Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

6

ern Foreign Missionary Society. This society met with so much favour, that the General Assembly in 1835 resolved to engage the whole church in an enterprise worthy of her character and resources. The • Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions' was organized in the year 1837, under favourable auspices, and to it was made an entire transfer of all that pertained to the Western Foreign Missionary Society.

“ The experiment has succeeded, and the smiles of God have rested on that institution. Flourishing missions have been established among various tribes of American Indians, in Western Africa, Northern India, and China, and all the operations are carried on with great ability."

In Northern India, there is a synod of American missionaries in connexion with the General Assembly; comprising the Presbytery of Allahabad, of six ministers—the Presbytery of Furrukabad, of four ministers—and the Presbytery of Lodiana, of five ministers. The Board of Missions issues two monthly periodicals, the “Missionary Chronicle," and the “ Foreign Missionary;" which are extensively dispersed, and effectually sustain the solicitude that is experienced to “send out the light and the truth.”

The foregoing article claims to be but little more than an authentic compilation. The writer has freely copied and incorporated with his own language, the language of such of his authorities as suited his purpose, without specific notice. He takes this place to acknowledge his obligations of this sort to the authorities on which he has thus drawn, viz.: The Confession of Faith ; Edinburgh Encyclopædia; Miller's Christian Ministry, and Presbyterianism; Histories of the Westminster Assembly, by Hetherington, and by the Presbyterian Board of Publication; and Hodge's Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church. He has also received very essential aid from the Rev. George Bourne, in the sedulous explorations of the official documents and records of the Presbyterian Church, and other reliable authorities, and in the arrangement and principal composition of that part of the historical sketch which commences with the forma

ion he Presbytery of Philadelphia, and in the preparation of the statistical department.

PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.

BY JOEL PARKER, D.D.,

PASTOR OF THE CLINTON STREET CHURCH, PHILADELPHIA.

The character and peculiarities of the Presbyterian Church may be learned from the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America: containing the Confession of Faith, the Catechisms, and the Directory for the worship of God; together with the Plan of Government and Discipline as amended and ratified by the General Assembly at their session in the first Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, in May, 1840, and the annals of the church found in the published reports of the proceedings of its ecclesiastical judicatories. This church does not differ very materially in doctrine and worship, or in ecclesiastical government and order, from any of the great family of anti-prelatical churches that sprung from the Reformation, and which are commonly termed Calvinistic.

It acknowledges no authority in things pertaining to the doctrines and duties of the Christian Church, but the revealed will of God as found in the sacred Scriptures. It maintains

That God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrine and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his word, or, beside it in matters of faith, or worship; that the rights of private judgment in all matters, that respect religion, are universal and inalienable, and that no religious constitution ought to be aided by the civil powers farther than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time be equal and common to all others.

That in perfect consistency with the above principle of common right, every Christian church, or union, or association of particular churches, is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion, and the qualifications of its ministers and members, as well as the whole system of its internal government which Christ hath appointed; that in the exercise of this right, they may, notwithstanding, err in making the terms of communion either too lax or too narrow; yet, even in this case, they do not infringe upon the liberty or the rights of others, but only make an improper use of their own.

That our blessed Saviour, for the edification of the visible church, which is his body, hath appointed officers, not only to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments, but also to exercise discipline, for the preservation of truth and duty; and, that it is incumbent upon these officers, and upon the whole church, in whose name they act, to censure or cast out the erroneous and scandalous; observing, in all cases, the rules contained in the word of God.

That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth is its tendency to promote holiness; according to our Saviour's rule, “ By their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can be more pernicious or more absurd, than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents as of no consequence what a man's opinions are. On the contrary, that there is an inseparable connexion between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.

That while the above principle is highly important, yet it is necessary to make effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith. Nevertheless there are truths and forms, with

. respect 10 which men of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these cases it is the duty, both of private Christians and societies, to exercise mutual forbearance towards each other.

That though the character, qualifications, and authority of church officers are laid down in the holy scriptures, as well as the proper method of their investiture and institution; yet the election of the persons to the exercise of this authority, in any particular society, is in that society.

That all church power, whether exercised by the body in general, or in the way of representation by delegated authority, is only ministerial and declarative; that is to say, that the holy scriptures are the only rule of faith and manners; that no church judicatory ought to pretend to make laws to bind the conscience in virtue of their own authority; and that all their decisions should be founded upon the revealed will of God. Now though it will casily be admitted that all synods and councils may err, through the frailty that is inseparable from humanity : yet there is much greater danger from the usurped claim of making laws, than from the right of judging upon laws already made, and common to all who profess the gospel; although this right, as necessity requires in the present state, be lodged with fallible men.

