Story type: Essay
A great revolution has taken place in Scotland. A greater has been threatened. Nor is that danger even yet certainly gone by. Upon the accidents of such events as may arise for the next five years, whether fitted or not fitted to revive discussions in which many of the Non-seceders went in various degrees along with the Seceders, depends the final (and, in a strict sense, the very awful) question, What is to be the fate of the Scottish church? Lord Aberdeen’s Act is well qualified to tranquillize the agitations of that body; and at an earlier stage, if not intercepted by Lord Melbourne, might have prevented them in part. But Lord Aberdeen has no power to stifle a conflagration once thoroughly kindled. That must depend in a great degree upon the favorable aspect of events yet in the rear.
Meantime these great disturbances are not understood in England; and chiefly from the differences between the two nations as to the language of their several churches and law courts. The process of ordination and induction is totally different under the different ecclesiastical administrations of the two kingdoms. And the church courts of Scotland do not exist in England. We write, therefore, with an express view to the better information of England proper. And, with this purpose, we shall lead the discussion through four capital questions:–
I. What is it that has been done by the moving party?
II. How was it done? By what agencies and influence?
III. What were the immediate results of these acts?
IV. What are the remote results yet to be apprehended?
I. First, then, WHAT is it that has been done? Up to the month of May in 1834, the fathers and brothers of the ‘Kirk’ were in harmony as great as humanity can hope to see. Since May, 1834, the church has been a fierce crater of volcanic agencies, throwing out of her bosom one-third of her children; and these children are no sooner born into their earthly atmosphere, than they turn, with unnatural passions, to the destruction of their brethren. What can be the grounds upon which an acharnement so deadly has arisen?
It will read to the ears of a stranger almost as an experiment upon his credulity, if we tell the simple truth. Being incredible, however, it is not the less true; and, being monstrous, it will yet be recorded in history, that the Scottish church has split into mortal feuds upon two points absolutely without interest to the nation; first, upon a demand for creating clergymen by a new process; secondly, upon a demand for Papal latitude of jurisdiction. Even the order of succession in these things is not without meaning. Had the second demand stood first, it would have seemed possible that the two demands might have grown up independently, and so far conscientiously. But, according to the realities of the case, this is not possible; the second demand grew out of the first. The interest of the Seceders, as locked up in their earliest requisition, was that which prompted their second. Almost everybody was contented with the existing mode of creating the pastoral relation. Search through Christendom, lengthways and breadthways, there was not a public usage, an institution, an economy, which more profoundly slept in the sunshine of divine favor or of civil prosperity, than the peculiar mode authorized and practised in Scotland of appointing to every parish its several pastor. Here and there an ultra-Presbyterian spirit might prompt a murmur against it. But the wise and intelligent approved; and those who had the appropriate–that is, the religious interest–confessed that it was practically successful. From whom, then, came the attempt to change? Why, from those only who had an alien interest, an indirect interest, an interest of ambition in its subversion. As matters stood in the spring of 1834, the patron of each benefice, acting under the severest restraints–restraints which (if the church courts did their duty) left no room or possibility for an unfit man to creep in–nominated the incumbent. In a spiritual sense, the church had all power: by refusing, first of all, to ‘license‘ unqualified persons; secondly, by refusing to ‘admit‘ out of these licensed persons such as might have become warped from the proper standard of pastoral fitness, the church had a negative voice, all-potential in the creation of clergymen; the church could exclude whom she pleased. But this contented her not. Simply to shut out was an ungracious office, though mighty for the interests of orthodoxy through the land. The children of this world, who became the agitators of the church, clamored for something more. They desired for the church that she should become a lady patroness; that she should give as well as take away; that she should wield a sceptre, courted for its bounties, and not merely feared for its austerities. Yet how should this be accomplished? Openly to translate upon the church the present power of patrons–that were too revolutionary, that would have exposed its own object. For the present, therefore, let this device prevail–let the power nominally be transferred to congregations: let this be done upon the plea that each congregation understands best what mode of ministrations tends to its own edification. There lies the semblance of a Christian plea; the congregation, it is said, has become anxious for itself; the church has become anxious for the congregation. And then, if the translation should be effected, the church has already devised a means for appropriating the power which she has unsettled; for she limits this power to the communicants at the sacramental table. Now, in Scotland, though not in England, the character of communicant is notoriously created or suspended by the clergyman of each parish; so that, by the briefest of circuits, the church causes the power to revolve into her own hands.
That was the first change–a change full of Jacobinism; and for which to be published was to be denounced. It was necessary, therefore, to place this Jacobin change upon a basis privileged from attack. How should that be done? The object was to create a new clerical power; to shift the election of clergymen from the lay hands in which law and usage had lodged it; and, under a plausible mask of making the election popular, circuitously to make it ecclesiastical. Yet, if the existing patrons of church benefices should see themselves suddenly denuded of their rights, and within a year or two should see these rights settling determinately into the hands of the clergy, the fraud, the fraudulent purpose, and the fraudulent machinery, would have stood out in gross proportions too palpably revealed. In this dilemma the reverend agitators devised a second scheme. It was a scheme bearing triple harvests; for, at one and the same time, it furnished the motive which gave a constructive coherency and meaning to the original purpose, it threw a solemn shadow over the rank worldliness of that purpose, and it opened a diffusive tendency towards other purposes of the same nature, as yet undeveloped. The device was this: in Scotland, as in England, the total process by which a parish clergyman is created, subdivides itself into several successive acts. The initial act belongs to the patron of the benefice: he must ‘present;’ that is, he notifies the fact of his having conferred the benefice upon A B, to a public body which officially takes cognizance of this act; and that body is, not the particular parish concerned, but the presbytery of the district in which the parish is seated. Thus far the steps, merely legal, of the proceedings, were too definite to be easily disturbed. These steps are sustained by Lord Aberdeen as realities, and even by the Non-intrusionists were tolerated as formalities.
But at this point commence other steps not so rigorously defined by law or usage, nor so absolutely within one uniform interpretation of their value. In practice they had long sunk into forms. But ancient forms easily lend themselves to a revivification by meanings and applications, new or old, under the galvanism of democratic forces. The disturbers of the church, passing by the act of ‘presentation’ as an obstacle too formidable to be separately attacked on its own account, made their stand upon one of the two acts which lie next in succession. It is the regular routine, that the presbytery, having been warned of the patron’s appointment, and having ‘received’ (in technical language) the presentee–that is, having formally recognised him in that character–next appoint a day on which he is to preach before the congregation. This sermon, together with the prayers by which it is accompanied, constitute the probationary act according to some views; but, according to the general theory, simply the inaugural act by which the new pastor places himself officially before his future parishioners. Decorum, and the sense of proportion, seem to require that to every commencement of a very weighty relation, imposing new duties, there should be a corresponding and ceremonial entrance. The new pastor, until this public introduction, could not be legitimately assumed for known to the parishioners. And accordingly at this point it was–viz. subsequently to his authentic publication, as we may call it–that, in the case of any grievous scandal known to the parish as outstanding against him, arose the proper opportunity furnished by the church for lodging the accusation, and for investigating it before the church court. In default, however, of any grave objection to the presentee, he was next summoned by the presbytery to what really was a probationary act at their bar; viz. an examination of his theological sufficiency. But in this it could not be expected that he should fail, because he must previously have satisfied the requisitions of the church in his original examination for a license to preach. Once dismissed with credit from this bar, he was now beyond all further probation whatsoever; in technical phrase, he was entitled to ‘admission.’ Such were the steps, according to their orderly succession, by which a man consummated the pastoral tie with any particular parish. And all of these steps, subsequent to the ‘reception‘ and inaugural preaching, were now summarily characterized by the revolutionists as ‘spiritual;’ for the sake of sequestering them into their own hands. As to the initiatory act of presentation, that might be secular, and to be dealt with by a secular law. But the rest were acts which belonged not to a kingdom of this world. ‘These,’ with a newborn scrupulosity never heard of until the revolution of 1834, clamored for new casuistries; ‘these,’ said the agitators, ‘we cannot consent any longer to leave in their state of collapse as mere inert or ceremonial forms. They must be revivified. By all means, let the patron present as heretofore. But the acts of “examination” and “admission,” together with the power of altogether refusing to enter upon either, under a protest against the candidate from a clear majority of the parishioners–these are acts falling within the spiritual jurisdiction of the church. And these powers we must, for the future, see exercised according to spiritual views.’
