Imatges de pÓgina

the crisis always approaching and growing nearer and nearer, and detailed as its progress is year by year, and sometimes week by week, until at last the final catastrophe is reached, the story becomes one of exceeding interest from the epic dress in which it is presented, apart from some picturesque and ro mantic elements of its own.

To understand the real question at issue it is necessary to have a correct appreciation of the constitution and creed of the Church of Scotland. The Reformation in that country was a very thorough piece of work. The Church of the Scottish Reformers was no assemblage of ecclesiastics, but a pure democracy; and its government by Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assemblies placed the power in representative courts, in which the lay element was equal to the clerical. The minister and the lay elders form the Church Court of the parish; the clergy of the district, with representative lay elders, form the Presbytery; the members of the General Assembly, clerical and lay, are elected by the Presbytery, the burghs also sending representative lay elders to that body. Thus Church power does not mean clerical power in that country, in theory at least. It means popular power; and framed for a community in which every man was assumed to belong to the Established Church, it may be easily understood how such a constitution would operate had such been or continued to be the case.

Its creed may be shortly stated to be that of the Westminster Assembly of Divines; that is to say, that of England under the Long Parliament. It is apt to be forgotten, when we hear of the Confession of Faith and the Shorter Catechism, that the Confession is an English Confession, which was ratified by Parliament in 1648, and the Catechism is an English manual, prepared by some of the most learned divines England ever produced. To the theory of Church government, and the doctrinal tenets, of the Genevese Reformer, the people have always been devoted. They have marked to a large extent the character of the nation, and have fostered among all ranks, and especially among the lower ranks, a taste for logical disquisition and dogmatic preaching which has even intellectually left a distinctive mark on the national character. It remains as strong at this day, among the middle and lower classes, as it was in the days of Knox, or Henderson, or Carstairs.

The Church so constituted and so established was founded on the principle that in matters spiritual these Church Courts were supreme, and were not liable to be controlled, within their appropriate functions, by the Civil Courts. Of the ac

knowledgment of the abstract principle there never was any question. The limits between the civil and spiritual region were never very precisely defined, but it never was doubted that there was a boundary line; and these principles were embodied in the Acts of Parliament ratifying the Church as established. But there had been from the first a certain debateable territory; and that consisting of the ground lying between the right of lay patrons to present to the benefice, and the right of the Church and people to form the pastoral tie between the presentee and his flock. The patron had the right to present to the temporal benefits; but these could only be reached if the people called the presentee to be their minister, and the Presbytery ordained him to the cure. The call gradually degenerated into a form; but the ordination by the Presbytery remained essential.

When Presbyterian Church government was settled in 1690, lay patronage was abolished, and the appointment of the clergy was vested in the hands of the heritors or landed proprietors, and the elders or lay members of the parish vestry, called the kirk session. Probably, had this Act been left undisturbed, it would have been well for the ecclesiastical peace of Scotland. But in 1712 the government of Harley and Bolingbroke, who unquestionably contemplated the restoration of the exiled family, repealed the Act, and restored lay patronage; and thereby, in fact, prevented the fair trial of the experiment, which otherwise bade fair enough to be successful, of a Church supreme within its appropriate borders.

Under the restored right of patronage the clergy began, during the last century, to drift away from the old Evangelical teaching, and discipline became more lax. The consequence was that more than one secession took place, and by the end of the century many of the people had left the communion and sought in the ranks of dissent what they thought the more orthodox teaching which they did not find within her pale. In the General Assembly the Moderate, or what might be called the Broad Church party, were supreme. For the most part, at this time, Moderation in Church politics was identical with Tory principles in State politics; and, as a rule, the laymen who found their way, into the General Assembly, as it was at that time the fashion for men of rank and eminence to do, took their places on the Moderate, or the Evangelical, benches exactly as their secular politics ranged. There were exceptions to this rule, but such was the rule.

When the sceptical opinions of the French Revolution, and the fearful scenes in which they had culminated, startled

Europe out of its security, these events were not without their effect on the minds of the patrons of the livings in Scotland. They began insensibly to desire to procure for the people more earnest instruction, and by slow but sure degrees the Church became leavened with earnest men, the people came back to its standard, the majorities in the General Assembly began to diminish, and just at the time when popular principles began to have ascendency in Parliament, the Evangelical party found themselves on a level with their antagonists in the General Assembly.

It was not unnatural that the first use which they made of their victory should have been to take precautions against the recurrence of the evils which they had vanquished, and the dangers which they had averted. There were within the ranks of the Evangelical party some men of great distinction and power-Chalmers, Andrew Thomson, Candlish, Cunningham, Guthrie, whose names are known beyond the boundaries of their church, or the confines of Scotland. Some of these were anxious for the repeal of the Act of 1712; but the greater number were not prepared to try the experiment of popular election, and preferred the safer plan of putting such control on the exercise of the patrons' patronage as should prevent the intrusion of an unwelcome presentee into a parish, contrary to the will of the people, while it gave the latter no direct voice in the choice of their pastor. It was in introducing this proposition that Chalmers made the oration to which Cockburn refers. The substance of Chalmers' proposition was that the dissent of a majority of the male heads of families, in a congregation, being communicants, should exclude the presentee from the parish, leaving to the patron to present again. This measure was unsuccessful in 1833, but it was renewed with success by Lord Moncreiff in 1834, and ultimately became the law of the Church in 1835, as far as the Church Courts had power to give it authority.

