William Chambers.

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

. (page 29 of 37)
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 29 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of other Churches, whether Evangelically-minded or otherwise.
But the very necessity for passing such an act proves that there
was still a certain activity in the Evangelical party within the

Nor are we to suppose that this party, while beaten by
Robertson and his coadjutors in their attempts to regulate the
policy of the Church, was at all powerless as a force within the
General Assemby. On the contrary, they rallied their strength
with great effect repeatedly, especially in the great debate on
Schism in 1766; and again in the exciting discussions which
followed Robertson's retirement, when the whole question of
Patronage, and its unhappy influence upon the Church, was
raised anew. The evils of the system are recognised as forcibly

284 Sf Gi/es' Lectures.

as ever in these discussions by some who accepted it as the
law of the Church, no less than by its impugners. It was a
matter of course that men like Henry Erskine should denounce
the so-called ancient rights of patrons — ' as old,' he said, ' as
the Tory ministry of Queen Anne ! ' But it was significant
that Dr Hardy, who was afterwards associated with Dr Hill in
the leadership of the Moderate party, should in a pamphlet
published during the controversy in 1782 have proposed the
repeal of the Act of 17 12, It seemed impossible to him that
both ' this Act and the Church of Scotland should stand
together.' Nothing could well indicate more strongly what
an element of disturbance Patronage had been, or how little
a vigorous administration of twenty years had really done to
settle the disturbance. And yet it was only two years later
that the General Assembly instructed its Commission to drop its
remonstrance on the subject, and that the difficulty should
have gone to comparative rest for nearly fifty years, destined,
however, to a more terrible awakening than ever !

But no further space is left to us for even such imperfect
notes as these on the later history of the Church of Scotland in
the eighteenth century ; and we must bring this lecture to a
close. Looking back upon the facts presented to us, there
is much to criticise, a good deal to deplore, but also a great
deal to admire and be proud of.

No shortcomings of the Moderate clergy can ever obscure
the literary lustre which they have shed around the Church,
nor have we any right to allow the one to dim the other.
But the higher clergy of the Church of Scotland in the
eighteenth century were not merely distinguished intellectually.
They developed in their social life and public career many
qualities of admirable manliness, directness, and vigour. What
they lacked was depth of Christian sensibility and width of
Christian intelligence. It may seem to many absurd to charge
them with want of the latter. But the narrowness not only of
their sympathy, but of their spiritual knowledge, had much

The Church of the Eighteenth Cetitury. 285

to do with their mistakes. If they had been more conversant
with the movements of Christian thought, they would never have
tried to guide the Church by hard and fast rules as they did. If
they had known more of the motives of spiritual action, they
would never have supposed it possible to restrain enthusiasm
by oppression, or ecclesiastical zeal by simply turning a deaf
ear to its remonstrances. There can hardly be any doubt, I
think, that Robertson was disappointed by the fruits of his
twenty years' administration, and retired in some degree dis-
gusted, both with the progress of dissent and the restlessness of
many of the younger clergy on his own side.'

It is sad, but it is true, that the chief difficulty of Scottish
Presbyterianism all through its history has been to combine
a cultured and catholic intelligence with enthusiasm, zeal
with toleration and Christian appreciation of the motives of
others. The Evangelical and rational elements in its corporate
life have failed to fuse themselves together so as to brighten
into a warm and earnest and yet sweet-tempered piety. The
popular and the Moderate clergy of the eighteenth century
stand apart. They may know each other well, and even be
cordial friends, as Erskine and Robertson were ; but their
principles never come into union. The fire of the Evangel

^ Dugald Stewart's Life of Robertson, Appendix, p. 195. The passage
to which reference is here made has been often quoted. It is a statement
made to Robertson's biographer by Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood of the
probable reasons which suggested Robertson's retirement from the General
Assembly after 1780. We cannot quote the passage in full, but it explicitly
bears that Robertson was dissatisfied with the restlessness of ' the more
violent men of his party, especially in regard to a scheme, into which many
of them had entered zealously, for abolishing subscription to the Confession of
Faith and Formula ' — a scheme which, it is added, 'he declared his resolution
to resist in every form.' We have not been able even to allude to the great
controversy which occurred on this subject in the years preceding Robert-
son's retirement. The controversy was not 'within the Church courts,
probably owing to the influence of the great Moderate leader ; and this
fact, with the demands upon our space, has precluded our touching upon it.

