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His Religion and his Life







The Kirk as a Factor in Scots History . 3


The Discipline of the Kirk .... 39


The Worship of the Church .... 79

William Carstares ll 7


The Moderates . . . . • 1 53


Evangelicals . . . . . . .189





The Theology of the Century . . . 225

The Piety of the Century .... 259

The Scot in his Home 29s


The Scot with his Books . . . .319




WHEN one invites his readers to the con-
sideration of the eighteenth century in
Scots History, and especially when his subject is
its religion, he is conscious of an initial disadvan-
tage, for he cannot depend upon any large capital
of knowledge in their minds, or any wealth of
living enthusiasm. If the eighteenth century in
England be counted drab-coloured by certain per-
sons, it must surely be hopelessly dull in Scotland
— a mere link to connect more brilliant ages. It
was its misfortune to be preceded by two stirring
centuries which were the history of a vast move-
ment — the emancipation of the people from feudal
control, and the birth of the middle class. In this
century there are no outstanding figures like Queen
Mary, that daughter of debate who across the years
still fires men to her defence, and was such a Queen,
to quote one of Dr. Johnson's savage flings at Scot-
land, " As every man of any gallantry of spirit would
have sacrificed his life for " ; nor any leader of such
individuality and elemental force as John Knox.
Nor was there any crisis in history like the fall of
the Stuarts, that best loved and most ill-fated of


Royal Houses ; or the Revolution Settlement, which
fixed the destinies of both Kingdoms, beyond change.
This grey century can afford no such historical
ironies as the Coronation of that good-natured pro-
fligate Charles II, by the grim God-fearing Scots
people, and his cheerful unhesitating acceptance
of the Solemn League and Covenant; or Oliver
Cromwell's Scots tour, when he reduced the most
insubordinate of nations to quietness, not so much
by his Ironsides as by his sermons. For the Scots
had been beaten before in arms, but never in
preaching, and he added insult to injury by be-
seeching the Scots Kirk to believe that it might
be mistaken — an incredible supposition.

The eighteenth century has also had the doubtful
good-fortune of being not only the offspring of two
masterful ancestors, but also in turn the parent of
a brilliant and self-satisfied child. During the
nineteenth century Scotland flourished exceedingly
in agriculture, in manufacture, in trade and in
commerce. The produce of distant nations was
carried in steamers built on the Clyde, and their
Banks were controlled by men who had learned
their business in Scots country towns. The most
distinguished regiments of British Infantry were
recruited in her glens and her Universities were
thronged by men from every quarter of the world,
who had come to study at the feet of Sir James
Simpson and Lord Kelvin. The Invasion of Eng-
land which began when our Scots Solomon succeeded
that bright Occidental Star^Queen Elizabeth, and


increased to the exasperation of the English Capital
in the eighteenth century, rose to its height in the
nineteenth, till a Scots doctor looked after an Eng-
lishman's health, a Scots gardener managed his
hot-houses, a Scots pedlar sold dresses to his ser-
vants, and the Scots clerk, awkward and silent, but
capable and persevering, whom the good-natured
Englishman took in yesterday at 30s. a week, became
in a few years his partner. Sir Walter Scott— the
most valuable commercial asset of his country— had
opened the eyes of the world to the beauty of Scots
scenery and the romance of Scots history, and to
Scotland came thousands, not only from England,
but from beyond seas to admire Edinburgh and the
Highlands. And the Scots emigrant going out as
his fathers had been doing before him for centuries,
with a modest persuasion that the commerce and
affairs of foreign countries could not be thoroughly
conducted without him, was no longer regarded with
contempt. Owing partly to the amazing progress
of his nation, but possibly quite as much to the
witchery of Scott, he found himself, for the first
time in history, interesting and even popular.

