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^ PRINCETON, N. J. ^ '



Shelf. Number,


















Westcott & Thomson,
^ttreotypers and Electrotypers, PhUad^^


Thsoughotjt my ministry of twenty-five years T
have experienced the need of ready and authoritative
answers to questions which constantly arise in Church
work. As a young man, fresh from the seminary, I
was embarrassed when suddenly made " the chief ruler,"
the Moderator of the Session. I was practically igno-
rant of its high duties, and was tempted to neglect them
under the new and absorbing pressure of pulpit prepara-
tion. Questions of government and discipline wxre pre-
sented, and my opinions and the theories urged by others
were useless. I needed to know how the Church had
defined its constitution and applied its laws, and was
thus led to record the interpretations and decisions of
our highest judicatory. I soon found that Elders and
Deacons, unexpectedly called to their responsible offices,
gave their solemn assent to the constitution often after
a very cursory reading, and were necessarily perplexed
as to their duties. Candidates were frequently ordained
when found " apt to teach,'' but unprepared *^ to rule ''
and "to take care of the Church of God.'' Communi-
cants needed instruction as to the distinctive principles


of Presbyterianism, their own privileges and work in
the Church and their relation to other denominations
of Christians.

To meet these needs in my own congregation, I formed
a class on Church Polity, and prepared questions on our
" Form of Government " to help the members in their
study. The interest excited and the good accomplished
convinced me that all the officers and members of our
churches would be greatly helped by authoritative an-
swers to such questions. In this book I attempt to aid
them, presenting, not my own views nor the theories of
others, but Presbyterian Law as defined by the
Church Courts. Sound doctrine, the efficiency of
officers. Christian activity and the maintenance of fel-
lowship with other branches of Christ's Church, all
depend very much upon a correct appreciation and
proper use of our scriptural form of government; the
principles of which have been developed and illustrated
under both the Old and New Dispensations of the Church
of God . Sabbath-school classes in Church Polity there-
fore would be a lasting spiritual edification to the whole
Church ; and more practical instruction in the theologi-
cal seminaries and thorough examinations before Pres-
bytery would secure a ministry better fitted to teach
and to rule.

The real unity of the Church, as well as denominational
courtesy, requires the recognition of the ministry, ordi-
nances and discipline of other branches of the ChristiaD


Church. Christ brings all his worshipers into frequent
ecclesiastical and personal relations for mutual improve-
ment, and in anticipation of the perfect communion to be
enjoyed hereafter. I have therefore stated the principal
peculiarities of other churches, as far as possible, in the
words of their acknowledged standards.

I trust that this book may help to make us more loyal
and e&cient as Presbyterians, and more sympathetic with
the whole body of Christ.


Hartford, Connecticut, )
January, 1882. j


In preparing this edition for the press the book has
been carefully revised, many of the plates having been
changed. It contains the decisions of the General As-
sembly to the present date, thus greatly increasing its
value over previous editions. The Board of Publication
has gone to considerable expense in carrying out the
efforts of the author to make this book a real help to
our Ministers and Elders.


Lincoln Univebsity, \

Chester Co., Pa., October 15, 1894./



[The chapters and sections correspond with those of the " Form of Govern^
Client," and the text of these is indicated by italics.]


Preface 3

Preface to Seventh Edition 6

Contents ...... 7

Introductory 9

/HAP. I. Preliminary Principles 21

II. Of the Church 28

III. Of the Officers of the Church 41

IV. Of Bishops or Pastors 45

V. Of Kuling Elders 62

VI. Of Deacons 60

VII. Of Ordinances m a Particular Church 71

Prayer 74

Praise 76

Preaching 80

Baptism 82

Lord's Supper 90

Fasting 93

Sabbath 93

Marriage 97

Catechising 108

Collections Ill

Discipline 113

Benediction 117

Vill. Of Church Government, and the Several Kinds

OF Judicatories 117

IX. Of the Church Session 126

X. Of the Presbytery 177



Chap. Pagb.