Here, then, suddenly emerged a perfect ratification for their own previous revolutionary doctrine upon the creation of parish clergymen. This new scruple was, in relation to former scruples, a perfect linch-pin for locking their machinery into cohesion. For vainly would they have sought to defeat the patron’s right of presenting, unless through this sudden pause and interdict imposed upon the latter acts in the process of induction, under the pretext that these were acts competent only to a spiritual jurisdiction. This plea, by its tendency, rounded and secured all that they had yet advanced in the way of claim. But, at the same time, though indispensable negatively, positively it stretched so much further than any necessity or interest inherent in their present innovations, that not improbably they faltered and shrank back at first from the immeasurable field of consequences upon which it opened. They would willingly have accepted less. But, unfortunately, it sometimes happens, that, to gain as much as is needful in one direction, you must take a great deal more than you wish for in another. Any principle, which could carry them over the immediate difficulty, would, by a mere necessity, carry them incalculably beyond it. For if every act bearing in any one direction a spiritual aspect, showing at any angle a relation to spiritual things, is therefore to be held spiritual in a sense excluding the interference of the civil power, there falls to the ground at once the whole fabric of civil authority in any independent form. Accordingly, we are satisfied that the claim to a spiritual jurisdiction, in collision with the claims of the state, would not probably have offered itself to the ambition of the agitators, otherwise than as a measure ancillary to their earlier pretension of appointing virtually all parish clergymen. The one claim was found to be the integration or sine qua non complement of the other. In order to sustain the power of appointment in their own courts, it was necessary that they should defeat the patron’s power; and, in order to defeat the patron’s power, ranging itself (as sooner or later it would) under the law of the land, it was necessary that they should decline that struggle, by attempting to take the question out of all secular jurisdictions whatever.
In this way grew up that twofold revolution which has been convulsing the Scottish church since 1834; first, the audacious attempt to disturb the settled mode of appointing the parish clergy, through a silent robbery perpetrated on the crown and great landed aristocracy; secondly, and in prosecution of that primary purpose, the far more frantic attempt to renew in a practical shape the old disputes so often agitating the forum of Christendom, as to the bounds of civil and spiritual power.
In our rehearsal of the stages through which the process of induction ordinarily travels, we have purposely omitted one possible interlude or parenthesis in the series; not as wishing to conceal it, but for the very opposite reason. It is right to withdraw from a representative account of any transaction such varieties of the routine as occur but seldom: in this way they are more pointedly exposed. Now, having made that explanation, we go on to inform the Southern reader–that an old traditionary usage has prevailed in Scotland, but not systematically or uniformly, of sending to the presentee, through the presbytery, what is designated a ‘call,’ subscribed by members of the parish congregation. This call is simply an invitation to the office of their pastor. It arose in the disorders of the seventeenth century; but in practice it is generally admitted to have sunk into a mere formality throughout the eighteenth century; and the very position which it holds in the succession of steps, not usually coming forward until after the presentation has been notified (supposing that it comes forward at all), compels us to regard it in that light. Apparently it bears the same relation to the patron’s act as the Address of the two Houses to the Speech from the Throne: it is rather a courteous echo to the personal compliment involved in the presentation, than capable of being regarded as any original act of invitation. And yet, in defiance of that notorious fact, some people go so far as to assert, that a call is not good unless where it is subscribed by a clear majority of the congregation. This is amusing. We have already explained that, except as a liberal courtesy, the very idea of a call destined to be inoperative, is and must be moonshine. Yet between two moonshines, some people, it seems, can tell which is the denser. We have all heard of Barmecide banquets, where, out of tureens filled to the brim with–nothings the fortunate guest was helped to vast messes of–air. For a hungry guest to take this tantalization in good part, was the sure way to win the esteem of the noble Barmecide. But the Barmecide himself would hardly approve of a duel turning upon a comparison between two of his tureens, question being–which had been the fuller, or of two nihilities which had been seasoned the more judiciously. Yet this in effect is the reasoning of those who say that a call, signed by fifty-one persons out of a hundred, is more valid than another signed only by twenty-six, or by nobody; it being in the mean time fully understood that neither is valid in the least possible degree. But if the ‘call,’ was a Barmecide call, there was another act open to the congregation which was not so.
For the English reader must now understand, that over and above the passive and less invidious mode of discountenancing or forbearing to countenance a presentee, by withdrawing from the direct ‘call’ upon him, usage has sanctioned another and stronger sort of protest; one which takes the shape of distinct and clamorous objections. We are speaking of the routine in this place, according to the course which it did travel or could travel under that law and that practice which furnished the pleas for complaint. Now, it was upon these ‘objections,’ as may well be supposed, that the main battle arose. Simply to want the ‘call,’ being a mere zero, could not much lay hold upon public feeling. It was a case not fitted for effect. You cannot bring a blank privation strongly before the public eye. ‘The “call” did not take place last week;’ well, perhaps it will take place next week. Or again, if it should never take place, perhaps it may be religious carelessness on the part of the parish. Many parishes notoriously feel no interest in their pastor, except as a quiet member of their community. Consequently, in two of three cases that might occur, there was nothing to excite the public; the parish had either agreed with the patron, or had not noticeably dissented. But in the third case of positive ‘objections,’ which (in order to justify themselves as not frivolous and vexatious) were urged with peculiar emphasis, the attention of all men was arrested. Newspapers reverberated the fact: sympathetic groans arose: the patron was an oppressor: the parish was under persecution: and the poor clergyman, whose case was the most to be pitied, as being in a measure endowed with a lasting fund of dislike, had the mortification to find, over and above this resistance from within, that he bore the name of ‘intruder’ from without. He was supposed by the fiction of the case to be in league with his patron for the persecution of a godly parish; whilst in reality the godly parish was persecuting him, and hallooing the world ab extra to join in the hunt.
In such cases of pretended objections to men who have not been tried, we need scarcely tell the reader, that usually they are mere cabals and worldly intrigues. It is next to impossible that any parish or congregation should sincerely agree in their opinion of a clergyman. What one man likes in such cases, another man detests. Mr. A., with an ardent nature, and something of a histrionic turn, doats upon a fine rhetorical display. Mr. B., with more simplicity of taste, pronounces this little better than theatrical ostenostentation. Mr. C. requires a good deal of critical scholarship, Mr. D quarrels with this as unsuitable to a rustic congregation. Mrs. X., who is ‘under concern’ for sin, demands a searching and (as she expresses it) a ‘faithful’ style of dealing with consciences. Mrs. Y., an aristocratic lady, who cannot bear to be mixed up in any common charge together with low people, abominates such words as ‘sin,’ and wills that the parson should confine his ‘observations’ to the ‘shocking demoralization of the lower orders.’
Now, having stated the practice of Scottish induction as it was formerly sustained in its first stage by law, in its second stage by usage, let us finish that part of the subject by reporting the existing practice as regulated in all its stages by law. What law? The law as laid down in Lord Aberdeen’s late Act of Parliament. This statement should, historically speaking, have found itself under our third head, as being one amongst the consequences immediately following the final rupture. But it is better placed at this point; because it closes the whole review of that topic; and because it reflects light upon the former practice–the practice which led to the whole mutinous tumult: every alteration forcing more keenly upon the reader’s attention what had been the previous custom, and in what respect it was held by any man to be a grievance.
This act, then, of Lord Aberdeen’s removes all legal effect from the ‘call.’ Common sense required that. For what was to be done with patronage? Was it to be sustained, or was it not? If not, then why quarrel with the Non-intrusionists? Why suffer a schism to take place in the church? Give legal effect to the ‘call,’ and the original cause of quarrel is gone. For, with respect to the opponents of the Non-intrusionists, they would bow to the law. On the other hand, if patronage is to be sustained, then why allow of any lingering or doubtful force to what must often operate as a conflicting claim? ‘A call,’ which carries with it any legal force, annihilates patronage. Patronage would thus be exercised only on sufferance. Do we mean then, that a ‘call’ should sink into a pure fiction of ceremony, like the English conge-d’elire addressed to a dean and chapter, calling on them to elect a bishop, when all the world knows that already the see has been filled by a nomination from the crown? Not at all; a moral weight will still attach to the ‘call,’ though no legal coercion: and what is chiefly important, all those doubts will be removed by express legislation, which could not but arise between a practice pointing sometimes in one direction, and sometimes in another, between legal decisions again upholding one view, whilst something very like legal prescription was occasionally pleaded for the other. Behold the evil of written laws not rigorously in harmony with that sort of customary law founded upon vague tradition or irregular practice. And here, by the way, arises the place for explaining to the reader that irreconcilable dispute amongst Parliamentary lawyers as to the question whether Lord Aberdeen’s bill were enactory, that is, created a new law, or declaratory, that is, simply expounded an old one. If enactory, then why did the House of Lords give judgment against those who allowed weight to the ‘call?’ That might need altering; that might be highly inexpedient; but if it required a new law to make it illegal, how could those, parties be held in the wrong previously to the new act of legislation? On the other hand, if declaratory, then show us any old law which made the ‘call’ illegal. The fact is, that no man can decide whether the act established a new law, or merely expounded an old one. And the reason why he cannot, is this: the practice, the usage, which often is the law, had grown up variously during the troubles of the seventeenth century. In many places political reasons had dictated that the elders should nominate the incumbent. But the ancient practice had authorized patronage: by the act of Queen Anne (10th chap.) it was even formally restored; and yet the patron in known instances was said to have waived his right in deference to the ‘call.’ But why? Did he do so in courteous compliance with the parish, as a party whose reasonable wishes ought, for the sake of all parties, to meet with attention? Or did he do so, in humble submission to the parish, as having by their majorities a legal right to the presentation? There lay the question. The presumptions from antiquity were all against the call. The more modern practice had occasionally been for it. Now, we all know how many colorable claims of right are created by prescription. What was the exact force of the ‘call,’ no man could say. In like manner, the exact character and limit of allowable objections had been ill-defined in practice, and rested more on a vague tradition than on any settled rule. This also made it hard to say whether Lord Aberdeen’s Act were enactory or declaratory, a predicament, however, which equally affects all statutes for removing doubts.
