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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during recent years, and which unhappily, in the eyes of some,
is its most obnoxious feature and its worst offence.

By far the best evidence with regard to the numerical strength
of the difterent Churches would have been that ecclesiastical
column in the census returns which the two Established

The Church of the Present Day. T)^']

Churches have repeatedly sought, but which the Noncon-
formists have steadily and successfully resisted. We find, how-
ever, from their own returns that the communicants of the
Free Church are about 230,000, and those of the United Presby-
terian Church about 172,000; while from her own and parlia-
mentary returns, those of the Church of Scotland are about
500,000, or more than the other two put together. This
would give it 1,750,000 adherents at the ordinary reckoning,
or close upon a half of the entire population. It has
been shewn, too, that the increase of membership of the
Established Church is 8000 a year, or in eight years,
64,000 ; while in the Report of the Secretary of the Sus-
tentation Fund of the Free Church in December 1875 there
are these words : ' It may be assumed that our membership
should have shewn an increase over 1867 of 22,100. But it
is shewn above, on the basis of Presbyterial returns, that the
increase was only 7062. There is, therefore, a deficit of
15,000, or 7|- per cent' The Report of the United Presbyterian
Church presented to their Synod in 1877, declares: 'On the
whole, the United Presbyterian Church may have maintained,
but has not improved or strengthened, its position in relation
to the total population of the country.' In fifteen of the
Established churches in Edinburgh and Leith, the membership
in 1874 was 17,064, and in 1879 it was 19,485, an increase of
242 1 ; whereas in fifteen Free churches in Edinburgh and Leith,
occupying the same localities, and bearing the same names, the
numbers were 7430 in 1874, and 7761 in 1879, ^-n increase of
only 331. The proportion in these churches is therefore two
and a half to one in favour of the Established Church ; and her
increase in five years is more than seven times greater — and
this in a city supposed to be the stronghold of the Free Church.
In the same way, the increase in Sunday scholars in the Estab-
lished Church during twenty-six years ending 1877, exceeded
by 20,681 the increase of both the other denominations put
together. During the six years ending 1877, the free-will

368 S^ G ties' Lectures.

offerings of the Established Church, including ^500,000 from
the late James Baird, amounted to ;^2, 43 1,779. ^^ this is a
sufficient answer to the common platform assertion that the
Established Church is ' moribund,' and confirms the statement
that ' it is yearly gaining in numbers, in influence for good, and
in the recognition of its merits by the general body of the
people.' There can be no doubt that where other things are
equal, the drift of the Scottish people is towards the Church of
their fathers.

But there are facts far more important than any figures, and
whose value no figures can estimate, underlying and explaining
these external marks of success. These facts are mainly these
— the Church's evangelical doctrine, spiritual earnestness, and
tolerant and comprehensive spirit. Such experience as has
been given me by a ministry of five-and-twenty years in
important centres of influence, is the ground and warrant of
my belief that through all these years there has been a gradual
deepening of the Church's spiritual life, and that it was never
more healthy than at the present day. Never was there more
of genuine piety, never more of personal love and loyalty to
the Lord Jesus, than there is now among its ministers and
people. Never was there a more faithful preaching in its
pulpits of the love of God in the redemption of the world
through Jesus Christ ; never a more faithful ministration of the
doctrines of grace throughout the length and the breadth of the
land. Never was its worship more comely and reverent, nor
its parochial system better manned and wrought, than it is at
the present day. Never were its clergy more alive to their duty,
more pure in life and doctrine, more abounding in zeal and
good works based upon a personal devotion to their great
Master. If there are exceptions, they are exceedingly rare ; and
at what period and in what Church have there not been such ?

Another marked and growing feature of the National Church
is its breadth and comprehensiveness. All through, it has
sought to maintain a friendly relation with other churches.

