Page images
PDF
EPUB

6 The

had ever accumulating proof before their eyes, that tbe struggle for independence waged by friends whom they left behind, was utterly hopeless. Hence the unanimity and energy of unendowed churches, when the controversy began. At the first blast of the trumpet, their adherents rose en masse, and pressed forward. Without delay the élite of the Church of Scotland also buckled on their armour, and took the field. Dr. Andrew Thomson was suddenly called hence; Dr. Inglis soon followed him; but Dr. Chalmers, a host in himself, survived. The contest, severe from the first, grew hotter as it continued; the Voluntaries plied their weapons with augmenting vigour, and so did their opponents, till, at length, the latter had recourse to expedients which, they were confident, would ensure success. quickening progress of the voluntary controversy," says the historian of the Free-church,“ directed the attention of both the assailants and the defenders of the Church of Scotland to everything, either in her constitution, her principles, or her practice, which could furnish naterial for assault or defence. This inevitably led the friends of the Church to mark, with sharpened intelli. gence, those abuses which rendered her peculiarly vulnerable in any part, and stimulated them to inquire carefully, whether there did not exist in her constitution principles, which needed but to be recalled into sanative action, in order to restore to her a life which all her foes could not destroy. The wisest and ablest of the evangelical ministers had always felt, that the mode in which patronage was exercised in the Church was her most assailable point; that it had alienated her people, corrupted a large proportion of her ministers, diminished her usefulness, and weakened her moral influence over the public mind.” It was thought, therefore, that if the law of patronage were abolished or modified, the Established Church would become so entrenched in the affections of the people as to defy all attempts at its overthrow. The result was, that, on the 27th day of May, 1834, an act was passed in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, commonly called the Veto Act, which declared that the disapproval of a majority of male heads of families, being communicants, should be

deemed sufficient ground for the Presbytery rejecting the person so disapproved of; and further, that no person should be entitled to express his disapproval, who should refuse, if required, solemnly to declare, in presence of the Presbytery, that he was actuated by no factious or malicious motive, but solely by a conscien. tious regard to the spiritual interests of himself or the congregation.

The friends of the Kirk now concluded that the days of voluntaryism were numbered ; with quoad sacra churches covering the land, and the privilege of vetoing ministers conceded to the people, they felt assured that Dissenting congregations would everywhere languish and expire. They pictured to themselves their beloved Establishment towering above the ruins of every other system, while the entire population of broad Scotland gratefully reposed under its shadow. This, however, proved but a day-dream; beautiful, out unsubstantial as the mirage of the desert. Before the breath of the Court of Session the vision began to fade. Before that of the House of Lords it utterly vanished, and “left not a wrack behind.” The highest judicatories of the land pronounced the Veto Act incompetent and void. Important consequences followed. The promoters of this act had been led to identify their continuing in the Establishment with its being carried into effect. Accused by voluntaries of being dependent on the State, they were determined to disprove the charge, and to furnish incontestable evidence that they possessed a self-governing power; but in vain. Energetically, yet fruitlessly, 19

did they demand of Government the recognition of their right to legislate as they had done. They were told, that the liberty they arrogated to themselves was re

The Veto Act was nullified, and the ancient beguinte rights of patrons were restored, and legally enforced. After presenting to her Majesty their claim, declaration, and protest,” nothing remained for them but to secede. Will they do so? The 18th of May (1843) was at hand. It dawned, and a bright and lovely day it was. oi

DrWelsh preached in St. Giles's, Edinburgh, and having to done so.

so, repaired to St. Andrew's Church, where he 90

opened the General Assembly with prayer ; a pause

[ocr errors]

1o

followed. The Moderator rose, and, in the presence of her Majesty's Commissioner and a full court, slowly, but firmly spoke thus :

“According to the usual form of procedure, this is the time for making up the roll; but, in consequence of certain proceedings affecting our rights and privileges—proceedings which have been sanctioned by her Majesty's Government and by the legislature of the country, and more especially in respect that there has been an infringement on the liberties of our constitution, so that we could not now constitute this court without a violation of the terms of the union between Church and State in this land, as now authoritatively declared, I must protest against our proceeding further." He then read the protest, laid it on the table before the clerk, and bowing to the throne, where the Commissioner sat, withdrew. Along with multitudes who accompanied him, he proceeded to Tanfield Hall, and there the first General Assembly of the Free-church of Scotland was regularly constituted, Dr. Chalmers occupying the chair.

