« ZurückWeiter »
High Commissioner went through the ceremony of opening the Assembly, in a style of chilling pomp. Dr. Welsh, the Moderator of the last Assembly, rose, read the solemn protest of his brethren, and the disciples of John Knox quietly left their seats, and shook the dust from their feet on the threshold of the church of their fathers. When the crowd outside saw the venerable forms of Chalmers, Welsh, and their followers, emerging from the ancient edifice, they lifted their hats and bowed their heads, with bosoms too full for the utterance of a cheer. But, as the ejected presbyters wended their way toward the high rock in the vicinity of the Castle where glittered the spires of the New Assembly Hall, thousands of acclamations rent the air, mingled with the waving of hats and handkerchiefs, from streets, windows, roofs, and balconies. They entered the house, followed by a throng, in which emotions of enthusiasm and solemnity struggled for the mastery. The Assembly immediately organized, by placing its great founder, Dr. Chalmers, in the chair. Having uttered a sublime prayer, he gave out the psalm, “God is our refuge in distress," so often sung in the bloody days, in the glens of Scotland, by the hunted Covenanters, when
“Leaning on his spear,
The Free Kirk was now launched. The crew was zealous, but untried ; the pilot, though skillful, was about to explore an unknown and tempestuous sea.
But a voice was heard above the raging of the elements, saying, “ Peace ! be still !” The Assembly vigorously entered on the work of bringing order out of confusion, symmetry out of chaos. The five hundred clergymen who soon rallied round its altars, made noble sacrifices for conscience' sake. They had to leave the greater part of their churches, their glebes, their manses; many, lite
rally, abandoning their livings. Their flocks followed them to their cost ; for new church edifices were to be erected, and salaries to be raised, not from tithes, stipends, and ecclesiastical funds
for these had been left behind in the Exodus-but out of the pockets of those who, for the first time, found themselves Seceders in fact, and Voluntaries in position. They were prepared for this. Congregations met in groves, in barns, in lofts, in halls, and heard the Word. They raised funds, and built churches. They appealed for aid to their brethren in England and America. They soon amassed a fund of £300,000, for the support of poor pastors and parishes. They encountered great difficulties in obtaining sites for churches. Many of the Intrusion landlords would neither give nor sell them building spots. They would lease or sell lands for cockpite, horse-races, gambling-houses, dramshops, and even for Methodist or Baptist places of Worship; but they would not permit a chapel of the Free Kirk of Scotland to pollute the soil. In process of time, Parliament and public opinion brought these refractory landlords to their senses. Excluded in a great measure from the current public newspapers, they established journals of their own. Denounced by Blackwood, looked coldly upon by the Edinburgh, though the Westminster gave them two or three able and hearty articles, they set up the North British Review, which at once took rank with the first quarterlies in the kingdom. Shut out from the theological schools of the old Kirk, they founded a seminary of their own, placing Dr. Chalmers at its head, as professor of divinity. During the six years of the existence of the Free Church, it has drawn to itself a large share of the numbers and vitality of the Presbyterian body of Scotland. The Old Kirk has a great deal of wealth, a great many churches, and a great deal of pomp. It also enjoys a great deal of languor, a great deal of vacancy, and a great deal of chagrin.
Yet it must be confessed that this secession, so extraordinary in its immediate results, so congenial to the liberal tendencies
of the times, so far-reaching and powerful in its remote and collateral consequences, has never excited that enthusiasm in the mass of ecclesiastical reformers in Great Britain, which might have been anticipated. The reasons given for this apathy are, that a body which had so long wielded ecclesiastical power over others, by virtue of State laws, ought in its turn to yield obedience to those laws—that the Seceders had held on upon their power so long as they could exert it in their own way—that, in the exercise of spiritual authority, they had been far from tolerant of Dissenters and that, at the very moment of their egress from the Kirk, they repudiated Voluntaryism as a principle, and offered incense to State-church establishments.
There was, no doubt, solid ground for some of these charges. As to the course of the Seceders, while members of the State Kirk, many of their acts were no doubt oppressive. The deeds of May, 1843, are broad enough to cover a multitude of such sins. As to the repudiation of Voluntaryism, while in the very act of Secession, it was a concession to that tempting expediency which, in a crisis when principle and numbers are both important, yields some of the former to gain more of the latter. The Free Church has outgrown this folly of its infancy, and in riper years has repudiated the repudiation. It is now, both in position and profession, a Voluntary body. Learning wisdom from experience, and acting on the maxim, alike pure and profitable, that honesty is the best policy, long may it bless the land of Knox, Renwick, and Chalmers !
To attempt a sketch of the talents, genius, and virtues of DR. CHALMERS, would be a work of supererogation. It is ample eulogy to say, that he was the Moses of the Exodus, the Luther of the Reformation, I have faintly described. The sublimity of that position dims even the splendor of those productions of his pen and tongue which have made his came familiar in two hemispheres. His memory lives on memorials
more enduring than monumental brass or marble-the hearts of a whole people.
I have somewhere seen a portrait of Rev. Dr. Hill, Professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow University, and a leader of the Intrusion party, sketched in the General Assembly of 1840, which I transcribe from memory, bearing witness to its faithfulness to the subject. Dr. Chalmers had just resumed his seat, after a powerful speech, when a tall, thin gentleman, on the other side of the house, distinguished for an uncommon length of neck and face, with a complexion inclining to sallow, and an imperturbable gravity of countenance, caught the eye. Never before had there been seen so prodigious an extent of white neckcloth, a figure so immovably rigid, an expression so inveterately grave.
He sat so bolt upright, that the spectator was curious to know whether he ever shifted his position or moved a feature. He rose to address the assembly. He opened his mouth, and his words came marching out, dressed in the somber hues and with the melancholy tread of a funeral procession. It was evident that great truths were for the first time to be communicated to mankind. He laid down his premises. They reminded one of the lawyer in the farce, who, when pressed for a definition, thundered out, “ Law is-law !) "Judgment," exclaimed Rev. Dr. Hill, "judgment is an act of the mind.' There was a suppressed laugh from the NonIntrusion side of the house. The Doctor drew himself up more stifily, and looked across the house in dignified astonishment, as if desirous to single out the men who disputed first principles. "I am in the right," he solemnly reiterated“ judgment, Moderator, is an act of the mind !" He went on with his speech. It was a dead skeleton of logical phraseology, divested of the muscle, flesh, and blood of living argument; the speech of a man whose father, perhaps, could argue, and who, without a particle of causality, tried to argue too, sheerly through the exercise of filial imitation. As he spoke, a nervous torpor crept over the Assembly—the spec
tators began to nod—the reporters dropped their pens—the older divines, sinking under the weight of their dinners, rested their heads on the front boards—the very gas seemed to burn with a rounder and a dimmer flame—and when, after a long infliction, the last sentence of the peroration died away in the far galleries, and the spell was broken, there was a stretching of limbs and jaws, and a raising of hands over the benches, and a straining to collect and concentrate scattered thoughts, till by and by the members seemed to realize that they were actually sitting in a General Assembly; whereupon, a gentleman moved an adjournment, and all retired with the conviction, that whoever might doubt whether Dr. Hill was a profound philosopher and ecclesiastical historian, he possessed most astonishing mesmeric qualities and powers.