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when a suitably qualified minister was found, he was not allowed to secularize himself, poor as his outward provision might be. It was expressly decreed, that a minister should be permitted neither to exercise the office of a judge, nor to practise medicine. And as soon as any minister departed from the faith, or refused to submit to the discipline of the Church, he was set aside. At one Synod, we read of seven ministers being deposed, and at another of twenty-four; the latter number included "vagrants." In some cases there may have been harshness, but the circumstances of the times required zeal and determination, and it is not easy always to separate these from apparent severity. The directions addressed to ministers, as to the manner in which they should preach and catechise, are good.
"Churches shall be admonished more frequently to practise catechisings; and ministers shall catechise by short, plain, and familiar questions and answers, accommodating themselves to the weakness and capacity of their people, without enlargements, or handling of common places. And such churches as have not used this ordinance of catechising, are hereby exhorted to take it up. Yea, and all ministers shall be obliged to catechise their several flocks at least once or twice a-year, and shall exhort their youth to submit themselves unto it conscientiously. And as for their method in preaching and handling the Scriptures, the said ministers shall be exhorted not to dwell long upon a text, but to expound and treat of as many in their ministry as they can, fleeing all ostentation and long digressions, and heaping up of parallel places and quotations; nor ought they to propound divers senses and expositions, nor to allege, unless very rarely and prudently, any passage of the Fathers; nor shall they cite profane authors and stories, that so the Scriptures may be left in their full and sovereign authority."
While thus in earnest to render the labours of the ministry as effective and interesting as possible, the Church of France did not undervalue the word of God. She hailed the new translation of the Scriptures, and encouraged the brethren of Geneva to continue their explanatory observations; and when the copies became rare and expensive, she rejoiced in an edition being brought out at Rochelle, and entreated the printer that he have "a singular care that it be done most accurately and correctly."
Reserving liberty unto the Church for a more exact translation of the Holy Bible, our churches, imitating the
primitive Church, are exhorted to receive and use, in their public assemblies, the last translation, revised by the pastors and professors of the Church of Geneva. And thanks shall be presently given unto Monsieur Rotan, and by letters unto our brethren of Geneva, who have, at the desire of our churches, so happily undertaken and accomplished this great and good work: and they be further entreated to amplify their notes, for the clearer and better understanding of the remaining dark places in the sacred text: and ministers in the respective provinces are ordered to collect those difficult passages, and to make report of them unto the next National Synod, who shall consider which most needs explication."
With regard, again, to the sanctification of the Sabbath, another of the great means of spiritual good, we find that she was not insensible. Living in the heart of a Popish country, where the Sabbath is uniformly desecrated, the Protestants of France may not have entertained such just and scriptural views of the sanctity of that day as other Protestants who are placed in more favourable circumstances; and, indeed, the Continental Reformers generally, seem to have put the argument for the Sabbath upon low and insufficient ground, the sad consequences of which are felt to this day but the following deliverance indicates serious concern for the honour of the Lord's day.
"Whereas public notaries in divers churches keep open doors on the Lord's day, and pass all manner of contracts and transactions, whereby very many souls are taken off, together with themselves, from the religious sanctification of the Lord's holy Sabbath; it is decreed by this Synod, that for time to come the said notaries shall pass no manner of contracts on the Lord's day, unless it be contracts of marriage, last wills and testaments, articles of agreement between dissenting parties, and the amicable terminating of vexatious lawsuits, and such other business as cannot possibly be delayed; under which head fall in matters of necessity and mercy, and such contracts may be despatched on the most holy days, provided always that such writings be not drawn up, nor executed, during the time of divine service, and of the public worship of God; and their offices shall be shut, if possible, whilst they be thus employed."
Nor was the concern less for the honour of God's name. "All swearers, who in passion or hastiness, do take the name of God in vain, and others who affront the divine Majesty, shall be most sharply reproved; and if, after one or
two admonitions, they do not refrain, they shall be suspended the Lord's Table. And all outrageous blasphemers, forswearers, and such like persons, shall in nowise be tolerated in the Church, but upon the first offence shall be punished with suspension from the Lord's Supper; and if they continue in their ungodliness, they shall be publicly excommunicated. And this Assembly voted unanimously, that when the deputies of the provinces shall be returned to their several respective homes, they shall cause this article to be read in all the churches, in the audience of all the people."
I am still speaking of the twenty-six years which intervened between 1572 and 1598-between the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and the granting of the edict of Nantes.
