William Chambers.

The Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral online

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the Scottish Parliament would never have ventured to pass it.

But the legislature of Queen Anne, unhappily, did not stop
with the Act of Toleration. In the very same year it intro-
duced the Act for the Restoration of Patronage, which has
proved such a fertile and unhappy cause of division in Scot-
land. I need hardly say that I am not going to treat this
subject in any controversial spirit; but the facts regarding it
require to be clearly stated, if for no other purpose than because
it forms the centre round which all the later external history of
the Church of Scotland revolves. There are features of the
Church in the eighteenth century which would no doubt have
been the same although lay Patronage had not been restored ;
but the history of Scottish Presbyterianism would have been
entirely different, if the Tory politicians of Queen Anne had
only left undisturbed the settlement of the Patronage question

The Church of the Eighteenth Century. 261

made in 1690 by the same Parliament of William and Mary as
re-established the Church. It is true that this settlement did
not go so far as some had desired. It did not recog-
nise the right 'of every several congregation to elect their
minister,' as formulated in the First Book of Discipli?ie, to
which — although never sanctioned by law — a certain class of
Presbyterians have always looked back as their special charter.
Nor did it fall back upon the Parliamentary enactment of 1649,
by which Patronage was first legally abolished, and the right
of collation was left in the hands of the Church, acting
'on the call and with the consent of the congregation, on
whom none was to be intruded against their will.' The
Act of 1690 gave the initiative or right of nomination to
the heritors and elders or kirk-session of each parish, who
were taken bound to pay to the respective patrons a small
sum of money, for which they were supposed to renounce
their rights for ever. It is needless to ask whether this was
a good settlement of the question in itself. It does not
seem to have worked smoothly; but then no system could
have worked smoothly at such a time when many parishes
were still alienated from the dominant Presbyterianism, and
disputes as to the succession of ministers were necessarily
engendered. The one thing that demands our attention
is, that the lay patron had disappeared under solemn statutory
enactment. That form of Patronage which the Church, or at
least those supposed most entitled to represent it, had always
felt as a ' heavy grievance,' had been constitutionally removed.
It had been unknown to Scottish Presbyterianism for upwards of
sixty years ; and it is hardly possible therefore to conceive any-
thing more unwise or unjust than its restitution. Carstares did
all he could to prevent it, but in vain. The well-known Act of
Queen Anne finally passed both Houses of Parliament by large
majorities, and received the royal assent on the 2 2d April 17 12.
It was not immediately that the sad effects of this policy
began to appear. The call survived untouched by the new

262 Sf Giles^ Lectures.

legislation; and while the initiative was transferred to the lay
patrons, the custom of consulting the wishes of the congrega-
tion was still maintained in force. It is not till some con-
siderable time afterwards that we hear of special difficulties in
the settlement of ministers. In fact, the first form which these
difficulties took does not seem to have sprung from the people
themselves, but from the rivalry of two parties within the
Church, neither of whom in the beginning doubted that some-
thing more was required than the mere act of Patronage — some-
thing implying the assent of the parish or congregation — to
constitute the right of entry to a ministerial charge. Neither
party, in short, doubted the necessity of a call. The only
question between them was as to the persons in whom the right
of call was vested. Was it the congregation itself, or merely
the kirk-session and heritors, according to the Act of 1690?
It was not till 1732 that this question arose definitely in the
Church. The inference to be drawn from this is, that while
the restoration of Patronage in 1 7 1 2 was probably intended as
a movement in favour of the reactionary Jacobite policy of the
latter part of Queen Anne's reign, such an intention was
entirely frustrated by the accession of George I. and the
Rebellion following in 17 15. The Jacobite influences were
effectually crushed for tlie time by the severities which the
Rebellion called forth, and the renewed right of Patronage
evidently remained for some time a dead letter, or nearly so.

