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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schools was inaugurated in 1847. It was a bold, and manifest,
and eminently successful attempt at concurrent religious endow-
ment. It was eagerly accepted by the Roman Catholics and Epis-
copalians, and though a considerable number of ministers and
others demurred for a time, both Established and Free Churches,
by large majorities, accepted a system which, recognising the
necessity for religious instruction, dispensed its grants indis-
criminately to schools, whatever might be the religion taught in

By-and-by this mode of assistance gave way to capitation
grants, grounded in and measured by the ascertained progress
of the pupils. The minute promulgating the change earnestly
engaged the attention of all the churches. Our own General
Assembly, led by Dr Cook, while approving of its object, was
opposed to nearly all its details. Some two years after, how-
ever, he was able to report that most of the defects in the
Code originally proposed had been removed. The results
of its first trial in 1863 amply proved the necessity for some
more stringent test of educational work than had hitherto
been applied, and whatever dispute may continue as to the
merits or demerits of the system, its leading principle has been
thoroughly vindicated by the logic of events.

The interest evoked in education by the working of the
Privy Council system tended to further an agitation for proper
legislation on the subject. The Act of 1861, making better
provision for teachers of parochial schools, and freeing them
from the test of connection with the Church, helped greatly to
foster this movement. During the ten years that followed,
several measures were tried ; a Royal Commission had been
instituted and had reported, but even a Bill framed according
to its suggestions proved abortive. Some of these measures,
condemned at the time as revolutionary, may be found to be
much more moderate in their provisions than what is now uni-
versally accepted ; but though they failed to become law, they

344 S^ dies' Lectures,

served in maturing public opinion and preparing the way for
the Act of 1872. The agitation connected with the passing of
this measure is too recent to permit of detailed account. The
action of the Church, however, in reference to it, is easily stated.
Recognising many excellent provisions in it, it objected to the
entire absence of recognition of the importance and necessity of
religious instruction. The author of the Bill maintained that it
would neither prescribe nor proscribe religious instruction, but
leave the people free to have religious instruction if they
desired it. As originally drawn, however, this freedom was
very materially proscribed. Nevertheless, it was welcomed by
the Voluntaries, and by a majority of the Free Church.
The latter were prepared to surrender the obligation of the
State to provide religious instruction ; the former, by strange
inconsistency, were willing to allow Local Boards to infringe
their principle of religious equality. The minority of the
Free Church, however, were not prepared to abandon their
principles, just to make matters smooth with the promoters
of the measure. Cordially joining the Church in an endea-
vour to remedy so grave a defect, they succeeded in carrying
amendments recognising the value of religious instruction,
and giving liberty to the people of Scotland to provide in
all their schools the invariable custom of ages.

The effect of the Act has severed the direct connection of
the Church with national education. In 1872, 2400 schools
were reported to be connected with the Church. Of these, 1150
were parochial and parliamentary schools, and 1250 owed their
connection to the voluntary exertions of its Committee, its
kirk-sessions, its members. So, though here again the volun-
tary principle failed completely to supply a national want
— the exertions of all other denominations put together having
originated fewer than 900 schools — the Church has no reason
to be ashamed of its contribution to the cause of national
education. The Normal schools still flourish, but of common
schools very few remain, and what remain will eventually be

The CJnirch from 1843 ^^ 1881. 345

absorbed. But, as there is * that scattereth and yet increaseth,'
so if the Church be wise and tolerant, and keep clear of
outside sectarian complications, it will find that its influence
in the education of the people, because recognised to be
unselfish, is more powerful and beneficent than ever.

