Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

strange pretensions, creating unwonted divisions, and portending, if we mistake not, important and instructive results.

A brief review of the present position of the Church of Scotland in relation to the points referred to, will, we believe, be not without interest to our English readers. For one thing, the subject is well fitted to communicate more correct views of the real character of the Scottish Establishment, than commonly prevail. Our northern sister has been a vigorous boaster in her way; and of late years especially, has blown the trumpet in very great style. With the character of the Scottish national church there has consequently been associated, on this side of the Tweed, the idea of pious zeal, contented poverty, a working clergy, and a pure communion. Of many good natured mistakes of the kind, certain recent movements and the present position of the Scottish church will go far to disabuse tlie public mind in both parts of the island. The Scottish Establishment is like all other institutions of the kind, dependent on the hand that feeds her -servile to the secular powers when she has her own ends to gain-very mighty when her vested rights are, in her view, menaced or invaded : in those points which most nearly concern the reputation and integrity of a spiritual body, viz., the creed that is taught and the government that is administered, she is as really at the dictation of the state as any church establishment is or may be, and the means she has employed to assert her spiritual liberties, and to maintain to the world the aspect of immunity from any authority save that of her Divine Head, prove on closer inspection, to be mere points of form--practically inept and futile -little more, in short, than the vapouring airs of a body who, feeling their bondage, and galled with the shame of it, submit to the yoke under protest, and thus labour to indemnify themselves by stout words of independence for the loss of intrinsic jurisdiction.

A summary retrospect of Scottish ecclesiastical history will show that the church's claim to independence in spiritual matters, and her acceptance of a legal establishment, proved the fruitful source, at one time, of collison with the secular powers, and at another, of the most tame and abject submission to the tyrannous patronage of the state. Stung with resentment of court interference and intrigue in the administration of ecclesiastical affairs, the fathers of the Scottish church nearly pushed their pretensions so far as to claim immunity from the civil power in any thing said or done by them in their ecclesiastical capacity, thus showing how little disposed they were in matters touching their immediate interest, to depart from the high ground of prerogative which the Popish clergy had maintained. Descending at length from this high position, they still pleaded the incompetency of the civil courts of the realm to take cognizance in prima instantia, of words spoken in the pulpit; and thus advanced a plea which would have been easily convertible into a ground of exemption from that responsibility to civil government which cannot be safely conceded to any order of men, however sacred, and which no good subject should seek to establish. If the claim of exemption was understood by the church as referring strictly and solely to matters of doctrine, in the proper sense of the expression, then the ground which the Scottish reformers assumed, was lower than they were called on to take, for to whom is the church of Christ answerable, whether in the first instance or in the last resort, but to the supreme and sole Lord of conscience, for giving forth those truths of salvation which she is commissioned to declare in his name. If, however, matters of doctrine, and words spoken in the pulpit, were broad and sheltering phrases under which the politics of the individual or of the party, however seditious their tendency, might be vented without risk of challenge, till a tribunal of ecclesiastical compeers had passed judgment in the cause, such a claim, it is evident, involved a blending of interests that ought never to confounded, and the grasping of an impunity which no civil authority ought to concede.

These were the young and stout days of the Scottish church; yet even then the advocates of ecclesiastical privilege stooped to accept, and their descendants have been used to glory in, an act of the legislature (1592) as the Magna Charta of their national Sion, which establishes the Presbyterian polity in a very ample manner, but which embodies the principle of lay patronage in the settlement of vacant parishes. What meaneth this? Why, that such in the view of church and state alliance men, is the privilege of support by the secular arm, that to gain it, it is allowable, it is advantageous, to surrender to the civil power the liberty with which Christ made his people free.

By an Act of Parliament in 1690, patrons were deprived of the rights which they formerly exercised; but the nature and effect of the change was rather a transference than a repeal of the power of presentation. It was now provided that the right of nomination should be lodged in the hands of heritors and elders. The assent of the people was requisite to give it validity, and their refusal of the nominee was sustained when the grounds of rejection were such as to satisfy the ecclesiastical judicatories. In 1711, the patronage law was re-imposed in all its rigour. The grievance was not submitted to by the church without complaint and remonstrance; but he has read the history of church corporations to very little purpose who is not prepared to hear that resistance to this tyrannical infliction was confined to reclamations and protests, and that it was thought good to keep hold of state favour even at the price that was now demanded for it.

VOL. VI.

6

[ocr errors]

Still the Scottish establishment talked of her spiritual independence, and exhibited at times a bustling zeal to preserve the show when she had surrendered the substance. In the General Assembly, her supreme ecclesiastical court, the person of the king is represented by a commissioner, who takes no part in the proceedings, but who when the Assembly is dissolved, fixes the time of the next annual meeting. Viewed apart, this proceeding would seem to indicate dependence on the civil magistrate for the legal assembling and even the executive powers of the supreme court of the Establishment. That such was the intention of the act of 1592, on which the Scottish establishment is based, what unprejudiced person can doubt, who is at pains to read its provisions, viz., “that it shall be lawful for the Kirk to hold general

assemblies, providing the king's majesty or his commissioners . be present at ilk general assembly, and before the dissolving thereof, nominate and appoint time and place when and where the next general assembly shall be holden; and in case neither his majesty nor his commissioner be present, and in that case it shall be lawful to the said general assembly by themselves to nominate and appoint time and place where the next general 'assembly shall be kept and holden.'