That if the preceding scriptural and rational principles be steadfastly adhered to, the vigour and strictness of its discipline will contribute to the glory and happiness of any church. Since ecclesiastical discipline must be purely moral or spiritual in its object, and not attended with any civil effects, it can derive no force whatever but from its own justice, the approbation of an impartial public, and the countenance and blessing of the great Head of the Church Universal.

These catholic and liberal views, are the basis upon which the structure of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, rests. It does not regard itself as the Church, but only as a particular branch of the Catholic or Universal Church of Christ, which consists of all those persons in every nation, together with their children, who make profession of the holy religion of Christ, and of submission to his laws. It regards Papacy and Diocesan Episcopacy as great usurpations of ecclesiastical power, and highly unfavourable to the dissemination of the pure gospel, and uncongenial with our republican institutions. Yet, while Presbyterians believe that the parity of the clergy, and a representation of the laity in the officers denominated ruling elders, are important features of the Apostolic Church, clearly discernible in the New Testament, they do not deny the validity of ordinances, because mixed with the errors and usurpations of prelacy. On the contrary they dare not disown any church which holds Christ the head, and which is by bim made the instrument of edifying spiritual believers, and extending substantial Christianity.

The officers of the Presbyterian Church are bishops or pastors, ruling elders, and deacons. “ The pastoral office is the first in the church both for dignity and usefulness.” The person filling this office is designated by different names in the New Testament, names expressive of various duties. As he feeds the flock of God, he is called their pastor or shepherd. As he has the oversight of a congregation, he is called their bishop or overseer. As he is expected to exhibit the gravity and wisdom of age, he is called a presbyter or elder. As he is sent a messenger to the church, he is termed an angel. As he is entrusted with means of reconciling sinners, he is spoken of as an ambassador. And as he dispenses spiritual blessings, he is called a steward of the mysteries of God.

Ruling elders are elected by the people as their representatives. In conjunction with the pastor they exercise discipline. They are designated in the scriptures under the title of governments, and of those who rule well, but who do not labour in the word and doctrine.

Deacons are also regarded as distinct officers in the church. Their official duty is the care of the poor, and the reception and disbursement of the charities of the congregation. These duties are often performed by the elders, and it is not deemed indispensable that deacons should be appointed, unless the interests of the congregation demand it.

The session consists of the pastor or pastors, and the ruling elders of a congregation, and is the primary judicatory of the church. The pastor is its presiding officer, called the moderator. This court, thus constituted, nas power to watch over the spiritual interests of the congregation, to inquire into the Christian deportment of the members of the church, to call before them offenders, and also to investigate charges presented by others, to receive members into the church, to admonish, to rebuke, to suspend, or to exclude from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper those, who are found to deserve censure, according to the different degrees of their criminality. It is the business of the session also to appoint a delegate from its own body to attend with the pastor, the higher judicatories of the church. It is required to keep a fair record of all its proceedings, as also a register of marriages, baptisms, persons admitted to the Lord's table, deaths and other removals of church members, and to transmit these records to the presbytery for their inspection.

A presbytery consists of all the ministers and one ruling elder from each church, within a certain district. Three ministers, and as many elders as may be present, are necessary to constitute a quorum. The presbytery has power to receive and issue appeals from church sessions, and references brought before them in an orderly manner; to examine and license candidates for the holy ministry; to ordain, install, remove and judge ministers; to examine, and approve or censure, the records of church sessions; to resolve questions of doctrine or discipline, seriously and reasonably proposed; to condemn erroneous opinions, which injure the purity or peace of the church ; to visit particular churches, for the purpose of inquiring into their state, and redressing the evils that may have arisen in them; to unite or divide congregations, at the request of the people, or to form or receive new congregations; and in general to perform whatever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches under their care. The presbytery also keeps a full record of its proceedings; and its doings are subject to the revision of the synod, which is a court of appeal standing in a similar relation to the presbytery with that of the presbytery to the church session.

A synod is a convention of the bishops with one elder from each church in a larger district; it must include at least three presbyteries. The synod is the court of the last resort in all cases of a judicial

« ElőzőTovább »