« ZurückWeiter »
Disruption of the State Church of Scotland-Its Causes—The Veto
Act of the Assembly of 1834–Mr. Young Presented to the Church of Auchterarder-Is Vetoed by the Communicants and Rejected by the Presbytery-Resort to the Civil Courts—The Decision--Intrusionists and Non-Intrusionists-The Final Secession of 1843-The Free Church Dr. Chalmers--Dr. Hill.
ONE of the most important ecclesiastical occurrences of our times is the disruption of the State Church of Scotland. a venerable establishment, founded in the religious affections of a great people, sustained by the arm of secular power, rent in twain, and five hundred of its ministers, possessing a moiety of its talents and piety, and drawing in their train a proportional share of their congregations, secede in obedience to the dictates of conscience, and, under the leadership of one of the most learned, eloquent, and celebrated divines of the age, assume the position of Voluntaries. The difficulties which caused this result arose somewhat in this wise : In consequence of some controversy as to the right of “
patrons" to present” pastors to churches, a majority of whose members were unwilling to receive them, Lord Moncrieff, in the General Assembly of the Church, in May, 1834, moved a resolution declaring that the disapproval of a majority of the male heads of families, being communicants, should be deemed sufficient ground for a Presbytery rejecting any person presented as a clergyman to a parish in Scotland. After a warm debate, it was carried, 184 to 138. It was sent down to the Presbyteries, and, being sanctioned by a large majority of them, was confirmed by the General Assembly of 1835. This was known as the Veto Act. It was intended to declare the existing law. Whether legal or not, (for on this point, when the trouble arose, lawyers and judges of course differed, and the books, as usual, furnished precedents on both sides,) the veto had generally been acquiesced in for a long period.
In October, 1834, Lord Kinnoul presented Mr. Young, a licensed probationer, to the Church of Auchterarder. Of the heads of families, being communicants, 287 out of 330 protested against the admission of Mr. Young to be their pastor. The Presbytery of Auchterarder, in obedience to the resolution of the Assembly of 1834, rejected him. A suit was commenced in the civil courts, by Lord Kinnoul and Mr. Young, against the Presbytery. After great displays of learning and acrimony, the Court of Session, in 1838, by a majority of 8 judges to 5, decided that the rejection of the presentee was illegal, and that the Presbytery was bound to take Mr. Young
among the latter.
Presbyterian Scotland, from John O'Groat's to Gretna Green, was violently agitated with the question. It divided into parties known as Intrusionists and Non-Intrusionists Doctors Macfarlane, Cook, and Hill, being conspicuous among the former, and Doctors Chalmers, Welsh, and Candlish,
Every Presbytery was rent with discussion, while the debates in the venerable General Assembly were hardly less violent than in the East India Company Court of Proprietors, when Mammon strives with Mercy for the rule of Hindostan, or when political chiefs in the House of Commons struggle for mastery in the councils of Europe.
The majority of the Assembly having sustained the Presbytery of Auchterarder, the Presbytery appealed from the decision of the Court of Session to the House of Lords. In 1841, I believe, the Lords dismissed the appeal-thus, in effect, affirming the judgment of the Court below, and pronouncing
the Veto Act illegal. Upon this, the Court of Session made a further order, directing the Presbytery to take Mr. Young on trials. Whereupon, the Assembly, after a violent debate, in which the Veto was sustained by a power of Caledonian eloquence that John Knox would have gloried to hear, resolved, by a majority of 49, that the principle of Non-Intrusion could not be abandoned, and that no presentee should be forced upon à parish contrary to the will of the congregation. Acting under this vote of the Assembly, the Presbytery still refused to receive Mr. Young; and, thereupon, the Court of Session gave damages to Lord Kinnoul and Mr. Young in the sum of £10,000, and prohibited the Presbytery from settling any minister over the Church of Auchterarder, though he were to be maintained by the Non-Intrusion portion of the congregation.
