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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statement, and sometimes rough personalities, to the service of
his party ; Buchanan, a born diplomatist, and withal a man of
infinite pains in the mastery of details ; Dunlop, who dedicated
all his powers of legal learning and of lucid statement (not
usually giving the opposite side full justice) to the behoof of his
party, and afterwards of the Free Church ; and Gordon, full of
dignity; and Welsh, who seems to have been loved beyond most
men ; and Patrick Macfarlan, the only considerable ecclesiastic
who originally approved of the Veto ; and many others whom
it is not in my power to name this day.

Behind them, leagued with their leaders in many a hard
encounter in Church courts, was a vast majority of successive
General Assemblies. There was doubt whether all of them
would cohere till the end ; and accordingly a Convocation of
ministers was called in November 1842, at which, after many
days' debate and discussion, the whole of the members were
pledged to go on together to the end — out of the Church if
need were. This was not what many a man expected when
he went. The circular calling the meeting, said Dr Candlish,
* must ndt seem as if it were intended to commit men who may
come as to ulterior steps.'' The circular was open enough ;
but the Resolutions were very binding. It is only a few
months since any report of the proceedings was published ;
and now that we have it (in the Memorials of Dr Candlish)^
we see how, in solemn enthusiasm, all the brethren, guided
by Candlish's skilful hand — with occasional bursts from
Chalmers and others — came closer and more close together,
until after ten days they emerged as one mass, molten in
the strong heat, ready to take the shape of the Free Church.
Of all who were prominent, there is but one survivor ; and it is
notable that he (Dr Begg), with manly consistency, held his
own then, as ever since, denouncing the Act of Queen Anne
as the source of all the evils of the Church.

After the Convocation there could be little hope of a peace-
ful solution of the difficulties of the Church. If there had been

3^0 ■5'/ Giles' Lectures.

any such hope, it was dispelled by the Stevvarton case in January
1843. In this case the Court of Session, by a majority
(eight to five) declared that the Church courts had no power to
make quoad sacra parishes. Thus, as the Auchterarder case
struck at the root of the Veto Act, so did the Stewarton case
take the sanction of law from the other two Acts of the Church
in 1833 and 1834 — the Parliamentary Churches Act and the
Chapel Act. So far as the Court of Session could undo all the
work of the Church for ten years, it had undone it.

And on the i8th of May 1843, 45 1 ministers left the
Church of Scotland (289 being ministers of parishes), leaving
752 ministers, of whom 681 were ministers of parishes.

It was not a Disruption of the Church from the State. It
was a great secession, and may well be called a Disruption of
the Church, one part from the other. It has taught Scodand
and all the world how great is the power of an earnest and
united membership when it strives to serve Christ. But still
it is not on the whole a thing to be regarded with thankfulness.
It has weakened the Church of Scotland, which, if it had
continued strong, could have evangelised the nation ; it has
embittered ecclesiastical life, and thereby kept religion at a
low level ; it has encouraged Church Extension on the prin-
ciple of supply and demand, so that simple territorial work,
not thwarted by visible competition, is impossible ; and —
mainly in consequence of this competition — while Scottish
churches are more than doubled in number, those who are
outside of all churches are not fewer but more numerous
than before.



THE CHURCH from 1843 to 1881 a.d.

By the Rev. Archibald Scott, D.D., Minister of St George's Parish,


'T^HE story which I have to tell, if less interesting, is not so
-*- painful as that of the troubles which culminated in the
Secession of 1843. Though differing widely as to the principles
which by that event were vindicated or condemned, most people
now look back upon the contendings that led to it with surprise
and regret. In so fierce a display of the perfervidum ingenmm
Scotoruvi, candid critics find it very difficult to agree with any
party. We are repelled alike by the violence of those who, by
persisting in fighting their battle with weapons declared to
be illegal, exposed the Church to insult as occupying a false
position, and by the doggedness of others who, to maintain a
constitutional position, resisted claims which might have been
allowed, and more than once evinced a disposition to minimise
its rightful independence. We are amazed that the storm
should have invaded the calm domain of law, and that
judges, allowing themselves to become partisans, could not


