Page images

should not take upon them to judge of the legality or formality of the former proceedings in relation to this affair, or either to approve or to censure the same.'

The seceders rejected these terms of reunion. As the sentence of the synod against Mr. Erskine, and that of the Assembly confirming it stood unrepealed, the seceders had good cause to say that justice was not done them; but perhaps the best justification of their conduct lay in this, that the measures of that Assembly, commendable to some extent though they were, afforded no adequate guarantee against the continuance of that unfaithful and arbitrary course of procedure against which the seceders had borne their testimony. Keeping in view that the Assembly is a changing body, the system of the church's policy was to be gathered not from the acts of any one meeting of the supreme court, but from the state of sentiment prevailing among the ministers of the church, as this was indicated by the general course of ecclesiastical procedure. Subject to unwonted pressure from without, it would have been strange if some effects of this had not appeared in the caution and lenity of the Assembly's proceedings at their first meeting after the deprivation of the seceding ministers; but for these injured champions of the popular cause to have concluded from this that the spirit of ecclesiastical despotism was exorcised, that a new order of things was about to commence, and that without waiting for further fruits of repentance, and steps of reformation, they should return to the church upon the invitation given them, would have argued a feebleness, or at least a flexibility of purpose, more amiable in its simplicity than satisfactory in its results.

For three years after the ejection of the 'four brethren,' the acts and declarations of the assembly breathed in the main a spirit of noderation and improvement. The non-intrusion principle was recognised as the fundamental law of the church; and admonition was issued to the clergy, calling on them to maintain soundness of doctrine in their pulpit ministrations. Had the practice of the assembly corresponded to their professions, we might from this period have dated a healthful reaction in the church's policy. If there were those who entertained such expectation, they were doomed to early and severe disappointment. Amidst professions of regard for the interests of the people, cases repeatedly occurred of unacceptable presen. tations being put in force by the direct exercise of the Assembly's authority. At the very time, too, that they were putting forth manifestoes against heretical teaching, they permitted a professor of divinity (Campbell) at St. Andrews to slip through their hands without censure, although convicted of statements glaringly at variance with the doctrines of the confession of faith, and subversive of the fundamental principles of natural religion.

Of the insincerity of their professions to respect the wishes and interests of the people, the Assembly appeared anxious to give the earliest proof. As a specimen of their procedure, and as a curious illustration of the state of the times, we quote the following account of an induction to the cure of souls :

• The parish of Muckart having become vacant, Mr. Archibald Rennie received a presentation from the crown to the vacant charge; and a call was appointed by the presbytery to be moderated in the usual form. On the day of moderation only two individuals residing within the parish, and a non-resident heritor subscribed the call; all the rest of the parishioners united in opposing the settlement. The presbytery of Auchterarder hesitated to proceed with the ordination in the face of such a formidable opposition. The business was of course carried from the presbytery to the synod, and from the synod to the assembly, where, after a litigation of two years, the usual deliverance was given that the settlement of the intruder should take place; and a committee of ministers from the neighbouring presbyteries was appointed to co-operate along with the presbytery of Auchterarder in carrying this decision into effect. On the day appointed for the ordination a strong body of the parishioners waylaid their intended minister, and the deputation that accompanied him, on the confines of the parish, and without offering any personal violence, conducted them back to the village of Dollar, where they kept them in safe custody till the day was so far advanced that the settlement could not take place; when they permitted them to depart. Another day was appointed for the ordination, when more effectual measures were adopted to carry it into effect. A band of soldiers guarded the ministers to the place of worship; and though the people were equally determined, as on the former occasion, to make opposition, they were overawed by the presence of the military from proceeding to acts of violence. The church door having been previously well secured, the ministers and those that accompanied them, were obliged to make their entry by one of the windows, and there, in the presence of empty pews, did they go through the forms of an ordination-not a single individual connected with the parish being present, except two heritors and an episcopalian non-resident. To finish the solemnities of the day, several parishoners were taken prisoners, and were ordered to be confined in Castle Campbell, an ancient seat of the Argyle family in ruins; but after a short while they were permitted to return to their homes, on giving bail.

• The Rev. Archibald Rennie, who was thus inducted into the pastoral charge of the parish of Muckart continued for upwards of half a century to possess the manse, to farm the glebe, and to pocket the stipend; and during the whole of that long period he never had either an elder or a kirk-session, never made a single collection for

the poor, never dispensed the Lord's Supper, and never, it is said, except on one occasion, entered the pulpit. The secession having commenced soon after his settlement, the great body of the people joined it, and the few parishoners who attended his ministry, seldom amounting to more than seven, assembled for worship, upon sabbath, in the manse.'-vol. i. Ist ed.


155-157. Such was the determined hostility to popular rights which the proceedings of the Assembly increasingly evinced, that the act of Assembly 1736, in behalf of the non-intrusion principle, must be regarded as, on the part of the majority, no better than a feint to cajole the disaffected multitude. Indeed, one of the ablest defenders of the Assembly makes no secret of the du. plicity of their proceedings. 'It is scarcely conceivable,' says Sir H. Moncrief, in his life of Dr. Erskine, “that this act could have done more than soothe the discontent of the people by conciliatory language; unless more could have been attempted than perhaps was practicable; and unless it had been followed up by a train of authoritative decisions, which was far from being intended. It is equally evident that the members of the church who had been most determined on disregarding the opposition made to the induction of presentees, if they concurred in this enactment, as they seem to have done, could have intended it as nothing more than a concession in terminis to the prejudices of the people, without any view to its influence on their decisions in particular cases, or to such a change of system as could have had any practical effects.'