The ‘call,’ then, we consider as no longer recognised by law. But did Lord Aberdeen by that change establish the right of the patron as an unconditional right? By no means. He made it strictly a conditional right. The presentee is now a candidate, and no more. He has the most important vote in his favor, it is true; but that vote may still be set aside, though still only with the effect of compelling the patron to a new choice. ‘Calls‘ are no longer doubtful in their meaning, but ‘objections‘ have a fair field laid open to them. All reasonable objections are to be weighed. But who is to judge whether they are reasonable? The presbytery of the district. And now pursue the action of the law, and see how little ground it leaves upon which to hang a complaint. Everybody’s rights are secured. Whatever be the event, first of all the presentee cannot complain, if he is rejected only for proved insufficiency. He is put on his trial as to these points only: 1. Is he orthodox? 2. Is he of good moral reputation? 3. Is he sufficiently learned? And note this (which in fact Sir James Graham remarked in his official letter to the Assembly), strictly speaking, he ought not to be under challenge as respects the third point, for it is your own fault, the fault of your own licensing courts (the presbyteries), if he is not qualified so far. You should not have created him a licentiate, should not have given him a license to preach, as must have been done in an earlier stage of his progress, if he were not learned enough. Once learned, a man is learned for life. As to the other points, he may change, and therefore it is that an examination is requisite. But how can he complain if he is found by an impartial court of venerable men objectionable on any score? If it were possible, however, that he should be wronged, he has his appeal. Secondly, how can the patron complain? His case is the same as his presentee’s case; his injuries the same; his relief the same. Besides, if his man is rejected, it is not the parish man that takes his place. No; but a second man of his own choice: and, if again he chooses amiss, who is to blame for that? Thirdly, can the congregation complain? They have a general interest in their spiritual guide. But as to the preference for oratory–for loud or musical voice–for peculiar views in religion–these things are special: they interest but an exceedingly small minority in any parish; and, what is worse, that which pleases one is often offensive to another. There are cases in which a parish would reject a man for being a married man: some of the parish have unmarried daughters. But this case clearly belongs to the small minority; and we have little doubt that, where the objections lay ‘for cause not shown,’ it was often for this cause. Fourthly, can the church complain? Her interest is represented, 1, not by the presentee; 2, not by the patron; 3, not by the congregation; but 4, by the presbytery. And, whatever the presbytery say, that is supported. Speaking either for the patron, for the presentee, for the congregation, or for themselves as conservators of the church, that court is heard; what more would they have? And thus in turn every interest is protected. Now the point to be remarked is-that each party in turn has a separate influence. But on any other plan, giving to one party out of the four an absolute or unconditional power, no matter which of the four it be–all the rest have none at all. Lord Aberdeen has reconciled the rights of patrons for the first time with those of all other parties interested. Nobody has more than a conditional power. Everybody has that. And the patron, as necessity requires, if property is to be protected, has, in all circumstances, the revisionary power.
II. Secondly, How were these things don?? By what means were the hands of any party strengthened, so as to find this revolution possible?
We seek not to refine; but all moral power issues out of moral forces. And it may be well, therefore, rapidly to sketch the history of religion, which is the greatest of moral forces, as it sank and rose in this island through the last two hundred years.
It is well known that the two great revolutions of the seventeenth century–that in 1649, accomplished by the Parliament armies (including its reaction in 1660), and secondly, that in 1688-9–did much to unsettle the religious tone of public morals. Historians and satirists ascribe a large effect in this change to the personal influence of Charles II., and the foreign character of his court. We do not share in their views; and one eminent proof that they are wrong, lies in the following fact–viz., that the sublimest act of self-sacrifice which the world has ever seen, arose precisely in the most triumphant season of Charles’s career, a time when the reaction of hatred had not yet neutralized the sunny joyousness of his Restoration. Surely the reader cannot be at a loss to know what we mean–the renunciation in one hour, on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1662, of two thousand benefices by the nonconforming clergymen of England. In the same year, occurred a similar renunciation of three hundred and sixty benefices in Scotland. These great sacrifices, whether called for or not, argue a great strength in the religious principle at that era. Yet the decay of external religion towards the close of that century is proved incontestably. We ourselves are inclined to charge this upon two causes; first, that the times were controversial; and usually it happens–that, where too much energy is carried into the controversies or intellectual part of religion, a very diminished fervor attends the culture of its moral and practical part. This was perhaps one reason; for the dispute with the Papal church, partly, perhaps, with a secret reference to the rumored apostasy of the royal family, was pursued more eagerly in the latter half of the seventeenth than even in any section of the sixteenth century. But, doubtless, the main reason was the revolutionary character of the times. Morality is at all periods fearfully shaken by intestine wars, and by instability in a government. The actual duration of war in England was not indeed longer than three and a half years, viz., from Edgehill Fight in the autumn of 1642, to the defeat of the king’s last force under Sir Jacob Astley at Stow-in-the-walds in the spring of 1846. Any other fighting in that century belonged to mere insulated and discontinuous war. But the insecurity of every government between 1638 and 1702, kept the popular mind in a state of fermentation. Accordingly, Queen Anne’s reign might be said to open upon an irreligious people. The condition of things was further strengthened by the unavoidable interweaving at that time of politics with religion. They could not be kept separate; and the favor shown even by religious people to such partisan zealots as Dr. Sacheverell, evidenced, and at the same time promoted, the public irreligion. This was the period in which the clergy thought too little of their duties, but too much of their professional rights; and if we may credit the indirect report of the contemporary literature, all apostolic or missionary zeal for the extension of religion, was in those days a thing unknown. It may seem unaccountable to many, that the same state of things should have spread in those days to Scotland; but this is no more than the analogies of all experience entitled us to expect. Thus we know that the instincts of religious reformation ripened everywhere at the same period of the sixteenth century from one end of Europe to the other; although between most of the European kingdoms there was nothing like so much intercourse as between England and Scotland in the eighteenth century. In both countries, a cold and lifeless state of public religion prevailed up to the American and French Revolutions. These great events gave a shock everywhere to the meditative, and, consequently to the religious impulses of men. And, in the mean time, an irregular channel had been already opened to these impulses by the two founders of Methodism. A century has now passed since Wesley and Whitefield organized a more spiritual machinery of preaching than could then be found in England, for the benefit of the poor and laboring classes. These Methodist institutions prospered, as they were sure of doing, amongst the poor and the neglected at any time, much more when contrasted with the deep slumbers of the Established Church. And another ground of prosperity soon arose out of the now expanding manufacturing system. Vast multitudes of men grew up under that system–humble enough by the quality of their education to accept with thankfulness the ministrations of Methodism, and rich enough to react, upon that beneficent institution, by continued endowments in money. Gradually, even the church herself, that mighty establishment, under the cold shade of which Methodism had grown up as a neglected weed, began to acknowledge the power of an extending Methodistic influence, which originally she had haughtily despised. First, she murmured; then she grew anxious or fearful; and finally, she began to find herself invaded or modified from within, by influences springing up from Methodism. This last effect became more conspicuously evident after the French Revolution. The church of Scotland, which, as a whole, had exhibited, with much unobtrusive piety, the same outward torpor as the church of England during the eighteenth century, betrayed a corresponding resuscitation about the same time. At the opening of this present century, both of these national churches began to show a marked rekindling of religious fervor. In what extent this change in the Scottish church had been due, mediately or immediately, to Methodism, we do not pretend to calculate; that is, we do not pretend to settle the proportions. But mediately the Scottish church must have been affected, because she was greatly affected by her intercourse with the English church (as, e.g., in Bible Societies, Missionary Societies, etc.); and the English church had been previously affected by Methodism. Immediately she must also have been affected by Methodism, because Whitefield had been invited to preach in Scotland, and did preach in Scotland. But, whatever may have been the cause of this awakening from slumber in the two established churches of this island, the fact is so little to be denied, that, in both its aspects, it is acknowledged by those most interested in denying it. The two churches slept the sleep of torpor through the eighteenth century; so much of the fact is acknowledged by their own members. The two churches awoke, as from a trance, in or just before the dawning of the nineteenth century; this second half of the fact is acknowledged by their opponents. The Wesleyan Methodists, that formidable power in England and Wales, who once reviled the Establishment as the dormitory of spiritual drones, have for many years hailed a very large section in that establishment–viz., the section technically known by the name of the Evangelical clergy–as brothers after their own hearts, and corresponding to their own strictest model of a spiritual clergy. That section again, the Evangelical section, in the English church, as men more highly educated, took a direct interest in the Scottish clergy, upon general principles of liberal interest in all that could affect religion, beyond what could be expected from the Methodists. And in this way grew up a considerable action and reaction between the two classical churches of the British soil. Such was the varying condition, when sketched in outline, of the Scottish and English churches. Two centuries ago, and for half a century beyond that, we find both churches in a state of trial, of turbulent agitation, and of sacrifices for conscience, which involved
every fifth or sixth beneficiary. Then came a century of languor and the carelessness which belongs to settled prosperity. And finally, for both has arisen a half century of new light–new zeal–and, spiritually speaking, of new prosperity. This deduction it was necessary to bring down, in order to explain the new power which arose to the Scottish church, during the last generation of suppose thirty years.