32 2 St ales' Lectures,

refrain from accompanying decisions, which in themselves were
impugnable, with dicta which were sometunes as indefensible
as they were intentionally offensive. And it is especially to be
lamented that both Parliament and Government should have
proved so unfit to deal with a really national crisis. Misunder-
standing, or haply misinformed of its actual gravity, responsible
statesmen made almost no endeavour to adjust a movement
which manifestly they could not repress,' and which issued in
a catastrophe which has embittered the national religious life
ever since, and threatens still further to rend the unity of the
Scottish Church,

The number and quality of the men who composed the
Secession, their personal influence, their distribution over the
country, made their withdrawal a serious calamity to the Church.
All over the land the people in multitudes, many of them
unable to comprehend or not troubling themselves to inquire
into the question at issue, followed the ministers whom they
loved or were taught to revere. The cause may not have
been understood, but the war-cry was catching, and the
sacrifices which had been made for it could not but raise it
in public esteem. It is simply foolish for any one to attempt
to underrate the Secession. The applause which greeted its
inauguration ; the popular support which it received from the
first ; the streams of wealth which poured into its treasury ; the
admiration which it excited in the best parts of Christendom, are
facts which only a most prejudiced mind can ignore, and which
prove the Secession of '43 to be a most memorable event, pro-
ductive of consequences which not the wisest seer of to-day
can venture to predict. It would be worse than foolish so to
deal with the Secession; for the fact that, notwithstanding it,
the Church continued almost without a pause the course which
had been entered upon before those troubles befell it, and that
with increasing activity and greatly augmented results, is the
most powerful of all proofs that, even tried by Gamaliel's test,
not * of men have been its counsel and work,'

The Church from i843/t?i88i. 323

Seceding historians have represented the Secession as virtu-
ally the extinction of the Church, So Dr Hetherington declares
that ' every man of genius and talent and learning, every man
of piety and faithfulness and energy and zeal, followed Dr
Welsh from the Assembly.' ^ Dr Buchanan, again, avows that
' the life departed from the Establishment, and those who
remained gazed upon the empty space as if they had been
looking into an empty grave.'- But whence, if such descriptions
be true, came the Church of to-day ? Time is a slow but sure
and impartial dispenser of justice ; and now when we look back,
after the lapse of nearly forty years, the most prominent feature
that arrests us is the manifest continuity of the Church in
everything that can express her life. Not a scheme was aban-
doned, not an enterprise either at home or abroad was demitted.
There had swarmed off a new and vigorous colony, but the life
and the work of the parent hive went on. A new Church,
equipped with Presbyteries and schools and halls of theology,
had sprung Minerva-like into being, but the body from which it
emerged gave no symptoms of disease or senescence. The
river rolled on, for a time in diminished volume, and ever
since with less noise than that which had parted from it;
but its silence was the token of its depth and power, and its
course of beneficence throughout this generation sufficiently
attests its origin as one of those streams which make glad
the city of God.

The minutes of that memorable Assembly and the pictures
that have been preserved of it by eye-witnesses, reveal a very
different state of matters, and a very different set of men from
what are described by the partisan historians. We can discern
in their chivalrous and indomitable determination to maintain
the Church the germs of her present prosperity. There was
much sorrow in that Assembly, but there was no cowardice ;
much concern, but no despair. Calmly amid the hissings of

"^History, vol. ii., p, 524. ^ Ten Years' Conflict, yoX. ii., p. 442.

324 Sf Giles' Lectures.

the mob, as those ' who felt they were suffering for future
generations,' they set about undoing one by one the blunders
which had caused their troubles. They had maintained the
constitutional rights of the people against the encroachment
of an ecclesiastical supremacy which would eventually have
strangled them, and they now asked the State, with which the
Church was in alliance, but to which in spiritual matters it
would never be subject, to take such constitutional measures as
would conserve the rights of the people and remove difficulties
in the way of the Church's progress. So without excommuni-
cating those who had caused this mischief, but deploring their
loss ; acknowledging the weight of their calamity and taking
their own share of the national sin that caused it, evincing
neither sign of wavering nor doubt as to the rightness of the
course they had pursued, they set themselves at once to grapple
with their circumstances and to repair the breaches made in
the bulwarks of the National Zion.

