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in the United States, after describing the character and functions of the Commission under the Synods, and enlarging upon its advantages, adds as follows: "Our judicatories are sometimes so oppressed with judicial business, that it might be well, on some occasions, to resort to this old usage of our church, and appoint committees with plenary powers. Most men would be as willing to have a cause in which they were interested, decided by ten good men as by a hundred. Much time would thus be saved, and many details of evidence kept from coming before a large assembly."*
Many serious objections might be urged against a Commission like the Scottish-as its acts, for a hundred years, while Moderatism was in the ascendant, may abundantly demonstrate. Under the sway of Moderate policy, when the arbitrary decrees of the Assembly were regularly carried into effect by these "Riding Committees," as they were termed, we have such fearful examples of the spiritual despotism of which they were made the instruments, as may serve to warn us of the peril of any similar experiment.†
Here we might notice the difficulties and evils of our existing system-of ultimate trial and appellate jurisdiction by the General Assembly. The character of the Assembly-ever changing-often composed of very inferior men-not equal sometimes to many a Synod-and
* Part 2, p. 437.
† For some account of the evils of Commissions, see Hetherington's History of the Church of Scotland, pp. 340, 341. See also page 184 for the origin of said Commission in Scotland.
seldom, a fair representation of even the average wisdom, talent and learning of the church. Our commissioners to the highest court are often chosen upon the popular principle of rotation in office, so that each presbyter may serve in his turn, without regard to age or qualifications.
What is the remedy? Why not create a distinct or separate judicial tribunal, or ecclesiastical court, or bench of judges?—An independent judiciary? Such as all enlightened jurists and publicists agree, is essential to the administration of impartial justice, and to the due maintenance of personal liberty, under every form of civil government.
Should the principle, of an independent judiciary, be adopted, we next inquire: Shall there be one supreme court, with original and appellate jurisdiction, or with appellate jurisdiction only? together with inferior or subordinate courts-corresponding to our district or circuit courts? How many judges shall there be upon the one, or upon the several benches? For how long a time shall they hold office? By whom shall they be appointed? by Presbyteries, Synods or General Assembly?
Suppose Presbyteries were to continue in the exercise of the same powers as heretofore, and that all cases of appeal, reference, complaint, etc. should be carried up to the district or circuit court; and thence, if necessary, to the supreme court, for final adjudication?
To preserve harmony in judicial decisions, the records of the inferior courts should pass in review before the supreme court; and all illegal or anomalous proceedings be corrected.
The decisions of the supreme court might also be reviewed by the General Assembly, and be approved or disapproved; but never reversed or set aside. If disapproved, reasons should be assigned. The Scottish General Assembly never reverse or annul the doings of their "Commission;" though they sometimes express dissatisfaction.
The ablest and wisest men in the whole church ought, of course, to be chosen for the judicial office. And the elective vote should always be by ballot. Perhaps three or five years might be the term of office.-The incumbents being re-eligible, etc.
The highest or supreme court should sit long enough to dispose of all cases that might annually come before it.
I am inclined to the opinion that one court-a supreme court, of course-would suffice.-[Without any circuit or district or other inferior courts.] Let cases be tried in Presbytery as at present. If further judicial action be advisable, let the parties go at once to the supreme court -just as they now do to the General Assembly. This would greatly simplify the whole system-shorten the time, and diminish the expense of litigation.
The vast extent of our republic will render a change of some kind indispensable very soon. What shall we do with cases arising in California, Oregon, etc.? To say nothing of our Presbyteries in India or other foreign and remote countries? How small, comparatively, is old Scotland, our good mother and pattern?-With only 26,014 square miles-and including the adjacent islands, only 29,600?
N. B. Perhaps the better way would be to leave Church Sessions, Presbyteries and Synods to act as heretofore, and to have one supreme court with appellate jurisdiction only.
42. Presbyterians claim to be true Episcopalians, but not prelatists. They maintain that Presbytery is the true scriptural Episcopacy. They claim to be the legitimate successors of the apostles, though not by any virtue communicated and transmitted in the act of ordination. They also have three orders or degrees or kinds of church officers: as Bishops, Ruling Elders and Deacons. Though they acknowledge but one order in the ministry of the word. With them the scriptural terms, bishop and presbyter, are synonymous. Hence they recognize Episcopal ordination as being identical with Presbyterian ordination—and, of course, equally valid. Our ministers are as truly bishops, and as truly successors of the apostles as his Grace of Canterbury or his Holiness at Rome.*
43. Is it indispensable that a Presbyterian minister or other office-bearer should believe or approve everything contained in our Confession of Faith, Catechisms, Form of Government, Book of Discipline and Directory for Worship? Answer: Men may differ in opinion about non-essentials—such, namely, as do not involve any fundamental doctrine or principle, or such as need not be made matters of conscience-provided no schism, division, hostility or controversy be provoked or encouraged thereby. Men may submit in peace and charity to
* See Biblical Repertory, vol. xiii. pp. 1, 2, etc.
rules and laws which they do not entirely approve. They may, moreover, in a peaceful and legitimate way, endeavour to effect repeals, alterations, amendments or modifications in the existing code, in order to meet their views;—without criminality, and without giving just cause of offence.
1. Thus, many believe that Elders and Deacons ought to be ordained with the same formalities as ministersnamely, by imposition of hands.*
2. Others think that these officers ought to be chosen for short or limited periods-as for one, or two years, etc.
3. Some, again, doubt whether there be any scripturál warrant for the distinction between preaching and ruling elders.
4. Many object to our doctrine or rule concerning the degrees of affinity prohibited in marriage-namely, to the following passage of Section 4, of Chapter 24, of the Confession of Faith: "The man may not marry any of his wife's kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own, nor the woman of her husband's kindred nearer in blood than of her own."
44. In Scotland, formerly, elders were elected to serve for one year. They now hold for life, or during good behaviour. In Holland, and in the Dutch Reformed Church of this country, they are chosen for two years. They are, however, re-eligible. One ordination serves for life. They continue to be elders in rank, order and name-though without authority or vote when not in actual office. In Geneva, the lay elders are twice as
* The late Dr. Miller, among others, entertained this opinion.