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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Revolutions, and the impressions made by the constant dis-
cussion of the claims of the Roman Catholics in the British
Parliament, began to produce a wide and conscious divergence
amongst the Seceders from the ground practically occupied by
their fathers.' ^ That ground, as is well known, was the support
of the Establishment principle.

There had been a solitary voice raised for this political
Voluntaryism so early as 1806 by a seceding minister in New-
castle, and there had been much unseen preparation of Dissenters
for the coming struggle ; but the blast which roused the conflict
was a sermon by the Rev. Andrew Marshall, Kirkintilloch,
in 1829. He sounded an assault upon National Establishments
of religion as unnecessary, improper, unjust, impolitic, a secu-
larising of the Church of Christ, and a setting aside of the
positive ordinance of the Saviour by which the Church is to be
self-supporting. In his most highly wrought passage there is
an elaborate contrast between the Church portrayed in the
New Testament and the Church in the condition which he
describes as 'incorporated with the State.' It closes thus:
' The one is the bride, the Lamb's wife ; the other is more

^ Cairns' Life of Broiun, p. 169.

3o8 Si dies' Lectures.

nearly allied to her whose name is " Mystery " — the woman
who is arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, decked with gold
and precious stones and pearls, and who has in her hand a
golden cup full of filthiness and abominations.'

It was not likely that words like these would be forgiven ;
and the defenders of the Church rushed to the rescue.
Orators on each side went to and fro as with a fiery cross
over the land ; and courses of lectures in defence of the
Church were delivered everywhere. Those which were deliv-
ered in the great cities and afterwards published, are remark-
able for ability, and also for strength of sweeping statement.
They are fair specimens of the intellectual power and intel-
lectual ferocity which have so often characterised ecclesiastical
polemics in our country. The immediate politics of the
struggle centred in the Church's claim of state-endowment
for her new chapels, and in the Dissenting opposition to
that claim. The Dissenters gained the day. Exceeding
bitterness was the natural result. And when the Non-
Intrusion party tried, about 1839, to secure the help of the
Dissenters in curtailing Patronage and asserting Spiritual
Independence, those Dissenters, headed by Dr John Brown
— one of the most honoured of ministers, but the fiercest of
Voluntaries — declared that they could not as citizens consent
to liberate an Established Church from national supervision
and control. This curious position meant, that being Christian
Voluntaries, they wanted to play the part of an oppressing
' Caesar ' ! And thus the majority of the Church, thwarted
in their claim of Endowment, and unaided in their struggle
for Non-Intrusion, were driven to assert their views of
Spiritual Independence more loudly. In this way, as Dr
Cairns puts it : ' The Dissenters suspended their own exer-
tions to diffuse Voluntary principles, believing that the
reforming party in the Establishment were doing their work *
(p. 196).

(8) We have seen that politics gave a great part of its force to

The Church of the Nineteenth Century to 1843. 3^9

the Voluntary Controversy ; but we must now say that secular
politics originated and shaped the Veto Act, from which the
cry of Spiritual Independence and eventually the Free Church
arose. Politics came in necessarily at that stage. The Reform
Bill of 1832 gave the people new power in the State; and
they naturally expected greater power in the Church which
had always been the people's Church. The Reform Bill did
more ; it inspired the Voluntaries to denounce the Church
with fresh vigour as a remnant of feudalism that should not
be allowed to survive in the glorious days of the people's
liberty. The friends of the Church were compelled to think
how they could vindicate and popularise the Establishment
so as to increase its power for good. The Moderate party,
led by Dr George Cook, proposed to call into practical
use the long disused but never abolished right of the con-
gregations to present objections of whatever nature against the
minister who had received a presentation from the patron ;
of those objections, the Church courts to be the judges. This
was a significant though insufificient tribute to the change of
the times, and a confession that the rule of Robertson and
Hill had unduly repressed the people's rights.