The obvious conclusion that the legality of the meetings of assembly depends, not on the exercise of internal jurisdiction, but on royal appointment, is thought to be evaded by a notable contrivance-a slight alteration on the mode above prescribed, – to which the jurisconsults of our northern Sion attach no small value, as at once the demonstration and the guarantee of her spiritual liberties. The Assembly is first dissolved by the moderator or chairman in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who also names the day for another assembly to be held. The commissioner then in terms of the act, appoints the next meeting of assembly, fixing on the same day as the moderator has named. This nice and pretty adjustment of conflicting claims, was the thought of some lucky genius in the beginning of last century, when Queen Anne's commissioner (Seatield) suddenly declared the assembly dissolved in resentment of some part of the proceedings. Great was the tumult, as might well be supposed; but the moderator instead of standing up for the church's intrinsic power, as one of his predecessors had done, and not unsuccessfully, in the famous 1638, mutely suffered the vice-regal injunction to take effect in the tumultuous dispersion of the venerable body. Since then the affair has been managed in the way above stated, and the loudest assertors of the church's independence, proudly appeal to it as a demonstration of her intact prerogative! Our Scottish neighbours get general credit, and, we believe, not untruly, for a quick-sighted and even a metaphysically acute discernment of things that differ; but we fear they are sometimes so intently keen upon one favorite object as to be but poorly served by their second-sight perspicacity. The mummery of dissolution, as an act assertatory of the church's independence, is one of the most pitiful and puerile things of ceremony by which the eyes of an observer can be amused or imposed on. The spectacle altogether is one for boys to look at. There sits the representative of majesty, with all the honours of throne, and canopy, and scarlet uniform, and nodding plumes; while, underneatli, the moderator takes his place as the chairman and mouth of the right reverend body. "How mighty fine and inspiring withal! Let the show but disappear, and what becomes of the assembly ? Quick as the countenance of image-royalty is withdrawn from the venerable presence, the assembly ceases to be; and yet, as if unwilling at once to expire, and at the same time unable to live, it drags out a pining, equivocal existence in the form of a committee or commission, with hardly a spectator to grace the few and sorry relics of the pageant. Sic transit gloria and the parade of church independence.

To do our northern churchmen justice, they have of late assumed a bolder tone---have grasped at a weapon of real power instead of admiring a white stick, as a child is pleased with his rattle. How long patronage would have been borne without much complaint by the clergy, had the people been tame under the yoke, it is not for us to determine. Certain it is, that of late years the increase of dissent north of the Tweed has been such as to give ground for very serious fears among the friends of the Establishment. There is reason to believe that the churchgoing part of the population is about equally divided between the church and the dissenting bodies—a balance of parties sufficient to show that a practical grievance in the administration of church affairs could not be long persisted in with impunity. Accordingly, for more than twenty years past, very strenuous efforts have been made by a section of the Scottish Establishment, to rid the church of the yoke of patronage. For a long time, the great body of the clergy stood aloof from the movement, including not a few of those who had usually ranked among the friends of sound doctrine and of a purer administration of ecclesiastical affairs.

In 1832, an impulse to every means of increased efficiency within the pale of the church, was imparted by the formation throughout Scotland of associations for the discussion and defence of the volun-tary principle. The alarm among the adherents of the national church consequent on this measure, was sudden and extreme. The first outbreak of feeling vented itself in a discharge of virulence and vituperation against Dissenters of every name, which we be. lieve has seldom had a parallel in the fiercest days of theological bigotry. But the evil was not without its redeeming accompanimen s. A zeal for measures of general utility and of ecclesiastical improvement was kindled up within the Establishment, which rapidly embodied itself in schemes for church and school extension, parochial missions, pastoral superintendence, and legislative enactments of Assembly for the purity of ministerial settlements and the enlargement of popular rights.

As the abolition of patronage came not within the powers of the church, the question was raised, whether, in the legitimate exercise of her spiritual jurisdiction, measures might not be devised to neutralize the evil which they had not the power to remove. For this, opportunity it was thought might be found in that part of the church's procedure which relates to the trial of presentees before designation to the office of the ministry and admission to the fruits of the benefice. According to usual form, when a licentiate receives a presentation to a parish, the deed is laid on the table of the presbytery, by whom it is, as a matter of course, sustained. Opportunity is afterwards given to the inhabitants of the parish to invite the patron's nominee to take the pastoral oversight of them in the Lord. This invitation, which is denominated a call,' although not above two or three persons may have signed it, is confessedly a mere form in which the people generally take no part. Certain exercises of trial are then appointed to the presentee, which being performed to the satisfaction of the presbytery, he is duly admitted to the cure and temporalities of the church and parish.' From this it is seen, that in the process of admission, church courts hold a check in their hand; they are judges of the qualifications of presentees; if unsound in the faith or incompetent in their literary or theological acquirements, they may be rejected, although holding in their hands the patron's gift of the benefice. Founding on this judiciary power, a party in the General Assembly defended the right of the supreme court to add to other qualifications of candidates, that of acceptability to the people. To give effect to this, an act was passed by the assembly in 1834, providing that, in future, parishioners should have the power of rejecting a presentee without reasons assigned ; enough if they should signify their mind to the presbytery that they would not receive him.

This was the deed so well known in Scotland as the veto act,a contrivance which attempts to please the people by giving them the power of refusing, but not of choosing; and which is designed to nullify the operation of patronage, while professing not to interfere with the patron's patrimonial rights. That the intention of those who proposed and carried through the measure, was to modify patronage as liable to abuse, but not to abolish it as in itself an evil, is well understood. Such was the state of public feeling, that it was expedient something should be done; but no more than was obviously necessary and loudly demanded. The object of our church and state physicians was not to prescribe

« ZurückWeiter »