When two powerful establishments, each separately fitted to the genius and needs of its several people, are pulling together powerfully towards one great spiritual object, vast must be the results. Our ancestors would have stood aghast as at some fabulous legend or some mighty miracle, could they have heard of the scale on which our modern contributions proceed for the purposes of missions to barbarous nations, of circulating the Scriptures, (whether through the Bible Society, that is the National Society, or Provincial Societies,) of translating the Scriptures into languages scarcely known by name to scholars, of converting Jews, of organizing and propagating education. Towards these great objects the Scottish clergy had worked with energy and with little disturbance to their unanimity. Confidence was universally felt in their piety and in their discretion. This confidence even reached the supreme rulers of the state. Very much through ecclesiastical influence, new plans for extending the religious power of the Scottish church, and indirectly of extending their secular power, were countenanced by the Government. Jealousy had been disarmed by the upright conduct of the Scottish clergy, and their remarkable freedom hitherto from all taint of ambition. It was felt, besides, that the temper of the Scottish nation was radically indisposed to all intriguing or modes of temporal ascendency in ecclesiastical bodies. The nation, therefore, was in some degree held as a guarantee for the discretion of their clergy. And hence it arose, that much less caution was applied to the first encroachment of the non-intrusionists, than would have been applied under circumstances of more apparent doubt. Hence, it arose, that a confidence from the Scottish nation was extended to this clergy, which too certainly has been abused.
In the years 1824-5, Parliament had passed acts ‘for building additional places of worship in the highlands and islands of Scotland.’ These acts may be looked upon as one section in that general extension of religious machinery which the British people, by their government and their legislature, have for many years been promoting. Not, as is ordinarily said, that the weight of this duty had grown upon them simply through their own treacherous neglect of it during the latter half of the eighteenth century; but that no reasonable attention to that duty could have kept pace with the scale upon which the claims of a new manufacturing population had increased. In mere equity we must admit–not that the British nation had fallen behind its duties, (though naturally it might have done so under the religious torpor prevalent at the original era of manufacturing extension,) but that the duties had outstripped all human power of overtaking them. The efforts, however, have been prodigious in this direction for many years. Amongst those applied to Scotland, it had been settled by Parliament that forty-two new churches should be raised in the highlands, with an endowment from the government of [pound symbol]120 annually for each incumbent. There were besides more than two hundred chapels of ease to be founded; and towards this scheme the Scottish public subscribed largely. The money was intrusted to the clergy. That was right, but mark what followed. It had been expressly provided by Parliament–that any district or circumjacent territory, allotted to such parliamentary churches as the range within which the incumbent was to exercise his spiritual ministration, should not be separate parishes for any civil or legal effects. Here surely the intentions and directions of the legislature were plain enough, and decisive enough.
How did the Scottish clergy obey them? They erected all these jurisdictions into bona fide ‘parishes,’ enjoying the plenary rights (as to church government) of the other parishes, and distinguished from them in a merely nominal way as parishes quoad sacra. There were added at once to the presbyteries, which are the organs of the church power, two hundred and three clerical persons for the chapels of ease, and forty-two for the highland churches–making a total of two hundred and forty-five new members. By the constitution of the Scottish church, an equal number of lay elders (called ruling elders) accompany the clerical elders. Consequently four hundred and ninety new members were introduced at once into that particular class of courts (presbyteries) which form the electoral bodies in relation to the highest court of General Assembly. The effect of this change, made in the very teeth of the law, was twofold. First, it threw into many separate presbyteries a considerable accession of voters–all owing their appointments to the General Assembly. This would at once give a large bias favorable to their party views in every election for members to serve in the Assembly. Even upon an Assembly numerically limited, this innovation would have told most abusively. But the Assembly was not limited; and therefore the whole effect was, at the same moment, greatly to extend the electors and the elected.
Here, then, was the machinery by which the faction worked. They drew that power from Scotland rekindled into a temper of religious anxiety, which they never could have drawn from Scotland lying torpid, as she had lain through the eighteenth century. The new machinery (created by Parliament in order to meet the wishes of the Scottish nation), the money of that nation, the awakened zeal of that nation; all these were employed, honorably in one sense, that is, not turned aside into private channels for purposes of individuals, but factiously in the result, as being for the benefit of a faction; honorably as regarded the open mode of applying such influence–a mode which did not shrink from exposure; but most dishonorably, in so far as privileges, which had been conceded altogether for a spiritual object, were abusively transferred to the furtherance of a temporal intrigue. Such were the methods by which the new-born ambition of the clergy moved; and that ambition had become active, simply because it had suddenly seemed to become practicable. The presbyteries, as being the effectual electoral bodies, are really the main springs of the ecclesiastical administration. To govern them, was in effect to govern the church. A new scheme for extending religion, had opened a new avenue to this control over the presbyteries. That opening was notoriously unlawful. But not the less the church faction precipitated themselves ardently upon it; and but for the faithfulness of the civil courts, they would never have been dislodged from what they had so suddenly acquired. Such was the extraordinary leap taken by the Scottish clergy, into a power, of which, hitherto, they had never enjoyed a fraction. It was a movement per saltum, beyond all that history has recorded. At cock-crow they had no power at all; when the sun went down, they had gained (if they could have held) a papal supremacy. And a thing not less memorably strange is, that even yet the ambitious leaders were not disturbed; what they had gained was viewed by the public as a collateral gain, indirectly adhering to a higher object, but forming no part at all of what the clergy had sought. It required the scrutiny of law courts to unmask and decompose their true object The obstinacy of the defence betrayed the real animus of the attempt. It was an attempt which, in connection with the Veto Act (supposing that to have prospered), would have laid the whole power of the church at their feet. What the law had distributed amongst three powers, patron, parish, and presbyter, would have been concentrated in themselves. The quoad sacra parishes would have riveted their majorities in the presbyteries; and the presbyteries, under the real action of the Veto, would have appointed nearly every incumbent in Scotland. And this is the answer to the question, when treated merely in outline–How were these things done? The religion of the times had created new machineries for propagating a new religious influence. These fell into the hands of the clergy; and the temptation to abuse these advantages led them into revolution.
III. Having now stated WHAT was done, as well as HOW it was done, let us estimate the CONSEQUENCES of these acts; under this present, or third section, reviewing the immediate consequences which have taken effect already, and under the next section anticipating the more remote consequences yet to be expected.
In the spring of 1834, as we have sufficiently explained, the General Assembly ventured on the fatal attempt to revolutionize the church, and (as a preliminary towards that) on the attempt to revolutionize the property of patronage. There lay the extravagance of the attempt; its short-sightedness, if they did not see its civil tendencies; its audacity, if they did. It was one revolution marching to its object through another; it was a vote, which, if at all sustained, must entail a long inheritance of contests with the whole civil polity of Scotland.
‘Heu quantum, fati parva tabella vehit!’
It might seem to strangers a trivial thing, that an obscure court, like the presbytery, should proceed in the business of induction by one routine rather than by another; but was it a trivial thing that the power of appointing clergymen should lapse into this perilous dilemma–either that it should be intercepted by the Scottish clerical order, and thus, that a lordly hierarchy should be suddenly created, disposing of incomes which, in the aggregate, approach to half a million annually; or, on the other hand, that this dangerous power, if defeated as a clerical power, should settle into a tenure exquisitely democratic? Was that trivial? Doubtless, the Scottish ecclesiastical revenues are not equal, nor nearly equal, to the English; still, it is true, that Scotland, supposing all her benefices equalized, gives a larger average to each incumbent than England, of the year 1830. England, in that year, gave an average of [pound symbol]299 to each beneficiary; Scotland gave an average of [pound symbol]303. That body, therefore, which wields patronage in Scotland, wields a greater relative power than the corresponding body in England. Now this body, in Scotland, must finally have been the clerus; but supposing the patronage to have settled nominally where the Veto Act had placed it, then it would have settled into the keeping of a fierce democracy. Mr. Forsyth has justly remarked, that in such a case the hired ploughmen of a parish, mercenary hands that quit their engagements at Martinmas, and can have no filial interest in the parish, would generally succeed in electing the clergyman. That man would be elected generally, who had canvassed the parish with the arts and means of an electioneering candidate; or else, the struggle would lie between the property and the Jacobinism of the district.
