The Spirituality of the Church Speech

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Kevin DeYoung recently wrote a post about what has frequently been termed "the spirituality doctrine of the church." I heartily commend this post to our readers, as it is quite a helpful introduction to the basics of Presbyterianism regarding the relationship between church and state. In that post, Kevin explains the significance of the Second Book of Discipline of the Church of Scotland--it being one of the foundational sources of the theological articulation of the spirituality of the church doctrine. 

The Second Book of Discipline was largely the product of the labors of Andrew Melville, John Knox's successor. Melville's name is often inseparably linked to references to "the spirituality doctrine of the church"--both on account of his contributions to the Second Book of Discipline as well as on account of a well documented interaction that he had with King James in September of 1596. It is this interaction to which I wish to briefly turn our attention.

With news of an impending Spanish invasion, King James VI of Scotland (later King James I of England) had given orders to the ministers throughout Scotland to charge their members to "take up arms, provide supplies and meet mediated attacks." Additionally, he relayed his desire to bring back certain Roman Catholic officials who would reestablish their presence and assert their authority over the churches. After an uproar among the people at the reception of the King's resolutions, a number of ministers forged a private meeting with the King and express their concerns. Among them was James Melville, Andrew Melville's nephew. The group of invited ministers had agreed that James Melville would be the best person to address the King "because of his courteous manner, and the favorable regard the King had shown him." At a certain point in the meeting, however, Andrew Melville could no longer remain silent and--despite attempts by his nephew to silence him--"seized the kings robe by the sleeve...termed him 'God's silly vassal," and explained that they had a "commission as from the mighty God." He then proceded to give what may be called "the spirituality doctrine of the church speech." It is as follows:

"Sir, we will always humbly reverence your majesty in public; but since we have this occasion to be with your majesty in private, and since you are brought in extreme danger of your life and crown, and along with you the country and the Church of God are like to go to wreck, for not telling you the truth and giving you faithful counsel, we must discharge our duty, or else be traitors both to Christ and you. Therefore, Sir, as divers times before I have told you, so now again I must tell you, there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James, the head of the commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.

Sir, those whom Christ has called and commanded to watch over his Church, have power and authority from Him to govern his spiritual kingdom, both jointly and severally; the which no Christian king or prince should control and discharge, but fortify and assist; otherwise they are not faithful subjects of Christ and members of his Church. We will yield to you your place, and give you all due obedience; but again, I say, you are not the head of the Church; you cannot give us that eternal life which we seek for even in this world, and you cannot deprive us of it. Permit us then freely to meet in the name of Christ, and to attend to the interests of that Church of which you are the chief member.

Sir, when you were in your swaddling clothes, Christ Jesus reigned freely in this land, in spite of all his enemies. His officers and ministers convened and assembled for the ruling and welfare of his Church, which was ever for your welfare, defense and preservation, when these same enemies were seeking your destruction. Their assemblies since that time continually have been terrible to these enemies, and most stedfast to you. And now, when there is more than extreme necessity for the continuance and discharge of that duty, will you (drawn to your own destruction by a most pernicious counsel) begin to hinder and dishearten Christ's servants and your most faithful subjects, quarreling them for their convening, and the care they have of their duty to Christ and you, when you should rather commend and countenance them, as the godly kings and emperors did? 

The wisdom of your counsel, which I call devilish, is this, that you must be served by all sorts of men, to come to your purpose and grandeur, Jew and Gentile, Papist and Protestant; and because the Protestants and ministers of Scotland are over strong, and control the king, they must be weakened and brought low by stirring up a party against them, and, the king being equal and indifferent, both should be fain to flee to him. 

But, Sir, if God's wisdom be the only true wisdom, this will prove mere and mad folly; His curse cannot but light upon it; in seeking both ye shall lose both; whereas in cleaving uprightly to God, His true servants would be your sure friends, and He would compel the rest counterfeitly and lyingly to give over themselves and serve you."1

1. W.M. Hetherington History of the Church of Scotland (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1856) pp. 104-105

Posted February 9, 2019 @ 9:14 AM by Nick Batzig

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