And yet the seceders are to be railed at as self-willed and unreasonable men, because they saw through the hollow pretence, and demanded reformation not in terms only, but in deed and in truth!

While the measures of the Assembly progressively displayed an inexorable spirit of hostility to the voice and influence of the people, their servility to the secular power soon shewed itself to be abject and humiliating. Among other means resorted to hy government to discover and bring to justiit the Icaders of the Porteous mob, an act was passed prohibitins, under severe penalties, the concealing of any of the criminals, and offering a reward to any person giving information which should lead to their conviction. This act was enjoined on pain of deprivation to be read from the pulpits of Scotland on the first sabbath of every month, during a whole year. The major part of the church clergy complied with the injunction ; the seceders not only refused to submit to the order, but testified against it as an invasion of the church's liberty-an attempt of the civil magistrate not only to exercise his office circa sacra, but to intrude his dictation in scris. Obviously repugnant as this encroachment was to the spiritual independence for which, in her better days, the church of Scotland had contended, we find it mentioned by Dr. M.Kerrow that the general assembly so far forgot what was due to justice and to consistency, that they afterwards endeavoured to fasten on the seceders for this part of their conduct the odious charge of political disaffection.

The 'four brethren' after the deed of ejection by the Assembly in 1733, formed themselves into the 'Associate Presbytery;' but averse unuccessarily to widen the breach, they confined the business of their meetings to conference and prayer, so long as there appeared any reasonable prospect of re-union to the national church. But as this prospect soon vanished, they proceeded to license young men to preach the gospel, that they might be able to comply with the numerous applications for sermons which came to them from all parts of the country. The Assembly, which had forborne till now to take further steps against the seceding brethren again resumed consideration of

A libel or indictment was drawn up, setting forth the offences of the seceders against the authority of the Assembly and the good order of the church. In 1739 the case was called ; the Associate Presbytery appeared at the bar of the Assembly not as culprits, but as a court of Christ; and in a formal deed called an 'act of declinature,' they defended the course they had followed, and disowned the Assembly's jurisdiction. T'he Assembly delayed judgment till their next mecting, at which, in May 1740, they deposed the seceding brethren, and four others who had joined them, from the office of the holy ministry, declared their parishes vacant, and ordered copies of this sentence to be sent to the magistrates of the burglis, and to the presbyteries concerned to give it immediate effect.

While the principal ground on which this separation from the national establishment took place was the enforcement of the patronage law in the appointment of ministers, there were, as we have seen, other very pregnant causes of disaslection in the measures of the prevailing party. For a length of time a growing deference had been manifested to errors in doctrine, and even a disposition shewn to shield from censure persons in official and highly responsible situations, who were convicted of teaching principles at variance with the acknowledged creed of the church. It seems to be the dictate of common integrity that as long as a church stipulates to teach and maintain a specified system of religious truth, its ministers should be held bound to preach agrccably to the compact; and that if the personal convictions of any be at variance with the public creed, they should resign their comection with a church to which in mind and heart they have already ceased to belong. !+

difficult to conceive a practice more directly subversive of moral principle than that of subscription to formularies which are not held ex animo, but as articles of peace. To connive at this is to turn the practice of subscription into mockery, and to admit a laxity which, under the guise of uniformity, would make the church a nursery of error, or the patroness indifferently of all diversities of faith. Of this the history of state churches affords many painful illustrations. Instead of repressing a multiplicity of creeds, they secure nothing but uniformity of secular interest, and rather foster than check varieties and novelties of opinion.

If we look into the interior of any of the great ecclesiastical corporations which have grown up in Christendom—the papacy for example or the Anglican church-we shall find within their pale almost every shade and hue of theological speculationgiving birth to those dissensions which are so commonly and so untruly charged upon toleration and dissent. Who has not heard of the Jesuit and Jansenist feuds, of doctors now siding with the one and now with the other; and of the way in which holy mother was tossed with things great and small, from the real presence and the sufficiency of grace, to the size of the tonsure and the immaculate conception. And what the better as regards honest and real uniformity of opinion has been the internal state of Rome's English sister? We challenge the best read in the dictionary of denominations, to name a sect of any note whatever which cannot boast of a prototype or representative in the various shades of orthodoxy, or in the incalculable brood of heresies which have been nursed in the bosom of our established churches, despite the Thirty-nine Articles and the Assembly's Catechisms; and often promulgated with a heartier zeal than ever parliamentary subscription could enforce. What at this passing hour is the internal condition of the English hierarchy ? Who has not heard of her Calvinistic creed and Arminian clergy? Are things mended since the days of Chatham? We trow not. The most opposite extremes, and all the points between them, from the Antinomian to the most Pelagian adherents of the remonstrant school; from idolators of the rubric, to the men of conventicles and of extemporary prayer; fraternizers with papal antichrist in the opus operatum of seals and sacraments, and in uncanonical compromises between scripture and tradition; evangelical teaching in various degrees of purity; ecclesiastical politics in all their forms of insolence and servility; the militant church in millinery, and her lawn sleeves now spotted with the flesh, now stained with blood—these constitute the heterogeneous image of the Anglican hierarchy, which, were it broken to-morrow would exhibit, amidst the liberty of prophesying,' which would thus ensue, not one phase of truth or

« PreviousContinue »