In respect to Jacobinism, the condition of Scotland is much altered from what it was; pauperism and great towns have worked ‘strange defeatures’ in Scottish society. A vast capital has arisen in the west, on a level with the first-rate capitalists of the Continent–with Vienna or with Naples; far superior in size to Madrid, to Lisbon, to Berlin; more than equal to Rome and Milan; or again to Munich and Dresden, taken by couples: and, in this point, beyond comparison with any one of these capitals, that whilst they are connected by slight ties with the circumjacent country, Glasgow keeps open a communication with the whole land. Vast laboratories of encouragement to manual skill, too often dissociated from consideration of character; armies of mechanics, gloomy and restless, having no interfusion amongst their endless files of any gradations corresponding to a system of controlling officers; these spectacles, which are permanently offered by the castra stativa of combined mechanics in Glasgow and its dependencies (Paisley, Greenock, etc.), supported by similar districts, and by turbulent collieries in other parts of that kingdom, make Scotland, when now developing her strength, no longer the safe and docile arena for popular movements which once she was, with a people that were scattered and habits that were pastoral. And at this moment, so fearfully increased is the overbearance of democratic impulses in Scotland, that perhaps in no European nation–hardly excepting France–has it become more important to hang weights and retarding forces upon popular movements amongst the laboring classes.
This being so, we have never been able to understand the apparent apathy with which the landed body met the first promulgation of the Veto Act in May, 1834. Of this apathy, two insufficient explanations suggest themselves:–1st, It seemed a matter of delicacy to confront the General Assembly, upon a field which they had clamorously challenged for their own. The question at issue was tempestuously published to Scotland as a question exclusively spiritual. And by whom was it thus published? The Southern reader must here not be careless of dates. At present, viz. in 1844, those who fulminate such views of spiritual jurisdiction, are simply dissenters; and those who vehemently withstand them are the church, armed with the powers of the church. Such are the relations between the parties in 1844. But in 1834, the revolutionary party were not only in the church, but (being the majority) they came forward as the church. The new doctrines presented themselves at first, not as those of a faction, but of the Scottish kirk assembled in her highest court. The prestige of that advantage has vanished since then; for this faction, after first of all falling into a minority, afterwards ceased to be any part or section of the church; but in that year 1834, such a prestige did really operate; and this must be received as one of the reasons which partially explain the torpor of the landed body. No one liked to move first, even amongst those who meant to move. But another reason we find in the conscientious scruples of many landholders, who hesitated to move at all upon a question then insufficiently discussed, and in which their own interest was by so many degrees the largest.
These reasons, however, though sufficient for suspense, seem hardly sufficient for not having solemnly protested against the Veto Act immediately upon its passing the Assembly. Whatever doubts a few persons might harbor upon the expediency of such an act, evidently it was contrary to the law of the land. The General Assembly could have no power to abrogate a law passed by the three estates of the realm. But probably it was the deep sense of that truth which reined up the national resistance. Sure of a speedy collision between some patron and the infringers of his right, other parties stood back for the present, to watch the form which such a collision might assume.
In that same year of 1834, not many months after the passing of the Assembly’s Act, came on the first case of collision; and some time subsequently a second. These two cases, Auchterarder and Marnoch, commenced in the very same steps, but immediately afterwards diverged as widely as was possible. In both cases, the rights of the patron and of the presentee were challenged peremptorily; that is to say, in both cases, parishioners objected to the presentee without reason shown. The conduct of the people was the same in one case as in the other; that of the two presbyteries travelled upon lines diametrically opposite. The first case was that of Auchterarder. The parish and the presbytery concerned, both belonged to Auchterarder; and there the presbytery obeyed the new law of the Assembly; they rejected the presentee, refusing to take him on trial of his qualifications: And why? we cannot too often repeat–simply because a majority of a rustic congregation had rejected him, without attempting to show reason for his rejection. The Auchterarder presbytery, for their part in this affair, were prosecuted in the Court of Session by the injured parties–Lord Kinnoul, the patron, and Mr. Young, the presentee. Twice, upon a different form of action, the Court of Session gave judgment against the presbytery; twice the case went up by appeal to the Lords; twice the Lords affirmed the judgment of the court below. In the other case of Marnoch, the presbytery of Strathbogie took precisely the opposite course. So far from abetting the unjust congregation of rustics, they rebelled against the new law of the Assembly, and declared, by seven of their number against three, that they were ready to proceed with the trial of the presentee, and to induct him (if found qualified) into the benefice. Upon this, the General Assembly suspended the seven members of presbytery. By that mode of proceeding, the Assembly fancied that they should be able to elude the intentions of the presbytery; it being supposed that, whilst suspended, the presbytery had no power to ordain; and that, without ordination, there was no possibility of giving induction. But here the Assembly had miscalculated. Suspension would indeed have had the effects ascribed to it; but in the mean time, the suspension, as being originally illegal, was found to be void; and the presentee, on that ground, obtained a decree from the Court of Session, ordaining the presbytery of Strathbogie to proceed with the settlement. Three of the ten members composing this presbytery, resisted; and they were found liable in expenses. The other seven completed the settlement in the usual form. Here was plain rebellion; and rebellion triumphant. If this were allowed, all was gone. What should the Assembly do for the vindication of their authority? Upon deliberation, they deposed the contumacious presbytery from their functions as clergymen, and declared their churches vacant. But this sentence was found to be a brutum fulmen; the crime was no crime, the punishment turned out no punishment: and a minority, even in this very Assembly, declared publicly that they would not consent to regard this sentence as any sentence at all, but would act in all respects as if no such sentence had been carried by vote. Within their own high Court of Assembly, it is, however, difficult to see how this refusal to recognise a sentence voted by a majority could be valid. Outside, the civil courts came into play; but within the Assembly, surely its own laws and votes prevailed. However, this distinction could bring little comfort to the Assembly at present; for the illegality of the deposal was now past all dispute; and the attempt to punish, or even ruin a number of professional brethren for not enforcing a by-law, when the by-law itself had been found irreconcilable to the law of the land, greatly displeased the public, as vindictive, oppressive, and useless to the purposes of the Assembly.
Nothing was gained, except the putting on record an implacability that was confessedly impotent. This was the very lunacy of malice. Mortifying it might certainly seem for the members of a supreme court, like the General Assembly, to be baffled by those of a subordinate court: but still, since each party must be regarded as representing far larger interests than any personal to themselves, trying on either side, not the energies of their separate wits, but the available resources of law in one of its obscurer chapters, there really seemed no more room for humiliation to the one party, or for triumph to the other, than there is amongst reasonable men in the result from a game, where the game is one exclusively of chance.
From this period it is probable that the faction of Non-intrusionists resolved upon abandoning the church. It was the one sole resource left for sustaining their own importance to men who were now sinking fast in public estimation. At the latter end of 1842, they summoned a convocation in Edinburgh. The discussions were private; but it was generally understood that at this time they concerted a plan for going out from the church, in the event of their failing to alarm the Government by the notification of this design. We do not pretend to any knowledge of secrets. What is known to everybody is–that, on the annual meeting of the General Assembly, in May, 1843, the great body of the Non-intrusionists moved out in procession. The sort of theatrical interest which gathered round the Seceders for a few hurried days in May, was of a kind which should naturally have made wise men both ashamed and disgusted. It was the merest effervescence from that state of excitement which is nursed by novelty, by expectation, by the vague anticipation of a ‘scene,’ possibly of a quarrel, together with the natural interest in seeing men whose names had been long before the public in books and periodical journals.