XI. Of the Synod 241

XII. Of the General Assembly 260

XIII. Of Electing and Ordaining Elders and Deacons 305

XIV. Of Licensing Candidates 323

XV. Of the Election and Ordination of Ministers . 358

XVI. Of Translation, or Kemoving a Minister .... 392

XVII. Of Kesigning a Pastoral Charge 401

XVIII. Of Missions (Boards and Committees) 411

Board of Home Missions 415

Board of Education 430

Board of Publication 442

Board of Foreign Missions 459

Board of Church Erection 473

Board of Belief 480

Board of Missions for Freedmen 486

Sustentation Fund 499

Board of Aid for Colleges and Academies 506

Permanent Committee on Temperance 509

Committee on Manses 512

Permanent Committee on Systematic Beneficence . .515

Presbyterian Historical Society 521

XIX. Of Moderators 525

General Eules for Judicatories 530

Standing Orders 538

XX. Of Clerks 543

XXI. Of Vacant Congregations 550

XXII. Of Commissioners to the General Assembly . . . 552

XXIII. Of Amendments 564

Local Evangelists 565

Worship of God by Offerings 566

Increase of the Ministry 567

Ministry Adjustment 569

Control of Theological Seminaries 669

Differences between Judicatories 572

Young People's Societies 673

Index 675



"The invisible Church is the whole number of the
elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one
under Christ the Head/^ " The visible Church is a so-
ciety made up of all such as in all ages and places of
the world do profess the true religion, and of their
children.^' *

What is the present condition of the visible Church ?

It is composed of various denominations, or chui'ches,
which, while holding to Christ the Head, and receiving
the Scriptures as the inspired revelation of his truth and
will, are distinguished from each other by their creeds,
forms of worship and polities.

What are the principal kinds of church government ?

1. The Papal. Its characteristics are, "a vicar of
Christ, a perpetual college of Apostles, and the people
subject to their infallible control."

2. The Prelatical, which teaches "the perpetuity
of the apostleship as the governing power in the Churchj
which therefore consists of those who profess the true
religion and are subject to apostle-bishops." Its Low
Church form asserts that " there was originally a three-
fold order in the ministry, and that there should be now.

* Larger Catechism, Qq. 62 and 64.


But it does not affirm that mode of organization to be

3. The Independent, which holds that "the gov-
erning and executive power in the Church is in the
brotherhood," and "that the church organization is
complete in each worshiping assembly, which is inde-
pendent of every other." *

4. The Congregational, which maintains that "all
ecclesiastical power resides in the church, or the associ-
ated body of the brethren," and that the churches, which
" live in close fraternal union, are associated together in
bodies, and often ask and receive advice and help from
each other; but all this is the result of mutual confidence
and affection, not of any superior power." The inde-
pendence of the churches is claimed in the right of each
to choose its own officers, determine its creed, judge its
members and formulate its worship. The community
of the churches is expressed in Councils, called in emer-
gencies, and which have only advisory power.f

5. The Presbyterian, which holds that " the people
have a right to a substantial part in the government of
the Church," by representatives generally called Ruling
Elders; that "the Presbyters who minister in word and
doctrine are the highest permanent officers of the Church,
and all belong to the same order ;" and that " the out-
ward and visible Church is, or should be, one, in the sense
that a smaller part is subject to a larger, and a larger to
the whole," as in courts of appeal.^

What portions of the Reformed Church are Presbyterian?
The Protestant churches of France, Holland, Germany,

* What is Presbyterianism, pp. 5, 6.
t Congregational Manual, pp. 6-11.
X Whai is Presbyterianism, pp. 6, 7.


Switzerland, Scotland, Ireland and portions of the dis-
senting churches of England, and those in this country
and Canada planted by them.* This list is very imper-
fect, as may be seen in the list of churches in the Pres-
byterian Alliance. To it should be added the Presby-
terian Church of Wales, Mission Church of Belgium,
Waldensian Church of Italy, Reformed Church of East
Friesland, Evangelical Church of Spain, the Reformed
churches of Bohemia and Moravia, in the Netherlands,
in Russia, the Free Italian Church, Reformed Dutch
Church in Cape Colony, in Orange Free State, in Natal,
in South Africa, in Australia, in New Zealand, in Otago,
in Ceylon and in New Hebrides.f To this list should
be added also the various mission churches established in
heathen lands.

Did Presbyterianism originate with the Reformers ?