But the popular party in the Church felt that more than this
was needed. The policy on which they decided was the Veto
Act of the General Assembly, proposed by Dr Chalmers in
1833, and carried on the motion of Lord Moncreiff in 1834.
The Veto Act provided that, when the majority of the male
heads of families, being communicants, dissented without reasons
from the nomination of a minister presented by the patron, the
nomination was null and void. Its key-note was that dissent
without reasons prevented any further proceedings in the settle-
ment ; so that the presentee was rejected without any trial of
his qualifications by the courts of the Church. I am far
from suggesting that the wish to popularise the Church was
wholly political. True sympathy with all that is best in her
history led naturally to it. But in the particular form of action

310 Sf Giles' Lectures.

which was adopted, we see the power of secular poHtics, The
natural course would have been to stand on the old lines of the
Church of Scotland ; to object to Patronage as a grievance and
a burden, and thus to constrain the Reformed Parliament to
extend the ecclesiastical suffrage. But this would have been
inconvenient for the new ministry. 'There is nothing,' says
Dr M'Crie, ' that the Voluntaries dread so much as the abolition
of Patronage.' And the Voluntaries were a large and resolute
part of the new ministry's following. It was the object of the
members of the ministry, therefore, to keep the matter out of
Parliament. Brougham, it is said, was eager to get the Church
to try her own powers ; and certainly his irrelevant start to the
floor of the House of Lords to eulogise the Veto as soon as
it was passed, and to declare it ' safe and beneficial and in
every way desirable,' looks very like this. There can be no
doubt that Jeffrey (Lord Advocate) and Cockburn (Solicitor-
General) threw all their weight into the scale. ' I am for the
Veto,' said Cockburn, ' and as what we are to stand upon
finally.' But they would all have been of little weight had
there not been in Scotland a man of the highest character
and of undoubted devotion to the Church, who was an
unswerving upholder of Patronage and a leading Liberal.
It was, unquestionably, Lord Moncreifif's attachment to the
Church and to Patronage, rather than his Liberalism, which
chiefly swayed him. But the result, in his advocacy of
the Veto, as the plan which would least injure Patronage,
united him with the Liberal politicians. Cockburn says :
' I hear his evidence before the Patronage Committee not
only converted the Tory members to the Veto, but the
Anti-Patronage men to Patronage.' Upon Lord Moncreifif
rests the chief responsibility for the ills that so nearly ruined
the Church he loved so well. He pledged his reputation
as a great lawyer in behalf of the Church's power to pass the
Veto Act ; and with ill-fated persuasiveness he urged that if
ever the Church went to Parliament at all, the proper time

The Chttrch of the Nineteenth Cent my to 1843, 311

would be when litigation had proved that the Veto Act was
wrong, because beyond her own powers. So it came about
that, by the lay-politicians, the Veto Act was made a law of
the Church,

By the lay-politicians almost alone. There was no living
ecclesiastic of sufificient power to hold his own, not to speak
of shaping the counsels of the party. Andrew Thomson had
always assailed Patronage itself; and had he lived, it is little
likely that he would have yielded to this desire to maintain it.
When a proposal to abolish slavery by slow stages was all but
carried, his famous speech, with its ' Give me the hurricane
rather than the pestilence,' took a public meeting by storm, and
made the movement for instant abolition, with all its dangers, to
be triumphant, in spite of the fears of politicians. One can
imagine how he would have spurned the Veto, Chalmers
was the only outstanding man, and he was an unwilling
convert to the Veto, He wanted anything rather ; wanted
popular decisions by the Assembly under the old law ; wanted
to go to Parliament for an Act to make assurance doubly sure.
But he was all for Patronage, characteristically saying that
congregations are fit to give a ' gregarious consent,' but not
to give a gregarious initiative. There was but one minister in
Scotland — he was not in the Established Church — who could
dare to speak all his mind ; and it was no common mind. Dr
M'Crie, the biographer of Knox and Melville, and the bosom
friend of Andrew Thomson, said : ' A Tory ministry forged
our chains ; a Whig ministry refuses, when it is in power, to
strike them off. Which of them are most criminal ? We hold
the former as enemies ; we denounce the latter as traitors.'

And so, under a mistaken belief that it was in the Church's
power, the Veto Act was passed, to gratify the people, to out-
flank the Dissenters, to preserve Patronage, to save the Whig
ministry from trouble. Though Dr Cook argued in 1833
that it was ultra vires, and would be overturned in the courts
of law, the dissent of the Moderate party in 1834 does not

312 St Giles' Lee lures.

raise that question ; but there was left on record by the Dean
of Faculty, John Hope, a biting dissent, declaring that any
presentee rejected by the people, and not having his quali-
fications tried by the Church courts, would have a legal
right to the stipend and all other rights appertaining thereto.