Certainly they had need of all their fortitude, for their work
had now to be prosecuted in the presence of active and able
and vigilant foes. Those who seceded never seemed to feel that
they were called to concede to those who remained the same
conscientiousness which they claimed for themselves. They
went out not as martyrs, but as if they were the hereditary
enemies of a Church whose bread they had eaten, re-
presenting its ministers as a degraded and hireling order of
men, no longer worthy to preach the Gospel. The people
were told by responsible leaders of the movement, that the
' idea of the residuary Establishment doing anything valuable
for the salvation of souls was simply ridiculous,' and therefore
they ' should proceed substantially on the theory that provision
for ordinances by it was not to be taken into account at all' ^
And so while the new Churches were placed as near as pos-
sible to the parish church, the parishioners were instructed by

1 Story's Life, p. 302 ; also Dr Candlish's Life, p. 306,

The Church from 1843 to \.%,%i. 325

the official newspaper of the party, to 'regard the parish
minister as the one excommunicated man of the district, the
man with whom no one is to join in prayer, whose church is to
be avoided as an impure and unholy place.' Evidently the
martyrdoms of '43 were not all on the side of the Seceders.
Their sacrifices were ostensible, and were compensated for by
great public applause ; but the men who remained to maintain
what all had solemnly sworn to defend, had to undergo the
daily martyrdom of having their best motives misrepresented and
systematically outraged. The persecuting spirit of the people
was very strongly roused ; and wherever the Seceders were
numerous, it made fidelity to the Church a painfully trying
thing. In the North, the scenes which had occurred after 1690
and in the first twenty years of the eighteenth century, when
the Presbyterian polity was being put in force, were almost
literally re-enacted after '43, when the Church sought simply
to perform its duties. In September of that year, the mem-
bers of Presbytery who had met to supply the parishes of
Rosskeen and Logic, were assailed with stones and sticks.
In Resolis, on a similar occasion, a serious riot occurred,
in which one man was disabled for life, and another was
so wounded that he soon after died. In several other
places, men were assaulted and nearly killed for no other
reason than that they adhered to the Establishment. It
was no uncommon occurrence for parish ministers to find their
church-doors battered, and their pulpits defiled. Girls were
driven violently away from the wells by elders who would not
allow ' false Moderates to pollute the water.' Shopkeepers
who would not join the Secession, were treated in many
parts of the country as the Irishman is now dealt with who
refuses to join the Land League. The very children were
banned by their playmates at schools, and even recently
might be heard speaking of the Church in which their fathers
had worshipped for ages, in terms too opprobrious to quote.
To recall such things is painful ; to dwell upon them would

326 Sf Giles^ Lectures.

be uncharitable; but they must be taken into account in order
to do justice to the men who in those evil times maintained the
cause and prosecuted the work of the Church. The very turbu-
lence and intolerance that raged around them was destined to
have a good effect both on their councils and action. It not
only chastened them, but seemed to crush out that combative
zeal which, prior to '43, aimed at domination and conquest
of all dissent. If here and there an individual was stung into
retaliation, he was speedily rebuked by the better spirit that
prevailed among his brethren. It was not by returning railing
for railing that the cause of the Church could be advanced, but
by a resolute endeavour to remedy all its defects, and to adapt
it to the wants of the country and of the times. Conse-
quently, after '43, the Church entered upon a course of steady
and continuous reformation in almost every domain of its
service. The whole period is one of healthy revival, in which,
unvexed by any desire to molest outsiders, it has tried to
develop its own resources and improve its own efficiency, and
the happy results may now be seen in the vigorous and still
reforming Church of to-day.