The Church of the Present Day. 369

It is actuated by no narrow aims, and by no sectarian
jealousies ; its pulpits are open to ministers of all evangelical
denominations, and it welcomes to its communion and to a
share of its endowments any Presbyterian minister and con-
gregation who may care to take them. It embraces within
its membership a wider range of society, a more equal
balance of political parties, a richer intellectual life, and a
greater variety of religious type than any other Church. It is a
striking fact that no considerable secession ever took place from
its ranks on the ground of doctrine. With a folly of which it
has long since repented, it expelled two of the best men it ever
had, Edward Irving and John Macleod Campbell. With an
enviable nobility of soul, they both loved it to the last; and
Campbell died in its communion. It is of the very nature of a
national Church that it be politically, socially, religiously, as
broad and comprehensive as the national life which it represents;
not bound to one hard and fast line of Christian thought and
sentiment, but tolerating and comprehending all shades and
types of thought that are consistent with the great root doc-
trines of Christianity ; recognising, respecting, and fostering
whatever agencies and forces are at work for the general good,
whether within or without itself. A national Church is fulfilling
one of its very highest functions when it seeks to utilise and to
consecrate all the forces which are at work in the nation — its
wealth, its aesthetic taste, its literature, its changing currents of
opinion, its political movements, its thought, its culture — to
imbue them, as far as it may, with a Christian spirit, and to
guide them to high and noble ends. A national Church is, or
ought to be, and none but a national Church can be, the
spiritual leaven of the nation.

In the Church's contributions to literature, and in the general
intelligence and culture of the clergy, the period under review
will contrast not unfavourably with any past time.

Such changes as have taken place in the current of opinion
and teaching have been in the direction of a gentler theology,

370 "Sy Gilei Lectures.

more in keeping with the softened manners of a milder time.
Far more than in former times is the love of God in Christ the
great theme of the pulpit, and far less the terrors of the law ; far
more the Fatherhood, and far less the Magistracy of God. It
is a question whether this milder form of teaching is not carried
to excess. A freer but not less reverential handling of the Word
of God ; a wider latitude of opinion, not as to the fact, but as
to the modus operandi of the Atonement ; a less stern and rigid
view of Sabbath obligation and observance ; a more merciful
and hopeful view of the future destiny, not only of the millions
outside the Christian Church, but of mankind in general — these
are changes which have come more or less over all churches
alike. There are two main directions in which the tide seems
strongly running 3 one is towards a relaxed subscription of the
Confession of Faith, the creed of Presbyterians throughout the
world, and, all in all, perhaps the noblest creed of Christendom.
The consensus of opinion is clearly towards the maintenance of
the Confession intact, as too valuable and too venerable to be
safely tampered with. That some latitude of interpretation is
allowable seems evident from the very nature of the document
itself, and from the circumstance that when it was approved by
the Assembly of 1647, it was expressly on the ground that it
was 'in nothing contrary to the received doctrine, &c., of this
Kirk' — that received doctrine being the old Scots Confession of
1560, 'which has never been repealed, modified, or departed
from.' If it was expressly allowable to the men of 1647 to treat
the new Confession in the light of the old, the same liberty
seems allowable to the men of 188 1, All that the statute of
1693 requires in the matter of subscription is, that the sub-
scriber accept it as 'the confession of his faith.' Whatever
additional stringency has been added to these terms, has been
the work of the Assembly; and what the Assembly has done, it
can also undo.^

^ See this whole subject powerfully handled in the paper on Disestablish-
ment, by the Duke of Argyll. Strahan & Co., London.