286 Sf Giles' Lectures,

does not mingle with the reasonableness of philosophy. They
remain apart, suspicious of each other, and judging each other
with asperity. This of course is true, more or less, of parties
in all Churches ; but it is especially true of the two parties
known as Evangelical and Moderate in the Scottish Church.

If we turn from the administrative and theological aspect of
the Church to its internal character — its worship and discipline
— it cannot be said that the spectacle is a pleasing one. What
may be called Church life — the feeling which binds the clergy
and the Christian people together in bonds of mutual action
and sympathy — was very low throughout the whole century.
There was not only no missionary enthusiasm, but no com-
prehension of missionary duty. Even so late as 1796, an
overture in favour of Foreign Missions was rejected in the
General Assembly. The well-known story of Dr Erskine
saying to the Moderator, at the close of a speech against
Missions by Mr Hamilton of Gladsmuir : ' Moderator, rax me
that Bible,' belongs to this debate. It was a striking com-
mentary on the character of the discussion. But there was not
only no intelligence of the duty of Foreign Missions, but no
thought of making any provision for the growing spiritual
wants of the masses at home. This non-appreciation of what
we now call Church extension was one of the worst ' notes ' of
the Moderate party, and indeed of the Church generally in the
eighteenth century. Churches were not only not extended, but
they were disgracefully neglected or abused. It is usual to
blame the niggardliness of the Scottish proprietors and heritors
for all that is abominable in the Scottish architecture of the
eighteenth century; and the blame no doubt largely lay with
them. But they merely reflected the general feeling. They
refused money to build beautiful churches, and they allowed
many old churches to be hopelessly ruined because there was no
compulsion upon them in the prevalent opinion of the time to
do better. The Scottish people had unhappily lost the sense,
from the Reformation downwards, not only of ecclesiastical

The Church of the Eighteenth Century. 287

beauty, but even of ecclesiastical fitness. They had no thought
of making the House of God in itself a house of holy solemnity.
This was part of the reaction still unspent against the externalism
of Rome, and it may have been associated with so-called spiritual
feelings in the minds of some. But to a large extent it was
nothing else than coarseness of taste and a want of culture ; and
its effects were in many ways unfavourable upon the popular
habits. The attitude of the worshippers failed in reverence and
even respectfulness. Devotion was conducted with a careless
indifference of manner, if not of heart. The Scriptures ceased
to be read as an integral part of divine service, and the
singing was such as it is unnecessary to describe. Discipline
for certain offences continued to be publicly administered;
and although we cannot be sure that this open severity of a
simpler time may not have had deterrent effects that we can
now hardly estimate, we know enough to know that the general
effect was not good. While little, however, can be said in favour
of the devotional life or interest of the service of the Scottish
Church during the eighteenth century, there can be no doubt
that there was much devout feeling and earnest thoughtfulness
surviving among the Scottish peasantry. The Cottar's Saturday
Night is the touching picture of an imagination which was easily
kindled alike by the humour, the pathos, and the solemnity of
Scottish life. But it is no mere picture; it was a reality in
many a home, no less than in that of Burns's own father, a
man of singul?r clearness and manliness of religious thought,
as is shewn by the catechism he prepared for his children.
It is to this period also — it deserves to be remembered — that
we are indebted for those Paraphrases from Scripture which
have continued to be sung in the Scottish Presbyterian service.
Much may be forgiven an age which gave us the Para-
phrases, the plaintive and measured beauty of many of which,
such as the second and thirtieth, and the spiritual felicity
and completeness of thought of others, like the sixtieth, have
always appeared to me of rare excellence in sacred verse.

