William Chambers.

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

. (page 35 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 35 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

put together have made this country what it is. With the
exception of the Roman CathoHc period, this note runs all
through the history of the Scottish Church.

From the coming of Columba there is light for one hundred
and fifty years, and we know with considerable certainty what
is going on. It radiates from lona and spreads over the greater
part of Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde. Then comes a
long, dark, and much-confused period of four hundred years.
One fact stands clear out to the student of that misty time, that
from the days of Columba to the death of Malcolm Canmore,
Scotland had a National Church peculiarly her own, which
was neither Roman Catholic nor Episcopalian nor Presby-
terian, and whose direct paternity it is folly for any Christian
Church of this day to claim. When the light died out with
Adamnan in 704, it was monastic, not parochial nor diocesan^
when the light came in with Saxon Margaret and her sons, it
was monastic still. All through, it was tribal, not territorial \ it
was Celtic, not Roman. Its rulers were abbots, to whom the
bishops were often subject. Its clergy were not always celibate.
They owned no subjection to Rome ; and they bore no resem-
blance to either the secular or the regular clergy of the Western
Church. We can also see through those dim years that
this Celtic Church has been made familiar with suffering;
that its clergy have tasted the bitterness of exile ; that it has
lost its churches and been stripped of its property. We find
traces, too, of that independent spirit — that passionate love of
freedom, that jealousy of foreign interference and dictation,
that capacity of suffering for what they believed to be right —
which a little later were to be tried and tempered in the
long war with England, and which have come down to us as
one of our richest inheritances from those ancient times.

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, owing to decay from
within and to English influence from without, there came a
slow and silent, but important revolution. The monastic
system was giving place to the diocesan, and over the whole

356 Sf Giles' Lectures.

of the LoAvlands of Scotland, the Celtic to the Saxon tongue.
The year in which King Malcolm, the saintly Margaret, and
Fothad, the last native Bishop of Alban, died — 1093 — may be
said to date the passing away of the Celtic Church. With the
establishment of the Benedictines in lona in 1203, the Roman
rule became universal in Scotland. In 1286, the stumble of
a horse on the crags of Kinghorn completed the process, by
bringing to an end the ancient dynasty of our Celtic kings.

Of the great revolution which then took place, two results
have lived on to our day, and distinctly connect the living
present with the distant past. Few things in this world of
change have vitality enough to carry them over a period of
seven hundred years. There are at least two parts of the
present Church system of Scotland which go back without
a break through that long period of time. The one is our
elastic territorial and parochial system, capable of readjustment
to the varying needs of the population. No better system
ever was or ever will be devised for securing the spiritual
supervision of a country, and the whole body of its people.
The other is the provision for religious ordinances by the prin-
ciple of tithe or teind, which was originally the voluntary assign-
ment, not by the State, but by the great lords who owned the
soil, of the tenth part of the produce of the parish for the
supply of its religious wants; and which thus became the
property of the Church by an indefeasible title. So ancient
is this system of tithe, that Blackstone emphatically declares
that no beginning can be found for it. According to Bede,
there w^as as early as the seventh century a ' kirk sest,' which
very probably resembled tithes. In Scotland, there belonged
to the Church, besides the teinds, extensive property in land,
which had also been the voluntary gift of the great land-
owners, and which continued to belong to the Church, first in
its Celtic, and then in its Roman form, down to the Reforma-
tion. In 1587, by what can only be described as a great act
of spoliation, this property passed to the crown, and through it

The Church of the Prese?it Day. 357

became the possession, in too many instances, of worthless
nobles. The teinds were not seriously touched, and as
rearranged by Charles I. in 1633, still continue as a national
provision for religious ordinances. The entire yearly income of
the rightful property of the Church from the ancient endow-
ments would amount at the present value to an enormous
sum. What has escaped spoliation amounts to only ;^2 75,ooo,
which is less than the income of many single noblemen.
How many properties in this land are held to-day by so long
and so strong a tenure, as the fragment that still remains of
that ancient provision for the spiritual wants of the people, and
especially of the poor of Scotland ; and of what properties can
it be said that they have been so faithfully and so consistently
employed for the public good ? Should the nation ever resolve
to reconsider the purposes to which this property is applied, it
would be an interesting inquiry to try to ascertain what became
of those vast landed estates which, unbought by money or by
service, passed from public into private hands, what national
interests they have subserved, and whether any portion of them
might not still be recovered for national purposes.

