Greek scholar
knows, that the same individual was sometimes called presbyter and sometimes bishop—the difference of name implying no difference of office. To aid these presbyters or bishops, especially in distributing alms to the poor, every congregation appointed certain persons of approved wisdom and virtue, who were denominated deacons or attendants-holding an office precisely analagous to that of our elders, or, as they are still called in Scotland, deacons. The elders or presbyters administered the word and sacraments; and we have reason to believe that on important occasions, the elders, deacons, and, perhaps, other grave members of the several congregations or churches, in a particular locality, came together in order to consult on affairs of common concern. But at those meetings no man claimed superiority over another, on the mere ground of office. No doubt, as in all public assemblies, some individuals of superior talent, eloquence, or virtue, naturally obtained personal ascendancy, but “in official dignity, there was none before or after another”-all were perfectly equal, as were the apostles themselves—"one being their Master, even Christ, and they all being merely brethern." Here, then, we have a true Apostolic Church, with no creed but the gospel-with no single pastor lording it over his fellows with no conclave of elders and deacons prescribing rules of faith and modes of worship to “the freemen of Christ.” And is not this the exact model after which our own un. trammelled Presbyterian Church has been constructed? Our ministers are all as well entitled to be called bishops, as the bishop of Rome or of Canterbury; and our people are as free to elect their own teachers, and regulate their own spiritual concerns, as were the Christian converts of Jerusalem or Antioch. In fact, although there were always ambitious men in the church (as there still are), who laid claim to ecclesiastical superiority, there was no recognised domination of bishops over other pastors, such as that which is now exercised in Episcopal churches; nor was there any fixed standard of faith except the Holy Scriptures, until the year 325, when Constantine the Great, to serve political ends, unhappily took the Christian priesthood under his imperial protection. From that disastrous alliance, sprung the names and powers of patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and the entire tribe of subordinate authorities, to correspond with the dignities of the various civil officers who presided over the several districts of the empire.
If antiquity, therefore, give any claim to respect, or afford any criterion of purity in doctrine, ours is the most ancient church in Christendom. Like the apostolic presbyters or bishops, our pastors are all equal: like the early deacons, our elders are freely chosen by the people: and like the primitive believers, our churches elect those who are to preside over them in spiritual concerns.
Another remarkable circumstance is, that our leading principles are identical with thoso
promulgated by the Father of the Reformation, the illustrious John Wickliffe. A century and a half previous to the time of Luther, he dissented from the doctrines and discipline of the Church of Rome. He was a graduate of the University of Oxford, and a professor of divinity in one of its colleges. About the year 1370, he openly maintained that Christ was the only king and head of the church,—that bishop and presbyter signified the same thing,--that all ministers of the gospel aro equal in office,--that rites, ceremonies, and doctrines imposed by men aro unlawful, and that prescribed forms of prayer are unscriptural, and do not tend to edification.” He was so amiable, holy, and eminent for piety and learning, that he received protection from Edward III.; but in the commencement of the reign of Richard II. he and his followers were violently persecuted through the agency and intrigues of the Romish clergy. Several persons suffered martyrdom, and “the heresy of Wickliffe," as it was called, appeared to be extinguished. The spirit of inquiry, however, and the noble principles which he had introduced, took deep root in the country, and prepared the way for the Reformation that ensued, at the distance of one hundred and fifty years. Wickliffe was the first translator of the Scriptures into the native language of Britain; and although this translation and all his other works were ordered to be burned, many copies were still preserved as sacred relics. His writings, also, were carried into Bohemia, where they awakened the energies of those glorious martyrs, John Huss and Jerome of Prague, in the beginning of the following century. To cast a stigma upon his memory and his works, the Council of Constance, thirty years after his death, ordered his bones to be disinterred, and committed to the flames. This paltry edict was carried into effect, and the ashes were cast into the adjoining brook. “ The brook,” says Fuller, “conveyed his ashes into the Avon, the Avon into the Severn, and the Severn to the
And thus, the ashes of Wickliffe are an emblem of his doctrine, which is now dispersed over the whole world."
