November 21: Second Reformation of the Church of Scotland (1638)

Principles of the Second Reformation of Scotland (1638)

The readers of these posts should be familiar with the first Reformation in Scotland, featuring John Knox and others who raised the bar of God’s truth to the people and basically led the entire nation out of Romanism. The second Reformation, which began at a General Assembly meeting on November 21, 1638 in Glasgow, Scotland, and continued for ten tumultuous years afterward, was in essence a reformation from Prelacy. [Prelacy is defined as the government of the Christian Church by “clerics of high social rank and power.”]

We have an excellent presentation of the Principles of the Second Reformation presented in a lecture by the Rev. Dr. Andrew Symington, a minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Delivered in 1841 in Glasgow under the auspices of the Society for Promoting the Scriptural Principles of the Second Reformation, he gave a long lecture of the six principles of that reformation.  The whole address is much too long for our purposes here, but this writer will give them in succinct form for your reading pleasure. Click here if you wish to read the full lecture.

First, the Second Reformation placed as foremost the universal supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Dr. Symington noted that the Lord Jesus “is given to be the head of all things to the church. The church is Christ’s. He has loved her, redeemed her, chartered her, and given  her a constitution, immunities, and laws, and officers.”

Another leading principle is the spiritual independence of the church of Christ. Symington added that “the church receives the doctrines of her faith, the institutions of her worship, her polity, and her discipline from Jesus Christ, independently of all foreign authority.”

The third principle, the supreme and ultimate authority of the word of God in the church, was in effect a summary of the Second Reformation. Its people and adherents, said Dr. Symington, “brought every matter of faith, worship, discipline, and government, to the test of the divine word.”

Next, another principle of the Second Reformation was “the subjection of nations to God and to Christ.”  Rev. Symington was clear that “civil authority should acknowledge Divine Revelation, bow at the footstool of Jesus’ throne, and erect its constitution, enact its laws, and conduct its administration, in subservience to the interests of the kingdom of Christ.”

Fifth, the duties of covenanting with God, and the obligation of religious covenants were important. Historically, that General Assembly meeting in Glasgow in 1638 began with a repetition of the National Covenant of Scotland and the Solemn League and Covenant.  Such covenanting “united friends . . . in the bonds of truth.”

And last, these Presbyterians of centuries ago, acted upon the principle of holding fast past attainments, advancing in reformation, and extending its blessings to others.”  We Presbyterians in the United States can be thankful that they “cast their eyes abroad, contemplating the enlargement of the Kingdom of the Savior.”

Words to Live By:
Rev. Symington stated the obvious when he said that the church of God, since it was first established in Eden, has never had a very lengthy period of prosperity. Yet it is also true that we can reflect on our Savior’s promise to the church in Matthew 16:18 that “the gates of Hades will not overpower” the church.  Let us be comforted in this promise even as we seek to extend her witness to the nations around us.

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