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Seceders, held the opinion, that the anti-government principles in question were not adopted till the persecution, and then only by a section of the Covenanters, does not say much for his acquaintance with church history in general, and particularly with the discussions formerly carried on between Reformed Presbyterians and Seceders on this subject. To show that I merely expressed the opinion of others, I quote from two well-known and accessible histories.
Dr. Hetherington, in his “History of the Church of Scotland," in describing the “ Apologetical Declaration” published in the year 1684 by a number of the Covenanters, when driven to extremities by their vindictive enemies, says, “This (the declaration ') begins by narrating the course of persecution which had impelled the sufferers to disown the authority of the tyrannical sovereign and government under whose civil sway they were so mercilessly wasted.” And Dr. M'Crie, speaking of the party headed by Sir Robert Hamilton in the year 1679, says, “This party now began to maintain that the king, by assuming an erastian power over the church, had forfeited all right to the civil obedience of his subjects; a principle which had never been known in the Church of Scotland before, and which was afterwards carried to a great extent by Cameron and his followers.” And of the bulk of the dauntless band of Covenanters who fought the dragoons of Claverhouse at Bothwell Bridge, he writes again, “ While they condemned the proceedings of the government as tyrannical, they were not prepared to renounce their allegiance to it in civil matters; they held with the compilers of our Confession, that infidelity or difference in religion doth not make void the magistrate's just and legal authority, nor free the people from their obedience to him."
Mr. M‘Donald, in some parts of his critique, seems to say to Seceders, "Give me a man that we may fight together.' Here then are two, and when he has shown their statements to be “misrepresentations," by adducing evidence to prove that it was always a principle of the Covenanters, even prior to the “killing times of Charles," that it is the duty of a minority in the nation to disown the government when it becomes prelatic or even “infidel ;” and that the principles which led such men as Cargill and Renwick to disown a tyrannical and murdering government like that of Charles, and a usurper
like James, who had not taken the coronation oath, would have led them to renounce and disown the peaceful constitutional government of Victoria, he will have done much to enlighten the “ignorant,” and to clear the ground for the much to be desired union of the friends of the Covenanted Cause.-I am, &c.,
J. W. GAMBLE.
REMINISCENCES OF THE EARLY TIMES OF THE
SECESSION: HISTORICAL, BIOGRAPHICAL, AND TRADITIONAL.
BRECHIN. This was one of the early centres of the Secession in the east of Scotland. As in other parts of the country, the movement originated in the high-handed proceedings of the dominant party in the Established Church. When the General Assembly of 1732 passed their obnoxious Act, whereby the rights of the people in the election of ministers were judicially ignored, the ministers of Brechin sided with the minority or evangelical party, and joined in the public protest against that measure. But they went no farther. Like their milkand-water descendants a century later, they accompanied their brethren to the brink of the precipice, and then shrunk back into their easier position. They associated with the “Four Brethren” in some of the earlier steps of their procedure, but were not prepared to surrender the temporal advantages of their position for the sake of the principles at stake. Conduct of this kind seldom meets with public approval, even from men of the world, and in this instance the consequence was that many of the people withdrew from their ministry and connected themselves with the Seceders. These parties travelled to Dundee, Montrose, and other places, as opportunities occurred for attending ordinances; and when the weather or other causes prevented these journeys, they met at appointed places for prayer and mutual edification. For many years these adherents of the Secession were in that unsettled position, sustained purely by a love to evangelical doctrine, and the desire of enjoying the gospel under a public profession of it. While in this condition the “Burgess Oath controversy” was raised in the Secession body. As in other quarters, this much to be deplored agitation divided the Brechin Seceders, and thereafter they consisted of two distinct parties.
Speaking generally, the Secession was now composed of two Synods, Burgher and Anti-burgher, with their respective adherents throughout the country. From 1747 till near the close of the century both branches prosecuted the great mission of spreading evangelical truth under a banner for the Reformation cause, and notwithstanding their divided state, rivalry, and occasional expressions of strong feelings, it must be admitted that they were eminently successful. But this state of things came to an end. In both Synods the question as to the power of the civil magistrate, circa sacra, was raised; the controversy was long and keen, and ultimately both divided. The events and circumstances that followed are matter of history, and they will be alluded to here only so far as is necessary to bring out the design of the present sketch.
In this great controversy, which was the beginning of the “Voluntary” movement, a minority in both Synods contended for the original principles of the Secession, and separated on that ground. The major parties, Burgher and Anti-burgher, reunited in the year 1820, on new light, or voluntary principles, under the designation of the United Secession. Those of the minorities who continued true to the principles reunited in 1827, forming the body here represented, under the name of the Original Secession.
But we return to our narrative. The Burgher Seceders in Brechin held together, as a praying society, with much consistency, for many years. They were greatly encouraged by the Rev. Mr. Dick of Aberdeen ; and in 1770 obtained a supply of sermon from the Burgher Presbytery of Perth. For another 27 years, however, they were destined to a lingering existence, and it was not until the Rev. Ebenezer Brown, of Inverkeithing, undertook a “mission tour” in that direction that they obtained a solid footing. In the year 1802 they erected a meeting house; and two years thereafter, they obtained their first minister, Mr. David Blackadder, who was ordained on the 4th April, 1804.