If you subtract the Union in the year 1707, which
was detested at the time both in England and Scot-
land, and in after days has been almost forgotten ;
and the risings of '15 and '45, which owe their birth
rather to the restlessness of the Highlands, than to
any devotion of the clansmen to the Stuart line;
their importance to the panic in the South, of which
the English people was bitterly ashamed ; and their


lasting interest to the romances of Sir Walter ; — did
anything happen in this prosaic century to stir
men's blood, or invest life with colour ? Very little,
except the Porteous Mob — and an Edinburgh mob
is the most dangerous in the world — and the Seces-
sions from the Scots Kirk which had such far reach-
ing issues, both religious and political. There were
great men both in Church and State during that
century, but if you except Robertson the Historian,
Adam Smith the Economist, Hume the Philosopher,
and Burns the poet of the Scots people, you have to
look closely to find them, and to appreciate their

Apart from Jacobitism, the dying effort of the
feudal spirit, life was not picturesque or eventful. Yet
no one interested in the development of the United
Kingdom, either upon the political or religious side,
can overlook the eighteenth century in Scotland,
because it embraced a long stage in the journey of
civilization. For history is like one of those rivers
which from time to time fling themselves through
gorges with impressive effect, but between the
cataracts run smoothly. During the middle passage
the sluggish stream is still advancing, and through
the eighteenth century the Scots people were uncon-
sciously preparing themselves for the modern age
in which they have played no insignificant or dis-
honourable part. Mr. Lecky has not over-stated
things when he says " No period in the history of
Scotland is more momentous than that between the
Revolution and the middle of the eighteenth cen-


tury, for in no other period did Scotland take so
many steps on the path that leads from anarchy
to civilization."

It were difficult to find a more inspiring record
of progress, than between the year 1700 and
the year 1800 in Scotland. At the begin-
ning of the century Glasgow was a dwindling
town of about 12,000 inhabitants, with only
a few ships, and none able to make a distant
voyage. Edinburgh would have about 30,000
people, all confined in the old town. The nobles
had fled, either ruined or ruining themselves in
London. The country swarmed with beggars who
had reached, it was said, in evil years the preposterous
number of 200,000. Inverness consisted of some
500 thatched houses, and the population of Dundee
was considerably under 10,000. The whole revenue
of Scotland was only £160,000, and foreign trade
had been killed by the ill-fated Darien expedition.
The Highlands were in a state of absolute savagery,
the people spending the summer time in raiding,
and passing the winter in the most miserable hovels
where they subsisted on coarse meal mixed with
blood drawn from the veins of their starving
cattle. In 1705 in a Fifeshire town a woman was
done to death for witchcraft, with the consent
of the minister of the parish. There was neither
trade nor industry, nor humanity nor money,
neither was there any literature worth the name,
secular or theological, when the eighteenth century
began. When the century closed Glasgow had


become a great seaport, and a dozen new and profit-
able industries were flourishing in the land. There
were roads through the country. Canals had been
made, coalpits opened, iron foundries started.
Linen and cotton were being spun on a large scale
and with ingenious machinery ; there were carpets
on the floors, good furniture in the rooms, paper on
the walls, stage coaches and post chaises on the roads.
Banks were directing and stimulating the finance
of the country, and the Eastern towns were export-
ing their manufactures in all directions, while Glas-
gow had established a large trade with both the
Indies. A school of brilliant writers in Philosophy,
History, Religion and the Drama had earned for
Edinburgh the title of the modern Athens, and the
Scots Kirk might have claimed to be the most en-
lightened and broadest in Christendom. Superstition
and ignorance were dying out, broad and liberal
views were taking possession of the people. And
the nation, emancipated from the dead hand of
the seventeenth century, and from its weary quarrels,
had prepared itself for the conquest of the nine-

Various influences wrought this change in Scot-
land and divide the credit of the social revival.
The English Government showed an admirable
statesmanship in not only making roads through the
Highlands, which became avenues of civilization,
but also in opening a military career to the turbulent
clansmen. The last remnant of the feudal system
was swept away when landowners had their


rights of jurisdiction bought out. They did not
require any longer to have prisons in their houses
for ill-doing tenants, and the town of Perth would
never again apply to its Earl, as it did in 1707, for
the loan of his hangman. And a chief in the North
could no longer sell his vassals into slavery, or hold
men in slavery at home, as he did in Captain Burt's
day, when that English officer of Engineers found a
fellow-countryman enslaved as a retainer and dared
not ask his release. Vast importance must also
be attached to the action of that excellent law
which established a school in every parish and so
carried to a further stage Knox's " devout imagina-
tion"; and the service rendered to education by the
Catholic Church before the Reformation. Without
doubt, however, one of the two chief factors in
delivering Scotland from poverty and misery
at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and
sending her forth on a career of amazing prosperity
was the Act of Union with England. It was a
measure forced upon both countries by the argument
of circumstances — by the conviction among wise,
far-seeing Scotsmen, that their country could never
develop its trade or gather material resources, till
it had the privileges and opportunities of English
commerce ; and by the fear among English states-
men that if Scotland with her beggared nobility,
her starving people, and her shattered trade, should
find no relief, the nation might fling itself into the
arms of France and return to the allegiance of the
Stuart line. It was best for both countries that


they should be one, and the Act of Union was drawn
up with much ability, and with great fairness to
Scotland. Only £480,000 of the land tax was
allowed to the poorer country, and £2,400,000
was assigned to Scotland for the payment of
her debts and the restitution of the money
lost by the Darien Company ; the Presbyterian
Church in Scotland was established ; perfectly
free trade was granted between England and
Scotland ; and Scotland received access to the
English Colonies. It is an instructive fact that this
measure, so wise in its principle and so admirable
in its execution, was bitterly opposed in England
because it gave such advantage to Scots trade, and
in Scotland because the nation was afraid its tradi-
tions and institutions would be swamped by English
influence. There is no question that the Union
was carried by corruption, and that the Scots
Peers, not for the first time, were in the pay of

When the Scots legislature had passed the Act
and Scotland ceased to be an independent nation, the
Lord Chancellor said " There is the end o' an auld
sang," and when the Commissioners retired to the
cellar of a house in the High street to sign the Treaty
of Union, the mob beseiged the door to execute
justice on the traitors. Fortunately for themselves,
and also for Scotland, the Commissioners escaped
to the garden of Moray House, and there in secrecy
the deed was completed. Never was any great
political measure negotiated or consummated in


more unworthy circumstances ; never was any
inspired by surer political foresight or constructed
with more scrupulous justice for the rights of all
parties. With the exception of the Kirk, no single
factor was charged with such comprehensive good,
both to the people and the commonwealth of Scot-
land during the eighteenth century.

For reasons which lie beyond the scope of this
work, the Christian Church has been a foreign
element in history, and a disturbing force in the
mind of historians. Its influence has poured into
the current of national life from some unknown
quarter, and has been apt to upset the student's cal-
culations and to throw his vessel out of her course.
Perhaps, therefore, it is no reflection upon historians
that they have very seldom done justice to the
Church in any age, from that famous passage of
Gibbon in which with latent irony he stated the
five causes of Christianity, to the merciless invective
with which Buckle pilloried the Scots Kirk. Mr.
Lecky considers that the author of the History of
Civilization has been guilty of " some prejudice,"
and he admits, with the ingenuous perplexity of the
untheological English intellect, that it is not easy
for any one to judge the Kirk with equity who is
not in sympathy with her theology. But even this
philosophical writer gets heated at the sight of the
Kirk and denies that Scots religion was likely to
produce " any real modesty of judgment, any gentle-
ness of character, any breadth of sympathy," and
winds up by saying that " superstitious and intoler-


ant as was the Catholic Church, the Scots Kirk was
at least in these respects superior." But Mr. Buckle,
yielding freely to the tempting vice of generalization,
had already carried his comparison to the last degree,
and given us the conclusion of the whole matter in
his famous parallel between Spain and Scotland.
When he declares his belief that there is nothing to
be found like the tyranny and superstition of the
Scots Kirk, except that of the Spanish Church in
the days of the Inquisition, we know the worst. So
pitiable, indeed, is the account given of Scots religious
life at the beginning of the eighteenth century that
charity ought to condone the faults of a Scot even
unto this present, for is it reasonable to expect cul-
ture of grace from one whose fathers so recently
escaped from ignorance and bondage ?

Against this forbidding background even the
most dubious virtues stand out in relief, but if one
mentions the independence of the Kirk, he must
in the same breath make a concession which would
app]y to any date from the Reformation to the
middle of the last century. When it is said that
" Of all the considerable forms into which the Chris-
tian religion crystallized after the Reformation,
the Scots Kirk was the most habitually insubordi-
nate to the civil power," it may be allowed with
some slight reserve that the witness is true. But
it may be urged that in this matter the Church only
reflected the spirit of the people, who from the murder
of James I. to the rebellion against Charles I. have
dealt faithfully with their Kings ; and it is fair to


remember that, however tyrannical the Scots Kirk
may have been with her children, she steadily
refused to allow any other person to domineer over
them. While in some countries the Church has
been the ally of despotism, teaching the doctrine
of the Divine right of Kings and calling the sanctions
of religion to enforce submission to an oppressor,
this Northern Church has put a passion for freedom
within the heart of the nation, and when the choice
lay between the throne and the people, has thrown
in her lot with the people. Knox may not claim the
broad mind of Lethington, but he had the courage
of his opinions, and at a crisis, when he was the
custodier of national liberty, would not surrender
the keys of Scotland, even to the tears of a fair

When James VI. was interfering with national
rights a Scots Ecclesiastic shook him by the
sleeve and reminded him that he was " God's silly
vassal." Which indeed was painfully candid, but
also absolutely true, in regard both to the noun
and to the adjective. It must have been a great
relief to James to find himself in a country where
bishops knelt before him, and assured our Scottish
wiseacre that the like of his wisdom had never been
heard since the day of Pentecost. There was
indeed a pathetic earnestness in the warning James
gave to Laud that whatever he did he should not
meddle with the Scots Kirk. " I keep him back
because he hath a restless spirit. When three years
since I had obtained from the Assembly of Perth


the consent to the Five Articles of order and decency,
in correspondence with the Church of England, I
gave the promise that I would try their obedience
no further, anent Ecclesiastical affairs, yet this man
hath pressed me to incite them to a nearer conjunc-
tion with the Liturgy and Canons of England ;
but I sent him back again with the previous draft
he had drawn. He assaulted me again with another
ill-fangled platform, to make that stubborn Kirk
stoop more to the English pattern. But I durst
not play fast and loose with my soul ; he knows
not the stomach of that people." James did, and
his son was to learn it.

Students ransacking the records of Church courts
for appetizing morsels, and discovering how people
in the former days were censured for visiting a friend
on Sundays, or walking in the fields, or going to
the theatre on a week-day, or attending a ball, may
wonder that a people not conspicuously distin-
guished for docility of mind or patience of temper
should have endured such meddling. The people
themselves remembered that again and again the
ministers of the Kirk could have made terms for
themselves, securing good livings and Court favour
by selling popular freedom to autocratic power, but
instead thereof had died in the Grass Market of
Edinburgh and on the moors of Ayrshire, contend-
ing for what was both political and religious liberty.
And, therefore, the men who would have taken no
such treatment at the hand of any King submitted
to the discipline of the Kirk, because she had


been the creator of the democracy in the sixteenth
century, and the vigilant guardian of national
rights in the seventeenth. This spirit lived in the
children of the Kirk in the century following ; it
has animated them wherever they have gone, and
in every land has borne the same fruit. The Kirk
has never been facile ; perhaps the Kirk has not
always been courteous, but she has created citizens
with a passion for liberty and devoted to the common-

