The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Revolution Settlement
by Rev. Kenneth Stewart
The primary purpose of this paper is to explain the reasons
behind the formation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
Partly because of her size, and her descent into obscurity
and near oblivion, her reasons for separate existence are less well known and
understood than those of other churches. For example, it has become fairly
common, in recent years, to assert that the refusal of many covenanters to
enter the renewed Church of Scotland in 1690 had to do with the covenants and
with the covenants alone. This, as we shall see, was decidedly not the case. In
fact, if anything, this focus on the covenants has led to a complete failure to
see the more glaring defects of the Revolution Settlement – defects which
should have led all faithful Presbyterians in Scotland to reject it outright.
When the facts are examined fully, it should become plain
that it is far easier, on Biblical and Confessional grounds, to justify those covenanters
who dissented from the Revolution Settlement of 1690 than it is to justify any
other group of dissenters in the history of Scottish Presbyterianism – with the
possible exception of the founding fathers of the Free Presbyterian Church of
Certainly, the issues at stake in the Disruption of 1843 –
which led to the formation of the Free Church – were relatively minor in
comparison with those involved in 1690. And it is utterly impossible, with
consistency, to defend the Disruption of 1843 while simultaneously condemning as
schismatic those who refused the terms of the Revolution Settlement of 1690. This
will become plain as we proceed.
Perhaps we should begin with a point which is all too easily
overlooked: the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland is the only Presbyterian Church in Scotland which didn’t begin her
existence by separating from the Church of Scotland – or indeed by
separating from any another church claiming
to be the Church of Scotland!
Her origins, as a distinct grouping, go way back to 1690 and
to the decision of the King to re-establish the national Church of Scotland as
a Presbyterian church again. The
Church of Scotland had already been established (that is, recognised as the
official church of the land) in 1560 by an Act of the Scottish Parliament. At
that time, significantly, it was established as a Presbyterian church – that is, a church governed by Ministers and
However, the Stewart Kings were not favourable to this kind
of church government: they believed that the King should be sovereign over the
church and, accordingly, their preference was for another form of church
government which would make it easier to exert their Kingly influence.
Accordingly, the King used (abused) his power and, after some years, the
established church became Episcopalian
in character – that is, she was governed by bishops.
While many Presbyterian ministers simply conformed to this
arrangement, others – around 400 in number – refused to conform, resigned their
charges and began to hold worship services in open air gatherings. In these
gatherings, known as ‘Conventicles’, they would preach to those who chose to
continue under their ministry rather than hear their new Episcopalian pastors.
However, after years of suffering and persecution during
which those who preached at these gatherings and those who worshipped with them
were put to death, the last Stewart King was deposed by a nation which had endured
enough. In this so called ‘Glorious Revolution’, the new King (King William)
recognised that, in order to attain peace in Scotland, the church would need to
be re-established along Presbyterian lines again. However, he was determined
that it would only be done on his terms. The result was that a ‘Settlement’ was
presented to the church for her acceptance: if the Presbyterian Ministers and
Elders accepted this ‘Settlement’, she would once again become the established
church – with all the power and prestige which that involved. If she did not,
then her trial would continue, although not as severely as before.
This way of arranging establishment should not have been
acceptable to the Presbyterian Ministers – especially, as we shall see, on the
particular terms offered in the arrangement – but, sadly, the Ministers of the
day, just over 60 in number, found the terms acceptable and were willing to
accept establishment on the King’s terms. Accordingly, in 1690, the State
recognised them, and the people who followed them, as being the established Church
of Scotland and authorised them to meet later that year in what was (supposedly
at any rate) the first Church of Scotland General Assembly to meet freely for
However, a significant number of Scottish Presbyterians –
numbering around 7,000 men and their families – refused to accept the terms of the
re-establishment imposed by the State and decided to continue meeting in their
Note, however, that these people did not leave the Church of Scotland. They
didn’t walk out of an Assembly or secede. They
were simply a significant number within the Presbyterian Church of Scotland at
the time which didn’t want to enter into a certain kind of relationship with
the State on terms dictated by the State. Understandably, they were
aggrieved that the Ministers of the Church were willing to enter into this
relationship – because they believed that, in doing so, they were compromising
their Biblical and Presbyterian beliefs and that they were in clear breach of their
It is easy to see how, under those circumstances, the 7000 men
and their families would feel they had the right to continue as the Church of
Scotland themselves. However, they were reluctant to do so for two reasons.
First, they had no ordained ministers at their head. The
three Ministers who were most identified with their outlook and principles had agreed,
rather reluctantly, to enter the new relationship with the State – which was
something of a shock to their people in the United Societies and, it was said,
a matter of later regret to one of the Ministers too.
Second, although these men and women in the Societies were
used to years of persecution during which they were unable to worship in their
former churches (mostly now filled with Episcopalian curates), they longed
earnestly for a single re-established Presbyterian
Church faithful to the oaths it had made previously to God. Accordingly,
they made the most earnest pleas to their former brethren to reconsider their
position and make the necessary modifications to the terms of the new
Presbyterian re-settlement which would allow everyone to continue together.