The watchword which has most influenced its action during
this period has been not the rights, but the efficiency of the
Church. The schemes recently developed for augmenting the
smaller livings, and for providing for aged and infirm ministers,
are notable indications of this. The first, though pressed upon
its attention by the great reduction in the stipends caused by
the repeal of the Corn Laws, and by the general advance in
social expenditure, is pleaded for solely on the ground that con-
gregations must suffer if served by a pauperised clergy. The
other, again, proceeds on the idea that congregations must be
vigorously served. Presbyterial supervision of ministers is not
indeed what it should be, yet public opinion is so maturing,
that indolence or inefficiency in the ministry will soon be as
little tolerated as open immorality. Even already it has put
an end to the times when it could be said that ' ministers only
find their office tolerable when they acquire facility in ignoring
its responsibihties,' or that Presbyteries are simply trades-
unions for protecting the interests of their members. The
increasing popularity of the Committee on Life and Work,
ostensibly instituted to stimulate activity, betokens a deepen-
ing regard to the great interests intrusted to us, and speaks
volumes for the hold which the conviction has now gained,
that the only right worth fighting for is simply freedom to dis-
charge all our duty.

Prominent among our modern activities is the care of the
young. Up till 1843, very little progress was made within the
Church in the development of Sabbath-schools. It was only in
1 84 1 that a return in regard to them was asked for. In 1850,
the General Assembly formally assumed their oversight, and
since then annual reports record, that while in 1850, there were

346 -5/ Giles^ Lectures.

only 76,232 children on our rolls, in 1880, 230,353 of the
youth of the country availed themselves of the religious instruc-
tion provided in the Sabbath-schools of the Church. The
proper accommodation and organisation of those schools, now
yearly engaging greater attention, shew plainly that the system
is rapidly passing into another and higher phase, which will
erelong shew marked results.

The Prayer and Fellowship Meetings, the Mutual Improve-
ment, Temperance, and Total Abstinence Societies, the Asso-
ciations for providing popular lectures and suitable recreation
for the people, which are now considered essential to the
economy of a well-served parish, manifest that the pastors
of 1880 bear a much heavier burden than was borne by their
predecessors of former generations. Indeed there is a danger
that the many and severe demands upon the ' modern minister '
may operate injuriously against his mental culture. The 'learned
leisure ' of former times would be difficult now to find. Leisure
certainly there is not ; and though in the parishes of Scot-
land there is abundance of men of scholarly sympathies, there
is a danger of learning diminishing. Yet learning is simply
essential, now that literature is immensely more diffused.
It is to be feared the modern Church is not sufficiently
alive to the danger. The institution of the Croall and the
Baird lectures, and the lectures delivered annually in the four
universities by men appointed by the General Assembly, are no
doubt steps in the right direction. Even a course of lectures
like the present may serve to stimulate study, but a far more
extensive and systematic and sustained effiDrt is necessary in
order to secure that the clergy of the present and future may be
worthy successors of those who in earlier times adorned the
venerable brows of the Church with laurels won in every
department of literature and science and art.

A fiercer light is beating upon the Church of to-day, and
stronger forces than influenced preceding generations have to
be dealt with and adjusted. The age of Queen Victoria is very

The Church from 1843 ^^ 1881. 347

unlike that of the Georges, Railways and telegraphs drawing
together the very ends of the earth, facilitating rapid exchange
of thought, have produced a silent but most mighty revolution.
It is an age marked by intense movement in every domain of
human activity; by exploration and colonisation of whole
continents ; by startling discoveries in science ; by great
inventions in the arts. If the effect produced by the revival
of letters and the rise of industry in Europe centuries ago
was to close the middle ages, and bring about the Reforma-
tion, then unquestionably this fusion of east and west,
and north and south in the great seething present, must
result in even a grander renaissance, which must powerfully
influence the Church. There have been ages in which the
clergy were the sole teachers of the world. In the present
age, the gifts of the Church, whether of science, or prophecy,
or healing, appear more in the membership than in the
ministry. The reputed teachers of the people have in many
things to assume the attitude of learners toward those who
look to them for spiritual counsel. The modern pulpit is
not so much marked by originality as by appreciation. If
not radiating forth new light, it is quick to catch and reflect
it. The religious thought and feeling of the people are not
ahead of the pulpit; yea, it is through its ministration
that the people in most instances receive what is good
in the spirit of the age. The sermon of to-day undoubtedly
lacks the polished diction and classic grace of the best
specimens of Moderatism, just as the average preacher will
not compare in scholarship and culture with the best of those
stately and courtly fathers, who, lingering far into our period,
have now all fallen asleep. But the pulpit of to-day, with all
its defects, is more in accordance with the wants of the
people. Were they offered again the clearly reasoned theo-
logical or moral essays of a former age, they would unquestion-
ably turn from them, to the living and often rudely expressed
sertno which stammers under the weight of its responsibilities,