And so it came about, as we shall see. But meanwhile, we
must speak of another rash course to which the sense of the
greatness of the Christian people, and of the Church's duty to
them, prompted the Church. The taunts of the Voluntaries
caused that to be badly done which might have taken another
and a better shape. The chief taunt was, that an Established
Church is fettered by the State and cannot expand herself —
cannot erect new parochial charges as an increasing population
requires. To meet this, the Church's ill-advised proceeding
was to assume to herself the power of making new parochial
charges, so far as to connect an ecclesiastical district with an
unendowed chapel, and to give the minister a seat in Church
courts. Chalmers was again overruled. He at first denounced
the idea of admitting unendowed chapels to * the high places of
the Establishment,' and he knew that all his plea in behalf of
Endowment as the poor man's seat-rent was annihilated by this
new measure. But it was very tempting. The Church had
been established before she was endowed; so that it was a
gallant attempt to assert her original power of recognising
charges irrespective of Endowment ; and as Chalmers believed
that Endowment could never be raised by the contributions of
the people, and as he was tired waiting for the State, he con-
sented to this impatient enactment. The daring deed was done
repeatedly. In 1833, the Assembly admitted ministers of those
Highland churches to which a yearly Parliamentary grant was
given] in 1834, it admitted at one sweep all ministers of
chapels; and in 1839, it received ministers of the Associate
Synod of Seceders. On the first occasion (in 1833), Dr
Cook was not alive to the importance of the step, and
acquiesced, though, it is said, against his better judgment.

The Church of the Nineteenth Century to 1843. 313

One solitary dissent, by the Rev. W. R. Pirie of Dyce,
remains as a proof of his sagacity and his courage. He
was the first in Church and State to see what all Scotland
soon learned in bitter experience. On the subsequent occa-
sions, the Moderate party protested against the admission of
chapels as beyond the Church's power.

The storm soon came. Mr Robert Young was presented to
the parish of Auchterarder, and was vetoed by the people. He
applied to the Court of Session to have it declared illegal for
the Presbytery to reject him without trial of his qualifications.
His plea was that the Act of 17 12 revived the Act of 1592,
which provided that the Presbytery be ' bound and astricted to
receive whatsomever qualified minister presented by his Majesty
or other laic patrons.' His claim was to be taken on trial of
his qualifications by the Presbytery ; and he pleaded that the
Church courts had no right to allow the people's dumb
dissent to prevent his trials. After five months of pleading
and debate, the court by a majority declared the action of the
Presbytery to be illegal. After some time, the case was
appealed to the House of Lords, and there the judgment of
the Court of Session was sustained. Not only so, but
Brougham, in a long and rambling speech accompanying
the judgment, used many arguments and some phrases which
I can see no reason either to forget or to forgive, on the one
hand, or to regard as containing good law, on the other.

But meanwhile, the majority of the Church had committed
the Assembly to a declaration that they would stand by the
Veto. The settlement of a minister was declared to be a matter
purely ecclesiastical; and all jurisdiction of the civil courts in
regard to it was repudiated. * What the Assembly was concerned
with,' said Dr Robert Buchanan, in proposing the motion, ' was
not the wisdom of the Church, but the competency of the
Church in making such a law at all.' This unhappy resolution
led to all the irreparable evils that followed. Lord Moncreiff's
counsel to go to Parliament was forgotten. The majority of

314 "S"/ Gilei Lectures.