Certainly there was need for reformation. Arrears of undis-
charged responsibilities had been accumulating for generations.
During the century prior to 1834 the Church had produced
some sixty-three chapels, in face of nearly six hundred raised by
Dissent, to meet the wants of a rapidly growing population —
a fact which at Disestablishment meetings and in Voluntary
Town Councils was urged powerfully against the Church. In
the city of Edinburgh alone, eleven thousand unlet sittings in
the Established Churches — and these generally the cheapest ^
— indicated the indifference that prevailed among the lower
orders, and revealed within the Church a state of matters
more alarming than any hostility that could be raised against
it from without. You have been told of the noble singleness

' Cockburn's yoiirnal, vol, i., p. 93.

The Church from 1843 to 1881. 327

of aim and pure enthusiasm with which Dr Chahiiers sought
to grapple with these evils, and how his efforts, generously sup-
ported, had resulted in the erection of nearly two hundred
chapels in large and necessitous parishes. It had even
a grander result — that of awakening the conviction that the
Gospel is the only power to raise man or masses of men,
and that of all the instruments for securing this, none can
compare with that of an endowed territorial ministry. Had
Chalmers done nothing more than lodge that truth deep in
the heart of the Church, he would have made good his title
to rank with its Reformers and founders, for out of that
seed was to rise a harvest of blessing larger than ever he
had dared to dream of.

The difficulties of the Church, confronted with empty pulpits
to supply, and empty churches to fill, were for several years
increased by the necessity of having to make good its claim to
those very chapels. It was not denied that they had been
erected by contributions received in its name, and had been
inalienably secured in title-deeds to its trust ; but the curious
demand was made, that the Church should be compelled to
cede a property of which as a sacred trust it was not at liberty
to divest itself. The reasons alleged were that the chapels
were erected by the party composing the Free Church, and that
the Church had now no need of them. A comparison of the
lists of those who seceded with those who remained will effec-
tually shew that Church Extension was a movement to which
the whole Church was committed, and which all parties in the
Church supported. The church-door collections for it in the
years preceding the Secession, varied from ^2445 to £,Z11^\
in those immediately succeeding it, they ranged from ;!^240o to
;^400o. In the extraordinary emergency of the Secession, it was
to be expected that several chapels should be left for a time un-
provided for ; but it was scarcely fair of the Seceders to plead an
embarrassment of which they were the authors as a reason for
despoiling the Church of its trust, and it was almost ludicrous

32§ St ales' Lectures.

to cite individual instances of churches alleged to be locked up
and useless, when the parties who made the allegation refused to
give up the key. The whole contention seems to have been
only designed to damage and discredit the Church. The now
disclosed secret history of the Convocation reveals the grim
humour with which, even before it was advanced, those who
made the claim regarded it. Confessing themselves unable to
secure the chapels as the spoils of the contest, it was pro-
posed that ' they should be loaded with debt, which would
render them useless, according to the custom of a distressed
army to spike the guns which they could not carry off.' ^ As
matter of fact, when the protracted litigation ended, and the
chapels were declared the property of the Church, they were
found burdened with a debt of more than ;^3o,ooo.

The spirit of the Church Extension movement, far from
departing with Chalmers or languishing within the Church,
manifested itself in vigorous activity even in the dark days
following the Secession. Its operations were of course the
more pressing ones of relieving and fostering chapels that had
been enfeebled or emptied. Yet year by year witnessed a
steady increase over the preceding, both in the number of
chapels that were aided and in the number of worshippers
attending them. Even before the decision of the House of
Lords had been given, a most important step had been taken
with regard to the Chapels of Ease. You have been told how
these chapels were built in the hope that government would
furnish the endowment, and how all endeavours to secure this
had failed. The public purse was too empty, and Dissent was
too fierce. And if opposition from that quarter was too strong
for the Church, when supported by Chalmers, it was hopeless to
confront it now, when so much of its strength had gone to
animate that hostile power. Yet even then there was one who
had faith and courage to assert that the task from which

1 Candlish's Life, p. 253,

The Church from 1843 to 1881. 329

Chalmers shrank as too gigantic might be accompHshed by
voluntary effort. Naturally sanguine, the fact that the Church
had emerged from the storms of the preceding decade,
stimulated in him the hope of great things to come. In the
newly formed Lay Association he saw an ' earnest of the new
and better spirit with which the whole land would soon be
imbued,' and so undaunted by difficulties which were truly
enormous, he dared to summon a Church, alleged to be
prostrate ' and dying of its own weight of corruption,' to a task
of national magnitude.