The Church of the Present Day. 371

In looking back over these five-and-twenty years, nothing
strikes me more than the marked change which has taken place
for the better in pubhc worship, and especially in the matter and
manner of public prayer. Few things more nearly affect the
welfare of a Church than that form of worship by which it gives
expression to its faith in, its dependence on, and its communion
with God ; and few things have done our own Church more
harm than its long and slovenly neglect of this important
department of its work, and its departure in this respect from
its earlier and better ways. Among the historical facts which it
is neither to our credit nor to our welfare to forget, one is, that
for the first hundred years of its existence the Reformed Church
of Scotland had a richer and more varied service than it has
ever had since. It had its Prayer-book, its order for the
administration of the sacraments, its service of praise with
Hymns as well as Psalms and appropriate tunes. The loss of
all this was due not to Scottish, but to English influence. As
time advances and taste improves, there is a growing tendency
to return to the moderate and enlightened views of Knox and
the early Reformers. The Assembly has sanctioned the use of
the Prose Psalter, a Hymnal, and an Anthem book. Instru-
mental music is being widely introduced as a help to psalmody.
Church architecture has been immensely improved throughout
Scotland. Fast-days are going ; and it is not unlikely that in the
course of time their place will be taken by the days com-
memorative of those great facts and events which secured the
redemption of the world. While the privilege of extempore
prayer will never be abandoned in Scotland, there are good
men in all the churches, and these the very men who have
the "highest conception of what public prayer is, who would
be thankful for the use of a modified and permissive Liturgy,
as a blessing to themselves, and some security for a more
reverent and decorous worship over the length and breadth of
the land.

The story which has now been brought to a close is one of

372 Sf Gile£ Lectures.

which every Scotchman may well be proud. If we leave out
Palestine and Greece, no country of equal size has played a
more prominent and beneficial part in human affairs than our
own. In theology, in philosophy, in literature, in science, in
jurisprudence, in government, in art, in mechanical invention,
in war, in every element that tends to human progress, her
children have taken and are taking a foremost place. Though
her skies are cold, her soil poor, her advantages in comparison
with other countries very small, history will never forget what
Scotland has done. In the measure in which we are proud
of our country we must be proud of our Church, for until a
recent period the country and the Church were one.

One question remains : What is to be the future of the
Church whose present condition and past fortunes have now
been traced ? Is she to be preserved and strengthened with a
view to continued and increasing usefulness, or is she to be
uprooted as the National Church ? AVe have seen that the
three main inheritances which the past has handed down
to the present, and of which the National Church is the
sacred depositary and guardian, are evangelical doctrine,
Presbyterian polity, and legal establishment and endowment.
The first of these was restored at and secured by the
Reformation ; the second was permanently secured by the
Revolution Settlement ; the third has been the unbroken
possession of the Church from the beginning. There was
a time when her doctrine was not evangelical. There was
a time when her polity was not Presbyterian. There never
was a time when she was severed from the State. Wars
have raged around her doctrine ; wars have raged around
her polity ; but until recent times there has been no war
about that State connection, which is the strong security
for both. No account of the Church of Scotland would
be historically just which left out of view the most remark-
able feature of modern ecclesiastical life.

Seriously viewed in all its lights and bearings, there is

The Church of the Present Day. 373

perhaps no more melancholy chapter in the long and
chequered history of the Scottish Church than that which
is now in the process of being written. In none of all the
struggles which have been under review would it be so
difficult to detect any trace of moral grandeur, of genuine
nobility, of far-sighted patriotism, as in that agitation for the
destruction of the National Church which has already begun.
This ancient and stately edifice, whose history has been traced
in these lectures, which was built by the pious wisdom and
hallowed by the blood of our forefathers, within whose friendly
shelter was reared and fostered all that has made Scotland great
and free, the Scottish people of to-day are asked to destroy.
Before they lend themselves to this unhallowed work, there are
several questions which they would do well to consider.

I. What is the work which they are asked to do? It is
simply the destruction of the Church of Scotland, the oldest,
the greatest, and the best of all our national institutions, which,
once swept away, can never be restored. No cloud of soft
words should be allowed to obscure the real issue. Her
connection with the State, as the expression of national reli-
gion, is the very thing which, next to her doctrine and
her polity, and to her allegiance to her spiritual Head and
King, is her glory, her strength, and her joy. It is one
of the three strong links which bind the Church of to-day
to the Church of the remotest past. To sever that long-
continued connection, so fruitful in blessing to Church and
State alike, is to lay her in ruins. She would still be a Church
of Christ, but she would no longer be the Church of Scotland.
Our country would have one sect more, but no longer a
national religion nor a national Church ; and as nowhere
has the relation between Church and State — those two divine
ordinances for human good — been closer than in Scotland, so
nowhere has the influence of their interaction told more upon
the habits of the people and the history of the land. The
continuity of our national life would be broken by their

