Rev. Robert Shaw on the sole headship of Christ and the Scottish Reformation

“The Church of Scotland, at the era of the Reformation, nobly asserted, and practically vindicated, the sole headship of Christ. This was especially the grand and leading principle of the Second Reformation; and it was in the way of contending for the royal prerogatives of Christ, as her alone king and head, and resisting the Erastian encroachments of aspiring princes upon her spiritual liberties, that many of her sons suffered bonds and exile, and shed their blood in fields and on scaffolds. Though the sole headship of Christ is explicitly asserted in our Confession of Faith, yet it is deeply to be regretted that this vital principle was not more effectually guarded in the Revolution Settlement. The Act 1592, upon which the Church was erected at this time, contained no acknowledgement of the headship of Christ; and it was not formally asserted by any act of the General Assembly. Though a regal supremacy was neither directly claimed by the Crown nor conceded by the Church, yet it was not long till it was virtually exercised. The meetings of the General Assembly were repeatedly dissolved and prorogued by the sovereign; and, in 1703, when the Assembly had prepared the draft of an act for the purpose of asserting the supremacy of Christ, the intrinsic power of the Church, and the divine right of the Presbyterian government, it was abruptly dissolved by her majesty’s commissioner, without any recorded protest. “But ecclesiastical independence was still more invaded, and spiritual interests more effectually subjected to secular dominion, by the restoration of the power of lay-patrons, after it had been repeatedly abolished. The power of patronage, when it is of any real effect in the settlement of the vacant churches, flows from the same spring with the ecclesiastical supremacy, and can neither be vindicated nor condemned, but on the same principles with it; and is indeed, when exercised by the Crown, a branch of it.” Without referring particularly to those recent struggles of the Church to vindicate her spiritual independence, which have issued in the disruption of the Scottish Establishment, there is nothing, it may be remarked, more clearly evinced by these events, than the determined resolution of the State to retain and exercise an Erastian power over the Church. But the Christian people of Scotland have given the most unequivocal proofs of their continued and firm attachment to the sole supremacy of Christ as “king in Zion”—a truth in defence of which their ancestors “loved not their lives unto the death.” They cannot contend or suffer in a nobler cause. Those who assume a headship over the Church of Christ, are guilty of an impious usurpation of his prerogatives; and his faithful subjects are bound to display their loyalty to him, by asserting his sole right to reign and rule in his own Church, and by giving no countenance to a claim so degrading to the Church, and so dishonouring to her alone king and head.”

Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith:  An Exposition Of The Westminster Confession Of Faith



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