Though there can be little doubt that the Church was already declining in her attachment to sound doctrine, and that light views of truth were beginning to appear, she was still, as a Church, decided in her opposition to heresy, and to the corruptions of the Church of Rome. At an early day, she had deputed a certain number of her ministers to protest against the Popish Council of Trent, and to declare the nullity of all its decisions and decrees; and at a later day, we meet with the following deliverance:
"The confession being read, Monsieur de Beza acquainted the assembly of those heresies dispersed abroad in Poland and Transylvania, by divers persons, against the unity, divinity, and human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, reviving the errors of ancient heretics, particularly of Samosatenus, Arius, Photinus, Nestorius, Eutychus, and many others, yea, and of Mahomet himself also: Whereupon the Synod unanimously voted their detestation of all those abominable errors and heresies, and advised all pastors, elders and deacons, and generally all the faithful, vigorously to oppose their admission into the churches of France. Information was also given concerning the errors of Cozain, by the minister of Normandy; and Monsier de Chandiese, and Monsieur de L'Estang, were ordered to examine the table of the said Cozain, and to bring in a report of it; and finally, it was condemned, rejected, and detested; and the English bishops shall be desired to suppress the books of the said heretics, which begin to be in vogue among them."
Indeed, it was common to censure and condemn works containing erroneous sentiment, and to guard the churches against them; and a correspondence was even held with foreign churches, where the heresy proceeded from their
borders. At this time, too (1594,) the Church, as a body, was sound in her opposition to Popery. One of the ministers was publicly and warmly commended for his answer to part of Bellarmine's Works, the great Romish champion; and those who had had the courage to hold a discussion with the advocates of the Church of Rome, were honoured with similar approbation.
"The present Synod return thanks unto Monsieur Berand, Rotan, and the other pastors, for their pious endeavours in maintaining the truth at the conference held at Mants with Monsieur de Perrote, and other Popish theologers, and ratifies their whole proceeding, and that offer made by them to continue the said conference at the pleasure and commandment of his Majesty. In pursuance whereof, the Synod hath nominated twenty pastors, out of whom twelve shall be chosen to confer with those of the Romish Church, that so the provinces may have notice, and come prepared for the said conference."
But it is to be feared the seeds of compromise and degeneracy were now in the course of being sown. Several of the Protestant ministers, disappointed that their preferments were so poor, proposed a reunion of the two Churches, Popish and Protestant; and agreed, at a public discussion, to betray the cause of the Reformed into the hands of the Romanists. It would seem that they had been largely bribed for this purpose. Though defeated in their object at the time by the superior fidelity of their brethren, yet the very fact that such an idea was entertained, and deemed practicable, showed how sadly both ministers and people were declining from the truth. The General Assembly of 1598 was still clear and decided.
"Forasmuch as it is the duty of all the faithful heartily to desire the reunion of all the subjects of this kingdom in the unity of faith, for the greater glory of God, the salvation of millions of souls, and the singular repose of the common weal; yet, because of our sins, this being rather a matter of our prayers than of our hopes, and that, under this pretext, divers profane persons attempt openly to blend and mingle both religions, all ministers shall admonish seriously their flocks, not in the least to hearken unto any such motions, it being utterly impossible that the temple of God should hold communion with idols; as also, for that such wretches design only by this trick to debauch easy credulous souls from the belief and profession of the Gospel. And whoever at
tempts such a reconciliation, either by word or writing, shall be most severely censured."
We are happy to turn to a more pleasing contemplation. While some persons longed for a union between Popery and Protestantism, the Church cultivated a Christian union with the other Protestant Churches of Christendom. Unity of sentiment and affection, as well as a sense of common danger, led to this; and it were well that it were more common now. The Evangelical Churches of the present day are, in this respect, a great contrast to the Christian Churches of the Reformation. The National Synod, held in 1583, highly approved of a work entitled" Harmonia Confessionum, The Harmony of the Confessions of Faith, "as being most useful and needful for these our times," and advised that it should be translated into French, and recommended by the Church. A few years earlier, "many deputies, from sundry famous reformed Churches, kingdoms, and provinces, met at Francfort," to devise measures for uniting all the reformed Churches of Christendom in one common bond of union, so as to terminate all their differences. The Church of France rejoiced in this prospect, and appointed four of her ablest ministers to appear as her representatives. With regard to the Church of the Netherlands, she highly approved of their confession, and established a still closer union.
"This assembly doth now ordain, that as often as the Synods of the said Low Countries shall be convened, two provinces of this kingdom shall be obliged to send their deputies; to wit, two ministers and one elder, who shall be expressly sent by those two provinces in every National Synod, and their charges borne by all the provinces of this kingdom; and for this present approaching Synod of the Low Countries, the provinces of the Isle of France and Normandy are appointed to send their deputies. And whereas the brethren, their deputies, have tendered unto this Synod the confession of faith and body of Church discipline owned and embraced by the said Churches of the Low Countries, this assembly having humbly and heartily blessed God for that sweet union and agreement, both in doctrine and discipline, between the Churches of this kingdom and of that republic, did judge meet to subscribe them both; and it did also request those our brethren, their deputies, reciprocally to subscribe our confession of faith and body of Church discipline; which, in obedience to the commission given them by their principals, they did accordingly; thereby testifying that mutual