William Chambers.

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

. (page 37 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 37 of 37)
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very slender hold on him indeed. So far as Scotland is con-
cerned, it is mainly clerical. As the Free Church General
Assembly is largely clerical in tone, its sweeping majorities in
favour of Disestablishment are very far indeed from being
a certain indication of the convictions of the great body of
her people, who do not forget that the principle of Establish-
ment is ineradicably rooted in her own constitution, and
that, in 1843, she went forth with the banner flying over
her, 'We are no Voluntaries.' With regard to the state of
matters at the parliamentary polls, it is enough to say that
the question has not yet been generally regarded as coming
within the range of practical politics, and that Liberal Church-
men have not abandoned their party on account of a danger
which they do not seriously apprehend. Disestablishment
meetings have not been remarkable either for number, or influ-
ence, or enthusiasm. To the mass of the intelligent laity in all
our churches, the agitation is simply distasteful and distressing.
They see that the points which divide are trifles in comparison
with the points which unite, and they are weary and sick of
ecclesiastical strife. On 31st March last, it was said by Lord
Provost Ure of Glasgow, himself a United Presbyterian :
' There is no one who can look back on the history of the
country for three hundred years, who would think for a moment

TJie Church of the Present Day. 379

of blotting out the Established Church of Scotland ; without it,
our country would be in nothing better than a state of barbarism.
There cannot be the slightest doubt, that without the Church of
Scotland, we would not be the people that we are. I, for one,
feel the greatest gratitude to that Church, that it has done what
it has for the country to which we belong.'

4. Why to such a work, at such a time, and by such men,
are the people summoned ?

It may well be asked of the Institution which it is sought to
destroy — why, what evil hath it done ? It occupies to-day no
other position" than it has always occupied ; it holds no other
principles than it has always held. Does it bear upon its fore-
head the manifest tokens of a Church doomed to, because
deserving destruction? What are the reasons on which rests
the enormous conclusion that this ancient historic Church
should cease to be ? It has been asserted that the con-
nection between Church and State is unscriptural, and sinful,
and injurious to religion and morality. It must be a poor
cause which could use such weapons. One remark may
suffice. Whatever is unscriptural and sinful now, must always
have been so : therefore, the Church of Scotland and the
Church of England, back to the Reformation, have been
unscriptural and sinful ; and Knox, and Melville, and
Chalmers, all alike fall under this dreadful appellative.

There is one argument against the National Church as being
established and endowed, which is worth looking at. It is
this, that it gives the Church an unfair advantage over
Nonconformists, and is therefore so far unjust. It contradicts,
it is said, the principle of religious equality. This is an
argument which is capable of being presented in a very
plausible form, and which would not be without some
force if the case stood thus — that out of a number of widely
different sects competing for the popular favour, the State
chose at the present day, and for the first twie, not to
endow — for that it does not — but to select one, and to

380 Sf Gives' Lee fu res.

recognise it as the National Church. That might, with
some show of reason, be called a violation of religious
equality. But the case is not so. The Church is not a sect
now entering into competition with other sects. The root idea
of it is, that it is a national institution as old as the State
itself, and therefore going back to a time long before sects had
any existence, employing its own resources to the best of its
ability for the very highest national purposes, and offering its
benefits equally to all. It is the friend and the ally, not the
creature nor the pensioner of the State. It would be as true
to say that it made the State as to say that the State made it.
It costs the State nothing. The small portion of its endowments
which the State pays in grants from the Exchequer, is only part
of what it receives from Church property in the form of Bishops'
rents. So far as there are pecuniary transactions between them,
it is the State, not the Church, which is the gainer. The
Church is simply the owner, or if you will, the trustee of a
fragment of a much larger property conferred upon it by private
voluntary gift in times far remote, and since then faithfully
employed for the maintenance of religion throughout the land.
To say anything else, is to say what is not true. Unlike the Irish
Church — of whose destruction this at least can be said, that
it has not made Ireland any better — it is no mark of conquest,
no symbol of external force or dictation, no privileged Church
of an alien race, no State-paid propagator of an alien
faith. In its doctrine, in its discipline, in its government,
it represents the religious convictions of eighty-two per cent,
of the Scottish people. Unlike the Church of England, it
does not overwhelm by its bulk those who difter from
it. Its superiority does not amount to an offence. It is
not the author of a social ostracism. It creates no social
chasm between its own people and Dissenters. They visit
freely in each other's houses. They pass with ease from one
Church to another. The social strata from which its clergy
and those of the Dissenting Churches are drawn, do not lie far

TJie Church of the Present Day. 381

apart. They study at the same universities ; they preach in
each other's pulpits. The Church hurts no one ; it tyrannises
over no one ; it speaks ill of no one ; it is willing to associate
with all. Its doors and its heart are open to all. Whatever
its privileges and its poor endowments, all are welcome to
share them who will, and this because it has ever been the
Church, not of a sect, but of the nation.

Where is the religious inequality here ? Even if there were,
it is not the Church that would be responsible, for it
stands precisely where it always stood, but those who chose
to leave it, and who are welcome to return. It is not fair for
those, who of their own free will refuse to take the benefits of
an ancient institution, to turn round and say that they are
unfairly treated, because others choose to take and enjoy what
their fathers handed down to them, but which they choose to
decline. Because they have become Voluntaries by choice, is
it fair that they should try to make others Voluntary by
compulsion ?