348 Sf Giles' Lectures.

as it grapples with the sins, and sorrows, and trials of a most
complex daily life.

An age, characterised by a science and literature and art
which are all its own, will, as a consequence, be marked by a
theology peculiar to it. When the forces are more analytic than
synthetic, candid minds will never dogmatise. The ablest
judges hesitate to decide how far the progress of scientific
research, the revival of grammatical learning, the vast dis-
coveries of the scriptures of long-buried religions, have
modified, or are likely to modify, our thinking in the grandest
of all themes. Most of us, however, will gladly own that
while theology is no less divine than it was, it is now immensely
more human. It is no longer prosecuted in order to find
defences for an existing system, but scientifically, out of
reverence to God and devotion to truth alone. A research
which is reverent may well be inexorable, for whatever havoc
it may make of opinion, it can never damage, but only confirm,
the Faith. It is to the credit of the Church that in such an
age it has maintained an attitude wisely tolerant toward
those religious difficulties which must exercise all living
minds. It has never owned the necessity of producing
from its armoury the terrible instrument of libel for heresy,
and it has been rewarded, on the whole, by a very general
loyalty to its standards. Here and there, indeed, its tolerance
has been strained and even abused. Yet, as no one would
think of bringing down the whole weight and majesty of law
on some foolish boy who, bewitched by the false glory of
Jack Sheppard, aspires to play the role of highwayman, so
no one thinks of libelling for heresy persons who plainly are
ignorant of the real meaning of the word. Their off"ences are
often only the excrescences of unformed intellects, which we
may expect of themselves to yield to fuller knowledge and
maturer thought. In any case, the attempt to regulate rather
than repress movements whose origin is beyond our control,
will prove the truest wisdom in the end.

The Church from 1843 /(? 1881. 349

One of the weak points of the Presbyterian Church is its
worship, though the reasons of this have not sufficiently been
taken into account. Never at any time very rich in ecclesi-
astical structures, Scotland, toward the close of the seventeenth
century, found her heritage wasted ; not so much by the
fanaticism of reformers as by the ravages of Southern armies
and the evil fortune of several generations of civil war and
confusion. The land was too impoverished to repair what
the wealth of the old Church reared; and so many a valuable
relic was allowed to crumble into decay. For many years after
its establishment, the Church was confronted in many parishes
by heritors hostile to its polity, and had to be content
with such structures as their parsimony permitted them to
provide. Then the reHgious feeling of last century was too
weak to be concerned about the matter. Men went about the
building of a church as they did about the building of a barn,
and did not scruple to use as their quarry the beautiful ecclesi-
astical relics they possessed. It is a startling fact that the age
which produced such structures as still disfigure too many of
our towns and parishes, was precisely one that felt no obligation
to preach the Gospel to the heathen. The men who could
take the stones worn by the devotion of former generations, to
build a pen for their oxen or their swine, were just the very
men who could condone bribery in a judge, and drunkenness in
a minister.

It was not the revival of taste or culture, but the revival of
religion, that awoke and fostered that reforming spirit which
now strives to undo the ravages of a former time, by replacing
the miserable buildings which blot many a landscape with
churches worthy of their object, and by restoring in the grand
structures that survive, the old sublimity to the arched roof,
and the old grace to the traceried window. While we venerate
our old cathedrals and parish churches as affecting memorials
of our country's past, we do well to prize them even more for
their association with our religion ; and we are simply doing our

35© Sf Giles' Lectures.

duty in dedicating to their restoration something of our wealth,
as a thank-offering for the privileges of which they perpetually
remind us that we are still the heirs.