288 S^ Giles' Lectures.

The first movement to prepare metrical versions of certain
portions of Holy Writ began as early as 1742; but it was
not till many years afterwards — in fact, not till 1781 — that the
Paraphrases were first used in public worship, after having
been revised and added to especially by Logan, the well-known
minister of South Leith ; and Cameron, minister of Kirknewton.
The existing collection bears traces everywhere of the tasteful
genius of Logan, which admits of no question, whatever may be
the truth as to the charges of plagiarism with Avhich his name
is unhappily associated.

There was a lack of open vision in the Church of Scotland
during the eighteenth century. She failed to realise the great-
ness of her mission as a National Church. She failed to wit-
ness as she ought to have done to the living love of a Divine
Saviour. But her spiritual coldness was a feature of the age to
which she belonged ; no Church was quite exempt from it.
And with all her deficiencies, she has claims upon our gratitude
and respect. If wanting in zeal, she grew in toleration. If
disliking enthusiasms, she cultivated literature. If she had little
Church life, she prized freedom and good sense, and wrought
no new bonds for the Christian conscience. If her clergy were
not adequately inspired by self-denying devotion in dealing with
the human soul and reclaiming spiritual wastes, they presented
examples of moderation and thoughtfulness and Christian
charity. And Scotland would have been a poorer country in
many ways, if many of the Moderate clergy had not lived to
advance its fame and illustrate the Church to which they




TO 1843.

By the Rev. A. H. Charteris, D,D., Professor of Biblical Criticism in
the University of Edinburgh ; one of Her Majesty's Chaplains.

TT is not too much to say that no previous period in the
■^ eventful annals of the Church of Scotland is more memor-
able than the three-and-forty years with which this lecture has
to do.

It is not a period rendered remarkable by a literary galaxy,
such as that of which the previous lecture took note. When
we look to the Church from 1800 to 1825, we can see among
its leaders only one name associated with the highest success in
any department of general literature. That one exception is
Principal Hill, who, as a leader of the Church, was strangely
deaf to the voice of the people, and strangely flexible in the
hands of some of the silent leaders of his party; but, as a
lecturer on theology, has left a treatise which is a noble monu-
ment of fairness, clearness, and learning. Dr John Erskine,
who ended his honoured life in 1 803, and Sir Harry Moncreiff,

29° iSt Giles' Lectures,

who followed Erskine as the head of what was known as the
Evangelical party, were ministers and ecclesiastics of the highest
stamp, upright, wise, and consistent; but — unlike Carstares or
Robertson — they draw more repute from the Church than they
give to it. Its annals must record their names with honour, but
they do not lend it a lustre from their fame won in other fields.
So, too, it was in the later years. The historical works of Dr
George Cook, who succeeded Hill in the leadership of the
Moderate party, are candid and clear, but they are chiefly
remembered because, as we shall see, their author was a pro-
minent actor in memorable scenes. I do not know that any
one of even Dr Chalmers' books is likely to have permanent
value, although a select few of his greatest sermons will prob-
ably always be known and quoted. Other names will occur
as we proceed ; but this much we may say at the outset, that
our period is not remarkable from a literary point of view.

It is the changes which were effected in the years 1800-1843
that make them memorable. Within and without, the Church
was revolutionised. In her separate parishes, and as a cor-
porate body, she did and she suffered much. We have to
shew what good work she did, and also how her calamities
came from her own doings. No former lecture tells of a time
when she was so much left to herself. And therefore, when
we treat of the events of this period, we cannot ascribe Scottish
errors to foreign influence ; for they were Scotland's very
own. I hope to be judged with consideration for the exceeding
difficulty of my task.

(i) The first subject which rises into view is the change in
the school system of Scotland. After a century of neglect,
the Church set herself to make the existing schools efficient.
Hence began — during our period — the annual Presbyterial exam-
ination of schools, and after a little while (1819), the Annual
Report upon them, which continued with excellent results
until the Act of 1872 abolished the ancient connection between
church and school. Next (1803), the school salary of eleven