The three great principles of Presbyterianism — ^viz.
government by Elders, the parity of the ministry and
courts of appeals — have always been recognized in the
Church of God. (See Ex. 3 : 16; 18 : 25, 26; Num.
11 : 16.) For the ceremonial services (which were typi-
cal and temporary) there were Priests of various orders.
But the teaching Elders, or Scribes, or Doctors of the
law, were of the same order. The Apostles, who were
extraordinary and temporary officers, J ordained Elders
in every church, and in their Epistles distinguished be-
tween those who "rule well" and those who "labor in
word and doctrine" (Acts 15 : 25 ; 1 Tim. 5 : 17). The
most ancient churches still extant, or of whose govern-
ment we have information, were Presbyterian; as the

* Miller on Presbyterianism, p. 20.

t Beport of Second General Council of the Presbyterian Alliance, pp.
5, 9; Third General Council, pp. 14-23. J See p. 42.


Waldensian and Bohemian churches, the Syrian in the
far East, the ancient British churches, and the Culdee
Church in lona, Scotland, which land had received
Christianity, according to Tertullian and Baronius, be-
fore the death of John. These churches claim to have
received their form of government from the Apostles'
teaching and practice. Calvin and the other Reformers
derived their principles of polity and discipline from the
Scriptures, and from these ancient churclfes.*

What is the earliest record of a Presbytery in England?

In 1572 a Presbytery Avas formed at Wandsworth, near
London. In 1574, T. Cartwright republished Travers'
work under the title, "A full and Plaine Declaration of
Ecclesiastical Discipline out of the Word of God." In
1584 a national Synod in London revised a book which
was called the '' Holy Discipline," and which before 1590
was subscribed by five hundred Ministers in England.f

What book of polity was adopted by the Church of Scot-
laud at the Reformation ?

" Previous to the legal establishment of the Protestant
religion in 1560, the 'Book of Common Order,' used by
the English church at Geneva, was generally followed
as the rule of worship and discipline by the Scotch Re-
formers ; but that being found inadequate to the regu-
lation of a Church consisting of numerous congregations,
a 'Book of Discipline' adapted to the state of the Church
was soon after that event urged upon Parliament," but it dis-
solved without action. The same year a " Book of Policy,"
or " First Book of Discipline," was approved by the Gen-

* Name, Nature and Function of Ruling Elder, p. 78 ; The Culdee
Church, pp. 33-51 and 65-72; Miller on Preshyterianism, pp. 9-22;
Primitive Church Offices, pp. 1-67.

t Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Churchy p. 23.


eral Assembly. This, while sanctioned by the Church,
was never formally approved by the civil authorities.
" The Second Book of Discipline " was adopted by the
General Assembly in 1578; and according to it the
church government was established in 1592.*

Wlieii did the Westminster Assembly of Divines meet ?

This Assembly of Ministers and laymen met by order
of Parliament July 1, 16'43, and closed February 22,
1649. Its sessions were in the Jerusalem Chamber of
Westminster Abbey. Great dissatisfaction had been
caused by the introduction of new ceremonies, the en-
forcement of the " Book of Sunday Sports," the expulsion
of Puritan clergy, and the effort to force the Episcopal
liturgy upon the Scottish churches. This Assembly was
called "to be consulted with by Parliament for settling
of the government and the liturgy of the Church of Eng-
land, and for the vindication of the doctrine of the said
Church from false aspersions and interpretations." In
October of the same year Parliament ordered the mem-
bers to "confer and treat among themselves of such
discipline and government as may be most agreeable to
God's holy word, etc., to be settled in this Church, in
stead and place of the present church government by
Archbishops, Bisho23S, etc., which is resolved to be taken
away, and touching and concerning the directory of
worship, or liturgy, hereafter to be in the Church." The
Assembly had no ecclesiastical authority, but was to confer
with Parliament on these subjects. Of those appointed
members of the Assembly, twenty were Ministers of the
Church of England ; many of these were prevented from
taking their seats by a proclamation from the king for-
bidding the meeting of the Assembly. At the open^

* The Church of God, by Stuart Eobinson, Appendix, pp. iv., xvii.