Beyond the institution of parishes and of parochial endow-
ments ; the effect on the national character of the long and
bitter war of independence ; and the scattered remains of the
great ecclesiastical edifices, no existing link connects the four
hundred years of papal domination with the Church of the
present day. It was a period which, not without promise
at its commencement, darkened deeply towards its close.
The Romish Church was everywhere growing more degraded
and corrupt, at the very time when, through the revival
of letters, a new light and a new life were dawning on the
world. There are probably two main reasons why, when the
work of Reformation came, it was more thoroughly effected
in Scotland than in any other country of Europe; because
nowhere had Romanism attained to a condition of more
unmitigated vileness, and because nowhere was the work of

35^ '5'/ Giles' Lectures.

cleansing more thoroughly the work of the people, and a
people, too, whose habit has ever been to do with their might
what their hand findeth to do.

The form which the Scottish Church took amid the throes
of the Reformation, and which it will probably always main-
tain, was due to the two greatest and most fruitful facts to
be found in the whole range of its history — that the battle
of Protestantism was fought by the people, and that the
principal weapon used in the conflict was, as we have seen, the
Word of God. The result was a Church essentially popular
and Scriptural, which recognised in the education and intelli-
gence of the people the best ally of religion, which was built in
the main upon a Presbyterian basis, and which (17th August
1560) was established by law.

From the Reformation till the Revolution, a period of one
hundred and thirty years, the spectacle which our country
presents is that of a people at war with their rulers for their
religious rights. During five successive reigns, from Mary to
James VIL, every ruler who sat upon the throne did his very
utmost to thrust his religious views upon the people, with the
invariable result of leaving the victory with them. The war of
Protestantism with Popery had scarcely ended when the war of
Presbytery with Prelacy began (at the Concordat of Leith on
Feb. I, 1572), and raged with ever- varying fortunes through one
hundred and eighteen troubled and turbulent years, till in June
1690 it ended in the victory of Presbytery as the permanent
and legal form of Church government. Since the war of inde-
pendence, no struggle so protracted, so fierce, so bloody, has
been waged by the Scottish people. The war of independence
began with the passing away of the Celtic Dynasty and the
establishment of the House of Stuart. The religious war ended
in their expulsion from the throne. The inborn love of
freedom was the motive cause of both, and both have left
their ineffaceable marks on the character of the Scottish

TJie Church of the Present Day. 359

So far as the legal establishment of the opposing systems
went, the attitude of affairs was this :

Presbytery. Episcopacy.

Aug. 17, 1560 — Feb. I, 1572. Feb. I, 1572 — June 1592.

June 1592 — Oct. 1612. Oct. 1612 — ^June 1640.

June 1640 — May 1661. May 1661 — ^June 1690.

Of these one hundred and thirty years, Presbytery was the
legal system at three different periods, covering, in round
numbers, fifty-two years ; Episcopacy was the legal system at
three different periods, covering in round numbers seventy-
eight years. But the periods of possession are no indica-
tion of the relative hold of the systems upon the minds of
the people generally. In every instance, Episcopacy was
violently imposed by the sovereign, and was overthrown by
the people. It thus became in their minds the symbol of
despotism. There can be no doubt that all through, the
feelings and convictions of the mass of the people, except
in the North, were on the side of Presbytery. In not
one of the many ups and downs of that period of strife
was Presbytery overthrown and Episcopacy imposed by the
people's will. ' The rational inference ' which Macaulay draws
from the facts of the case is this, that at the Revolution
' more than nineteen-twentieths of those Scotchmen whose
consciences were interested in the matter were Presbyterians,
and that not one Scotchman in twenty was decidedly and on
conviction an Episcopalian.'

