Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

of bis weakness he perceived to lie in the feuds, especially the religious feuds, of Scotland. In 1588 he consented to the repeal of the Black Acts of 1584, and to the re-construction by the kirk of the whole form of presbyterian government. The church lands, however, were vested in the crown, and the incomes of the clergy ont of the tithes remained limited and precarious. The Act of 1592 is that, to which the advocates of the kirk point, as containing the recognition by the state of the authority claimed in respect of cures by the second book of discipline. It enacts that the Act of 1584 " sall nowise be prejudiciall nor derogate onie thing to the privilege that God has given to the spirituall office bearers in the kirk, concerning heads of religion, maters of heresie, excommunication, collation or deprivation of ministers, or any sich like essential censours, specially grounded and havand warrand of the word of God." The book of discipline is not mentioned by name; and it is specifically provided that the “presbyteries be bound and astricted to receive and admit quhatsumever qualified minister presented be his Majestie or laic patrons.” The preceding general acknowledgment of the authority of the kirk can hardly be understood to over-ride so distinct a saving clause as to the rights of patrons.

In 1603 James succeeded Elizabeth in the throne of England, and the two crowns were thenceforth united, the parliaments of the two countries continuing to be separate. In the interval between 1592 and 1603, James had again laboured to undo the concessions granted to the presbyterian clergy. In 1597, Parliament had restored the political rank of prelates, by giving them votes in the upper house, leaving it, with the utmost quaintness, to the king's majesty to settle with the General Assembly the nature of the spiritual office, which the bishops should exercise in the Presbyterian Church. As soon as James felt himself secure on the English throne, he restored their temporal emoluments and ancient civil jurisdiction to the bishops. In 1610 the General Assembly at Glasgow actually passed an Act, appointing the bishops moderators of synod, and investing them with spiritual, as Parliament had invested them with temporal, authority. The modern supporters of the kirk quote this suicidal act of the General Assembly as a proof that the kirk was then independent of the state, because Parliament did not touch the ecclesiastical question.

Episcopacy was now again in the ascendant; but though the bishops established a High Commission Court, the presbyterian General Assemblies continued to be called by royal authority. Episcopal worship was performed in the Chapel Royal at Edinburgh. Most of the clergy now gave in their adherence to episcopacy, and those who opposed themselves were imprisoned or banished. In 1617, the kirk consummated its own degradation by agreeing to yield several points, embodying the substance of the episcopalian system. Kneeling at the Lord's Supper, confirmation, and the observance of fasts and festivals, are indeed unimportant in themselves, as being mere circumstantials; but both parties regarded them as questions of principle, inasmuch as they were the recog

[ocr errors]

nized appendages of a system which the Presbyterians had denounced as anti-christian.

In the same year Parliament appointed a commission " with power to appoint and assign out of the teinds of every parish a perpetual local stipend to the ministers present and to come,” which was the first step after the Reformation towards the regular endowment of the clergy. James died in 1625; and in 1628 his son, Charles I, undertook to complete the settlement of the tithes. On the 2d of September, 1629, he issued four decreets, arbitral, which were afterwards sanctioned by Parliament, under which heritors (or land owners) were empowered to draw their own tithes. One-fifth of the rent (to be ascertained by valuation) was to remain payable by the heritors in lieu of tithes. This arrangement extended, with some variations, to bishop's tithes,—now vested in the Crown, being the source from whence the prelates were paid,-and to tithes belonging, whether to public bodies or to titulars, (lay impropriators.) Private titulars were bound to sell their tithes to the heritors, for nine years' purchase of the ascertained value. Thus, more than two centuries before the commutation of tithes in England, that impost, if not extinguished in name, was limited in amount in Scotland. To this circumstance much of the agricultural prosperity of the northern kingdom may be traced. Unfortunately the plan has never been quite completed, and many of the teind records have been lost and destroyed. Many parishes, however, were valued, and the commissioners, out of the value, proceeded to assign stipends to the clergy. A century later, the Court of Session, (or highest civil court in Scotland,) was invested with the powers of the teind commissioners. There are now few teinds which have not been valued; but in many instances the value is not exhausted by the stipends charged upon it.