Improvement in the services of the house of God went hand
in hand with this attempt to improve its structure. One looks
back with amazement to the system which generally prevailed
scarcely thirty years ago. Worship there could hardly be in a
system which lacked its prominent elements. Liturgical it cer-
tainly was, but after the worst of types. In some churches, the
opening and closing prayers never varied from year to year;
psalms and tunes came round with the same unvarying
regularity ; the Lord's Prayer was seldom heard. In many
others there was no reading of Scripture. So thoroughly had
the injunction of 1812 fallen into disuse, that in 1856 the
Assembly had to ordain the reading of a portion of the Old and
New Testament in every diet of worship.

It has been my endeavour, in sketching this picture, to avoid
as far as possible all reference to persons; but it is impossible
to avoid alluding to one whose name, though recalling keen and
bitter controversy, now awakens only kindly memories in all who
knew him. What share he had in furthering this reform in our
Scottish worship — how far he helped, how far he hindered it —
may be questions between parties yet. But no one can ques-
tion Dr Lee's enthusiastic prosecution of it for the sake and in
the interest of the Church. In a matter like this, I chronicle
rather than criticise; but the introduction of instrumental music
into the service is undoubtedly due to his contendings. Other
changes might have come without his advocacy, but it was cer-
tainly through his pleadings that the organ, that ' holy Nazarite
that will not go to the dance or to the battle,' has been per-
mitted again to enter the house of the Lord.

That the whole Church sympathised in the reform of public
worship, even when opposing Dr Lee's method of prosecuting
it, is proved by its united action. As early as 1852, it began to
consider what was necessary for the improvement of praise.

The CJmrch from 1843 to 1881. 351

Though in 1859 the reading of prayers from a book was
condemned, a committee appointed before was continued, to
prepare forms of worship for the use of soldiers and sailors and
colonists. The Aids to Devotion, the Hymnal, the Psalter,
and the Psalmody publications ; the forms of address respecting
baptismal professions and obligations, transmitted in 1871 to
every minister of the Church, are the fruits of this action.
Further progress in this reform depends upon the moderation
of those most anxiously interested in it. There is nothing in
its constitution to prevent the Church — free as it is to use
for edification the spiritual treasures of Christendom — from
yet formulating for the Scottish people their own Book of
Common Order. But I am persuaded that if that does
appear, it will be permissive rather than compulsory. In
poverty and long tribulation, it has learned the value of
free prayer. The danger of having no liturgy may be to
sever it from the wisdom and piety of the past ; but the
having one may involve the greater peril of severance from
that living fount of inspiration which alone can make it
the Church of the Present and the Future.

The enormous increase in the power of the press, which now
penetrates for good or evil into every family in the kingdom,
is at last coming to be appreciated by the Church. At no
time has it encouraged publications professing authoritatively
to defend its interests, wisely judging that all such tend
only to foster narrowness and excite hostility, and are really
unnecessary in a community whose only policy is industry.
In i860, however. Good Words may be said to have revolu-
tionised popular religious literature. At first fiercely opposed
on account of its very catholicity, it soon came to be earnestly
imitated even by those who denounced it ; and now among
the many periodicals which seek to educate or amuse the
world. Life and Work, flying the pennon of the Church, holds
bravely its way. Here again, however, the aim is neither
propagandist nor defensive, but solely to provide a wholesome

35 2 -SV dies' Lectures.

popular literature at the cheapest possible rate, and to stimulate
Christian life in all manifold forms of activity.