The strength of their desire to remain united with the rest
of the Presbyterians, and their utter lack of schismatic spirit, can be clearly
seen from the passionate manner in which they addressed them in a letter sent
to the first General Assembly of the new Revolution Church of Scotland in 1690:
‘We must cry for the removing
of these stumbling blocks and for condemning these courses that have done our
Lord Jesus Christ so much hurt, in their standing in the way of their
comfortable communion with the church. Let the famishing case of our souls and
our hungering to hear it preached by you prevail with you to consider our
complaints, and let the wounds of our bleeding mother, panting to be healed by
the hand of the tender physician, have weight with you not to slight or despise
our desires. But, if you shall shut your eyes and ears at them, then we know no
other remedy left us, but to complain and protest unto judicatories, and cry
and sigh and groan to the father of mercies, who is tender to all his little
ones and is the hearer of prayer, that he may see to it and heal our breaches
in his own time and way’.
Consequently, they were waiting and hoping that their former
brethren in the cause would come to see the error of their ways and renounce
their new found connection with the state – and remain in the societies with them
until the conditions of that state connection would be more honourable to
Christ and to their obligations to God under their vows (see further below).
Eventually, separated by a period of a few years, two of the
Ministers who had accepted the Revolution Settlement came to the conviction
that the majority had been wrong to enter the relationship with the state on
the terms in which they did in 1690. These two men tried, without success, to
get their fellow Ministers to change their position and, when this course of
action failed, they then applied to the Presbyterians still meeting in Conventicles
– or ‘United Societies’ as they were then called– with a view to being received
as their Ministers. Their application was on the basis that the people of these
United Societies were just as much the children of the Reformation as their
former colleagues were. Indeed, because they adhered absolutely to the position
of the Scottish Reformation without compromising – as the majority had failed
to do when they agreed to the terms of re-establishment as imposed by the State
– the two Ministers felt that these Societies were very much the more faithful
part of the Church of Scotland.
After application, the two Ministers were received by the
Societies and so in 1743, 53 years after the re-establishment of the
Presbyterian Church in 1690, a Presbytery was formed and the Reformed
Presbyterian Church of Scotland was set up.
Presbyterian Church of Scotland, then, became the first organised Presbyterian
Church in Scotland to exist alongside the Church of Scotland –but, because of
the circumstances of its birth, it was not, and still is not, a Secession Church
and, in this respect, it is quite unique as a Presbyterian church in Scotland.
Also, and again because of the circumstances of its origin, in
which it never broke off from an organised constituted church, its claim to be
the true heir of the Reformed Church of Scotland has always been considered to
be very strong.
Of course, many have tended to dismiss this claim merely on
the ground of the size of the church. However, aside from the fact that the
size of a church is really irrelevant to its spiritual identity, it is worth
noting that the established church itself was not particularly large then
either. Indeed, the entire population of Scotland barely exceeded one million
and, of these, a good number were either Roman Catholic or Episcopalian and so
the proportion of Presbyterians represented by the Societies was far from
Most Presbyterians have dismissed the claim, however, on the
ground that those brethren who chose to remain outside the newly re-established
Church of Scotland were wrong to do so. And they have held this position even while
acknowledging that the Revolution Settlement was a defective settlement and one
which was responsible for the Secessions of 1733 and 1761 as well as the Disruption
of 1843. (Incidentally, for a supposedly acceptable Revolution Settlement, this
is a fairly lamentable legacy!)
In opposition to this, the Reformed Presbyterian Church has
constantly asserted that the Revolution Settlement of 1690, by which the
Presbyterian Church was re-established on the State’s terms, was not only a defective settlement producing centuries
of strife but a fundamentally flawed
settlement – to the extent that it was
sinful for the Presbyterian Ministers involved to accept its terms.
Their reasons for coming to this conclusion need to be heard
again – especially in the light of the current ecclesiastical confusions as
well as the constitutional conversation around the issue of Scottish
To understand these reasons, a little more background needs
to be sketched in first.
a) The Reformation
The Reformation was an international movement to ‘re-form’
the church of Christ from the unbiblical form into which it had lapsed under
Roman Catholicism. This Reformation was thorough: it involved reformation in
what was taught (doctrine), how the church was run (government) and how it
approached God (worship).
Scotland was one of the many European nations which embraced
such a Reformation and those at the heart of the movement were resolved that
the shape of the reform should be determined by the Bible – not by Church
The Reformation in Scotland has long been recognised by
Presbyterians as falling into two distinct periods.
The First Scottish
Reformation (1560 onwards)
The message of the Reformation was blessed by God and many
people embraced the new system of teaching – with its core message of salvation
by faith alone in Christ alone – and, in doing so, they rejected the Roman Catholic
system of salvation with its works-based method of salvation.
Many of those who were powerfully influenced by the
Reformation also embraced a new system of government – in which rule by Elders
having equal authority replaced the hierarchical priestly system – and they
purged away forms of worship not found under the New Testament.
Although the Reformation was a popular movement, in the
sense of being a movement of the people, it is important to recognise that with
the 1560 Act of Parliament, this new system of religion became the established faith in Scotland and, from
that point onwards, Scotland was officially a Protestant country.
Shortly afterwards, the newly Reformed and Presbyterian Church
was itself established by law and became the
established Church of Scotland – Presbyterian in government and Calvinistic
in doctrine and worship.