the Church made the political interpretation of an Act of
Parliament a matter of ' Spiritual Independence.' Meanwhile,
another presentee who had been vetoed in the parish of
Marnoch, applied to the Court of Session to have it declared
that the Presbytery of Strathbogie, within the bounds of which
Marnoch lies, was 'bound and astricted' to make trial of his
qualifications. And the court accordingly declared that the
Presbytery was so bound. Whereupon the Presbytery recorded
in its minutes a declaration that it was bound to make trial of
his qualifications. For making this minute — they had gone no
further — the seven members constituting the majority of the
Presbytery were suspended by the Commission of Assembly,
and the Commission resolved to send deputies to preach in
their parishes. Then they applied to the Court of Session for
protection ; and the Assembly's deputies were forbidden to use
the church, churchyard, or school-house. This was the * First
Strathbogie Interdict.' After a while, the Court granted a
' Second Interdict,' forbidding the deputies of the Commission
to preach in any of the parishes, or otherwise to molest the
complainers in the functions of the ministry. This last Interdict
was passed in absence, without debate ; was never enforced,
though openly and contumeliously broken by the deputies of
the Church ; and I suppose that all concerned were glad to
let it drop. The Court of Session had no right to prevent
the Church from preaching the Gospel in any parish ; and it
would have been well for the Moderate party if they had openly
made common cause with the Non-Intrusionists in publicly
denouncing this act of the Court as usurpation. Had they done
so, they would have shewn that they maintained Spiritual
Independence. By their supine acquiescence, they drove
the public sympathy to the mistaken men who believed
that every step consequent on the Veto was for Christ's
Crown and Covenant.

But the time for wisdom was past and gone on all sides.
The Church, by her majority, was defying the statute law, and

TJi.e Church of the Nineteejith Century to 1843. 315

abiding by an incompetent and impolitic political act of her
own. ' Our dearly beloved Venerable proceeds to its annual
slaughter of Mother-Church to-morrow,' wrote Cockburn one
day. The Court of Session had abandoned its calm serenity ;
and the judges proceeded in a strange fashion to act as though
because 'for every wrong there is a remedy,' therefore, for every
wrong done by the Church, the remedy lay with them. The
Parliamentary parties had also lost their wisdom. Neither
Whig nor Tory leaders could see how great the crisis was,
or how imperative some remedial measure. The Duke of
Argyll made an attempt to have the Veto legalised. The Earl
of Aberdeen brought in a bill to recognise explicitly the
Moderate view, that objcdiofis of whatever kind might be stated
by parishioners against the presentee, and that the Church
courts must decide upon them. But neither of those pro-
posals came to anything, and the Church hurried to strike the
rocks and be rent in twain. The court ordered the Presbytery
of Strathbogie (which had previously after trials found him
' qualified ') to proceed to receive and admit Mr Edwards,
and the Presbytery did induct him in January 1841. The
Assembly deposed the seven offenders. The Moderate party,
holding that they were wrongly deposed, made common
cause with them ; and after that time the battle was incon-
ceivably fierce. How Scotland rang with the war-cries ;
how in every parish the representatives of Non-Intrusion
declaimed with earnest eloquence against the doings of the
Court of Session, my time does not permit me to tell.
At an early stage, Dr Candlish saw that the people would
not be moved if the conflict were understood to be merely one
of jurisdiction between the courts of the Church and the civil
courts of law ; and intimated that it must be pleaded as
involving the privileges of the people as well as the rights of the
Church. And so it was. The Veto which was actually intended
to perpetuate Patronage, came to be treated as a kind of
Anti-Patronage ; and the question of the Church's competency

3t6 Sf ales' Lectures.

to curtail Patronage by the Veto was described as involving the
Crown rights of the Redeemer. It was this which stirred
all Scotland as it had not been stirred since the days of
tlie Covenanters. The banner of the Covenant was sup-
posed to be again floating in the breeze, and in the church
and in the open air Scotchmen trooped to defend it. And
when at last, in 1843, the crash came, many of the best
of the ministers and a whole host of willing people left the
Church of Scotland. No other result could be expected,
one would think ; but some who did not know Scotland
had a hope of different results. I believe it may now be
considered certain that the Scottish advisers, clerical and
lay, of the Conservative government, which succeeded to
power in 1841, had a deluded hope that only a few of the
leaders of the Non-Intrusion party would leave the Church,
and that the rank and file would remain in the old citadel.
It is inconceivable that any one who had ever gauged the
force of religious feeling, or even who had any remembrance
of what Scotch Presbyterians dared and did in former times,
could believe that the men of 1843 would be detained in the
Church by the paltry terrors of the forfeiture of position and
stipend. Dr Candlish, in whose speeches were always first
and most forcibly announced the principles which afterwards
became the rallying-cries of his party, had for years announced
the impending secession, the Sustentation Fund for the support
of the clergy, and the attitude of necessary antagonism to all
Establishments which he and his friends would be obliged to
take up. When I read those speeches, so full of nervous
force, of passionate logic, and of unparalleled skill in selecting
the topics that would longest absorb the attention of the
people — and remember how the party took their watchword
from the busy brain of that born leader of men — it seems to me
unpardonable that any one should have believed it possible for
truants in any considerable number to fall out from the Non-
Intrusion ranks. The torrent was sweeping all before it j and