The Reformation in Germany, which commenced with Luther, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, rapidly spread into Switzerland, the Low Countries, and England. Shortly afterwards, it made its way into Scotland, where it found an able and eloquent advocate in the celebrated John Knox, who had spent some years in Geneva, where he associated with John Calvin, and adopted his views, both with regard to doctrine and church government. Amongst the Scottish nobility, some hated the persons, and all coveted the wealth of the Romish clergy. They were odious, likewise, on account of the political power which they had acquired, and the influence exercised by Cardinal Beatoun, over Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary, the infant Queen of Scots. Their rapacity had also rendered them hateful to the great body of the people, and consequently, a spark was
only required to be thrown into this mass of combustible materials, in order to kindle a conflagration. This spark was applied by John Knox; and, after a comparatively feeble struggle on the part of the adherents of Rome, “ The Congregation" (as the Reformers were denominated) first obtained freedom of worship for themselves, and, eventually, in the year 1560, prohibited all other worship within the realm of Scotland. The nobility and their retainers greedily seized upon the revenues of the Romish clergy, and readily took the advice of Knox, with regard to the adoption of the Presbyterian form of church government, because, in that case, there would be no cardinals, bishops, or other episcopal dignitaries, to lay claim to the forfeited temporalities of the Church of Rome. Knox presented his First Book of Discipline to the Scottish Parliament, who, at once, sanctioned all its plans for the demolition or defacement of the Papal churches, as well as all its rigorous Calvinistic doctrines. They also passed another law, infamous had it emanated from any assembly calling itself Christian, but transcen. dently disgraceful, as proceeding from a body of Protestant Refor: mers. By that law, the penalty for attending worship, according to ceremonies of the Church of Rome, was, for the first offence, fine and imprisonment; for the second offence, banishment; and for the third offence, death!
But although Knox found them quite ready to sanction all his plans for the suppression of Popery, and all his suggestions for the prevention of liberty amongst Presbyterians, he had the mortification to find them inexorable on the subject of the ecclesiastical revenues. " In vain,” says Robertson, " did the clergy display the advantages which would accrue to the public, from a proper appropriation of ecclesiastical property; in vain did they propose, by its impartial distribution, to promote true religion, encourage learning, and support the poor; in vain did they even mingle threatenings of the divine displeasure, against the unjust detainers of what was appropriated to a sacred use! The nobles held fast the prey which they had seized, and bestowing, upon the proposal of the clergy, the sneering name of 'a devout imagination,' they affected to consider it as a project altogether visionary, and treated it with the utmost scorn.” In fact, the nobles had got their share of the benefits of the reformation; and the zealous clergy, who had been mainly instrumental in placing the plunder in their hands, now discovered that, instead of entering on snug, fat livings, from which they had expelled the adherents of Rome, they were to be cast for support upon the stinted justice, or niggardly charity of their own flocks. As some diversion to their thoughts in his hapless situation, they turned their attention to the destruction of the last monuments of Popery. “Abbeys, cathedrals, churches, libraries, records, and even the sepulchres of the dead," says Robertson, “perished in one common ruin. The original storm
of popular insurrection had extended only to a few counties, and soon spent its rago; but now, a deliberate and universal rapine completed the devastation of everything venerable and magnificent, which had previously escaped its violence."
Such is the account of the early reformers of Scotland, as given by the most eminent of Scottish historians, and a leading member of the kirk; and we cannot avoid regretting that the record is so much stained by selfishness, rapacity, and the exhibition of the fiercer passions. These things are, perhaps, inseparable from the sudden outbursts of a population long and grievousiy enthralled, and enjoying, for the first time, the power of overwhelming their oppressors; and the demolition of the Romish churches was plausibly enough encouraged by John Knox, on the plea that “the best method of scaring away the rooks was to destroy their nests." Much as I dislike their gloomy doctrines, I would not do injustice to their memories ; especially when I know that there were amongst them many men of as stern integrity and high purpose as ever graced a noble cause. Neither do I feel inclined to disparage the land of my ancestors, and the forerunners of the illustrious patriots and martyrs of later times, who so gloriously bore aloft the standard of religious liberty against the whole power of England, amidst toils, and dangers, and sacrifices, and sufferings, unsurpassed in the history of human fortitude and Christian fidelity. I am proud to think of the clear heads, and the stout hearts, and the strong arms, and the unbending spirits, that drove back the insolent agression of English prelacy, and finally established, for the people of Scotland, the doctrines and the worship which they approved. At the same time, truth demands the admis. sion that the majority of the early Reformers of Scotland, from whom we have derived our own Presbyterianism, were not actuated by disinterested purposes and elevated Christian sentiments.
Some apology for their conduct may, however, be found in the tyranny which had been exercised over them—some in the rude and fierce spirit of the times, and much in the infirmities and passions inseparable from human nature.
The introduction of Christianity into Ireland is exceedingly obscure, as well as its subsequent progress, up to the invasion of Henry II. It is generally believed, however, that about the year 430, Succathus, or Patricius, a native of Scotland, who had been some time in Rome, arrived in Ireland with a commission from the bishop of that city, and became the apostle of the country. It has been alleged, likewise, that he established a complete hierarchy or ecclesiastical order, and was himself the first archbishop of Armagh. On the other hand, many maintain that the entire history of St. Patrick, as set forth by our Roman Catholic brethren, is a mere fiction--that no such man ever lived ---and that all the circumstances attending the introduction of