For three years this measure worked reasonably well. There were but few instances in which the power of veto was exercised by the people-Lord Cockburn tells us not above nine or ten. Nor does it appear from his account that the instances in which it was exercised were capricious. During that period there was immense vitality and activity in the Church itself. Headed by Chalmers, it succeeded in adding to its communion 200 new churches, and procuring for them reasonable endowment by voluntary contribution. Great exertions were made in the spread of education, and it certainly may be safely said that in 1838 the Church of Scotland

embraced within its bounds a larger proportion of the population of the country, and was composed of a more earnest and zealous laity, than any Established Church in Europe.

But in this interval clouds began to accumulate on the horizon. The mind of Chalmers was essentially conservative, and in his most meritorious crusade in favour of church extension, not receiving from the Liberal Government the support which he expected, he had thrown himself and a very large proportion of the Evangelical clergy into the arms of the Conservatives; so much so that Lord Cockburn says that in the election of 1837 only one of the Established clergy voted for the popular side in one of the counties. The result was that when the day of battle came, those who considered that they had been maintaining the cause of the people, found but little favour with those in power, while the Liberal party held the reins.

But there was another section to settle with, and these were the defeated ecclesiastical party. They had always intimated a disposition to question the legality of the proceedings of the General Assembly in passing the Veto law, and at last, in 1838, Lord Kinnoull on the occasion of a presentation to the parish of Auchterarder, in which the people exercised their right of veto, raised an action before the Court of Session for the purpose of trying this question.

Writing five-and-twenty years ago, in a review of an early work of the Duke of Argyle on the subject of the Established Church, we said, in the pages of the Edinburgh Review':—

In an evil hour the patrons were advised to question the power of the Church courts to interpose this barrier between a presentee and the benefice. It was a short-sighted and ill-considered step, as the result has conspicuously proved. The precise line of demarcation between the spiritual and the civil function, in the admission of ministers, had, in former times, been left purposely indefinite. Each had its function -the Church to ordain to the cure, the civil power to confer the benefice. When Andrew Melville and his contemporaries adjusted the statutory basis of Presbytery in 1592, this question was waived by tacit consent on both sides. It had remained unadjusted ever sinceone which sagacious leaders did not care to press to a settlement. Knowing, as the patrons did, that the proceedings of the General Assembly in 1834, by which the dissent of congregations was held sufficient to exclude a presentee from his cure, were but indications of a desire on the part of many within the Church for far more thorough changes, and as, practically, the rule thus adopted was not found to operate injuriously to the rights of patronage, it is certainly to be regretted that so great a game should have been commenced with a move so insignificant, and for a stake so paltry.'

Events since have thoroughly justified these remarks. The courts of law in Scotland decided, and the decision was confirmed by the House of Lords, that the Church courts had no power to interpose this barrier between the patron and the induction of the presentee. Lord Cockburn was one of five judges who differed from the judgment. But even after that judgment was pronounced, there remained a considerable difficulty as to the mode of giving it effect; for as we have explained, the benefice could only be reached through ordination, and the Church courts refused to ordain. For more than four years the combat raged between the civil courts and the Church courts; and as was natural, it grew hotter as the contest proceeded. There is no existing record of these proceedings so graphic, or indeed so complete, as Cockburn's account, detailed at the time, of the varying fortunes of this singular duel. It carries us back almost to medieval times. Before the close he tells us that there were no less than twenty-seven actions in Court, arising out of these disputed settlements. He describes the most important of them. In one, some of the most respected of the clergy were summoned to the bar of the civil court, for contempt. In another, the Church courts having been ordered to induct a presentee, to whom the people had dissented, prohibited the Presbytery from obeying, and deposed certain members of the Presbytery who had obeyed the civil court, and inducted the presentee. The Court of Session set aside the deposition, and granted an injunction against anyone preaching in the parish by the orders of the General Assembly. On this, the injunction was violated Sunday after Sunday, by the most eminent men in the Church, officiating in the fields, or under any shelter which could be obtained. In a third case, the civil courts prohibited the people from recording their dissents. In a fourth, the civil courts prohibited the clergy of the new parishes from acting as members of the Church courts. We cannot, within any reasonable limits, even sketch the ramifications into which the dispute spread, and much less express any opinion on the combatants; but although patronage was the question at the beginning, it was far from being the question at the end. The question which the General Assembly raised was whether the civil authority, in order to vindicate what the civil courts found to be a patrimonial or secular right, had the power of enjoining or prohibiting the exercise of the spiritual functions of the Church in the administration of ordinances, the preaching of the Word, the laying on of hands, and the imposition of Church censures. These were the things which in their view

« AnteriorContinua »