It was not Episcopacy in itself which they resisted, so
much as the royal and priestly despotism of which it was the
symbol. It was the gross Erastianism, servility, and tyranny
with which it was associated, which made it an abomina-
tion to the Scottish people. Such is the calm verdict of
impartial history.

Another fact must be borne in mind. At none of the periods
during which the system was established was it Episcopacy

360 St cues' Lectures.

pure and simple. It was Episcopacy overlying a Presbyterian
ground-work. The Kirk-session and the Presbytery lived on
through the whole period of strife. In matters of creed, worship,
and discipline, there was very little difference between the rival
systems. Of the two collegiate ministers of the Tron Kirk,
Edinburgh, in 1692, one was Episcopalian and the other Presby-
terian. There were rival kirk-sessions as well as rival ministers,
and the service was conducted at the different diets according
to the different forms. Beyond the institution of Bishops, the
present Anghcanised Episcopal Church in Scotland bears little
resemblance to that which fought so hard a battle with Presby-
tery in the seventeenth century, and lost.

At the Revolution Settlement in 1690, it was finally deter-
mined that Presbytery was to be the future and permanent
form of the Scottish Reformed Church, and that there was not
to be a union of the two National Churches, even with the
union of the two kingdoms; and the first chapter of its history
came to an end.

Was it a gain or was it a loss that the struggle ended as it
did ? That question has been asked before. Of the influence
which the issue had, not merely upon Scotland, but upon the
United Kingdom, the verdict of one who, though himself a
Scotchman, and a grandson of the manse, had certainly no
prejudice in favour of his native Church or land, may be taken
as probably not very far from the truth. ' There can be no
doubt,' says Macaulay, 'that a religious union (between
Scotland and England in 1689) would have been one of the
greatest calamities that could have befallen either kingdom.
The union accomplished in 1707 has indeed been a great
blessing to both England and Scotland. But it has been a
blessing, because, in constituting one State, it left two Churches.
.... Had there been an amalgamation of the hierarchies, there
never would have been an amalgamation of the nations. . . .
Those marvellous improvements which have changed the face
of Scotland would never have been effected. Plains now rich

The Church of the Present Day. 361

with harvests would have remained barren moors. . . . New
Lanark would still have been a sheep-walk, and Greenock a
fishing-village. What little strength Scotland could, under such
a system, have possessed must, in an estimate of the resources
of Great Britain, have not been added, but deducted. So
encumbered, our country never could have held, either in peace
or in war, a place in the first rank of nations.'-^

Can as high an estimate be formed of the value of the
Presbyterian victory as regards the Church ? In answer to
that question, we must see what that form of Church govern-
ment was which then became the permanent polity.

'Three elements exist in the Presbyterian system — the
authority of presbyters, more especially as subordinate to
no office-bearer of higher rank in the Church ; the representa-
tion of the Laity in its government; and the provision made
for its external unity in courts of review.' The reason Avhy
not the Church of Scotland merely, but all the Churches of
the Reformation, had naturally the tendency to assume the
Presbyterian form, and did so wherever they were not
thwarted, as in England, by external circumstances, was simply
this — that while breaking with the immediate, the Reformers
went back to the remoter and purer past, and drew their
system from the fountain-head of Holy Scripture. Like
the primitive Apostolic Church on which it was modelled,
the Presbyterian Church recognises but two permanent oftices,
that of presbyters or elders, and that of deacons — the one
for things spiritual, the other for things temporal ; its basis,
unit, and type being the congregation, with its court of
associated elders called the kirk-session. Like it, it regards
the Christian people as the only Christian Church and the
only Christian priests. Like it, it unites the congregations
of a locality for purposes of government into a higher
court called the Presbytery, which consists of a clerical and

^ History of Engtand, vol. iii., p. 257.