In concluding this survey, I would touch very lightly upon
the spiritual life of the Church, for the truest and best
things of a Church are precisely those vi^hich no one can
tabulate. The system of results applied to education is said
to be injurious, as lowering both its quantity and quality.
Applied to the Church, it would simply be ruinous. The
life of a Church can never be measured by the amount of its
revenues or by the extent and variety of its activities. Where
there is life there will be activity; but there may be much
showy activity without life. The healthiest Church is the
most liberal and tolerant and humble : the severest in its
strictures on its own, the readiest to put the best construction
on the action of others. That our Church has shared in that
baptism of benevolence which stamps the present as one
of the most missionary and charitable of Christian centuries
no one can deny. The largest individual oftering ever made
in modern times to the cause of religion is recorded of it.
Unsolicited, and solely from a sense of indebtedness, Mr James
Baird, one of the shrewdest and kindliest of Scotchmen, crowned
many generous gifts by devoting in his lifetime half a million
of money to be spent in furthering its usefulness. The very
amount of his gift is significant of his faith in the Church.
That the people, are everywhere turning to it in increasing
numbers, proves that it accords with their national sentiment,
and satisfies their spiritual wants. Whatever may be charged
against it, it cannot be said to bear itself oppressively or
offensively toward any outsider. Its members have no advan-
tages which they are not prepared to share with others on
the same terms on which they enjoy them. So if the people
are wise, they will not permit the ark of God to be dragged
into the dust of party warfare, but will maintain it as a
common national shrine to which, after their keenest conflicts,
all parties can alike repair.






By the Rev. James Macgregor, D.D., Senior Minister of St Cuthbert's
Parish, Edinburgh.

T N discharging the duty which has been imposed upon me, I
-*- have, in this concluding lecture, to review the ground
traversed by my predecessors ; to trace the historic links which
connect the existing Church of Scotland with the distant past ;
and to indicate its present position, aims, and prospects.

It is historically certain that a pure Christian faith reached the
Scottish shores some time before the close of the fourth century.
The same St Ninian who brought us the great gift, and who
built his Candida Casa, or White House, within the roar of the
racing Solway, seems to have been the first who carried it to
Ireland. It was a time when the Bishops of Rome, though
powerful, had not as yet attained to supreme jurisdiction, and
when the ministers of religion still claimed to derive their autho-
rity from Christ alone. It was the faith of the great Councils of
Nice and Constantinople; the faith of Jerome and Ambrose and


354 'S^ Giles' Lectures.

Augustine. The isolation of the British Churches from com-
munion with those of Western Europe, consequent upon the with-
drawal of the Roman power from Britain in 410 a.d., tended to
preserve their pristine purity. In the hundred and fifty years
that followed, it is faintest twilight, the movements uncertain,
the forms shadowy and dim. The twilight broadens into dawn
on the arrival of Columba with his twelve disciples at lona in
563, the greatest character and the greatest event in the history
of the Scottish Church next to Knox and the Reformation.
Thanks to the industry of his successor and biographer
Adamnan, that great figure stands out, in sharp relief against
the darkness that preceded and followed, in a light almost
modern in its clearness ; and we can see distinctly, what kind of
man he was, what he thought, believed, and taught, and how he
lived and wrought and died. To all time he will be known
as the great apostle of Scottish Christianity, and his lonely,
beautiful, and soft-aired lona as its mother-shrine. We have
one strong link which binds the early Celtic Church which he
founded with the Church of our modern day, in the fact attested
by Columbanus, that 'he received nought but the doctrine of
the evangelists and apostles ; ' and in the evidence of Adamnan,
that ' the foundation of Columba's preaching, and his great
instrument in the conversion of the heathen, was the Word of
God.' No fact could be more significant or prophetic. It
was the pure and unadulterated religion of Jesus that was
first offered to our forefathers, and that first broke in upon the
gloom of our ancient forests. The first strong foundations of
the Scottish Church were laid broad and deep, where they rest
to-day, on the solid rock of Scripture. It was with this book
in their hands that Columba fought and won the battle with
Paganism ; Knox, the battle with Popery ; Melville, the first
battle of Presbytery with Episcopacy — the three great struggles
which shaped the form and determined the fortunes of the
Scottish Church. It has been the living contact of the Scottish
mind with its life-giving words which more than all other forces

The Church of the Present Day. 355

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 34 of 37)