The Second Reformation
This Second Reformation is less well known than the first
one – partly because it occurred within Protestant Scotland itself.
It happened because, in the years prior to 1638, the
recently established Reformed Church of Scotland had moved away from its Presbyterian system of church government
(rule by Ministers and Elders all on an equal footing) towards an Episcopalian government (rule by Bishops
who were overseers of the Ministers and who were appointed by the State).
As we saw earlier on, this new system was promoted and
pushed onto the Church by the King but it was deeply unpopular with the
majority of the people and was contrary to the system of government originally
established in the Reformed church.
Four events, however, were destined to first of all rescue
and then further the movement for Reform in Scotland – and to advance the
church even in beyond where the First Reformation had left her.
b) The National Covenant of 1638
In 1638, a crisis developed when the form of worship was altered by the authority of the King. With the
support of his Bishops, he introduced a prayer book, with obvious Roman
Catholic tendencies, into the worship of the church. The fuse was lit –
particularly by Jenny Geddes who threw her famous stool when the new book was
first read in St Giles’ cathedral! – with the result that a popular revolt took
place culminating shortly afterwards in the signing of the National Covenant of
By this covenant, the government, the nobles, the churchmen
– and, indeed, the majority of the Scottish people – swore to commit themselves
to the restoration of the Scottish church to her Reformation purity.
c) The General Assembly in Glasgow, 1638
This covenant and the groundswell of reforming zeal,
evidently connected with an outpouring of the Spirit of God, led to the General
Assembly of the Church of Scotland rediscovering its liberty. In its famous
meeting in Glasgow in 1638 – its first
free meeting for many years – it ignored the King’s Commissioner, who
ordered it to be dissolved in the name of the King, and by continuing its
deliberations, asserted its spiritual independence. It also proceeded to outlaw
all the innovations in government and worship which had been introduced since
d) The Solemn League and Covenant
Five years later, in 1643, at the initiative of the Scottish
Church, a covenant was drawn up and entered into with England and Ireland. This
purpose of this covenant was to preserve the Reformation in Scotland and to
further the Reformation in England and Ireland so as to bring it more into line
with that in Scotland.
This Covenant, called the Solemn League and Covenant, was sworn by the Scottish Parliament,
the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland – and, indeed, the English
Parliament, which had power over the Church of England and which was dominated
by Puritans at the time.
e) The Westminster Assembly
Significantly, in the good providence of God, this process
of reform had already begun in England where the Parliament had recently
abolished bishops and appointed an Assembly of theologians to meet at
Westminster in order to reform the church.
As a result of the new covenant with Scotland, however, it
was decided to augment the Assembly with Scottish Commissioners and, after over
a thousand sittings from 1643-1649, the Westminster Assembly produced The Westminster Confession of Faith, the
Form of Church Government, The Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Directory
of Public Worship.
As the Assembly produced these documents, they were adopted
by the Church of Scotland as the new constitutional
documents of the Church of Scotland and it was hoped that, as part of their
covenanted obligation, the English church would follow suit. Sadly, it did not
– but these documents became the covenanted standards for the Church of
Scotland and, with this process, the Reformation of the Scottish church and her
restoration to apostolic doctrine, government and worship was complete.
By means of the Second Reformation, then, the church had entered
into solemn covenant obligations before God; vigorously asserted her independent
jurisdiction from the state; abolished Prelacy (church rule by bishops);
abolished Patronage (the right of the Landlord to appoint the minister) and
adopted measures for promoting pastoral instruction and scriptural education
throughout the land.
It was a new beginning, significantly
secured by covenant and oath, and this period – when her doctrine, worship
and government were settled by church and state, working in a harmonious manner
not seen before or since – was the ‘high-water mark’ of the Reformed church in
However, the fabric of this glorious edifice began to be
dismantled with the restoration of the monarchy under the new King, Charles II,
Persecution and Declension
Although the King had sworn the covenant himself, his reign
was to signal a vicious assault on the attainments of the Second Reformation.
First, he purged
Presbyterianism out of the established church. That is, he rescinded all the
Acts which had been passed in favour of Presbyterian government and, instead,
formally established Episcopalianism as the official form of the Protestant
religion in the land. So, for the second time since the Reformation, the Church
of Scotland reverted to Episcopalianism.
In order to accomplish this, his Parliament passed two Acts:
The first of these rescinded the 1649 meeting of Parliament and
declared all the Acts of that Parliament null and void. Significantly, it was this Parliament of 1649 which had ratified the Westminster
Confession of Faith and abolished Church Patronage (the right of the Landlord
to appoint the minister)!
The second Act went further and proceeded to annul all the Parliaments
which had been held since 1640 – in other
words, all the Acts which Parliament had passed in support of the Second
Reformation church were as though they had never been!
These two Acts were the infamous ‘Rescissory Acts’. What is
not widely known is that these Acts were deliberately left on the Statute book under
the terms of the Revolution Settlement in 1690 which re-established the
Presbyterian Church of Scotland – indeed, they remain there to this day.
In other words, astonishingly, the Presbyterian Ministers and
Elders who accepted the Revolution Settlement and chose to enter into an
established relationship with the state did
so on these terms.