362 Sf Giles^ Lectures.

lay representative from each kirk-session. Each member of
the Presbytery is also a member of a higher court representing
a province, and known as the Provincial Synod. The highest
court of all is the General Assembly, which is composed of
representatives or commissioners, both lay and clerical,
appointed by the various Presbyteries, and also of repre-
sentatives from the royal burghs and universities. Each of
these courts in the National Church has its jurisdiction,
status, and functions secured by the law of the land. From
the decisions of the Supreme Court on matters within its
own province, there is no appeal. The Church is thus
a perfect organic whole ; its every separate congregation
being not only an integral part, but a fully equipped
type or model of the whole Church. There is thus also
a simple and orderly gradation in the system of govern-
ment, one court rising above another, from that which repre-
sents a single congregation to that which represents the
whole Church, and each and all of them containing that large
infusion of the lay element which prevents the governing
power from being wielded by a class ; and by its practical
wisdom, its knowledge of affairs, its variety of status, intellect,
and character, constitutes the beauty, the stability, and the
freedom of the National Church of Scotland — a Church which
is thus in perfect harmony at once with Apostolic practice and
with the representative institutions of modern times. What
has been declared to be the great want of the Church of
England is admirably supplied by the General Assembly —
namely, ' a continuously acting organ by which to adjust itself
to the needs which changing times must bring upon every living
and working society of men.' For capacity of self-extension,
self-adjustment, and self-government, for adaptation to widely
different circumstances and conditions, for elasticity and
catholicity, no system could be more admirable. As a
consequence, it is found in somewhat different forms among
many different peoples and in widely distant lands. If we

The Church of the Present Day. 363

leave out the Lutherans of Germany and elsewhere, who are
not Prelatical nor even Episcopal, in the sense attached to
that word by the Anglican Church, the Presbyterians of the
world outnumber the Protestant Episcopalians. ' Of all
organisations in the Christian Church,' says Dr Hill Burton,
' Presbytery is, next to the Romish Hierarchy, the most
powerful. In places entirely isolated from external aid and
countenance, it is far more accomplished in organisation
than any other Church.'

There are two eminent advantages which flow from its
essentially popular character, and from the large lay element
in its government. It requires, and therefore fosters as an
essential element in its success, an all-pervading intelligence
in the community. In this respect, as in many others, it
was admirably suited to a country which could boast that it
was not only the best, but the only educated nation in the
world. Above all, it renders practically impossible the growth
of that sacerdotalism and superstition, whose only logical
resting-place is Rome, and which events have proved to
be the incurable taint and defect of Episcopacy, wherever it
has been held to be divinely authoritative to the exclusion of all
other systems of church government. When a Scotchman,
from whatever cause, breaks off from Presbyterianism in his
own land, he breaks off from the Church of Scottish history,
the Church to which we owe so much both of our civil and
religious light and freedom, and with whose fortunes and mis-
fortunes the brightest pages of the national annals have been

The system, so theoretically perfect, is not without grave
practical defects. There is a want of central control; a
want of the unity, concentration, and cohesiveness which
diocesan Episcopacy gives. The principle of equality errs by
excess. There is no natural initiative ; there is no firm and
responsible executive ; there is no permanent authority. While
the system is free from prelatic despotism, it is by no means

3^4 ^^ Giles^ Lectures.

free from the danger of clerical and popular oppression. When
democracy becomes tyrannical, its tyranny is often of the worst

With the Revolution Settlement and the Treaty of Union,
a new chapter in the history of the Scottish Church began
which is not yet completed ; new , questions emerged which
are not yet answered. The fruitful and far-reaching influence
of a great national wrong was never more strikingly illustrated
than in the long train of miserable and not yet exhausted
consequences which followed the ill-omened Act of Queen
Anne, whereby, in 17 12, against the unanimous will of the
Church, Patronage was restored. A strong consensus of opinion
points to this Act, against which the Church continued to
protest for more than seventy years, as the principal root of
the troubles which followed. It would be difficult to find an
Act of Parliament against which so heavy a bill of indictment
can be brought. It directly led to the first secession in 1733,
which within fourteen years was itself split into two by the
Burghers' oath. It had a principal share in the formation
of the two great parties known as the Moderates and the
Populars, and their long and bitter contentions regarding the
presentation and the call. The harsh deposition of the gentle
Gillespie in 1752, and the consequent founding of the first
Relief Presbytery in 1761, were due to it. A wise voice in
1782 declared that this Act and the Church of Scotland
could not stand together. But for it, the Church would
never have been induced to go beyond her province,
and to exceed the rights secured to her by statute, by
passing the Chapel Act and the Veto Act of 1S34, and thus
to embark upon the most unwise and fatal conflict to be
found in the whole range of her history. In spite of the
great and honoured men who took part in it, and of the
splendid act of self-sacrifice to which it led, no conflict better
shews to how large an extent human frailty, passion, and
prejudice are factors in ecclesiastical history. No good man