The Church of the Nineteenth Century /(? 1843. 317

only a passion like their own could have roused against the
Non-Intmsionists the feelings of the Scottish people in behalf
of the integrity of the old Church. But the Moderates as a
party did not even understand the voices of the storm which
was shaking the house of their habitation.

It was here the parties were unequally matched. Dr Inglis
had been laid in his grave some months before the Veto was
decreed. Dr George Cook, who since the death of Principal
Hill had led the Moderate party, was without the qualities
needed for a time of commotion. He was learned, upright,
wary, sincerely attached to the Church ; and one who knew
him well, said in after years, 'he was the best business man
of a minister I ever saw in the General Assembly.' But he
had been identified with the Church's business and not with her
action \ and he never learned that reason is less powerful than
feeling in moving human life. Dr William Muir can never be
named without the reverence due to a dignified, generous,
unselfish life, devoted with every power of body and soul and
spirit to the work of the Christian ministry, and to the mani-
festation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ \ but he attempted to
occupy a middle position between those whose views were
irreconcilable, and as they drew away from each other, he was
left without support and without power. There was one man
more powerful than those named, who is said to be as much
responsible for misleading the government in 1843, as Lord
Moncreiffwas for misleading the Church in 1834. The Dean
of Faculty, Hope, did his best to verify his dissent from the
Veto, and to prove that it was bad law. In many a stormy
passage uttered at the bar, or diffused through the press, he
repeated this statement ; and at last he had as a lawyer
the satisfaction of seeing judges who had eulogised the Veto
coming judicially to maintain his view. But passion interfered
with his intellect, and prevented him during the conflict from
understanding that spiritual theory of the Church as possessed
of inherent jurisdiction by Divine appointment, which is the

3i8 Sf Giles Lectures.

doctrine of the Confession of Faith, and as such is recognised
by the law of the land ; a doctrine which he had indicated
in his dissent from the Veto, and which he had in after-
days to reiterate, if not to rehabilitate, from the Bench.
There was one of the Constitutional leaders of whom I am
perhaps debarred from repeating here what I have said else-
where ; ^ but regarding him — Robertson of Ellon — I may quote
Hugh Miller's words : ' Dr Johnson threatened on one occasion
to raise a mob. . . . The man we describe, if there be truth
in natural signs, or if Nature has written her mark with no
wilful intention to deceive, could lead and head a mob too. . . .
We have before us the redoubtable Mr Robertson of Ellon,
the second name and the first man of his party. . . . He
has character, courage, momentum, and unyielding firmness.'
Though he was never called to lead a mob, he afterwards
shewed how he could do a harder thing when he revived a
dispirited Church. But he was not in the councils of the
Moderates at the last. He was excluded because he would
not approve of the second Strathbogie Interdict.

There were others of whom we cannot here take account
The gifted and learned and beloved Principal Lee was never
a leader of the party ; and some others, as Drs Pirie,
Paull, Bisset, and the younger generation, of whom John Cook
and James Grant were the best known, were not always
members of the Assembly or in the array of the battle. Dr
Mearns — clear and cogent — took a less prominent part after
his motion was defeated in 1834. It is not wonderful that
popular enthusiasm was with the other side. Its nominal
head and its great glory was Chalmers ; but its real leader, as
I have already said, was Dr Candlish. With him in close
array were Cunningham, furnishing lore and logic and terse

^ Life of Professor Jaines Robertson. I ask leave to refer to the full narra-
tive of the Non-Intrusion Controversy in that volume (1863); and to
refer to my pamphlet on Spiritual Independence (1875) for an account of the
judicial and ecclesiastical principles raised during the controversy.

The Church of the Nineteenth Century /c; 1843. 3^9

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 31 of 37)