Is it any wonder that the more faithful covenanters refused
government interfered with the constitution and government of the Presbyterian Church.
This was altogether more serious than disestablishing the Presbyterian Church.
After all, while it may be wrong in the sight of God to rescind the civil laws
by which Presbyterianism had been established, yet it is unquestionably within the power of the state to do so.
To sever the state connection, however, is one thing – to invade the internal
government of the church is quite another but King Charles had declared
himself, as King, to have supremacy ‘over
all persons, and in all causes’ – ecclesiastical as well as civil.
Therefore, he had no difficulty in officially declaring the Glasgow
Assembly of 1638 to be an ‘unlawful and
seditious meeting’ and that all the acts done by it, and arising from its
power, were to be considered void.
Furthermore, legislation was passed declaring the National
Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant – which the church had sworn in her courts and adopted into her
constitution – to be unlawful. Indeed, these solemn documents – containing
oaths sworn to God – were publicly burned.
These measures, declaring the 1638 Assembly and the
Covenants to be unlawful, also held their place in the so-called ‘Glorious
Revolution’ and formed part of the compact which the Presbyterian Church
shamefully agreed to accept in 1690 – and still remain on our statute-books
Again, we would ask, is it any wonder that the more faithful
covenanters refused to accept establishment on these terms?
Third, he evicted the
more faithful Presbyterian ministers, who refused to accept the new
arrangements, from their charges.
When these Ministers refused to acknowledge the office and authority
of the bishops, an order was passed to the effect that all ministers who had
entered into their charges since 1649 – when patronage was abolished – were to
be deprived of their stipends and were to leave their dwellings with their
families and reside outside the bounds of their current presbyteries.
Thankfully, nearly four hundred ministers chose to obey God
rather than King and, in a severe winter, left their homes to endure reproach
for the sake of Christ. Part of their grief lay in the knowledge that their
charges would be filled quickly with less worthy men. However, they knew that
the worst example they could give their flock would be to stay over them while
being unfaithful to God and so they left their charges. Not surprisingly, those
of their hearers who valued their faithful ministries went out to the fields to
hear them preach rather than stay to hear the curates who had filled their
Presbyterian Church suffered from the gradual defection of those who were
willing to compromise.
Of course, from the beginning, there were Ministers and people
who yielded easily to the civil power by conforming to prelacy. Sadly, however,
even many of those who began by resisting the dictates of the state, and who
went out of their charges bearing the reproach of Christ, finally succumbed and
breached their vows.
As has so often been the case, cunning and inducement
succeeded where fines imprisonment and persecution had failed. The Indulgences
of King Charles II, and the later Toleration of James II, which allowed the
return of Ministers to their charges under
strict conditions imposed by the King, succeeded in bringing many Ministers
to bow before their Sovereign who had sworn previously sworn wholehearted allegiance
to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only King and Head of the church.
However, by his almost unbounded arrogance, the King
progressively alienated the bulk of the people and when his son, James II, came
to the throne, most people realised that the Stuart Monarchy had to come to an
end. Consequently, the decision was taken to rid the nation of the Stuarts and William,
Prince of Orange, who was married to Mary Stuart, was invited to become the new
King. And so, with a bloodless, ‘glorious’ revolution, there was a new
beginning in the land.
High on the King’s agenda was the need to settle the church
in both England and Scotland. William was not a Presbyterian but he was
prevailed upon by influential counsellors to re-settle the Scottish church as a
Presbyterian church – governed by Ministers and Elders. Although he was
reluctant to do this, he was prepared to accept it providing the English church
would be settled – contrary to the terms
of the Solemn League and Covenant – along Episcopalian lines.
Furthermore, because he wanted to curb the zeal of
Presbyterian Scotland and to secure a ‘moderate’ church – which he got – he
ensured that the method of establishment would involve framing an Act of
Settlement on his own terms which would be given to the church for her
acceptance. He hoped that the weary condition of the church would incline the
Ministers to accept the Settlement as the best that they could hope for under
the circumstances. In this, he was proved right. Sadly, the majority of
Scottish Presbyterians accepted in that year a settlement which secured peace
but only at the expense of principle – and at the cost of a divided church
which continued indeed to further divide as the evils of the Revolution
Settlement worked themselves out.
What, then, were the deficiencies of the Revolution
Settlement in 1690?
Deficiencies of the Revolution
In reality, the Revolution Settlement offered to the church
by the State in 1690 was little more than yet another indulgence. Although
welcomed by the majority of Presbyterians as a great deliverance and as an
answer to their dire predicament, it was not merely deficient but fatally
flawed in that it was incompatible, in many key aspect, with the covenantal commitments
already sworn to by Presbyterians in Scotland. The following should make these
fatal flaws plain.
First, the Process
The first deficiency to notice is the process by which Presbyterian government was re-established.
The proper role of the state when establishing the church is
simply to receive from the church the constitution which she has framed and
enacted by her own intrinsic and independent authority, and then, after mature
and serious consideration, to grant it the civil sanction.
This was the process adopted during the First Reformation
period: in 1560, the church held her first General Assembly at which she fixed
her standards and constitution and presented them to the civil power which then
proceeded to establish them by law.