In 1637, Charles, with the aid of his Privy Council, determined to introduce the English liturgy into the Scotch churches. On the 230 July, the first attempt was made in St. Giles's Church, at Edinburgh. The populace resisted, and the lives of the clergy and officers of state were with difficulty saved. Charles had aroused a storm which he was unable to appease. The tide rapidly turned against him. In vain he offered to make partial, and even extensive concessions. A solemn league and covenant was entered into for the abolition of episcopacy; and in the same year the General Assembly destroyed, with a single vote, the ecclesiastical fabric which James and Charles had for forty years been engaged in rearing. I will not trouble your readers with a history of the dethronement and execution of Charles. Episcopacy was abolished in England ; and on June 12th, 1647, the English Parliament summoned an assembly of learned men to settle the government of the church. The assembly met at Westminster, and was assisted by commissioners from the Scotch General Assembly. The confession of faith, then agreed to, was adopted by the kirk on the 27th August, 1647, and ratified by the Scotch Parliament in 1648. The Westminster catechism is to Scotland what the Anglican catechism is to England ; and it is remarkable that England should have given to Scot

land a formulary which it has not retained itself, though in many respects less objectionable than the catechism in the Prayer-Book. In 1649, patrons of parishes, having been deprived of their patronage, were compensated out of the tithes; for even in those times of fierce democracy, it was never contemplated to denude patrons of their rights without compensation. Such injustice was reserved for the nineteenth century.

In 1660 Charles II. was restored to the throne. The “ league" was pronounced treasonable-Episcopacy was re-established ; recusant ministers were ejected, and 350 parishes (above one-third of those in Scotland) were at once declared vacant. Persecution of the most odious character, and to the most awful extent, pervaded Scotland during this and the following reigns. James the Second ascended the throne in 1685, and was expelled from it by the almost unanimous voice of both kingdoms in 1688. His son-in-law, William III. was invited to the vacant throne by the English Parliament, and was acknowledged as their sovereign by the Scotch Parliament, on the 22d March, 1689. By the Scotch Act of 1690, prelacy was again and finally abolished, presbytery was revived, and the Westminster Confession of Faith ratified and established. The Act of 1592 was re-enacted, except that part of it relating to patronages, which was reserved for future consideration. The law * asserting his Majesty's supremacy,” which had been passed in the reign of Charles II., was formally repealed. The defenders of the recent proceedings of the General Assembly assert that the legislation at the revolution attests the independence of the kirk, since the Acts then passed enacted no new ecclesiastical matter, and merely repealed the unjust laws of previous Parliaments.

It is very remarkable that exactly a century and a half should have intervened between that event and the circumstances which at this moment seem to threaten the speedy overthrow of the kirk of Scotland.

The question of patronage was reserved for future consideration in the Act of 1690 restoring the temporalities of the kirk. I believe it was by a separate act, that patronage was subsequently transferred from the hands of the lay patrons to the heritors (or landowners) and elders of parishes. In 1711, the union of England and Scotland having taken place about four years previously, patronage was again restored to the lay patrons by the British Parliament. Opposite reasons are assigned by the two parties in the kirk at the present day, for this return to a practice which diminishes the probability of a minister harmonising with his people. The opponents of patronage insinuate that the change was attributable to the English ingredients in the united parliament, and to the desire on the part of an episcopalian senate and an immoral minister (Bolingbroke) to assimilate the Scotch system of presentations to the low standard of the southern country. The low church party on the other hand, assert with a great show of truth, that the semi-popular system of appointment worked exceedingly ill; so much faction and irritation being produced by it, that it became, they say, not only justifiable but highly expedient to recur to the soothing and pacifying plan of entrusting the nomination of the people's minister to a patron, often non-resident, and almost as often of a different creed from the members of the minister's flock.

The tendency of such a system cannot be doubted. If popular election to an office the stipend of which the electors do not pay, is likely to lead to unseemly broils ; on the other hand the dictation of a stranger can lead but to one of two consequences. Under such a plan, accordance of sentiment between the pastor and the people will be the exception, and disagreement or want of affection will be the rule. Where the latter is the case, persons who are really in earnest about their own souls, will naturally separate themselves from a connection with which they have no sympathy; while the forms of religion will take the place of its spiritual reality amongst those who remain. I say not that such is the invariable effect of patronage, but it is its uniform tendency.

