Archibald Bruce of Whitburn (1746 - 1816) : with special reference to his view of church and state
Hall, Robert Gaston
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Archibald Bruce's entire ministry was spent in Whitburn. In 1768 a call was extended to him by the Anti-Burgher congregation there, and he continued to serve as its pastor until his death in 1816.Although Bruce amassed a tremendous amount of information on a great variety of subjects, he failed to concentrate his efforts on the production of a definitive work. From his prolific pen there came numerous books and pamphlets on a great diversity of themes - Roman Catholicism, the French Revolution, patronage, the Sacramental Test, and the relationship of Church and State, Despite the wide range of his interests, he was dominated by a few ideas 'which he held to tenac¬ iously, His two great concerns were the defence of the Reformed doctrine of Church and State and the protection of human liberty. His writings were often forged in the heat of controversy, and consequently, they are polemical in nature.In 1786 Bruce was appointed professor of Divinity by the General Associate Synod, and he continued in that capacity until the disruption of his denomination in 1806, In theology he was not a creative thinker, and he made no original contributions in this field, Bruce reflected a warm evangelical Calvinism that was thoroughly permeated with the Marrow teaching. He insisted upon a universal offer of salvation, the doctrine of ar urance, and the freedom of the Christian from the covenant of works. As a result of the Marrow influence he developed the doctrine of salvation, faith, and conversion more exhaustively than the others.Bruce was a fearless champion of popular rights. He defended freedom of the press and the French Revolution, His ideas were ex¬ pressed most forcefully in a book entitled Reflections on freedom of Writing which was occasioned by King George lll^s Proclamation Against Seditious Writings. In it he advocated complete intellectual freedom, and he defended the right of dissent. After he had experienced diffi¬ culty in finding a publisher for one of his controversial pamphlets, he established his own printing press in the manse in Whitburn. The writings of meh like Bruce, as well as the activities of reformers such as Thomas Mttlr, prepared the way for the triumph of more liberal ideas.Bruce frequently appeared before the public in the role of a religious controversialist. One of his major works, Free Thoughts on the Toleration of Popery, was directed against the repeal of the penal statutes whioh restricted the activities of Roman Catholics. He argued that Rome's doctrines and practices endangered all civil and religious liberties. He advocated a policy toward Roman Catholicism which -would not find general approval among modern Protestants, In a series of pamphlets Bruce also attaoked the Moderate Party of the Church of Scot¬ land, for he was convinced that It had betrayed the great Reformation principles.Although the Seceders of 1733 did not reject the principle of a national establishment of religion, there was a growing conviction within the Secession that the civil magistrate's role in religious affairs shoul be re-defined. Among both the Burghers and Anti-Burghers a controversy arose which produced further schisms. The Hew Lights argued that the power ascribed to the civil magistrate in the Confession of Faith was Erastian, while the Old Lights professed an unwavering loyalty to the Use other side if necessary. 2 Covenant® and maintained that it was the duty of rulers to employ their authority in the support of religion. In the General Associate (Anti-Burgher) Synod Bruce was the leader of the Old lights. Two years after the adoption of the new narrative and Testimony he and three other ministers withdrew and organised the Constitutional Associate Presbytery. The position of the Old Lights was in essential agreement with that of the Judicial Testimony of 1736 and of the Confession of Faith.the Confession of Faith. In no single work did Bruce give a complete and systematic statement of his view of Church and State., He envisioned a church that was both national ana free. He asserted in unequivocal terms the headship of Christ over the church, He is its only Judge, Law¬ giver, and King. This spiritual independence has certain important implications for the church. It has the right to determine its own doctrine and worship, to convene its courts, to elect its own office¬ bearers, and to proclaim the whole counsel of God, Although temporal and spiritual powers are totally distinct, the civil magistrate can legitimately assist in the promotion of Christ's Kingdom, It is his duty to enact laws in favor of the true religion and its adherents to participate in external reformations, and to defend the church against all outward violence and danger.In the formulation of his concept of Church and State Bruce was influenced by the Reformation creeds, the Confession of Faith, and the official documents of the Secession Church. He emphasized two important truths which have been characteristic of the Church of Scotland's witness through the centuries - the spiritual independence of the church and at the same time the duty of the civil magistrate to promote the Kingdom of God in all appropriate ways.Although Bruce made a number of positive contributions to the ecclesiastical and political life of his day, he has exerted a limited influence upon subsequent religious thought, «lth him quality became the victim of quantity, for he spread his ihterests and activities over too wide an area. His influence has also been limited by the nature of his works. He wrote primarily on topics of purely temporary interest. Nevertheless, the church is indebted to ministers who, like Bruce, have sought to serve God and to defend the truth as they understood it.