It was also the process adopted during the Second
Reformation: At the famous Glasgow Assembly of 1638, the church abolished
Episcopacy as being contrary to the word of God, settled her own constitution
and subordinate standards—and then applied for and obtained the sanction of the
state which gave civil effect to the measures which she had independently adopted.
But this simple and biblical order was inverted in the
Revolution Settlement of the church: On that occasion, the church did not present
her constitution to the civil power – rather, the civil power drew up the
constitution – with important modifications
which the church never asked for – and enacted it without consulting the
church. To be specific, although the
Confession of Faith was appointed to be the doctrinal standard of the church,
the proof texts were not received and neither were the Catechisms, the Form of
Church Government or the Directory of Public Worship – all of which had been
received unalterably by the Second Reformation church in the exercise of her
God given freedom and authority – as part
of her fixed and covenanted constitution!
Significantly, although Prelacy was abolished, the fact that
the Form of Church Government was not accepted meant that Prelacy was not
abolished on the ground that it was ‘contrary
to the Word of God’ – the ground on which it had originally been abolished
– but only on the lesser ground that it was a ‘great and unsupportable grievance and trouble to the nation, and
contrary to the inclinations of the generality of the people’. This
particular form of language was chosen by those who did not share the belief
that Presbyterianism had a particular divine mandate and who were, in fact,
Erastians – that is, they believed that the church ought to be subject to the
government of the State. In the Westminster Assembly, the Erastian party was
ready to admit that Presbytery was ‘agreeable to the word of God’ while it
maintained that it had no higher claims in this respect than other forms.
After all, what other reason could there be for using this particular
form of words in the Settlement of 1690 when it is well known that King William
favoured Episcopacy and was only too happy to establish Erastianism in England?
The fact is that neither the Word of God, nor the voice of
the church, were duly heard and consulted in the Revolution Settlement. It was
an imposed Settlement, an Erastian Settlement and a political Settlement –
which facts considered alone, apart from its content, should have made the
church reject it.
Admittedly, if it was the case that the terms imposed were
Biblical and consistent with their Covenant obligations, at least one could
claim that while the Erastian method of imposing them was wrong, at least the
terms themselves were good. However, this was not the case. Consider, first,
the issue of the Standards imposed by the Settlement.
Second, the Imposition
of her Standards
The issue being considered here is the ratification of the doctrinal
standards of the Church of Scotland by the Revolution Settlement of the Church
of Scotland in 1690.
First, it should be clear that it is the Church herself that
has the authority to enact her Confession. This is a purely spiritual duty, to
be performed by the overseers of the church under the authority of the Lord
Jesus as her Head and King. If the State imposes upon her a Confession of its
own, or if it alters in the slightest degree the one proposed by her for its
sanction, then she cannot acquiesce without proving unfaithful to her Lord,
sacrificing her spiritual independence, and degrading herself to the level of a
In the First Reformation, the Church enacted her
Confessions, and Books of Government, in the exercise of her own intrinsic and spiritual
powers and these were subsequently ratified by the Scottish Parliament.
In the Second Reformation too, the Church and State pursued
a similar course. In the exercise of her own independent power, the church
adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms,
the Form of Church government, and the Directory for Public Worship. Then, following
correct and biblical procedure, the Confession, Catechisms and Directory, after
their adoption by the General Assembly, were presented to the State for its sanction,
which was duly obtained.
Significantly, the Acts of Parliament approving these
documents explicitly approved them as
they had been previously approved and adopted by the Church, and according to
the exact sense in which the church had embraced it.
However, in the Revolution Settlement of 1690, by which the
Church of Scotland came to be re-established, the Confession of Faith was the
only one of these constitutional documents to be sanctioned by the State. And, of
course, it had to be adopted anew – as it were, for the first time. Why?
Because the Acts of Church and State adopting the Confession of Faith in the
1640’s had been rescinded by the Rescissory Acts – and they were left rescinded
under the terms of the Revolution Settlement! This is the reason why there is
no reference in the Revolution Settlement to a previous adoption of the
Confession by the church in the exercise of her own spiritual, independent, and
intrinsic authority. It was as though it had never been done.
Furthermore, even when ratifying the Confession of Faith, the
Revolution Settlement did not ratify it precisely
as it had been previously adopted by the Second Reformation Church of Scotland
and by the Parliament of Scotland. Instead
of being ratified entire, its doctrinal articles alone were sanctioned, while
the Scripture proofs appended to the Confession were omitted. And this in spite
of the fact that the proofs were considered integral to the confession and were
adopted not only by the Westminster Assembly and by the English Parliament but
by the Church of Scotland itself in 1647 – as part of her covenanted
It won’t do to argue that the omission is of little
consequence either because all the chapters are ratified and transferred to the
Statute-book or because the proofs were not always the best that could be found
in the scriptures. Certainly, if that had
been the mind of the church the judgement would have more weight but the
fact is that the State had no right to make such an alteration at all without
encroaching in the most serious terms on the authority of the church.
In the light of subsequent history, it seems incredible to
us now that the Presbyterian Ministers were prepared to accept establishment at
the price of dropping the Form of Presbyterian
Government, the Directory of Public
Worship and both Larger and Shorter Catechisms from her constitution
– but this is what the terms of Settlement required and this is what they
We cannot avoid the conclusion then, that the Church, by
receiving from the State a mutilated constitution, without any complaint or
without the exercise of her own intrinsic powers, homologated the State’s
usurpation of authority, dishonoured her Divine King and prostrated herself at
the feet of the secular power.