374 "S"/ Giles' Lectures.

severance, and a religious, social, and political revolution
accomplished — the greatest that has taken place since the
Reformation. Lord Moncreiff, whose family holds a high place
in Scottish ecclesiastical history, and who is himself the most
eminent of living Free Churchmen, has said that this would be
to 'undo the work of three hundred years.' It would be the
greatest possible impulse which could be given to the revolu-
tionary tendencies of the times, to the levelling and commun-
istic spirit which is in the air. There are not a few who
think that if the oldest and best of our institutions goes, there
will not be much left that is worth the keeping. ' For it
must not be forgotten,' he further says, ' that changes of this
nature are seldom confined in their operation to the object
for which they were effected, but frequently find their main
development in results the most unexpected, and sometimes
in those which are least desired. It is impossible to root out
an old tree without disturbing the soil round it ; and the
abolition of the Established Church would bring with it many
results, religious, public, and social, extending far beyond
our subjects of controversy.' The Confession of Faith would
no longer be the law of the land. One of the most solemn
and binding articles in the Treaty of Union would be erased
from the statute-book. The first oath of the sovereign on
accession to the throne would no longer be to uphold the
Church of Scotland. With the solitary exception of our law-
courts, not one vestige of our ancient institutions would be left
to remind our children of the day when we were a separate
people. When these law-courts shall have been transferred to
Westminster, Edinburgh will be a second-rate provincial city,
and Scotland a mere appanage of England. As England was a
party to the Treaty of Union as well as Scotland, England must
be a party as well as Scotland to any interference or tampering
with it. It is a question on which more than a few Scotch-
men, and more than a political party, are entitled to be heard ; it
is one in which the whole nation is concerned. The aims of

The Chu7-ch of the Present Day. 375

the Liberationists are well known. To them the humble and
inoffensive Church of Scotland is a matter of little concern.
But they know that as the principle which underlies the Estab-
lishment north of the Tweed is the principle which underlies
the Establishment south of the Tweed, the destruction of the
one would greatly hasten the destruction of the other. And
what would then follow ? There would follow of logical neces-
sity the repeal of the laws fencing the Protestant succession to
the throne ; the repeal of the laws for Sabbath observance ; the
repeal of the laws against blasphemy ; the repeal of every law
on our statute-book which has been the outcome of a national
recognition of God and of His laws. For the nation having
disestablished its churches, and thereby ceased as a nation to
recognise religion, every law founded on religious considera-
tions would be a tyrannical oppression and persecution of
those who do not believe in God and who refuse to recognise
His laws. To all this, every one in either country to whom
national religion is dear will have a word to say.

In Scotland, too, along with State connection, the ancient
parochial system would come to an end, and with it the spiritual
provision of the Scottish people, and especially of the poor.
Every parish throughout the land would be deprived of a
property that has belonged to it since parishes were made; a
property held by the very oldest and most sacred of tenures,
and designed to secure to it for ever the free administration
of the ordinances of religion. The tens of thousands of our
Scottish poor who can raise no voice loud enough to be heard
amid the din of ecclesiastical and political war, would see in
silent sorrow their religious patrimony wrested from them.
With such facts before us as this, that, out of the 1032 charges
of the Free Church in 1878, only 320 are self-supporting —
'that is, yield ^iS7 each to the common stipend fund' — it is
idle to suppose that any system at all approaching the parochial
system will ever be devised and successfully carried out for
securing the ministry of educated Christian gentlemen, and

376 Sf ales' Lectures.

the free and faithful preaching of the Gospel over the length
and the breadth of the land. If the mass of the Scottish
people should ever consent to such a work of revolution and
spoliation, they will belie their whole history. One thing is
certain : no such upheaval of the social fabric as this can be
accomplished without fierce and bitter ecclesiastical war, and
the heart-burning, the dissension, the misery, and the serious
injury to spiritual life which such wars always entail. A whole
generation would bear upon its breast the scars of the strife.