iog there were sixty-nine Ministers present. Most of
these were Presbyterians, ten were Independents and six
were Erastians (holding that the Church is subordinate
to the State). The whole number of delegates was one
hundred and twenty Ministers and thirty laymen. In
1 644 the Assembly submitted to Parliament " The Di-
rectory for Public Worship ;'^ in 1 646, " The Confession of
Faith.^^ In 1647 the Assembly sent to the House of Com-
mons " The Larger Catechism," and the same year " The
Shorter Catechism." These were adopted immediately by
the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In
England the " Directory for Public Worship " and the
"Confession of Faith" were ratified by Parliament. These,
with the Assembly's Catechism, became the standards
of the English and of the Irish Presbyterian churches,
but the restoration of the Stuarts re-established Epis-
copacy in its former authority in England.*

What was the earliest Presbyterian church in Amer-

This is uncertain. The first Presbyterian church of
New York was planted by the Reformed Church of
Holland in 1628. Pev. James M. Macdonald claimed
that the Presbyterian church of Jamaica, L. I., was " the
oldest Presbyterian church established by the English in
America." It was organized in 1672.f Dr, Gillett grants
that this is " more than possible." The Pev. Francis Ma-
kemie organized a church at Rehoboth, Somerset co., Md.
"All the circumstances point to the establishment of that
church from 1684 to 1686.'' There were at least three

* American Oyclopcedia. Constitutional History of Presbyterian Church,
pp. 23-26; Westminster Assembly (A. F. Mitchell), pp. 370, 407.

f Two Centuries in the History of the Presbyterian Church, Jamaica,
pp. 57, 76. See American Presbyterianism (C. A. Briggs,) pp. 87-131.


churches in Maryland in 1691 : at Rehoboth, Makemie
Pastor ; at Snow Hill, S. Davis Pastor ; and at Princess
Ann, T. Wilson Pastor. Records have been recently-
discovered "incidentally showing the establishment of
the church in Maryland to have been the first upon this
continent." *

According to Dr. Gillett, the Presbyterian church at
Snow Hill, Md., organized in 1684 by Makemie, was
the first church of our order in the country. But he
adds, "It is probable, indeed, that other Presbyterian
congregations had been gathered before this in other
localities.'^ f The church of Snow Hill w^as " founded
by Makemie after he had established the church at
Rehoboth."J Four others in that State date nearly
as far back. Those in Freehold and Woodbridge,
in New Jersey, were established in 1692. The first
church formed in Philadelphia was in 1698. Presby-
terian churches were planted very early in New Cas-
tle, Delaware, and in Charleston, South Carolina. § A
large proportion of the Puritans who settled New
England w^ere Presbyterians, but the first-comers were
Congregationalists, and with these the Presbyterians
identified themselves. Presbyterian churches were,
however, early planted in New England. The first,
probably, was in 1710 in Mansfield, Connecticut; its
members were ruled by eight Elders; its first Minister
continued in his pastorate over thirty-one years. In
1741 a Presbyterian church was organized at Milford,
Connecticut, and was connected with the Presbytery of

* Second General Council Presbyterian Alliance, p. 800.
t Oillett's History of the Presbyterian Church, i., pp. 4, 5.
X Second General Council Presbyterian Alliance, p. 801.
^ Sprayue's Annals, vol. iii., Introduction.


New Brunswick.* Besides these there was a French
Presbyterian church in Boston, Massachusetts, formed
by Huguenots in 1687. f

Which was the first Presbytery organized in America?

The Presbytery of Philadelphia, which was organized
probably early in 1704. The first page of the records
is lost. The book begins with a fragment of the min-
utes of a meeting of the Presbytery held at Freehold,
New Jersey, December 26, 1 706. It consisted of seven
Ministers, and was called to examine, and to hear the
trial-pieces of, Mr. John Boyd ; and on the next Lord's
Day, December 29th, the Presbytery ordained him "in
the public meeting-house of this place, before a numer-
ous assembly .'' J In 1718 a large number of Presbyte-
rians, with four Ministers, came to New England from
the north of Ireland. The Ministers and Elders assem-
bled as often as possible, yet somewhat informally. In
cases of difficulty they sought advice from the Synod
of Ireland. This informal Presbytery continued until
1745, when it was regularly organized as the Boston
Presbytery. It consisted at first of six Ministers. §

When was the first Synod held ?

In September, 1716, the Presbytery declared that "it
having pleased Divine Providence so to increase our
number as that, after much deliberation, we judge it
may be more serviceable to the interest of religion to
divide ourselves into subordinate meetings or Presbyte-
ries, constituting one annually, as a Synod, to meet at
Philadelphia or elsewhere, to consist of all the members

* Spragu^s Annals, vol. iii., Introduction,
t Connecticut Historical Collections, pp. 234, 552.
X Records of the Presbyterian Church, p. 9.
I Sprague's Annals, vol. iii,, Introduction.


of each subordinate Presbytery or meeting for this year
at least ; therefore it is agreed by the Presbytery, after
serious deliberation, that the first subordinate meeting or
Presbytery, to meet at Philadelphia or elsewhere as they
shall see fit, do consist of these following members" (six
Ministers). "And the second, to meet at New Castle"
(consisting of six Ministers). "And the third, to meet at
Snow" Hill" (of three Ministers). And the Ministers on
Long Island were urged to use their best endeavors with
brethren settled there to join in forming a fourth Presby-
tery. The Synod was called the Synod of Philadelphia.*

When was the first Greneral Assembly held ?

In 1788 the Synod of New York and Philadelphia
unanimously resolved to divide itself into four Synods
— viz. the Synod of New York and New Jersey, the
Synod of Philadelphia, the Synod of Virginia and the
Synod of the Carolinas; and "that the first meeting
of the General Assembly, to be constituted out of the
above said four Synods, be held, and it is hereby ap-
pointed to be held, on the third Thursday of May, 1789,
in the Second Presbyterian Church in the city of Phil-
adelphia, at eleven o'clock A. M., and that Dr. Wither-
spoon, or in bis absence Dr. Rodgers, open the General
Assembly with a sermon, and preside until a Moderator
be chosen." The former of these Ministers preached and
presided during the organization, and the latter was then
elected the first regular Moderator.*}"

When were the Westminster Standards adopted ?

In 1729 the Synod of Philadelphia, the original Synod
and the supreme court of the Church, adopted the "Con-
fession of Faith " and the " Larger and Shorter Catechisms "

* Records of the Presbyterian Church, p. 45.

f Ibid., p. 547 ; Assembly's Digest, pp. 280, 854.


of the Westminster Assembly, and agreed that all its
members, present and future, shall declare their agree-
ment in and approbation of these standards, "as being,
in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms
of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine," and
shall also adopt them as the confession of their faith.
The same day all the members of Synod complied with
this order, personally adopting these standards, except
one Minister, who gave in his adherence the next year.

The Synod further declared that "they judge the ^Di-
rectory for Worship, Discipline and Government of the
Church,' commonly annexed to the Westminster Confes-
sion, to be agreeable in substance to the word of God,
and founded thereon, and therefore do earnestly recom-
mend the same to all their members, to be by them ob-
served as near as circumstances will allow and Christian
prudence direct." *

In this adopting act the Synod unanimously declared
that they did not receive the clauses in the twentieth and
twenty-third chapters "in any such sense as to suppose
the civil magistrate hath a controlling power over Synods
with respect to the exercise of their ministerial authority,
or power to persecute any for their religion, or in any
sense contrary to the Protestant succession to the throne
of Great Britain." These articles, thus excepted to, were
altered after the independence of the United States was
established, and the Synod considered "the Church of
Christ as a spiritual society entirely distinct from the
civil government, having a right to regulate their own
ecclesiastical policy, independently of the interposition
of the magistrate."!

♦ Records of the Presbyterian Church, pp. 94, 95.
f Presbyterian Digest, p. 50.


The language used in adopting the ^' Directory and Form
of Church Government'^ was chosen "because we believe'
the general platform of our government to be agreeable
to the Sacred Scriptures; but we do not believe that God
has been pleased so to reveal and enjoin every minute
circumstance of ecclesiastical government and discipline
as not to leave room for orthodox churches of Christ, in
these minutiae, to differ with charity from one another."

The Synod, preparatory to forming the General Assem-
bly, ordered a thorough revision of the standards, and a
committee was appointed to digest a system of discipline
and government adapted to the state of the Church in
this country. The draught of the ^' Form of Government
and Discipline" was adopted in 1788 as the constitution
of the Presbyterian Church in America, and it was or-
dered to be strictly observed as the rule of their pro-
ceedings by all the inferior judicatories. It was resolved,
"that the ^Form of Government and Discipline' and the

Online LibraryJ. Aspinwall (John Aspinwall) HodgeWhat is Presbyterian law as defined by the church courts? → online text (page 1 of 44)