Third, her Freedom of
Under the terms of the Revolution Settlement, the Church
compromised her subjection to Christ’s headship by accepting the power of the King to appoint the time and the place of
meeting for the General Assembly as well as the power to dissolve the Assembly.
And, in the first exercise of that power, the King went on to appoint the first
General Assembly of the Revolution Church in 1690 and to dissolve it.
Again, had the Rescissory Acts been repealed, the
independence of the church in this matter would be plain both in her own Acts
and in the Acts of Parliament dating from the Second Reformation. However, the
Revolution Settlement made these laws of church and State null and void and
hence the Revolution Parliament revived the earlier Act of 1592 as the new
Magna Carta of the Established Church. However, this Act of 1592 – passed
before the church had attained to its full covenanted commitments – gave the
civil magistrate the authority to appoint the time and place of the meeting of
the Assembly. It declared that ‘the king’s majesty, or his commissioners
appointed by his Highness, be present at each General Assembly before the
dissolving thereof, and nominate time and place when and where the next General
Assembly shall be held’.
Clearly, no true Presbyterian could grant the King such
power: not only does it put it within the power of the King to defer or prevent
meetings of the General Assembly indefinitely; it is fundamentally quite
incompatible with the headship of Christ and the independence of His church. As
Knox said, ‘Take from us the liberty of Assemblies, and take from us the
And far from being an inconsequential matter, the Assemblies
of the Established church were frequently dissolved and interdicted by the
Sovereign—the church yielding with the most humiliating submission to these
repeated acts of tyranny.
How different the church of the Second Reformation! She
claimed, and exercised, in this matter, the liberty bestowed on her and
demanded from her by Christ her head. Her views on the subject are expressed in
the act of 1647 which adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith – views which
were far in advance of the position in 1592 – hence the reason why the Revolution
Settlement appealed to the Act of 1592 rather than the Acts of the Second
Indeed, in 1638 – the year of the National Covenant – the
General Assembly in Glasgow refused to bring its deliberations to a close when
it had been dissolved by the King’s Commissioner when Alexander Henderson, the
distinguished Moderator, exhorted them ‘to be zealous toward their Lord, and to
maintain the liberties and privileges of his kingdom’.
Fourth, her freedom of
Government and Discipline
Next, the Revolution Settlement involved the interference of
the State in the discipline of the Church.
At the commencement of the Second Reformation, the Church,
again exercising her own inherent authority, determined in whose hands the keys
of government should be placed, and adopted measures for inflicting merited
censure on immoral living and false doctrine.
However, in the terms of the Revolution Settlement, the
state took this matter under its own control and declared that the government
of the church was to be established in the hands of, and exercised by, those Presbyterian
ministers who were ejected for non-conformity to prelacy since the first of
January, 1661, and such ministers and
elders only as they were to admit or receive.
Here, then, the state appointed the rulers of the Revolution
Church,—thus appointing itself as the source of ecclesiastical authority! But
there is a further difficulty with this procedure: Were all these persons
worthy of the station to which they were suddenly elevated? Nearly thirty years
had passed since these Ministers were effectively ejected and these were years
of temptation, trial and change. In that period, many of those Ministers who
were originally ejected had defected from
their original positions and had forfeited their right to exercise
ecclesiastical power – at least until they confessed and repented of such
A considerable number of them had receded from their former
oaths and had complied with the oaths imposed by the government of Charles II and
had bound themselves to abstain from preaching – at a time when the faithful
preaching of the truth was much required. These men had accepted the
indulgences granted by Charles in order to resume preaching – in other words,
they would not preach, out of fear, in obedience to the King of Kings but they
agreed to preach, on a restricted platform, for King Charles II.
Such were the people who, together with a few ministers,
recently returned from exile, were constituted the governors of the Revolution
Church, and composed her first General Assembly – and they all engaged in the
exercise of their functions without any expression of or evidence of repentance
for their sinful courses of action!
Worse still, it was made an essential principle of the
Revolution Settlement that all actual incumbents of their charges under Episcopacy
should be allowed to continue in their posts, on the basis of acquiescing to
the Settlement and taking an oath of allegiance to the government of King
William. Indeed, the Act went on to say that ‘if any of the said ministers, who
hath not been hitherto received into the government of the church, shall offer
to qualify themselves, and to apply in the manner foresaid, they shall have their majesties’ full
protection, aye and while they shall be admitted in manner foresaid.’
These provisions are Erastian in the extreme: Who has the
right to dictate to the church the terms of admission into the membership of
the church or into the office of the holy ministry? Unquestionably, it is the
rulers of the church, on whom the power of the keys of the kingdom is conferred
by the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet here we have the civil magistrate determining the
qualifications necessary in those who apply for ordination and license in the Church
of Scotland and declaring that no minister or preacher, by whom the conditions
prescribed by him are not observed, shall ‘be admitted, or continued for
At first, the church showed some reluctance to receive the Episcopalian
curates into her offices, but she was eventually persuaded into the measure by
the civil power , and within a few years, could boast of it as an instance of
her moderation that ‘hundreds of them had
been admitted on the easiest terms’.