There can be only one estimate formed of Dr Robertson's
character and work. He was of the stuff out of which all true
Reformers are made — a man firm and unbending as the granite
of his native county, yet burning with unquenchable zeal. It
was not as an ecclesiastic but as a patriot that he gave himself
to his work ; fighting not for the advance of the Church, but
for the success of the Gospel. As one of the commission of
inquiry into the condition of the poor, he had discovered what
social unrest and spiritual indigence stirred beneath the vaunted
stability of our national prosperity. His studies in the writings
of the Fathers of the Church had furnished him with clear
perceptions of its fundamental principles, and experience had
grounded him in firm faith in their soundness. He had learned
enough of philosophy and history to convince him ' that the
welfare of society tends by an irresistible impulse, over which
legislation can have little control, to suspend itself in the signi-
ficance attached to man as man, and that the strength of the
empire depends upon the God-fearing and therefore manly
and trustworthy self-government of its subjects.' His keen
good sense shewed him the value of the instrument which had
been placed by Act 7 and 8 Vict. c. 44 in his hand. So we
need not wonder that his natural hopefulness, brightened by
firm trust in God and faith in the capabilities of a National
Church, should have made him even then prophesy of the
glory of the latter times for Scotland, 'when those who

33*^ -5^^ Giles' Lectures.

were a burden to society would be converted into blessings
to it.'

The opening of his crusade was encouraging. Even in the
sad year of the potato famine, he could report out of a total sub-
scription, ^^5000 subscribed by the clergy alone, and ' an offering
of first-fruits from the enlightened zeal of the nobility.' But he
was soon to require all his enthusiasm. We know that it is a
fact in nature that ' we cannot raise the temperature of a thaw-
ing mass of ice till we have thawed the whole, and that not until
the ice has passed into water can we hope to change it into
steam.' As in all great Christian movements, a great amount
of Robertson's energy was absorbed in this same thawing
process. He had to complain, not of the frank opposition
of enemies, but of the indifference and dead inertia of friends.
But even from the first there went with him ' a band of men
whose hearts God had touched.' It would be invidious to
mention the living, and though no one can grudge to the
dead the tribute of being associated with his name, I prefer
rather by silent reference to suggest than recall them. Indeed,
no one could come in contact with his strong and noble
disinterestedness without feeling that honest resistance could
not be prolonged. His speech might be heavy, his manner
unattractive, but there was no resisting the man. So one by
one at first, but latterly in numbers, there rallied round him
the foremost men in the Church, the most influential of the
nobility and gentry. Through an unwearied course of fifteen
years he lived and toiled for his scheme, and he may be said
even to have died for it. His last official action was the
penning of an unfinished appeal for it ; almost his last words
breathed of its burden : ' Not the Convener, not the Com-
mittee, but the Spirit of the living God.'

He died in i860, but as a leader dies in a victorious charge.
The very momentum that had been gained made the line sweep
on without him. His death, deplored as a grievous loss, turned
out to be a real gain to the cause which he served. Its great-

The Church from 1843 to 1881.

ness only dawned upon many through the grandeur of the life
surrendered for it. Much of the coldness which baffled him in
life melted away in his death. The sixty parishes which he had
left behind him were, under his successor, in another sixteen
years, augmented to two hundred and fifty. At this date, three
hundred have been added to the Church, at a cost of nearly two
millions of money. But those who have wrought most nobly to
produce this result have always alluded to their efforts as the
fruit of Robertson's work. The last Convener, a man in every
way worthy to succeed him, was on this point the most entitled
of our generation to speak ; and yet with simplicity, as truthful
as it was beautiful, Dr Smith ever spoke of his work as if
Robertson himself were directing it — as if, 'having died, he
was yet speaking.'

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 32 of 37)