Second Reformation

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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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The Day of Small Beginnings

Drawing from three separate quotations, we have in short compass the story of Jenny Geddes and her little wooden stool, which God used to bring about a revolution and return to biblical truth. Somewhere here in the Archives we have a photograph of what that little stool probably looked like. Perhaps later today that photo can be added to our post.

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Two years ago, while walking about in Old St. Giles’ church in Edinburgh, with Dr. W. G. Blaikie, whose fame as author, scholar, and preacher, is known throughout the Presbyterian Church, he said, ― this is the first time I have been here in seventeen years. And yet this is the church in which Knox preached and Jennie Geddes worshipped. Here she threw the famous stool at the head of the Dean who was reading the liturgy, under orders from King Charles. The outburst of popular indignation, occasioned by this act, was the beginning of the great struggle for religious liberty in Scotland.

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The war in behalf of purity in religion began in Scotland. Archbishop William Laud [1573-1645] prepared a new Prayer-book and sent it to Edinburgh for the use of the churches. On July 23, 1637, the priest of St. Giles Church came forth in white surplice to read the new ritual. Jennie Geddes flung her stool at his head, and a riot drove the minister from the chancel. All Scotland arose in arms against Laud’s innovations, and in 1638 the National Covenant was signed, binding the Scottish people to labor for the purity and liberty of the gospel. In the same year, at Glasgow, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland deposed the bishops and re-established the Presbyterian system.
Two brief wars with Scotland were waged by King Charles, but the lack of money compelled him to summon the representatives of the people. The combatants stood face to face in the arena of debate. The issues of religious and of civil liberty were at length to be decided in a conflict between Charles Stuart and the English Parliament.

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It has been said, and not without a show of propriety, “that the First Reformation in Scotland was commenced by a stone cast from the hand of a boy, and the Second Reformation by a stool from the hand of a woman.” By causes in themselves so insignificant does God often produce the grandest results. Detach them from their connections, and they are nothing. Associate them with the other links in the chain of providential influence to which they belong, and they become mighty for good or for evil. The bite of a spider has caused the death of a monarch, and the monarch’s death a revolution in his empire.

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Words to Live By:
The Lord delights to use the weak things of this world to accomplish His purposes.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29, NASB)

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