One other specious argument is used. After the war, it is said,
the combatants will embrace. On the ruins of the Establishment
a great United Presbyterian Church will rise. It is difficult to
believe that there are men who seriously believe that. They
little know how dear the Church of Scotland is to her clergy
and her people who could dream this foolish dream. Disestab-
lishment would be the greatest blow ever struck not only at
Presbyterian Union, but, so far as Scotland is concerned, at
Presbyterianism itself. There is no barrier to hearty fellow-
ship between the clergy and the churches now ; there would be an
insuperable obstacle then. Among the few things certain in such
an event, one at least is this, that the best of her people and
the best of her clergy would never unite with those who cause-
lessly inflicted what they would regard as one of the greatest
calamities which ever befell the Scottish people. That were a
wrong whose memory would live on for many a generation.

5. Who will be the gainers by the strife, end how it may ?

382 Si Giles^ Lectures.

Who will be the gainers, especially if it end in the accomplish-
ment of its destructive aims ? Not the poor, whose spiritual
provision will have gone. Not the two Churches, the principal
Scottish agents in the work. There will be no addition to
their numbers, nor to the social status of their clergy, nor to
their income, their influence, and their prestige ; and certainly
none to the existing Church of Scotland, which values a
national recognition of religion expressed by State connection
as a good thing for it, a better thing for the poor, and the
best thing of all for the land we live in. To some extent,
perhaps to a large extent, Scottish Episcopacy will gain, within
Avhose more peaceful fold many good men are even now seeking
shelter from the strife of Presbyterian tongues. Religious
intolerance and bigotry will gain. The day was when Scotland
was not a pleasant place to live in ; that day may come again.
Secularism and infidelity will gain, for they have no better
recruiting-sergeants than ecclesiastical wars. Revolutionary
principles will gain. The disestablishment of the Church will
be one long stride towards the rule of democracy, the abolition
of Protestant sovereigns, and the disestablishment of the

6. There is one last question : Supposing Disestablishment,
what then ? What is the programme ? What is the new and
superior system which is to take the place of the old? Is
the new order of things to be shaped by chaos or by chance ?
Where is the new Knox who is to guide the new Reformation
towards far nobler issues than the old? Let Lord Moncreiff
reply : ' The adjustment of the new order of things would
not be wholly or mainly in Presbyterian hands ; and it were
difficult to predict what kind of fabric might or might not arise
on the ruins of our Revolution Settlement and the Treaty of
Union.' If this, or anything like this, is a true representation
of the facts of the case, there never was in the whole course
of ecclesiastical history a more wanton, reckless, and suicidal
work of destruction to which a Christian people were asked to

The Church of the Present Day. 383

set themselves, than the proposed abolition of the National
Church of our land.

There is one conclusion to be drawn from all that has gone
before in this and the preceding lectures — namely, that if ever
there was an ancient institution which was worth preserving for
what it has done, for what it is doing, for what it has the
promise of being yet able to do, it is that institution 'which
alone bears on its front, without note or comment, the title
of the Church of Scotland.' It is the fullest embodiment of
the traditions of the past ; it is the fullest expression of the
thought and life of the present ; it has by far the richest promise
of the future. It is the common heritage of Scotchmen.

It is worth preserving, because its friendly compact with the
State is, in the conditions of modern society, the only substantial
and the only possible security for spiritual independence.^

It is worth preserving, because it provides the best security,
especially in a Presbyterian Church, for a cultured, free, and
independent clergy.

It is worth preserving as a solid guarantee for the continued
purity of the national faith, and for the prevalence throughout
the land of a religion that will neither be latitudinarian on the
one hand, nor narrow, fanatical, or intolerant on the other.

^ Such a case as that of Jones v. Stannard, which was tried in the Chan-
cery Division of the High Court of Justice, and which lasted seven days, as
reported in the Times, Feb. 2, 1S81, puts beyond dispute the following points :
(i) That all Dissenting Churches are subject to the jurisdiction of the civil
courts. (2) That the creed of any non-established Church may be con-
sidered, and its true interpretation decided, by the civil court. (3) That the
civil court may decide questions involving the removal of a minister of a
Dissenting Church from his pastoral charge on the ground of doctrine.
(4) That no human foresight or skill can prevent the recurrence in Dissent-
ing Churches of similar questions with similar issues. (5) That absolute
spiritual independence cannot be secured in a Dissenting Church. As the
decision of all such cases in the supreme court of the Church of Scotland
is final, with no appeal to the civil courts, which are precluded by statute
from reviewing its decisions, all who value spiritual independence are logi-
cally and morally bound to oppose the abolition of that Church.

384 Sf Gibes' Lectures.

It is worth preserving as the only security that the rehgious
wants of the nation shall be provided for in the generations
to come.

It is worth preserving as the only visible rallying point of our
distracted Presbyterianism.

It is worth preserving as the nation's testimony to its faith
in Almighty God, and in His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
The State is not a fortuitous concourse of men and women,
but a living and organic whole, with functions, privileges, and
obligations. In a sense different from that which applies to
the separate individuals who compose it, it is the subject of
the providential government ; it is accountable to God ; it is
by Him rewarded and punished. In its organic and corporate
life this State is Christian. That is its very highest character-
istic. Its people, its structure, its laws, customs, and institu-
tions are Christian. To the prevalence of Christian principles
and ways of living, it owes its commanding place among the
nations of the world. It is the duty of a State thus organically
constituted, ' through the only channels open to it, its legislature
and its laws,' to honour Christ, to acknowledge the source
whence national blessings flow, and to support and advance
to the utmost of its power that divine religion which is the
principal factor of its greatness and strength. For hundreds
of years the Church of Scotland has been the authoritative
expression of the fact, that the State and the Constitution are
Christian, Long may it continue so ; for no truth stands out
with sharper distinctness upon the page of history — no truth
is written in deeper lines across the times we live in than this
truth : ' The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee, shall
perish.' . . . ' Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.'

-^ _ THE END.

Edinburgh : Printed by W. & R. Chambers.

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 37 of 37)