Matters had now reached a point from which there seemed to be no retreat for either party. The Non-Intrusionists, though they had prevailed in the assembly of the saints, had altogether failed in the court of the unbelievers. In the mean time, other similar cases had arisen, especially those of Strathbogie, Culsalmond, and Glass, where obnoxious pastors, who had been obtruded upon churches, were marched into the pulpits on the Sabbath, guarded by police and soldiery, and the people compelled to receive the gospel with batons over their heads and bayonets at their hearts. These spectacles aroused the spirit that fired the same people a century before, when, in the piquant language of Sydney Smith, the persecuted Scotchman,“ with a little oatmeal for food, and a little sulphur for friction, allaying cutaneous irritation with the one hand, and holding his Calvinistic creed in the other, ran away to his flinty hills, sung his psalm out of tune his own way, and listened to his sermon of two hours long, amid the rough and imposing melancholy of the tallest thistles.”
The same spirit, in 1842-3, refined by a higher civilization, and tempered by a more liberal learning, made the same people prompt in deciding, that when the decrees of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord Chancellor of England came in conflict, the latter must be repudiated and the former obeyed. The interdicts of the Courts were not merely disobeyed-they were literally torn in pieces and trampled under foot by incensed assemblies, amidst the applause of multitudes.
But, though other instances of intrusion had arisen, that of Auchterarder was the case on which the question turned. That question, stated in its simple form, was, whether the will of the patron or the will of the communicants should prevail, in making the presentee the pastor of the parish ; and whether the members of a Presbytery were liable to damages to the patron for rejecting his presentee on the veto of the But the points involved penetrated far deeper. They touched not only the right of the Church of Scotland to be supreme in her ecclesiastical affairs, but they involved the whole subject of a union of the Church with the State. They reached beyond this. They raised the question of the right of the people to be supreme in religious affairs. They stopped not here. They leaped the boundary that divides spiritual and civil authority, and mooted the question of the supremacy of the popular will—the question, whether the people are the legitimate source of all power—an inquiry which stops not in its rescarches till it has explored the foundations of human government in their broadest aspect. Not only, then, were the rights of the communicants of Auchterarder, of the Presbytery of Auchterarder, of the Church of Scotland at issue, but the decision of this case involved principles which might shake the minarets of the Metropolitan Cathedral, the towers of Parliament House, the walls of the Throne Room of St. James.
Looking to the possibility of such consequences, it is no wonder that the “Moderates” attempted to soothe the irritation by that dernier panacea of conservatives and cowards—a compromise. The Scotch Church question had already found its way into Parliament.
In 1840, Lord Aberdeen had introduced a bill to settle the difficulties. It slept in the archives of the Peers till the Tories came into power. Dr. Chalmers was now consulted by the Government. He gave his opinion as to what would satisfy the Non-Intrusionists. He was promised a bill that would justify a Presbytery in rejecting a presentee on even the most frivolous objection—as red hair or a black skin, for instance. But, instead of this, a bill was introduced which did not allow the Church judicatories to reject unless on grounds satisfactory to the civil court. The terviversation of the Government wrung from Dr. Chalmers the exclamation, that "the morality of politicians was the morality of horse-jockies.”
The General Assembly of May, 1842, met. It was opened by the Lord High Commissioner of Her Majesty, with unusual pomp, blandness, and hypocrisy. All hope of reconciliation had not fled. The friends of the Veto cherished the delusion that purity and peace, that non-intrusion and non-resistance might yet walk hand in hand; and, not being prepared to break with the Government, they suffered the Assembly to adjourn without taking any decisive action. During the ensuing summer and autumn, Sir James Graham, the Home Secretary, endeavored to cajole the Non-Intrusionists, and succeeded in inducing 40 or 50 conservative clergymen of that party to express their approval of a settlement of the question on the basis of a compromise, which should give a great deal of power to the people and the Kirk, and a little more to the Court of Session. The battle was fought, on popular grounds, in the House of Commons, in the winter and spring of 1843. A deputation of Non-Intrusion clergymen was present. Remaining in London till hope had abandoned them, they returned to Scotland, and prepared for the final disruption of the Church. An act was subsequently passed—such an one as would have been gladly accepted in 1840—but it came too late.
The General Assembly of 1843 met on the eighteenth of May. An immense throng crowded the floor, the galleries, the aisles of the edifice, eager with expectation. The Lord