But gradually with the consolidation of the Hanoverian
dynasty, and the increasing attachment of many of the gentry
to the Presbyterian Church as representing the established
order of things, the Church itself, or at least a section of it,
became more reconciled to Patronage and to its exercise within
definite bounds. A new race of clergy began to appear — men
to whom the troublous times before the Revolution were a dim
retrospect, and who were animated, not so much by an enthu-
siasm for Presbytery, as by what they deemed a sober and
enlightened regard to the peace and good of the country both

The Church of the Eighteenth Century. 263

in Church and State. This change may be said to date
definitely from about 1720. The words popular and moderate
party were not heard of as yet. It is at least twenty years later
till they come into vogue, and much later before they assume
the characteristics by which they are generally distinguished. But
the germs of the divisions were perceptible at this earlier time.

Much has been said, and as it appears to me, not very
intelligently, as to the growth of what is called Moderatism in
the Church of Scotland. The word has unhappily become
a by-word — a synonym of evil reproach — in the mouths of
those who dislike the cause and the principles which it is
understood to represent. I am not its apologist ; but I desire
this as well as all historical phenomena should be looked at
rationally, as a product of natural forces working in the
national mind of Scotland in the eighteenth century, and
not as a mere combination of evil men for evil purposes,
which is not only not a rational, but not an intelligible
view of any historical movement. Whatever elements may
have entered into the composition of the Moderatism of the
eighteenth century, it was so far plainly a direct expression of
the spirit of the age and the circumstances of the Church,
extending as far back as the close of the first quarter
of the century, and destined, as we shall see, to assume
very distinct phases with the course of the century. It was
impossible that the enthusiasms which had preceded and
accompanied the Revolution should last, or that the more
settled order of the time should not produce the natural fruits
in a more settled temper and a disposition to adapt the machi-
nery of the Church to its changed fortunes. But it is equally
certain that a change of this kind would be unacceptable to
many in the Church, in whom the old spirit survived — men
like Wodrow, Boston, the Erskines, and others, who loved the
old enthusiasms for their own sake, and could only see spiritual
declension in a less fervent state of the spiritual atmosphere.
Wodrow himself, in his lengthened and garrulous Correspondence

264 Sf Giles' Lectures.

and Analeda, is an unceasing witness to the alteration of
feeling and sentiment that was going on around him. The
new and the old are mingled in his pages in the most curious
manner. He is himself the child of the age that is passing
away. The dawn of the new age is unpleasant to himj yet
he cannot wholly give his faith to the legends of the one, ncr
shut his mind against the larger light of the other. The trial
of Simson, Professor of Divinity in Glasgow, and the * Marrow
Controversy,' from 17 18 to 1722 — are on the intellectual and
theological side notable illustrations of the same conflict
between the new and the old; the spirit of criticism and
negation which was beginning to assail the old watchwords
of the Faith, and the spirit of extreme Evangelicalism, which
was its natural reaction. The ' Marrow Divinity,' although a
direct continuation from the seventeenth century, was yet also
something of a novelty in Scotland, as Wodrow himself felt.
The voice was the voice of the Evangel, but its language was
too perilously near to Antinomianism for the good minister of
Eastwood — who loved not merely the old ways, but to stand in
them in the old manner.

It is evident from all that we have said that the Church was
in movement in the years that followed 1720, and that we are to
trace back to this time the formation of distinct parties within
her. Up to this time she had been so busy in settling her
borders, planting vacant churches, and watching against the
common enemies of Romanism and Episcopacy, that she had
had no time to develop internal divisions.^ Such divisions as

^ This is the view of Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood, as shewn in the
following passage (Appendix, No. I., p. 421) in his Life of Dr Erskine:
' An unbiassed reader who dispassionately examines the proceedings of the
General Assemblies from 1690 to 17 12, cannot but perceive the sincerity with
which the great body of the clergy then united to promote the religious
interests of the people and the general tranquiUity of the country. There
were occasional differences of opinion among them. But there do not
appear any settled combinations, or indeed any offensive symptoms, either
of party spirit or of political intrigue.'

The Church of the Eighteenth Century. 265

existed had been inherited ; they had come to her with the
Revolution settlement which made her ; and no doubt the force
of these earlier divisions was perpetuated in the new. The
survival of Episcopal curates in the Church may have in this
way helped the nascent growth of Moderatism. But facts
do not point to any such influence working within the
pure leaven of Presbytery. By the year 1720, the Episcopal
incumbents within the Church must have been rapidly dying
out ; nor is there any reason to believe either that they were
likely to adapt themselves specially to the altered law of
Patronage, or to become the exponents of a new theology. I
cannot think, therefore, that Moderatism can have drawn almost
anything of its strength or life from such a source. The truth
seems to be simply, that with a new generation, Presbyterianism
began to take a new colour. This is true of the popular, no
less than of the moderate side of the Church. Even the fervid
Evangelicalism which lived on was no longer quite the same.
The tone was different, if not the principles. The spirit of the
eighteenth century was insensibly moulding all parties within
the Church, even those most opposed to it.

The difficulties which sprung up in the Church with the
advance of the eighteenth century were partly doctrinal and
partly administrative. We have already alluded to the case of
Professor Simson. So far as mere prominence is concerned, he
is quite a heresiarch in the history of the Scottish Church. He
was twice the subject of trial. As early as 17 14, his opinions
were brought under the notice of the Church courts ; and three
years later, after the Presbytery of Glasgow had dealt with him
at length, his teaching was formally censured by the General
Assembly to the effect that 'he had vented unnecessary
opinions and used expressions in a bad and unsound sense,
and attributed too much to the powers of natural reason and
corrupt human nature.' Ten years later, Simson was again
arraigned for heretical tendencies of a quite different character.
Formerly, his teaching was found inclined to Pelagianism ;

266 S^ Gilei Lectures.

now, it was Arianism or Semi-Arianism on the borders of
which he seemed to hover.

It is difficult to express any definite opinion of Simson's case.
On the one hand, he himself fails to interest us — even if we
judge him in some degree a victim of persecution. He is
throughout a veiled and vacillating figure, seldom appearing
except in the background as an argumentative valetudinarian
who makes endless explanations without reaching any result
satisfactory to his accusers. Wodrow represents him as a
man of restless argumentative tendency, who delighted to stir
the theological atmosphere around him, without much real
depth or reflective thoughtfulness. But his letters, and especi-
ally the first letter of date March 2, 1726, give a higher idea
of his intelligence and learning, if they are also marked by a
strangely querulous spirit. On the other hand, Simson's accusers
seem captious and unfair in refusing to acknowledge the
apparent honesty of many of his explanations, and especially
in submitting the Glasgow students to a process of examination
as to any unguarded utterances he may have used in the course
of his teaching. The process did not end till 1729, when
the General Assembly, heartily tired of it, as their minute
implies, brought it to an issue by suspending the Professor
permanently from his functions of teaching and preaching. As
a whole, the case is highly significant of a certain restlessness of
thought in the Church, and at the same time of the very narrow
limits within which it was possible for this thought to express
itself without incurring censure. Younger minds were begin-
ning to move out of the old dogmatic restraints ; but the great
majority of the clergy had no idea of relaxing even the old
modes of expression, far less the old doctrines.

When Simson's sentence of suspension was finally confirmed
in May 1729, there was one minister of the old school who
expressed his dissatisfaction and intimated his dissent from
the judgment as too lenient. This was Thomas Boston,
minister of Ettrick, the apostle of the * Marrow Divinity,'

The Church of the Eighteenth Century. 267

and the well-known author of the Fourfold State. As the
case of Simson marks the advance of a negative line of
thought in the Church, the case of the ' Marrow men,' as they
were called, represents the survival of the spirit of doctrinal
enthusiasm. It was characteristic above all of this spirit, that
the power of Divine grace should not only appear in the front
of the Gospel system, but should so overlay the whole sphere of
Christian life, as to seem to supersede all distinct activity of the
human will. The Auchterarder formula, which was connected
with the rise of the ' Marrow ' movement, brings this out clearly :
' I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we
must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.' The zealous
Calvinists of the Auchterarder Presbytery required all candidates
for the ministry to sign this formula, a proceeding which was
properly reprobated by the General Assembly of 17 17. There
were a few zealous clergy, however, of the old school who
approved of the formula, or at least of the faith it was supposed
to indicate, and who of course dissented strongly from the
sentence of the Assembly.