The first measure of the Seceders was to form themselves into a pseudo-General Assembly. When there are two suns visible, or two moons, the real one and its duplicate, we call the mock sun a parhelios, and the mock moon a paraselene. On that principle, we must call this mock Assembly a para-synodos. Rarely, indeed, can we applaud the Seceders in the fabrication of names. They distinguish as quoad sacra parishes those which were peculiarly quoad politica parishes; for in that view only they had been interesting to the Non-intrusionists. Again, they style themselves The Free Church, by way of taunting the other side with being a servile church. But how are they any church at all? By the courtesies of Europe, and according to usage, a church means a religious incorporation, protected and privileged by the State. Those who are not so privileged are usually content with the title of Separatists, Dissenters, or Nonconformists. No wise man will see either good sense or dignity in assuming titles not appropriate. The very position and aspect towards the church (legally so called) which has been assumed by the Non-intrusionists–viz., the position of protesters against that body, not merely as bearing, amongst other features, a certain relation to the State, but specifically because they bear that relation, makes it incongruous, and even absurd, for these Dissenters to denominate themselves a ‘church.’ But there is another objection to this denomination–the ‘Free Church’ have no peculiar and separate Confession of Faith. Nobody knows what are their credenda–what they hold indispensable for fellow-membership, either as to faith in mysteries or in moral doctrines. Now, if they reply–‘Oh! as to that, we adopt for our faith all that ever we did profess when members of the Scottish kirk’–then in effect they are hardly so much as a dissenting body, except in some elliptic sense. There is a grievous hiatus in their own titledeeds and archives; they supply it by referring people to the muniment chest of the kirk. Would it not be a scandal to a Protestant church if she should say to communicants –We have no sacramental vessels, or even ritual; but you may borrow both from Papal Rome.’ Not only, however, is the kirk to lend her Confession, etc. but even then a plain rustic will not be able to guess how many parts in his Confession are or may be affected by the ‘reformation’ of the Non-intrusionists. Surely, he will think, if this reformation were so vast that it drove them out of the national church, absolutely exploded them, then it follows that it must have intervened and indirectly modified innumerable questions: a difference that was punctually limited to this one or these two clauses, could not be such a difference as justified a rupture. Besides, if they have altered this one or these two clauses, or have altered their interpretation, how is any man to know (except from a distinct Confession of Faith) that they have not even directly altered much more? Notoriety through newspapers is surely no ground to stand upon in religion. And now it appears that the unlettered rustic needs two guides–one to show him exactly how much they have altered, whether two points or two hundred, as well as which two or two hundred; another to teach him how far these original changes may have carried with them secondary changes as consequences into other parts of the Christian system. One of the known changes, viz., the doctrine of popular election as the proper qualification for parish clergymen, possibly is not fitted to expand itself or ramify, except by analogy. But the other change, the infinity which has been suddenly turned off like a jet of gas, or like the rushing of wind through the tubes of an organ, upon the doctrine and application of spirituality, seems fitted for derivative effects that are innumerable. Consequently, we say of the Non-itrusionists–not only that they are no church; but that they are not even any separate body of Dissenters, until they have published a ‘Confession’ or a revised edition of the Scottish Confession.
IV. Lastly, we have to sum and to appreciate the ultimate consequences of these things. Let us pursue them to the end of the vista.–First in order stands the dreadful shock to the National Church Establishment; and that is twofold: it is a shock from without, acting through opinion, and a shock from within, acting through the contagion of example. Each case is separately perfect. Through the opinion of men standing outside of the church, the church herself suffers wrong in her authority. Through the contagion of sympathy stealing over men inside of the church, peril arises of other shocks in a second series, which would so exhaust the church by reiterated convulsions, as to leave her virtually dismembered and shattered for all her great national functions.
As to that evil which acts through opinion, it acts by a machinery, viz. the press and social centralization in great cities, which in these days is perfect. Right or wrong, justified or not justified by the acts of the majority, it is certain that every public body–how much more, then, a body charged with the responsibility of upholding the truth in its standard!–suffers dreadfully in the world’s opinion by any feud, schism, or shadow of change among its members. This is what the New Testament, a code of philosophy fertile in new ideas, first introduced under the name of scandal; that is, any occasion of serious offence ministered to the weak or to the sceptical by differences irreconcilable in the acts or the opinions of those whom they are bound to regard as spiritual authorities. Now here, in Scotland, is a feud past all arbitration: here is a schism no longer theoretic, neither beginning nor ending in mere speculation; here is a change of doctrine, on one side or the other, which throws a sad umbrage of doubt and perplexity over the pastoral relation of the church to every parish in Scotland. Less confidence there must always be henceforward in great religious incorporations. Was there any such incorporation reputed to be more internally harmonious than the Scottish church? None has been so tempestuously agitated. Was any church more deeply pledged to the spirit of meekness? None has split asunder so irreconcilably. As to the grounds of quarrel, could any questions or speculations be found so little fitted for a popular intemperance? Yet no breach of unity has ever propagated itself by steps so sudden and irrevocable. One short decennium has comprehended within its circuit the beginning and the end of this unparalleled hurricane. In 1834, the first light augury of mischief skirted the horizon–a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand. In 1843, the evil had ‘travelled on from birth to birth.’ Already it had failed in what may be called one conspiracy; already it had entered upon a second, viz., to rear up an Anti-Kirk, or spurious establishment, which should twist itself with snake-like folds about the legal establishment; surmount it as a Roman vinea surmounted the fortifications which it beleaguered; and which, under whatsoever practical issue for the contest, should at any rate overlook, molest, and insult the true church for ever. Even this brief period of development would have been briefer, had not the law courts interposed many delays. Demurs of law process imposed checks upon the uncharitable haste of the odium theologicum. And though in a question of schism it would be a petitio principii for a neutral censor to assume that either party had been originally in error, yet it is within our competence to say, that the Seceders it was whose bigotry carried the dispute to that sad issue of a final separation. The establishment would have been well content to stop short of that consummation: and temperaments might have been found, compromises both safe and honorable, had the minority built less of their reversionary hopes upon the policy of a fanciful martyrdom. Martyrs they insisted upon becoming: and that they might be martyrs, it was necessary for them to secede. That Europe thinks at present with less reverence of Protestant institutions than it did ten years ago, is due to one of these institutions in particular; viz. to the Scottish kirk, and specifically to the minority in that body. They it was who spurned all mutual toleration, all brotherly indulgence from either side to what it regarded as error in the other. Consequently upon their consciences lies the responsibility of having weakened the pillars of the reformed churches throughout Christendom.
Had those abuses been really such, which the Seceders denounced, were it possible that a primary law of pure Christianity had been set aside for generations, how came it that evils so gross had stirred no whispers of reproach before 1834? How came it that no aurora of early light, no prelusive murmurs of scrupulosity even from themselves, had run before this wild levanter of change? Heretofore or now there must have been huge error on their own showing. Heretofore they must have been traitorously below their duty, or now mutinously beyond it.
Such conclusions are irresistible and upon any path, seceding or not seceding, they menace the worldly credit of ecclesiastical bodies. That evil is now past remedy. As for the other evil, that which acts upon church establishments, not through simple failure in the guarantees of public opinion, but through their own internal vices of composition; here undeniably we see a chasm traversing the Scottish church from the very gates to the centre. And unhappily the same chasm, which marks a division of the church internally, is a link connecting it externally with the Seceders. For how stands the case? Did the Scottish kirk, at the late crisis, divide broadly into two mutually excluding sections? Was there one of these bisections which said Yes, whilst the other responded No? Was the affirmative and negative shared between them as between the black chessmen and the white? Not so; and unhappily not so. The two extremes there were, but these shaded off into each other. Many were the nuances; multiplied the combinations. Here stood a section that had voted for all the changes, with two or three exceptions; there stood another that went the whole length as to this change, but no part of the way as to that; between these sections arose others that had voted arbitrarily, or eclectically, that is, by no law generally recognised. And behind this eclectic school were grouped others who had voted for all novelties up to a certain day, but after that had refused to go further with a movement party whose tendencies they had begun to distrust. In this last case, therefore, the divisional line fell upon no principle, but upon the accident of having, at that particular moment, first seen grounds of conscientious alarm. The principles upon which men had divided were various, and these various principles were variously combined. But on the other hand, those who have gone out were the men who approved totally, not partially–unconditionally, not within limits–up to the end, and not to a given day. Consequently those who stayed in comprehended all the shades and degrees which the men of violence excluded. The Seceders were unanimous to a man, and of necessity; for he who approves the last act, the extreme act, which is naturally the most violent act, a fortiori approves all lesser acts. But the establishment, by parity of reason, retained upon its rolls all the degrees, all the modifications, all who had exercised a wise discretion, who, in so great a cause, had thought it a point of religion to be cautious; whose casuistry had moved in the harness of peace, and who had preferred an interest of conscience to a triumph of partisanship. We honor them for that policy; but we cannot hide from ourselves, that the very principle which makes such a policy honorable at the moment, makes it dangerous in reversion. For he who avows that, upon public motives, he once resisted a temptation to schism, makes known by that avowal that he still harbors in his mind the germ of such a temptation: and to that scruple, which once he resisted, hereafter he may see reason for yielding. The principles of schism, which for the moment were suppressed, are still latent in the church. It is urged that, in quest of unity, many of these men succeeded in resisting the instincts of dissension at the moment of crisis. True: But this might be because they presumed on winning from their own party equal concessions by means less violent than schism; or because they attached less weight to the principle concerned, than they may see cause for attaching upon future considerations; or because they would not allow themselves to sanction the cause of the late Secession, by going out in company with men whose principles they adopted only in part, or whose manner of supporting those principles they abhorred. Universally it is evident, that little stress is to be laid on a negative act; simply to have declined going out with the Seceders proves nothing, for it is equivocal. It is an act which may cover indifferently a marked hostility to the Secession party, or an absolute friendliness, but a friendliness not quite equal to so extreme a test. And, again, this negative act may be equivocal in a different way; the friendliness may not only have existed, but may have existed in sufficient strength for any test whatever; not the principles of the Seceders, but their Jacobinical mode of asserting them, may have proved the true nerve of the repulsion to many. What is it that we wish the English reader to collect from these distinctions? Simply that the danger is not yet gone past. The earthquake, says a great poet, when speaking of the general tendency in all dangers to come round by successive and reiterated shocks–
‘The earthquake is not satisfied at once.’