The Church of the Nineteenth Century /^ 1843. 291

pounds, which had been the figure since the Revolution, was
raised to twenty-two pounds (subject to revision, according to
the price of grain, every twenty-five years) ; and it was made
imperative on the heritors of every parish to provide a dwelling-
house for the teacher, ' consisting of not more than two apart-
ments, including the kitchen ! ' This statutory provision was
happily supplemented in many parishes. It was during our
period that the Church of Scotland began to see that taxes are
not all, and to realise what a mine of wealth there is in the
heart of a willing people ; and one of the first shafts driven
down into the latent riches of that mine concerned education.
The voluntary efforts of the Church were guided for sixteen
years by two men whose names may well be enrolled in the list
of her worthies. The first was Principal Baird of Edinburgh
University, who stirred the whole country by proving that in
the Highlands and Islands alone, out of a total population of
between three and four hundred thousand, there were twenty-
eight thousand between the ages of six and twenty who could
not read, and eighty-four thousand of the same age who
could not write. For many a day the learned Principal toiled
in behalf of the long-neglected Highlanders ; and he gradually
succeeded in evoking so great liberality that not only in the
Highlands, but everywhere, the country was covered with a
network of schools. Normal schools were in operation ; school-
libraries (why so much neglected in later times ?) were founded
in many places ; returns of Presbyterial examination of between
two and three thousand schools were called in every year ; and
about 1842 the Church was nearer to John Knox's scheme,
as regards her ordinary schools, than she had ever been before.
Principal Baird was efficiently aided by Dr Norman Macleod,
whose fervid appeals, like those of his illustrious son and
namesake, were a blending of common-sense and Christian
charity and infectious zeal, such as stirred all hearts. With
the Gaelic Bible — itself a product of this century — and the
* Celtic Collection ' of suitable pieces for school-reading, the


Sf Giles' Lectures.

schoolmasters sent forth by the learned Principal and the
eloquent minister enabled for the first time the children of
one-third of Scotland to read in their own tongue the wonder-
ful works of God. It was not till after the Rebellion of
1745 that the Protestant Reformation was carried into many
districts of the Highlands ; and even at the beginning of our
century men printed their congratulations of themselves on
journeying without molestation among the hamlets and scattered
cottages of Celtic Scotland! I do not know that in any
country or district there was so great a progress as took place
between 1743 and 1843 in those parts of our own land; and
it was mainly due to the minister, the catechist, and the

(2) In regard to Sunday-schools also, the Church passed
through nothing less than a revolution. There were some
Sunday-schools in Scotland before Robert Raikes — ^just a
hundred years ago — began his noble work. But the Church
had never taken up the subject ; and in the very end of last
century, when she found that the work which belonged
to her was being done without her, she was stung into
a most unbecoming passion. It is far from edifying to be
told that Dr Hugh Blair lent his gifts of style to the composi-
tion of the extraordinary harangue called a ' Pastoral Admoni-
tion ' (in 1799), which was meant to sweep from the kingdom
■all preachers unauthorised by the Church, and all Sunday-
school teachers who had no commission from the Presbytery
of the bounds. The Assembly intended to crush the Hal-
danes ; to keep Rowland Hill from the pulpits ; and to scare
the people from countenancing those adventurers who wanted
to teach the Bible to their children. The Haldanes were two
gentlemen of property and of old family, who had given up an
honourable career on the sea in order to promote religion in
Scotland. Ready to spend and to be spent — Robert Haldane
alone gave ;^7 0,000 in ten years to the cause of religion — men
of zeal, energy, fortitude, and faith, they did more to bring

The Church of the Nineteenth Century to 1S43. 293

Scotland into living sympathy with missions in heathendom, and
with the reviving faith in the Churches of the Reformation,
than any court of any Church in the beginning of this century.
Though they were not always right, nor always gentle in
expression, they were always upright and self-regulating men
whom no party could claim. As at the beginning of their life
they defied the careless parish ministers and the angry Assembly,
so at the end of it they publicly denounced the Voluntaries
who courted martyrdom by refusing to pay the Annuity Tax
which supported the National Church in Edinburgh. When
they went over the land preaching love and good works, and
with such power that Sunday-schools and prayer-meetings started
up behind them as they went, they were only doing what the
Church herself ought to have done.