Of course, many of these curates had taken possession of the
charges from which other and better men had been violently ejected and had all solemnly sworn that the
government of the church is an inherent right of the crown, and some of
them, by acting as spies and informers, had contributed to the bloody
oppression under which the land had groaned. But they were admitted without
having been required to express any condemnation of Prelacy, or to avow any
contrition for the guilty part which they had acted during the preceding bloody
period – and all this just because the state had prescribed the conditions on
which they should be received!
It is not surprising then that these hirelings should have
been permitted, in the providence of God, to become a running sore in the
church into which they were admitted so easily; for they multiplied rapidly
into an overwhelming majority – called ‘the Moderate party’ – who ruled her
councils with an iron grip for more than a century, progressively deadening the
spirit of evangelicalism.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the first Revolution Assembly
positively refused to hear the larger paper presented to them by the three
covenanting Ministers, as well as that given in by the United Societies, which
were complaining of these grievances in the constitution of the Church. Of
course, where spiritual defection had prevailed so alarmingly in the Assembly,
it could scarcely have been expected that such representations would be
But it is sad nonetheless, that Shields, Linning, and Boyd –
who had, till about that period, been faithful to the covenanted cause – were admonished by the Assembly, on their being
received in to the communion of the Revolution Church: a fact, as was noted
long ago, equally discreditable to both parties.
Fifth, her Freedom to
Call and Induct Ministers
Next, the State retained a measure of control over the
matter of calling and inducting Ministers. This may come as a surprise to most
people who are under the impression that the Revolution Settlement thoroughly
abolished Patronage (the right of the Landlord to settle a Minister of his
Clearly, the freedom of the church and her responsibility to
her head was of great importance to the church of the Second Reformation and, in
1649, she secured the abolition of Patronage by the Parliament. However, with
the Restoration of the Monarchy under Charles II, the Act Rescissory was passed
which nullified the Parliament of 1649 and, so, Patronage was restored.
The Revolution Settlement appeared to abolish Patronage once
more – but, in reality, it was not properly banished. Rather, it was declared
that ‘the heritors of the parish being
protestants, and the elders, are to name and propose the person to the
whole congregation, to be either approven or disapproven by them, and if they
disapprove, that the disapprovers give in their reasons to the effect that the
affair may be cognised by the presbytery of the bounds’. Where there was no
land-ward parish, the right of patronage was vested in the magistrates, town
council and Kirk Session of the burgh. Significantly, it was ordained that ‘in
recompense of the said right of presentation, hereby taken away, the heritors
and life renters of said parish, and the town council for the burgh, should pay
to the said patrons the sum of six hundred merks’.
These provisions were unacceptable to faithful Presbyterians
because, first, they demand a civil as well as a religious qualification in
order to exercise of a spiritual duty—the heritors and the town council being
associated with the Kirk Session in ‘naming and proposing the person to the
whole congregation’. This is an unacceptable infringement of the rights and
privileges of the people of God.
Second, even the proviso that the heritors should be
‘protestant’ is so general as to allow Episcopalians and Independents a say in
the matter – not to mention people of immoral conduct who might have no
interest in the church whatsoever.
Third, these provisions only gave the congregation a negative
power—the power of offering objections – not a power to address a positive call
to the object of their free and conscientious choice. This was depriving them of
the privilege which unquestionably belonged to them as members of the church of
Fourth, the payment of compensation to the Patron implied
that it was not the scriptural and inalienable right of the people to elect
their own ministers.
Fifth, by devising and enacting this measure – instead of
acknowledging the competency of the arrangements both of church and state in
1649 in reference to this matter – the parliament homologated the provision of
the Act Rescissory and, sadly, the church, by acquiescing in the scheme,
instead of standing on the ground she had occupied in 1649 (which had never
been repealed by any competent church
authority), virtually acknowledged the power of the state to suspend and
rescind ecclesiastical laws.
Sixth, again, this Act was passed without consulting the
church—the whole affair having been arranged and determined three months before the General Assembly was allowed to
Seventh, it is absolutely beyond the competency of the state
to frame any regulations for the church on this subject. It is
fatal—irremediably fatal—to this measure, that it was a civil decision imposed on the church in relation to a spiritual privilege.
Unsurprisingly, this ‘compromise’ did not last long. It was
repealed little more than 20 years later by the Patronage law of 1712 by means
of which patrons were restored to their ‘ancient rights’ – which resulted,
eventually, in the Secessions of 1733 and 1761 as well as the Disruption of
1843, all of which responses were too little and certainly way too late.
In any case, there is no huge leap from the provision of
1690 to that of 1712. If we go so far as to grant that it is competent for the
state to enact laws for regulating the spiritual affairs of Christ’s house, we
must also admit that it has the power of altering and annulling them, of making
them more or less stringent, as it sees cause. The Acts of 1690 and 1712 both flow
from the same Erastian source and encroach alike, even if not to the same
degree, on the spiritual jurisdiction of the church of Christ.
Sixth, her Obligation
to Covenantal Oaths
Last, but by no means least, the Revolution Settlement of
the Church of Scotland failed to revive or recognise the Covenants.