All dangers which lie deeply seated are recurrent dangers; they intermit, only as the revolving lamps of a light-house are periodically eclipsed. The General Assembly of 1843, when closing her gates upon the Seceders, shut in, perhaps, more of the infected than at the time she succeeded in shutting out. As respected the opinion of the world outside, it seemed advisable to shut out the least number possible; for in proportion to the number of the Seceders, was the danger that they should carry with them an authentic impression in their favor. On the other hand, as respected a greater danger, (the danger from internal contagion), it seemed advisable that the church should have shut out (if she could) very many of those who, for the present, adhered to her. The broader the separation, and the more absolute, between the church and the secession, so much the less anxiety there would have survived lest the rent should spread. That the anxiety in this respect is not visionary, the reader may satisfy himself by looking over a remarkable pamphlet, which professes by its title to separate the wheat from the chaff. By the ‘wheat,’ in the view of this writer, is meant the aggregate of those who persevered in their recusant policy up to the practical result of secession. All who stopped short of that consummation (on whatever plea), are the ‘chaff.’ The writer is something of an incendiary, or something of a fanatic; but he is consistent with regard to his own principles, and so elaborately careful in his details as to extort admiration of his energy and of his patience in research.
But the reason for which we notice this pamphlet, is, with a view to the proof of that large intestine mischief which still lingers behind in the vitals of the Scottish establishment. No proof, in a question of that nature, can be so showy and ostensive to a stranger as that which is supplied by this vindictive pamphlet. For every past vote recording a scruple, is the pledge of a scruple still existing, though for the moment suppressed. Since the secession, nearly four hundred and fifty new men may have entered the church. This supplementary body has probably diluted the strength of the revolutionary principles. But they also may, perhaps, have partaken to some extent in the contagion of these principles. True, there is this guarantee for caution, on the part of these new men, that as yet they are pledged to nothing; and that, seeing experimentally how fearfully many of their older brethren are now likely to be fettered by the past, they have every possible motive for reserve, in committing themselves, either by their votes or by their pens. In their situation, there is a special inducement to prudence, because there is a prospect, that for them prudence is in time to be effectual. But for many of the older men, prudence comes too late. They are already fettered. And what we are now pointing out to the attention of our readers, is, that by the past, by the absolute votes of the past, too sorrowfully it is made evident, that the Scottish church is deeply tainted with the principles of the Secession. These germs of evil and of revolution, speaking of them in a personal sense, cannot be purged off entirely until one generation shall have passed away. But, speaking of them as principles capable of vegetation, these germs may or may not expand into whole forests of evil, according to the accidents of coming events, whether fitted to tranquillize our billowy aspects of society; or, on the other hand, largely to fertilize the many occasions of agitation, which political fermentations are too sure to throw off. Let this chance turn out as it may, we repeat for the information of Southerns–that the church, by shutting off the persons of particular agitators, has not shut off the principles of agitation; and that the cordon sanataire, supposing the spontaneous exile of the Non-intrusionists to be regarded in that light, was not drawn about the church until the disease had spread widely within the lines.
Past votes may not absolutely pledge a man to a future course of action; warned in time, such a man may stand neutral in practice; but thus far they poison the fountains of wholesome unanimity–that, if a man can evade the necessity of squaring particular actions to his past opinions, at least he must find himself tempted to square his opinions themselves, or his counsels, to such past opinions as he may too notoriously have placed on record by his votes.
But, if such are the continual dangers from reactions in the establishment, so long as men survive in that establishment who feel upbraided by past votes, and so long as enemies survive who will not suffer these upbraidings to slumber–dangers which much mutual forbearance and charity can alone disarm; on the other hand, how much profounder is the inconsistency to which the Free Church is doomed!–They have rent the unity of that church, to which they had pledged their faith–but on what plea? On the plea that in cases purely spiritual, they could not in conscience submit to the award of the secular magistrate. Yet how merely impracticable is this principle, as an abiding principle of action! Churches, that is, the charge of particular congregations, will be with them (as with other religious communities) the means of livelihood. Grounds innumerable will arise for excluding or attempting to exclude, each other from these official stations. No possible form regulating the business of ordination, or of induction, can anticipate the infinite objections which may arise. But no man interested in such a case, will submit to a judge appointed by insufficient authority. Daily bread for his family is what few men will resign without a struggle. And that struggle will of necessity come for final adjudication to the law courts of the land, whose interference in any question affecting a spiritual interest, the Free Church has for ever pledged herself to refuse. But in the case supposed, she will not have the power to refuse it. She will be cited before the tribunals, and can elude that citation in no way but by surrendering the point in litigation; and if she should adopt the notion, that it is better for her to do that, than to acknowledge a sufficient authority in the court by pleading at its bar, upon this principle once made public, she will soon be stripped of everything, and will cease to be a church at all. She cannot continue to be a depository of any faith, or a champion of any doctrines, if she lose the means of defending her own incorporations. But how can she maintain the defenders of her rights, or the dispensers of her truths, if she refuses, upon immutable principle, to call in the aid of the magistrate on behalf of rights, which, under any aspect, regard spiritual relations? Attempting to maintain these rights by private arbitration within a forum of her own, she will soon find such arbitration not binding at all upon the party who conceives himself aggrieved. The issue will be as in Mr. O’Connell’s courts, where the parties played at going to law; from the moment when they ceased to play, and no longer ‘made believe’ to be disputing, the award of the judge became as entire a mockery, as any stage mimicry of such a transaction.
This should be the natural catastrophe of the case; and the probable evasion of that destructive consummation, to which she is carried by her principles, will be–that as soon as her feelings of rancor shall have cooled down, these principles will silently drop out of use; and the very reason will be suffered to perish for which she ever became a dissenting body. With this, however, we, that stand outside, are noways concerned. But an evil, in which we are concerned, is the headlong tendency of the Free Church, and of all churches adulterating with her principle, to an issue not merely dangerous in a political sense, but ruinous in an anti-social sense. The artifice of the Free Church lies in pleading a spiritual relation of any case whatever, whether of doing or suffering, whether positive or negative, as a reason for taking it out of all civil control. Now we may illustrate the peril of this artifice, by a reality at this time impending over society in Ireland. Dr. Higgins, titular bishop of Ardagh, has undertaken upon this very plea of a spiritual power not amenable to civil control, a sort of warfare with Government, upon the question of their power to suspend or defeat the O’Connell agitation. For, says he, if Government should succeed in thus intercepting the direct power of haranguing mobs in open assemblies, then will I harangue them, and cause them to be harangued, in the same spirit, upon the same topics, from the altar or the pulpit. An immediate extension of this principle would be–that every disaffected clergyman in the three kingdoms, would lecture his congregation upon the duty of paying no taxes. This he would denominate passive resistance; and resistance to bad government would become, in his language, the most sacred of duties. In any argument with such a man, he would be found immediately falling back upon the principle of the Free Church; he would insist upon it as a spiritual right, as a ease entirely between his conscience and God, whether he should press to an extremity any and every doctrine, though tending to the instant disorganization of society. To lecture against war, and against taxes as directly supporting war, would wear a most colorable air of truth amongst all weak-minded persons. And these would soon appear to have been but the first elements of confusion under the improved views of spiritual rights. The doctrines of the Levellers in Cromwell’s time, of the Anabaptists in Luther’s time, would exalt themselves upon the ruins of society, if governments were weak enough to recognise these spiritual claims in the feeblest of their initial advances. If it were possible to suppose such chimeras prevailing, the natural redress would soon be seen to lie through secret tribunals, like those of the dreadful Fehmgericht in the middle ages. It would be absurd, however, seriously to pursue these anti-social chimeras through their consequences. Stern remedies would summarily crush so monstrous an evil. Our purpose is answered, when the necessity of such insupportable consequences is shown to link itself with that distinction upon which the Free Church has laid the foundations of its own establishment. Once for all, there is no act or function belonging to an officer of a church which is not spiritual by one of its two Janus faces. And every examination of the case convinces us more and more that the Seceders took up the old papal distinction, as to acts spiritual or not spiritual, not under any delusion less or more, but under a simple necessity of finding some evasion or other which should meet and embody the whole rancor of the moment.