The inability of the Secession Synod to grant a steady supply of sermon to distant places operated seriously against the extension of the body. Many persons, though attached to the principles, and willing to stand by them in ordinary circumstances, were not prepared to sacrifice present taste and convenience for their sake, hence numbers dropped off and fell back into their former position. This was the case in Brechin. The Anti-burghers, like their brethren, had to struggle under great difficulties. It was not in numbers, nor in wealth they could rest their hopes of success, but in the goodness of the cause, and the faithful adherence of a few. These few, however, had resolved not to turn back. Previous to their being formally organized or acknowledged as a congregation, they purchased a maltbarn and yard which came into the market, and converted the premises into a place of worship, and which for many years was locally known as the “ Backsides Kirk.” This was a bold step for thirteen humble individuals to take, though no doubt as honest men they had counted the cost. One of them offered five pounds, a considerable sum in those days, and the other twelve contributed among them £10 55. 4d., and with the assistance of friends their financial difficulties were overcome. Having achieved this important end they felt warranted in holding up their face to the Presbytery, and in accordance with their petition they were formed into a congregation on the 7th February, 1764, by the Anti-burgher Presbytery of Perth.
This infant congregation, as it may be called, continued in this position for nearly three years, strengthening themselves as they best could. By the end of 1766 they had so far prospered as to feel warranted in seeking a settled dispensation of ordinances, and on the 6th December they petitioned the Presbytery to that effect. The stipend offered was “forty pounds a year and a lodgeable house,” an amount not to be measured by the value of money at the present day. Mr. Colin Brown, preacher, was the first object of their choice, but he preferred a call from Abernethy, and was settled there in 1767. Two years thereafter, Mr. John Gray, from Edinburgh, was called by the congregation, and ordained over them on the 22nd December, 1768. This was in an eminent degree a happy settlement. The trials and testing process to which the little congregation had been subjected, were in a goodly measure ended, and soon forgotten, and under the faithful ministrations of their young pastor their numbers steadily increased.
This was satisfactory, but here, as in most other Secession congregations, a serious blunder was committed on the part of the people. From the commencement many pious, well-meaning Seceders have held the idea that ministers should not be over liberally paid ; that it was not for their good; and the consequence has been that many of them have had to struggle at the starving point, and others have been driven beyond the point and compelled to seek shelter elsewhere. This is wrong in itself, and ultimately ruinous to any body or congregation, and the evil is far from being non-existent, not only in the Secession, but in other sections of the Church at the present day. For more than twenty years Mr. Gray had to continue to make ends meet on forty pounds. During that time he reared and educated a family of six children, four of whom came to manhood and womanhood, and although the amount named was much more valuable than it would be now, it was much too small for the necessary wants of such a family. In 1791, he felt the pressure of his limited income so severe as to be obliged reluctantly to represent his circumstances to the congregation. We have been favoured with a copy of the letter which he addressed to them on the subject, and while it cannot be said to be complimentary to the congregation, it affords an insight into the beautiful simplicity and sincerity of the minister, in craving as a matter of necessity and equity an addition to his stipend. The letter is addressed to the Elders, Managers, and Members of the congregation, and is as follows:
Brechin, ist November, 1791. “It is not without reluctance I make this application to you; nothing but a mind clearly and deliberately satisfied about the duty, both on your part and mine, could have dragged me into it. I mean that you should add to the stipend of the current year ten pounds stg. I have all along had a stipend inadequate to a comfortable subsistence, and, circumstances considered, the least of any member of this Presbytery, while the congregation have had advantages for raising it beyond any congregation in the bounds. You ought likewise to take into your consideration the burden of expenses I have always borne for the congregation at Sacramental occasions; the ten shillings you added at last occasion to the sum usually allotted, left me more than thirty shillings in arrears for necessary expenses at that time. If such a burden was imposed on any individual of the congregation, the impropriety, not to say the injustice of it, would be seen at once. A very slight view of necessary articles at those times, together with their advanced prices, will satisfy any person that the sum usually allowed for them is not proportionate. I might enlarge much on these subjects, and enforce them from various considerations, but a word is sufficient to the wise, while no argument from religion, reason, or propriety, will have due weight with others.”—I am, &c., J. GRAY.
This application was at once responded to, the additional ten pounds were frankly given ; and we should add, that the congregation very soon thereafter built for their minister a comfortable Manse.
Notwithstanding the bigotry and narrow-mindedness with which “Old Light” Seceders have been usually credited, we find occasional glimpses shewing that in some things they were not far behind their neighbours. The first school attended by the late. Dr. William Anderson of Glasgow, was an adventure school at Kilsyth. It was kept by a Mr. Mackinlay, an Anti-burgher Student, “who taught Anderson a great deal,” although, according to his biographer, Gilfillan, “in a harsh and savage manner.” For anything we know, the Anti-burghers of Brechin may also have had a smack of this savage disposition, one thing is certain they were not insensible of the value of education. In the year 1791 Mr. Gray's Session made a representation to the congregation as to the deficiency of the means of education in the town, and recommended that something should be done in the matter. The suggestion was taken up with spirit, and they resolved to get a teacher and open a school for the ordinary branches of a common education. They rented a room at first, but the movement had so prospered that in 1798 they built a comfortable school on the end of their own property, and on the benches of which