In the course of his parochial visits while minister of the
parish of Simprin, Boston had come across a volume which
greatly interested him as a highly interesting embodiment of
his special views. The author of this volume was an Oxford
gentleman-commoner of Brazennose College — Edward Fisher —
who in the first triumphs of Puritan zeal had caught its
dogmatic spirit in a very ardent form, and transferred it to
his pages in a dialogue 'touching the Covenant of Works
and the Covenant of Grace ; and secondly, touching the
most plain, pithy, and spiritual exposition of the Ten Com-
mandments.' The dialogue is carried on by such speakers
as Evangelista, a minister of the Gospel ; Nomista, a Legalist,
Antinomista, an Antinomian, and Neophitus, a young Chris-
tian ; and the object is to explain the relations of the Law and
the Gospel. The book, which bears the general title, The
Marrow of Modern Divinity, is learned and, in a sense, lively,

!68 Sf Giles' Lectures.

if no longer very readable. It contains much that is both true
and sound in doctrine ; but the form of it, as may be easily
imagined, suggests paradox and overstatement. Many of its
propositions were capable of a dangerous interpretation — such
as that ' the believer was not under the law, and that he
does not commit sin.' Nothing could seem more wildly
Antinomian, and yet the intended meaning was probably no
more than that Christ is all in all to the believer, and
that God looks not upon the sinner himself but on Christ,
in whom he is delivered from all sin. Here, as everywhere in
theological controversy, if the terms could only be settled
beforehand, the controversy might almost cease. The
' Marrow men ' certainly did not mean to teach, any more,
we suppose, than the Auchterarder Presbytery, that a believer
is freed from the obligations of the Christian life, however
incautiously they may have expressed themselves. It is not
to be wondered at, however, that the General Assembly in
1720 condemned the book, and forbade it to be circulated
or recommended. Of course the * Marrow men ' protested
against this decision. They held a meeting at Edinburgh, at
which both Ebenezer Erskine and his brother Ralph attended.
They made a representation of their views to the General
Assembly, and two years later that court so far modified
their sentence, but at the same time condemned the repre-
sentation and petition signed by the Erskines and others as
containing ' injurious and undutiful aspersions cast upon the
supreme judicatory of the Church. The General Assembly,' it
is added, ' had no design to recede from the received doctrine
of the Church ; ' but those who impugned its judgment had
laid themselves open to suspicion that they favoured the Anti-
nomian errors censured in the Act regarding the Marrow of
Modern Divinity. The ' Marrow men,' who had now increased
to a band of twelve, including the Erskines, were accordingly
rebuked and admonished at the bar of the Assembly.

Much followed this Act of Assembly which we have no time,

The Church of the Eighteenth Centivy. 269

however hurriedly, to notice. Of course the ' Marrow men '
protested ; and the Assembly refusing to receive their protest,
there began a system of protest on the one hand, and of
rejection and admonition on the other hand, the end of which
could hardly have been otherwise than it was. The doctrinal
complication was greatly aggravated by the Act of Assembly
in 1732 regarding the mode of electing ministers where the
patrons had failed to exercise their right of presentation.
As we have already mentioned, this Act fell back upon the
statute of 1690, and placed the call in such circumstances
in the hands of the heritors and elders. This was strongly
opposed by Ebenezer Erskine in the General Assembly, and
so far on the valid ground that the overture on the subject
which had been transmitted to Presbyteries by the preceding
Assembly, had really not received the sanction of a majority
of the Presbyteries of the Church. But the measure was also
obnoxious to him and his friends on general grounds. ' What
difference,' he vehemently asked in the course of the debate,
' does a piece of land make between man and man in the affairs
of Christ's kingdom ? We are told that God hath chosen the
poor of this world " rich in faith." '