The church of the Second Reformation embodied in her statutes
– involving an oath – the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant.
These covenants were also recognised – again, by oath and statute – in the
civil constitution of the kingdom.
However, these Covenants were condemned, denounced, and
publically committed to the flames under the reign of Charles II – who had
sworn to uphold them!
Remarkably, the Revolution government of King William left
them where they found them – and there they continue to lie: violated, trampled
down, and almost forgotten, till the present day.
More remarkably, the church entered into connexion with the
state, as if perfectly satisfied that the
recognition of these solemn vows formed no condition of the alliance. And, although
efforts were made by various persons to induce the church to recognise and
revive these solemn engagements, in the exercise of her own authority, she
refused to comply, and even went to the length, in various instances, of inflicting
censure on those who persisted in calling her attention to this important duty.
Clearly, then, the Church of Scotland, by agreeing to
establishment by the State on the terms of the Rescissory Acts, trampled the
covenants underfoot as well as all the attainments of the Second Reformation
which arose out of them.
Furthermore, by later becoming a party to the 1707 Treaty of
Union between Scotland and England – which proceeds upon the total overthrow of
the covenanted uniformity guaranteed in the Solemn League and Covenant – the
church positively repudiated the public engagements of the Second Reformation,
and helped to prolong and perpetuate their obscurity and neglect. The Treaty of
Union in 1707 was a betrayal of the Covenants and of the Second Reformation.
An Alternative Course of Action?
It has sometimes been pled, by way of apology for the
Revolution Settlement of the Church, that the Presbyterians were at that time
placed in circumstances of extreme difficulty, and that they accepted a state
imposed constitution because they had little alternative.
However, the fact remains that they could have acted
otherwise: They could have declined the terms devised by the State for the
establishment of the Church and, instead, insisted on being established
according to her own terms. And, if the State were to refuse establishment on
her terms, it would be the clear duty of the church to assert her liberty
without all the privileges of establishment.
However, largely due to weariness with the struggle – and,
sadly, the lucrative lure of state establishment – the spirit of compromise was
abroad and the majority of Presbyterians chose to accept establishment as the
State imposed it with the result that a huge number of moderate and
Episcopalian Ministers were admitted into the church and the reign of the ‘Moderates’
began until the covenanting spirit arose in the Revolution Church culminating
in the Disruption of 1843 – which, laudable as it was, had less ground beneath
it by way of justification than the Covenanters had when they refused to enter
the establishment in the first place: the Free Church chose liberty over
establishment in 1843 – but if that choice had been made by the majority in
1690, the story of the Scottish church might have been very different.
The Disruption Fathers sought freedom for the congregation
to call and induct a man of their own choice – although the church had lived with the Act authorising this since the
Patronage Act of 1712. It would have been far better to have stood in 1690
and asserted the following in no uncertain terms before the State: that Presbyterian
Church government is of divine right; that the whole of the Westminster
Standards were to be re-adopted as they were in the 1640’s; that her Assemblies
were to be entirely free from State interference; that all the Acts of the Free
and Independent Assemblies during the Second Reformation were to be retained in
force and, in short, that all the attainments of the Second Reformation were to
All this they could and should have done – and if the State
would not have allowed her establishment on such conditions, they should have
obeyed God rather than men and refused establishment and monetary endowment.
Instead, the church acquiesced in the awful insult paid to the church and to
the attainments of the Second Reformation.
All this should help us understand why the 7000 families
dissented from entering into an established relationship with the State in
1690. Their desire for the return of their former brethren to covenanted
faithfulness, coupled with their lack of Ministers, meant that they went for
many years without receiving baptism or the Lord’s Supper – such was their
respect for an ordained ministry and church order. However, with the continued
defection of the majority and the arrival into their ranks of Ministers who now
desired to preach to them, they organised themselves to formally continue their
witness, no longer as the United Societies, but as the Reformed Presbyterian
Church of Scotland.
Therefore, we have good reason to conclude that the Church
of Scotland as re-established in 1690 is not the true heir of the Second
Reformation Church of Scotland – and neither can any church be which insists on
rooting its claim to that identity on the Revolution Settlement.
As to identity, what ought to be plain is that the children
of the 18th century Secessions and the 19th century Disruption
should focus less on organic descent
and focus more on spiritual affinity.
Accordingly, they should cease to claim continuity
with the church of the Revolution Settlement, simply on the ground of descent,
and recognise spiritual affinity with
those who rejected the Revolution Settlement – because that is who they are in spirit. To yoke the church of the Disruption
with that of the Revolution Settlement is to yoke the living with the dead and
the children of the bondwoman with the children of the free.
In this way, instead of branding Reformed Presbyterians as
‘schismatics’, they would stand on common ground and, together, rebuild
Scottish Presbyterianism on the unifying rock of the Second Reformation – not
on the shifting sand of the Revolution Settlement.
Rev Kenneth Stewart,
Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland
*The above owes much to a paper by Rev John Graham entitled
‘The Revolution Settlement of the Church of Scotland’ found in ‘Lectures on the
Principles of the Second Reformation’ by Ministers of the Reformed Presbyterian
Church, Scotland; delivered at the request of the Glasgow Society for promoting
the principles of the Second Reformation, Glasgow, 1841.