2. What, I ask, is the time which has been chosen for this un-
holy war — for this destruction of the Church, this alienation of
religious property? In spite of the Church's great success, in
spite of the good work that is being done by other denomina-
tions, look at what still remains to do. Is there not work and
room and need for all ? There are 500,000 Scotchmen out-
side all Church influence. Our intemperance and impurity as
a people are scandalously high. Over-churching in some dis-
tricts, and under-churching in others, prevail to a lamentable
extent. The Romish Church is making progress. It has
restored its Hierarchy. Since 1851 it has increased its priest-
hood in England and Scotland from 958 to 2282 ; its churches,
from 683 to 1461 ; its monasteries, from 17 to 160. In 185 1
there was not one monastery in Scotland; there are 15 now.
It has already accomplished that supposed impossible feat of
directly, and through no intermediate steps, drawing to its
bosom members of our Presbyterian Church, both high and
humble born. There is an Irish Roman Catholic popula-
tion seething in the centres of our large towns, as much
cut off from all elevating wholesome Christian influence as
if they were in the wilds of Connemara, and by God's law
of influence dragging our people down to their level because
we have not lifted them up to ours. There are much
worse things than Romanism making progress among us.
Rationalism of the worst kind is poisoning to an inconceivable
extent large masses of our intelligent artisans. The last five-

The Church of the Present Day. 377

and-twenty years have been in some respects the most fateful
which the Church of Christ has yet seen. Never since
Christianity began has there been a period of equal extent
equally prolific in free speculations on religious subjects and
in questionings of those fundamental truths on which religion
rests. The remarkable thing is the vast area of intelligence
which, through means of the periodical press, these speculations
reach and influence. It is a time of general upheaval,
doubt, and drift. The Bible is subjected to a rationalistic
treatment which leaves it an empty and worthless shell, whose
ultimate and not very distant destiny is declared to be the
shelves of some antiquarian museum. All creeds and all
churches are on their trial. In a day like this, when some of
the most powerful forces at work in society are not only hostile,
but fiercely hostile to all churches alike, and to those dear and
blessed interests which they represent ; when men of high
culture and learning are calling upon those like-minded with
themselves to apply the axe to the very roots of Christianity,
and to tear it up as a pestilent and accursed thing ; when
some of the leaders of public opinion, whose words are
heard to the ends of the world, live and die acknowledged
atheists ; when the highest science of the time is growing more
avowedly materialistic; when the authority of Scripture, the
Divinity of Christ, the immortality of the soul, are day by day
more widely denied ; when between the aggressive eff'orts of
Romanism on the one hand, and Rationalism on the other, it
would almost seem as if the Reformation-force had spent itself,
and the tide were on the turn ; when some of the ablest
and most pious minds in Christendom are seeing in all this
' that downward sweep into religious doubt which is only the
long-predicted and mystic harbinger of the beginning of the
end ' — in a day like this, it is treachery to their Master and
suicidal faithlessness to themselves for the churches in Scotland,
so closely akin to one another, to enter on a war that might
easily be avoided, and to waste in fighting about Church

378 Sf Giles^ Lectures.

arrangements those energies which are more than needed to
repel the common enemy — the enemy of God and of the best
interests of men — who is thundering at all their doors.

3. Who are they who at such a time are summoning the
people to such a work, and seeking to spread over a peaceful
land the horrors of a fierce and unnatural war?

The agitation is more of English than of Scottish origin. It
is stirred and sustained by the Liberation Society, who supply
the sinews of war, and who seek to strike through the Scottish,
a blow at the English Establishment. Measured by that
delicate and accurate gauge of a Scotchman's feelings and con-
victions — the amount of his contributions — the agitation has a

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 36 of 37)