It is sufficiently plain that the banner of popular election was
here raised ^ in the face of the Church; and this too just at
the time that the yoke of Patronage, although still felt to be
grievous, and declared to be so in successive Acts of the
Assembly, was yet beginning to settle upon the Church, and to
enter into its constitutional and practical working as it had
never hitherto done. The Church in its corporate capacity
continued to protest against Patronage, and to profess an

^ According to Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellvvood, this was the first time
that the idea of the popular election of ministers as a divine right was heard
of in the Church after the Revolution. ' There does not appear,' he says
(Appendix \.\.o Life of Erskijie, p. 434), 'during the whole intei-val from
1690 to 1 7 12, the least vestige of a doctrine, so much contended for at a
later period, which asserted a divine right in the people individually or
collectively to elect the parish ministers.'

270 Sf Gives' Lectures.

eagerness for legislative redress. It continued to do this
even during all the time of Dr Robertson's administration
in the heyday of Moderatism, even up to 1784, But long
before, and even, at the time which we have now reached,
the Church had begun to adapt itself to this system. And
it was the consciousness of this growing change of feeling,
along with what also appeared to them as a decline of zeal
for orthodoxy, which lay at the root of the impending schism
which the Erskines were about to head.

Hitherto — if we except a small number of Covenanters who
had stood aloof in impracticable isolation — the Church had
remained unbroken. But now we approach a distinct crisis
in its history — the formation of the first secession. The
causes of this unfortunate event were obviously not one, but
many, and these deeply laid in the Church's life and history.
The majority of the clergy were plainly inclined, onwards
from the close of the first quarter of the century, to
accommodate themselves to the spirit of the age ; if not
to accept Patronage, yet to make the best of it; to
welcome new modes of preaching in conformity with what
seemed improved literary canons, more or less at variance
with the popular taste ; to relax or abandon the old rigorous
precision of doctrine; and to indulge in generalities which may
have helped to cover the half-doubts of some of them.
All this change was in a high degree obnoxious to men
like the Erskines, and they were already alienated in
feeling from the Church before they came into actual
collision with its courts. They saw in it, as they them-
selves said, 'a defection from Reformed and Covenanting
principles.' It was in the interest of such principles, and
as representing ' the true Presbyterian Covenanted Church of
Scotland,' that they entered upon their struggle; and it was
against such laxities, as well as particularly the support given
to Patronage, as they said, by the Act of 1732, that they lifted
their Testimony when they took their first step of secession and

The Church of the Eighteenth Century, 271

met under the name of the Associate Presbytery at Gah^ney
Bridge, near Kinross, in December 1733.

It would carry us beyond our bounds to detail the various
steps of this first unhappy secession. They have been amply
described from different points of view. Ebenezer Erskine
followed up his speech and protest in the General Assembly of
1732, by a sermon in the following autumn before the Synod of
Perth and Stirling, which gave great offence to the majority of
his brethren, who carried a vote of censure against the preacher,
which was confirmed by the ensuing General Assembly. Along
with three others — William Wilson of Perth, Alexander Mon-
crieff of Abernethy, and James Fisher of Kinclaven — he pro-
tested of course against this sentence. The Assembly retorted
by summoning the brethren to appear before the August Com-
mission, express their repentance, and submit to the authority
of the Church. Still recusant in August, the Commission of
Assembly, according to its instructions, suspended the four
ministers from the exercise of their ministerial functions. In
the following November, being still disobedient to the voice of
authority, they were declared no longer ministers of the Church
— a sentence which they met by a still more elaborate protest
as to their principles ; and in December of the same year the
meeting of the Associate Brethren took place at Gairney Bridge,
and the secession on their side was virtually complete. The
following General Assembly sought to woo them back. The
Acts of Assembly which had been specially obnoxious to
them were repealed. Their synod was authorised to restore
them to their ministerial position — the Presbytery of Stirling
even went the length of electing Erskine as their Moderator,
and appointing a deputation to urge the office upon him ;
but all to no effect. The seceding brethren met with a
large popular sympathy. They were proud and confident
of the position which they had taken up on behalf of
what they believed to be the true principles of the Church
of Scotland. They issued still another Testimony, known

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 27 of 37)