The result in Scotland coincided with this supposition. In the beginning of the 18th century, evangelical religion steadily de. clined within the Established Church. Among the clergy it well nigh disappeared, taking refuge, wherever it did survive, among the people; the children and grandchildren of the covenanters. From the representative nature of the kirk, the local state of religion will speedily affect the corporate character and proceedings of the whole institution. The tone of the General Assembly is greatly influenced by the average tone of religion among the Scotch ministers and people. Need it be wondered that the ecclesiastical Parliament shortly began to manifest a bitter opposition to serious piety, and an uniform readiness to side with patrons in forcing unacceptable clergymen upon reluctant congregations. Though the right of presentation had been restored to the patrons, the actual introduction to the cure still continued to rest with the presbytery " of the bounds," that is, of the district, in which the parish is situated. On such occasions, the presbytery is entitled to inquire into the literature and manners of the presentee, and can take cognizance of any matter, proveable by evidence, which renders a clergyman unfit for the cure. A presbytery, sympathising with the people, could in many cases prevent, by a proper exercise of authority, the instalment of an individual of manifest and flagrant unfitness. Few were the presbyteries of such a character! The feelings of the people were almost universally disregarded. The " call," addressed by the flock to their intended pastor, which had once been something like a reality, though it still remained a necessary preliminary to legal induction, degenerated into a mere form; often being signed by only a few persons out of large congregations. The General Assembly supported their dependent presbyteries in their hostility to the asserted christian rights of the people; and should any presbytery have virtue, and independence, and sound religion enough to decline being the instrument of such galling tyranny, the Assembly would appoint a “riding commission," to visit the scene of rebellion, and induct the objectionable ministers, “ riding rough shod, booted and spurred,” as some one has described it, * over the religious liberties of the nation.” Such a policy soon bore its natural fruits.

The first secession took place in 1733, and was headed by Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moncrief, and James Fisher. These persons met at Gairney Bridge, near Kinross, and on the 6th of December in that year formed themselves into a presbytery, afterwards known by the name of the “ Associate Presbytery." The body increasing, it was afterwards termed the “ Associate Synod;" and was subsequently (in 1747) split into two sections, denominated respectively the Burgher, and Anti-burgher, Synod, from the views taken by each of the “burgess oath,” the consistency of which with the secession testimony one party defended and the other denied. From both the bodies some further separations have taken place, and one of these diverging parties has, during the year 1839, connected itself again with the Established Church. The two main bodies, however, constitute the mass of Presbyterian Seceders in Scotland, and on the 8th of September, 1820, these were reunited in one society, under the name of the “ United Associate Synod of the Secession Church." While the life blood of the kirk was thus flowing away from it, it is needless to say that formalism, worldliDess, and hostility to serious piety, prevailed in the General Assembly. Had such continued to be the character of the kirk up to the present time, it is difficult to say what might have been the effect in Scotland of the present agitation against establishments. It is easy to say that a bad establishment would have been more likely to fall than a good one. To me, however, the reverse appears to be true. The fall of a bad, or irreligious establishment, can only be effected by the conviction on the part of the legislature that the system is injurious to the national welfare; and a national legislature possessing more religion than a national church is a phenomenon which, as far as I know, the world has never yet witnessed. On the other hand an establishment, the spiritual state of which is flourishing, must, if I am not mistaken, ere long adopt principles of christian organization, which though scripturally right, are, when applied to an established church, utterly inconsistent with the security of the commonwealth. The spirituality of an establishment is thus, in the nature of things, far more likely to lead to the loss of its temporalities, than its want of spirituality.

Such has been the experience of the church of Scotland. For a long period after the original secession, the kirk continued to slumber. In vain did the pious few who still adhered to her communion, raise their faithful testimony against her declension in religion, and her anhesitating submission to the secular institution of patronage. The evangelical party in the General Assembly constituted for a long time a very insignificant minority. The general spread of vital godliness, however, which has been so manifest of late years on both sides of the Tweed, has no where been more rapid than among the clergy of the kirk. I may be mistaken; but such is the conclusion to which, as an impartial observer, I came during a recent visit to Scotland. To this happy result no one has, under God, been a larger contributor than Dr. Chalmers. As professor of divinity at Edinburgh, the rising generation of ministers has passed, to a great extent, through his hands. The weight of his character, and the

N. S. VOL. IV.

« VorigeDoorgaan »