When, for instance, in this century the Scot went
over to America, he carried with him his hatred of
tyranny and his courage in public affairs. At the
first declaration of independence, it was a Scots
minister who brought the Continental Congress to
a decision, declaring, " Though these grey hairs
must soon descend to the sepulchre I would infinitely
rather that they descended thither by the hand of
the executioner than desert at this crisis the sacred
cause of my country." 1 Dr. John Witherspoon
had been a leader in the Scots Kirk about the middle
of the century, as well as a somewhat broad satirist,
but in 1768 he became Principal of Princeton Col-
lege, New Jersey, and it was to him that Horace
Walpole alluded when he said in the English Par-
liament, " Cousin America has run off with the
Presbyterian parson." Which, in the eighteenth
century, and with the London idea of Scots folk,
Walpole no doubt thought very poor taste on the

1 Note .the combination of nationalism and cosmo-


part of Cousin America. If in the outbreaks of
'15 and '45 the Lowlanders of Scotland stood solid
by the Hanoverian dynasty, and were not beguiled
by their national love for the Stuarts, it was because
they had been taught by that great Kirkman, Car-
stares, that Hanover on the whole spelt liberty for
Church and State, and Stuart on the whole spelt
tyranny for both ; and because largely through his
wisdom the Revolution Settlement had been laid
down and applied along such sound and statesman-
like lines. When the Scots nation is represented
crushed and down-trodden under the heel of a
tyrannical Kirk, one has a pleasant sense of literary
humour and strongly suspects that the historian's
tongue is moving to his cheek. If the Kirk has
not created free-men, resentful of oppression in
every form, unmanageable both by Kings and poli-
ticians, undismayed by dragoons and prisons, then
Scots history is one gigantic falsehood.

When one claims culture for the Kirk, he deserves
credit for courage since he comes into conflict with
that excellent John Bull and literary dogmatist
Dr. Johnson, who condescended to make a tour
through Scotland in our century, and whose experi-
ences related by that gay rattle Boswell are the
most delightful of contemporary literature. John-
son used to point out with triumph that the Scots
had made no lasting contribution to theology, and
it must be frankly confessed that theological
learning did not flourish in the beginning of the
century. Apart from that laborious and too credu-


lous annalist Woodrow, one can only remember
two religious books of any importance. One was
the Biographis Presbyteriana written by Patrick
Walker, and published from 1725-1732 and to whose
graphic, strenuous style Stevenson confessed his
debt. The other, Boston's Fourfold State, was pub-
lished in 1720 and took an immense hold upon the
Scots mind. It was not a book for scholars, al-
though it rested upon the Dutch theology of the day,
and it hardly can be included within theological
science. Through a certain provincialism of thought
and want of literary taste it has not won a per-
manent place among devotional books, like Law's
Serious Call and Archbishop Leighton's Commentary
on the Epistle of St. Peter. It was intended for the
people and for the time, and it did not fail in its end.
As was said in a recent excellent introduction to
Boston's Memoirs the Fourfold State was dis-
cussed in Edinburgh drawing-rooms ; the shepherd
read it on the hills ; it made its way into the High-
land crofts where stained and tattered copies of the
early editions may still be found. There was indeed
no pious home without its copy, and to this day one
can lay his hand upon it in the cottages of Scotland.
If nothing more learned and indeed hardly anything
else was produced, and if preaching had little
grace of manner, and almost no contact with the
outside world, the reason lay near to hand. No
doubt there was a contrast, as Carlyle puts it,
" between Addison and Steele writing their Specta-
tors and our good Thomas Boston writing with

S.E.C, o


the noblest intent, but in defiance of grammar and
philosophy, his Fourfold State of Man." But there
had been " quarrels enough, politic and theologic,
with gall enough in both to have blotted out the
intellect of the country." The isolation of Scotland
from England at this time both in literary and
political sympathy is disheartening, but not unin-
telligible. The English regarded the Scots with
contempt as barbarians, tempered by their dislike
of their success as immigrants ; and the Scots, fiercely
jealous of their independence and afraid that they
might be absorbed by the richer country, were mor-
bidly suspicious of everything English. The
two nations were like watertight compartments, or
like rival neighbours who have nothing but guarded

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Online LibraryIan MaclarenThe Scot of the eighteenth century : his religion and his life → online text (page 1 of 21)