Thus ended what has been called the Ten Years' Conflict. It began in 1833, when Dr. Chalmers was baffled in a motion he submitted "anent the efficiency of calls.” The year following the Veto Act was passed; and then, according to Dr. Hetherington, the reign of moderatism terminated. But in 1843 the Veto Act was annulled, and those ministers who had hoped to crush Dissent, and to render the Establishment impregnable, were to be seen abandoning that Establishment as fit only for destruction, and fearlessly throwing themselves for support on the voluntary principle.

Thus it appears that the agitation of the voluntary question in Scotland has been overruled for good. If it did not produce the disruption, it, at all events, hastened the crisis; and who can foretel the consequences to which this great ecclesiastical event is destined to give rise ? Already it has served the most important purposes. It has exhibited, in a manner not to be gainsaid, the really dependent and enslaved condition of a State-church, even the purest; it has com

pletely annihilated the claims of the Kirk of Scotland to be regarded as the Church of the people ; and it has furnished a most triumphant demonstration of " the might and the mastery" of the voluntary principle.

I. Writers belonging to the Free-church, in their account of the real nature of the question that gave rise to the ecclesiastical convulsion of 1843, uniformly represent it as the question of Christ's sole headship and supremacy over his body, the Church. The theory maintained by them previous to the disruption was this :-If the Church invade the functions of the State, that leads to Popery; if the State invade those of the Church, that is Erastianism; and in either case, both Church and State inflict and sustain mutual and heavy injury. But the Church of Scotland occupies the medium between these two extremes; in her connexion with the State, neither encroaching upon its functions, nor surrendering her own spiritual independence as a Church of Christ. True, through the policy of the moderates she has been induced to abate somewhat of her claims, but now, Evangelism being in the ascendant, she is on the way to the full enjoyment of all her rights and immunities. What the non-intrusionists avowedly aimed at, then, was undisputed, uncontrolled, self-government. “To the law and the testimony,” said they, “we make our appeal : to that divine word, in which we find clearly revealed those great, essential principles respecting the Church of the living God which we have been called to vindicate, and in the vindication of which, the identity of the Church of our fathers has always consisted. From generation to generation, since it was reformed from Popery, that Church is to be traced and known by its adherence, more or less faithfully, to one great testimony for the crown rights of the Redeemer, and the spiritual liberty of his people under him. A free gospel to be preached in the world, and a free government to be exercised in the Church,-a gospel free from all human inventions, and a government free from all secular interference; these have been the symbolic words of the Reformed Scottish Church from

לל

the beginning; and by these is its identity proved, whether sheltered under the shade of royal favour, or hunted as a partridge on the mountains."*

The Ten Years' Conflict, then, let it be distinctly understood, was a conflict for free government. We do not at present enter on the question whether the nonintrusionists were justifiable in their demands; we shall advert to this afterwards.

What we insist upon now is simply the fact, that what they contended for was free government, and that the reason why they left the Establishment was, that this was denied them, as incompatible with the position of a State-church.

Voluntaries have uniformly contended, that a Church which allies itself to the State must sacrifice its liberty; and non-intrusionists were in the habit of allowing that, if we could make good this position, the controversy between us would cease. In the General Assembly of 1838, Dr. Robert Buchanan, alluding to what he termed the assumption that the Establishment principle involved, of necessity, the surrender to the State of the Church's spiritual freedom, frankly allowed that, if it were really so, there would be an end of the discussion. “ No Church,” he said, “could ever be justified in binding itself to another master than Christ. But,” he added, “the constitution and history of the Church of Scotland had always been their ready answer to that Anti-church-and-state argument.” Here, in this living example, was asserted to be the very condition of things which was pronounced to be impossible—a Church endowed by the State, and yet the sole mistress of her own spiritual affairs. "If, however," he concluded, referring to statements from the bench in the Auchterarder case, " the views that had recently been promulgated in high quarters had any foundation, this defence of Establishments could be pled no longer.”

The views to which the speaker referred are now recognised as the law on the subject, or rather as the authorized interpretation of the law; and hence the original argument against civil establishments of religion in general, and the Kirk of Scotland in particular, must * Pastoral Address of the Free General Assembly of May, 1845.

[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »