July 23: Presbyterianism and Civil Liberty

by David_W_Hall

“The Shorter Catechism fought through successfully the Revolutionary war.”—A.A. Hodge.

Our guest author for the Election Day Sermon series, Dr. David Hall, will return with his next post on August 13th. Today’s post comes from the pen of the Rev. Dr. W.W. (Walter William) Moore [1857-1926], who, after a few brief pastorates, served first as professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, 1886-1915 and then as president of that same institution from 1904 until his death in 1926. The following article comes from THE NORTH CAROLINA PRESBYTERIAN, vol. 40, no. 2 (13 January 1898): 2.

PRESBYTERIANISM AND CIVIL LIBERTY.
by Rev. W.W. Moore, D.D. (Walter William Moore, 1857-1926)

Civil liberty and religious liberty go hand in hand. As men settle the question of church power, so they are likely to settle the question of civil power. If they rest church power in the clergy they are likely to rest civil power in kings and nobles. Hence the remark of Lord Bacon that “Discipline by bishops is fittest for monarchy of all others.” If, on the other hand, men rest church power in the people, in the church itself, as Presbyterians do, then they will hold that civil power also rests in the people, and that all civil rulers are the servants of the people. So Dr. Paxton has said, “If there is liberty in the church there will be liberty in the State; if there is no bishop in the church there will be no tyrant on the throne.”

Hence it is that modern tyrants have with one consent recognized that Presbyterianism was their natural enemy and have hated and feared it accordingly. Charles II. pronounced Calvinism a religion not fit for a gentleman. Charles I. said: “The doctrine (of the Presbyterians) is anti-monarchical,” and he added that “there was not a wiser man since Solomon than he who said, ‘No Bishop, no King.'” James I., born and reared a Scot, spake what he knew when he said at the Hampton Court Conference, “Ye are aiming at a Scots Presbytery, which agrees with monarchy as well as God and the devil.” History has demonstrated that the views thus expressed by the Stuart kings were absolutely correct. By its doctrine of personal liberty Presbyterianism has emphasized the worth of the individual. By its republican polity it has rested the power of government in the people, and administered it through representatives of the people chosen by the people. And, as a natural consequence, it has in every age been the chief educator of the people in the principles of civil liberty, and has in every land reared the noblest champions of human freedom. And so the Westminster Review, which is certainly no friend of our faith, says: “Calvin sowed the seeds of liberty in Europe,” and again, emphatically, “Calvinism saved Europe.” Castelar, the eloquent Spaniard, says: “The Anglo-Saxon democracy is the product of a severe theology,” learned in the cities of Switzerland and Holland, “and it remains serenely in its grandeur, forming the most dignified, most moral, most enlightened and richest portion of the human race.”

Macaulay has shown that the great revolution of 1688, which gave liberty to England, was in a great measure due to the heroism of the Presbyterians of Scotland, who at Drumclog contended for Christ’s Crown and Covenant against the dragoons of Claverhouse, whose blood crimsoned the heather at Bothwell Bridge and Ayrsmoss, and whose brethren in Ireland resisted to the death the army of King James at Derry. Ranke, the great historian of Germany, says: “John Calvin was virtually the founder of America.”

Bancroft, our own historian, says: “We are proud of the free States that fringe the Atlantic. The Pilgrims of Plymouth were Calvinists; the best influence in South Carolina came from the Calvinists of France. William Penn was the disciple of the Huguenots; the ships from Holland that first brought colonists to Manhattan were filled with Calvinists. He that will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.” Rufus Choate says: “I ascribe to Geneva an influence that has changed the history of the world. I trace to it the opening of another era of liberty; the republican constitution framed in the cabin of the Mayflower, the divinity of Jonathan Edwards, the battle of Bunker Hill, and the independence of America.”

These, be it remembered, are all disinterested testimonies by men who are not themselves Presbyterians. One of them, Bancroft, adds this further statement of fact: “The first voice publicly raised in America to dissolve all connection with Great Britain came, not from the Puritans of New England, not from the Dutch of New York, not from the planters of Virginia, but from the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of North Carolina.” The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, in May 1775, was the work of Presbyterians exclusively, nine of its signers being Presbyterian elders and one a Presbyterian minister. Fourteen months after that memorable action, when, in Philadelphia, the Colonial Congress was hesitating to pass the Declaration of National Independence, it was the eloquence of an illustrious Presbyterian that swept the waverers to a decision, John Witherspoon, the president of Princeton, the only minister of any denomination who signed that immortal document.

Later still, in one of the darkest hours of the Revolution, Washington, himself connected with the Episcopal Church, said that should all his plans be crushed, he would plant his standard on the Blue Ridge, and rallying round him the Scotch-Irish of the Valley, make a final stand for freedom on the Virginia frontier. To this sterling strain, it has been said, belongs the unique distinction of being the only race in America that never produced a Tory. Calvinism, in fact, was the backbone of the Revolution. “While the Quakers were non-combatants, and stood aloof from the conflict; while the Episcopalians, as a rule, were against the Colonies and in favor of the crown; while the Methodists followed the mother Church and imitated John Wesley himself in their denunciation of the revolting Americans, the Congregational ministers of New England and the Presbyterian ministers from Long Island to Georgia gave to the cause of the Colonies all that they could give of the sanction of religion.”

As for Presbyterian elders and laymen, when we remember the remark of George Alfred Townsend, ‘When I want to find the grave of an officer in the Revolutionary Army, I go to a Presbyterian graveyard and there I find it;” when we remember that nearly all the officers in command at King’s Mountain, the most successful battle save one that was ever fought by American arms, were Presbyterian elders and that their troops were mustered from Presbyterian settlements; when we remember that General Morgan and General Pickens, who turned the whole tide of the war at the Cowpens, were Presbyterian elders; when we remember that after his surrender at Saratoga, Burgoyne said to Morgan concerning his Scotch-Irish riflemen, “Sir, you have the finest regiment in the world;” when we remember that Generals Moultrie, Sullivan, Sumter, Stark, Knox, Routledge, Wayne, and scores of other officers, as well as thousands of the Revolutionary rank and file, were of the same sturdy stock, it is hardly too much to say with Dr. Archibald Hodge that “The Shorter Catechism fought through successfully the Revolutionary war.”

 
David_W_Hall | July 23, 2016 at 12:05 am | Categories: July 2016 | URL: http://www.thisday.pcahistory.org/?p=15362
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