The Sabbath-school movement was not paralysed by the
Pastoral. Schools grew and multiplied; they became recog-
nised as an adjunct of the Christian Church ; but it was
not till 1850 that the Church of Scodand had the courage
to undo her mistake of 1799, and take cognisance of the
Sunday-schools under the superintendence of her ministers
throughout the land. It is easier to do wrong than to undo
it; and when one sees the youngest and least experienced
members of congregations intrusted with the responsible task
of teaching those not much younger than themselves, it is
impossible not to feel that the Church grievously erred in
allowing the system to grow to its present dimensions with-
out her control. Is it not possible for the Assembly to go
back to one part of the bad Act which closed last century, and
to offer the supervision and examination of her Presbyteries
to both teachers and taught; not to check or choke, but
to develop the efforts made in the Sunday-school to discharge
the Church's duty to the young ?

(3) Though the Church was not formally concerned in the
Apocrypha controversy — for the British and Foreign Bible
Society, which caused it, was not connected with any Church —

5 94 Sf Giles^ Lediird.

the dispute was so keen, and sent its roots so deep, that no
sketch of the Church life of the time would be complete
without some notice of it. The British and Foreign Bible
Society was founded for the circulation of the Holy Scrip-
tures alone ; but with the view of securing a readier entrance
for the Bible into some countries, the Society, from about the
year 1813, had given money grants to aid foreign associations
in circulating the Scriptures with the Apocrypha, and had itself
issued Bibles, with the Apocrypha sometimes interspersed,
sometimes appended. A still more serious fact, which in
the end led to greater bitterness, was that the practice was con-
cealed. Contributors were not made aware of the tactics
of the directorate ; and for this the permanent officials were
to blame. Robert Haldane had arranged for a French
Bible with canonical Scriptures only, and as usual had
contributed generously to it; but even into it the Apoc-
rypha was thrust without his knowledge. When this
became known in Scotland, the Scottish contributors were
indignant, and after fruitless private remonstrance (continued
for three or four years), they stopped their contributions as
the shortest way of bringing the Society to a right mind.
There was of course .a stormy controversy ; and pamphlets
were strewn thick as leaves in autumn. The Scottish eventually
won the day — won it step by step ; and the Bible Society
at last agreed to promulgate a resolution that ' the fundamental
law of the Society which limits its operations to the circulation
of the Holy Scriptures, is distinctly recognised as excluding
the circulation of the Apocrypha ; ' and that ' no pecuniary
aid be given henceforth to any Society circulating the
Apocrypha.' The leader of Scotland in this matter was
Andrew Thomson — one of those men whose power is
quite inadequately represented by the printed works they
leave behind them. His treatment of ' Infidelity ' and of
* Universal Pardon ' is lacking in mellowness and self-repression,
and his ' Catechism for Young Communicants ' wants simplicity,

The Church of the Nineteenth Century to 1843. 295

tenderness, and fervour. To appreciate him, we of this genera-
tion must go back to the generation which it was his highest
ambition and his undoubted attainment to * serve by the will
of God.' When we stand anywhere on Scottish ground from
1820 to 1830, there can be no doubt that the greatest personal
power in the pulpit, on the platform, and in the press, was
wielded by that generous, fearless, wise, and unselfish man.

The chief result of the Apocrypha controversy upon the
Church of Scotland, whose fortunes we are following, was that
it publicly severed the ministers and members of the Church
from their Dissenting brethren. Up till that time, the mis-
sionary and philanthropic societies had been national, not
ecclesiastical ; but when the Scottish branch of the Bible
Society was broken up, the Churchmen, with scarcely an
exception, were found in the new Scottish Bible societies ;
almost all the Dissenters, save the Haldanes, clung to their
London connection.

(4) From home-work let us now turn to foreign missions. It is
a Church's primary duty to fulfil the Redeemer's last command
by preaching the Gospel to all nations. But the Confessions
of the Churches of the Reformation are all singularly deficient,
usually dumb, on this matter ; and the Westminster Confession
is no exception. Except that the General Assembly, in 1699,
' missioned ' four ministers to accompany the ill-fated Darien
expedition, not only to labour among the Scotch settlers, but
also for the conversion of the natives, and in 1700 touchingly

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 29 of 37)