But beyond any other evil consequence prepared by the Free Church, is the appalling spirit of Jacobinism which accompanies their whole conduct, and which latterly has avowed itself in their words. The case began Jacobinically, for it began in attacks upon the rights of property. But since the defeat of this faction by the law courts, language seems to fail them, for the expression of their hatred and affected scorn towards the leading nobility of Scotland. Yet why? The case lies in the narrowest compass. The Duke of Sutherland, and other great landholders, had refused sites for their new churches. Upon this occurred a strong fact, and strong in both directions; first, for the Seceders; secondly, upon better information against them. The Record newspaper, a religious journal, ably and conscientiously conducted, took part with the Secession, and very energetically; for they denounced the noble duke’s refusal of land as an act of ‘persecution;’ and upon this principle–that, in a county where his grace was pretty nearly the sole landed proprietor, to refuse land (assuming that a fair price had been tendered for it) was in effect to show such intolerance as might easily tend to the suppression of truth. Intolerance, however, is not persecution; and, if it were, the casuistry of the question is open still to much discussion. But this is not necessary; for the ground is altogether shifted when the duke’s reason for refusing the land comes to be stated; he had refused it, not unconditionally, not in the spirit of non-intrusion courts, ‘without reason shown,‘ but on this unanswerable argument–that the whole efforts of the new church were pointed (and professedly pointed) to the one object of destroying the establishment, and ‘sweeping it from the land.’ Could any guardian of public interests, under so wicked a threat, hesitate as to the line of his duty? By granting the land to parties uttering such menaces, the Duke of Sutherland would have made himself an accomplice in the unchristian conspiracy. Meantime, next after this fact, it is the strongest defence which we can offer for the duke–that in a day or two after this charge of ‘persecution,’ the Record was forced to attack the Seceders in terms which indirectly defended the duke. And this, not in any spirit of levity, but under mere conscientious constraint. For no journal has entered so powerfully or so eloquently into the defence of the general principle involved in the Secession (although questioning its expediency), as this particular Record. Consequently, any word of condemnation from so earnest a friend, comes against the Seceders with triple emphasis. And this is shown in the tone of the expostulations addressed to the Record by some of the Secession leaders. It spares us, indeed, all necessity of quoting the vile language uttered by members of the Free Church Assembly, if we say, that the neutral witnesses of such unchristian outrages have murmured, remonstrated, protested in every direction; and that Dr, Macfarlane, who has since corresponded with the Duke of Sutherland upon the whole case–viz. upon the petition for land, as affected by the shocking menaces of the Seceders–has, in no other way, been able to evade the double mischief of undertaking a defence for the indefensible, and at the same time of losing the land irretrievably, than by affecting an unconsciousness of language used by his party little suited to his own sacred calling, or to the noble simplicities of Christianity. Certainly it is unhappy for the Seceders, that the only disavowal of the most fiendish sentiments heard in our days, has come from an individual not authorized or at all commissioned by his party–from an individual not showing any readiness to face the whole charges, disingenuously dissembling the worst of them, and finally offering his very feeble disclaimer, which equivocates between a denial and a palliation–not until after he found himself in the position of a petitioner for favors.
Specifically the great evil of our days, is the abiding temptation, in every direction, to popular discontent, to agitation, and to systematic sedition. Now, we say it with sorrow, that from no other incendiaries have we heard sentiments so wild, fierce, or maliciously democratic, as from the leaders of the Secession. It was the Reform Bill of 1832, and the accompanying agitation, which first suggested the veto agitation of 1834, and prescribed its tone. From all classes of our population, in turn, there have come forward individuals to disgrace themselves by volunteering their aid to the chief conspirators of the age. We have earls, we have marquesses, coming forward as Corn-League agents; we have magistrates by scores angling for popularity as Repealers. But these have been private parties, insulated, disconnected, disowned. When we hear of Christianity prostituted to the service of Jacobinism–of divinity becoming the handmaid to insurrection–and of clergymen in masses offering themselves as promoters of anarchy, we go back in thought to that ominous organization of irreligion, which gave its most fearful aspects to the French Revolution.
Other evils are in the rear as likely to arise out of the funds provided for the new Seceders, were the distribution of those funds confessedly unobjectionable, but more immediately under the present murmurs against that distribution. There are two funds: one subscribed expressly for the building of churches, the other limited to the ‘sustentation’ of incumbents. And the complaint is–that this latter fund has been invaded for purposes connected with the first. The reader can easily see the motive to this injustice: it is a motive of ambition. Far more display of power is made by the annunciation to the world of six hundred churches built, than of any difference this way or that in the comfort and decorous condition of the clergy. This last is a domestic feature of the case, not fitted for public effect. But the number of the churches will resound through Europe. Meantime, at present, the allowance to the great body of Seceding clergy averages but [pound symbol]80 a-year; and the allegation is–that, but for the improper interference with the fund on the motive stated, it would have averaged [pound symbol]150 a-year. If anywhere a town parish has raised a much larger provision for its pastor, even that has now become a part of the general grievance. For it is said that all such special contributions ought to have been thrown into one general fund–liable to one general principle of distribution. Yet again, will even this fund, partially as it seems to have been divided, continue to be available? Much of it lies in annual subscriptions: now, in the next generation of subscribers, a son will possibly not adopt the views of his father; but assuredly he will not adopt his father’s zeal. Here, however (though this is not probable), there may arise some compensatory cases of subscribers altogether new. But another question is pressing for decision, which menaces a frightful shock to the schismatical church: female agency has been hitherto all potent in promoting the subscriptions; and a demand has been made in consequence–that women shall be allowed to vote in the church courts. Grant this demand–for it cannot be evaded–and what becomes of the model for church government as handed down from John Knox and Calvin? Refuse it, and what becomes of the future subscriptions?
But these are evils, it may be said, only for the Seceders. Not so: we are all interested in the respectability of the national teachers, whatever be their denomination: we are all interested in the maintenance of a high standard for theological education. These objects are likely to suffer at any rate. But it is even a worse result which we may count on from the changes, that a practical approximation is thus already made to what is technically known as Voluntaryism.
The ‘United Secession,’ that is the old collective body of Scottish Dissenters, who, having no regular provision, are carried into this voluntary system, already exult that this consummation of the case cannot be far off. Indeed, so far as the Seceders are dependent upon annual subscriptions, and coupling that relation to the public with the great doctrine of these Seceders, that congregations are universally to appoint their own pastors, we do not see how such an issue is open to evasion. The leaders of the new Secession all protest against Voluntaryism: but to that complexion of things they travel rapidly by the mere mechanic action of their dependent (or semi-dependent) situation, combined with one of their two characteristic principles.
The same United Secession journal openly anticipates another and more diffusive result from this great movement; viz. the general disruption of church establishments. We trust that this anticipation will be signally defeated. And yet there is one view of the case which saddens us when we turn our eyes in that direction. Among the reasonings and expostulations of the Schismatic church, one that struck us as the most eminently hypocritical, and ludicrously so, was this: ‘You ought,’ said they, when addressing the Government, and exposing the error of the law proceedings, ‘to have stripped us of the temporalities arising from the church, stipend, glebe, parsonage, but not of the spiritual functions. We had no right to the emoluments of our stations, when the law courts had decided against us, but we had a right to the laborious duties of the stations.’ No gravity could refuse to smile at this complaint–verbally so much in the spirit of primitive Christianity, yet in its tendency so insidious. For could it be possible that a competitor introduced by the law, and leaving the duties of the pastoral office to the old incumbent, but pocketing the salary, should not be hooted on the public roads by many who might otherwise have taken no part in the feud? This specious claim was a sure and brief way to secure the hatefulness of their successors. Now, we cannot conceal from ourselves that something like this invidious condition of things might be realized under two further revolutions. We have said, that a second schism in the Scottish church is not impossible. It is also but too possible that Puseyism may yet rend the English establishment by a similar convulsion. But in such contingencies, we should see a very large proportion of the spiritual teachers in both nations actually parading to the public eye, and rehearsing something very like the treacherous proposal of the late Seceders, viz., the spectacle of one party performing much of the difficult duties, and another party enjoying the main emoluments. This would be a most unfair mode of recommending Voluntaryism. Falling in with the infirmities of many in these days, such a spectacle would give probably a fatal bias to that system in our popular and Parliamentary counsels. This would move the sorrow of the Seceders themselves: for they have protested against the theory of all Voluntaries with a vehemence which that party even complain of as excessive. Their leaders have many times avowed, that any system which should leave to men in general the estimate of their own religious wants as a pecuniary interest, would be fatal to the Christian tone of our national morals. Checked and overawed by the example of an establishment, the Voluntaries themselves are far more fervent in their Christian exertions than they could be when liberated from that contrast. The religious spirit of both England and Scotland under such a change would droop for generations. And in that one evil, let us hope, the remotest and least probable of the many evils threatened by the late schism, these nations would have reason by comparison almost to forget the rest.