The Church of the Present Day. 365

can wish that his country should pass through such a time

Had the bitter leaven which wrought so much mischief, and
which was purged out in 1874, been removed in 1834, the
story of the Disruption would never have been written. But
what was right in 1834 could not be wrong in 1874. When the
Church embraced a favourable opportunity presented to it, and
sought for its people the restoration of an ancient and much-
prized privilege, which had been violently wrested from it ;
when it obtained from Parliament the removal of an incubus
which Parliament had itself imposed, and which had weighed
it down for a hundred and sixty years ; when it sought to get
nearer the hearts of its alienated children by the removal of the
one great cause of their alienation — was that, in the eye of
everlasting righteousness, right or wrong ? Even granting that
the motive was the desire to lessen Dissent, to bring the
Churches closer together, and to hasten the day when our
broken Presbyterianism shall again be one, and when they who
now stand far apart shall see each other eye to eye — was that
a mean and ignoble motive? Is schism in itself a blessing ?
Is Dissent divine? Is the desire to remove the cause of
schism in itself a wrong ? True ! it might have been well for
all parties had the boon come earlier. But it is surely true of
blessings that they are better late than never. True, too, that
the evils which an Act of Parliament can do, another Act may
not wholly undo. The stream of tendency which has been set
aflowing can never perhaps be wholly dried up or rolled back
to its fountain-head. It is easy to divide ; it is not easy to unite.
But surely an unjust Act, pregnant with mischief, is better off
than on the statute-book. It is hard, no doubt, for the Free
Church to feel, ' If Patronage had been done away with in time,
there would have been no occasion to suffer as we have done.'
But it is not a high or noble or justifiable ground for even
a suffering Church to take with regard to another — ' because
we did not get a loaf of bread when we were hungry, we shall

366 Sf Giles' Led tires.

take care that you do not get it either.' On no intelligible
ground can the abolition of Patronage be made, as it has
openly been, the occasion of an attack upon the National
Church, save on the principle that Dissenters have a vested
interest in the defects and abuses of the Establishment. A
more disingenuous or a more repulsive doctrine was never
fashioned in the brain of Christian men.

On no part of its long and chequered history may the Church
of Scotland look back with more unfeigned thankfulness to
Almighty God than on the period that has elapsed since 1843,
and during no period have there rested on its labours more
manifest tokens of the Divine blessing. ' In quietness and con-
fidence has been its strength.' Because ' peace has been within
its walls,' there has been ' prosperity within its palaces.' Itself
habitually maligned and traduced, its bitterest enemy cannot
charge it with having ever, even in the heat of the strife,
uttered a harsh word or done a harsh deed to those who left
its communion, and whose very nearness of relationship, as
so often happens, seems to have intensified their enmity. A
common danger past, drew its members closer together. A
meeker and more patient, a more temperate, tolerant, and
united spirit, was born of the sorrows of a troubled time.
Clearly recognising that its faithfulness to its great principle
and mission as a national Church is its one permanent title
to the nation's respect and confidence, it has done its very
best, through its Endowment and Home Mission Schemes, to
provide the ministrations of religion to every destitute locality
of the land. To this quiet and steadfast devotion to its national
duty, and to freedom from the curse of internal strife, is mainly
owing that astonishing success which has marked the Church

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 35 of 37)