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- Theological Essays and Other Papers v2 - 1/36 -










A great revolution has taken place in Scotland. A greater has been threatened. Nor is that danger even yet certainly gone by. Upon the accidents of such events as may arise for the next five years, whether fitted or not fitted to revive discussions in which many of the Non-seceders went in various degrees along with the Seceders, depends the final (and, in a strict sense, the very awful) question, What is to be the fate of the Scottish church? Lord Aberdeen's Act is well qualified to tranquillize the agitations of that body; and at an earlier stage, if not intercepted by Lord Melbourne, might have prevented them in part. But Lord Aberdeen has no power to stifle a conflagration once thoroughly kindled. That must depend in a great degree upon the favorable aspect of events yet in the rear.

Meantime these great disturbances are not understood in England; and chiefly from the differences between the two nations as to the language of their several churches and law courts. The process of ordination and induction is totally different under the different ecclesiastical administrations of the two kingdoms. And the church courts of Scotland do not exist in England. We write, therefore, with an express view to the better information of England proper. And, with this purpose, we shall lead the discussion through four capital questions:--

I. _What_ is it that has been done by the moving party?

II. _How_ was it done? By what agencies and influence?

III. What were the _immediate results_ of these acts?

IV. What are the _remote results_ yet to be apprehended?

I. First, then, WHAT _is it that has been done?_ Up to the month of May in 1834, the fathers and brothers of the 'Kirk' were in harmony as great as humanity can hope to see. Since May, 1834, the church has been a fierce crater of volcanic agencies, throwing out of her bosom one-third of her children; and these children are no sooner born into their earthly atmosphere, than they turn, with unnatural passions, to the destruction of their brethren. What can be the grounds upon which an _acharnement_ so deadly has arisen?

It will read to the ears of a stranger almost as an experiment upon his credulity, if we tell the simple truth. Being incredible, however, it is not the less true; and, being monstrous, it will yet be recorded in history, that the Scottish church has split into mortal feuds upon two points absolutely without interest to the nation; first, upon a demand for creating clergymen by a new process; secondly, upon a demand for Papal latitude of jurisdiction. Even the order of succession in these things is not without meaning. Had the second demand stood first, it would have seemed possible that the two demands might have grown up independently, and so far conscientiously. But, according to the realities of the case, this is _not_ possible; the second demand grew _out_ of the first. The interest of the Seceders, as locked up in their earliest requisition, was that which prompted their second. Almost everybody was contented with the existing mode of creating the pastoral relation. Search through Christendom, lengthways and breadthways, there was not a public usage, an institution, an economy, which more profoundly slept in the sunshine of divine favor or of civil prosperity, than the peculiar mode authorized and practised in Scotland of appointing to every parish its several pastor. Here and there an ultra-Presbyterian spirit might prompt a murmur against it. But the wise and intelligent approved; and those who had the appropriate--that is, the religious interest--confessed that it was practically successful. From whom, then, came the attempt to change? Why, from those only who had an alien interest, an indirect interest, an interest of ambition in its subversion. As matters stood in the spring of 1834, the patron of each benefice, acting under the severest restraints--restraints which (if the church courts did their duty) left no room or possibility for an unfit man to creep in--nominated the incumbent. In a spiritual sense, the church had all power: by refusing, first of all, to '_license_' unqualified persons; secondly, by refusing to '_admit_' out of these licensed persons such as might have become warped from the proper standard of pastoral fitness, the church had a negative voice, all-potential in the creation of clergymen; the church could exclude whom she pleased. But this contented her not. Simply to shut out was an ungracious office, though mighty for the interests of orthodoxy through the land. The children of this world, who became the agitators of the church, clamored for something more. They desired for the church that she should become a lady patroness; that she should give as well as take away; that she should wield a sceptre, courted for its bounties, and not merely feared for its austerities. Yet how should this be accomplished? Openly to translate upon the church the present power of patrons--_that_ were too revolutionary, that would have exposed its own object. For the present, therefore, let this device prevail--let the power nominally be transferred to congregations: let this be done upon the plea that each congregation understands best what mode of ministrations tends to its own edification. There lies the semblance of a Christian plea; the congregation, it is said, has become anxious for itself; the church has become anxious for the congregation. And then, if the translation should be effected, the church has already devised a means for appropriating the power which she has unsettled; for she limits this power to the communicants at the sacramental table. Now, in Scotland, though not in England, the character of communicant is notoriously created or suspended by the clergyman of each parish; so that, by the briefest of circuits, the church causes the power to revolve into her own hands.

That was the first change--a change full of Jacobinism; and for which to be published was to be denounced. It was necessary, therefore, to place this Jacobin change upon a basis privileged from attack. How should _that_ be done? The object was to create a new clerical power; to shift the election of clergymen from the lay hands in which law and usage had lodged it; and, under a plausible mask of making the election popular, circuitously to make it ecclesiastical. Yet, if the existing patrons of church benefices should see themselves suddenly denuded of their rights, and within a year or two should see these rights settling determinately into the hands of the clergy, the fraud, the fraudulent purpose, and the fraudulent machinery, would have stood out in gross proportions too palpably revealed. In this dilemma the reverend agitators devised a second scheme. It was a scheme bearing triple harvests; for, at one and the same time, it furnished the motive which gave a constructive coherency and meaning to the original purpose, it threw a solemn shadow over the rank worldliness of that purpose, and it opened a diffusive tendency towards other purposes of the same nature, as yet undeveloped. The device was this: in Scotland, as in England, the total process by which a parish clergyman is created, subdivides itself into several successive acts. The initial act belongs to the patron of the benefice: he must '_present_;' that is, he notifies the fact of his having conferred the benefice upon A B, to a public body which officially takes cognizance of this act; and that body is, not the particular parish concerned, but the presbytery of the district in which the parish is seated. Thus far the steps, merely legal, of the proceedings, were too definite to be easily disturbed. These steps are sustained by Lord Aberdeen as realities, and even by the Non-intrusionists were tolerated as formalities.

But at this point commence other steps not so rigorously defined by law or usage, nor so absolutely within one uniform interpretation of their value. In practice they had long sunk into forms. But ancient forms easily lend themselves to a revivification by meanings and applications, new or old, under the galvanism of democratic forces. The disturbers of the church, passing by the act of 'presentation' as an obstacle too formidable to be separately attacked on its own account, made their stand upon one of the two acts which lie next in succession. It is the regular routine, that the presbytery, having been warned of the patron's appointment, and having 'received' (in technical language) the presentee--that is, having formally recognised him in that character--next appoint a day on which he is to preach before the congregation. This sermon, together with the prayers by which it is accompanied, constitute the probationary act according to some views; but, according to the general theory, simply the inaugural act by which the new pastor places himself officially before his future parishioners. Decorum, and the sense of proportion, seem to require that to every commencement of a very weighty relation, imposing new duties, there should be a corresponding and ceremonial entrance. The new pastor, until this public introduction, could not be legitimately assumed for known to the parishioners. And accordingly at this point it was--viz. subsequently to his authentic publication, as we may call it--that, in the case of any grievous scandal known to the parish as outstanding against him, arose the proper opportunity furnished by the church for lodging the accusation, and for investigating it before the church court. In default, however, of any grave objection to the presentee, he was next summoned by the presbytery to what really _was_ a probationary act at their bar; viz. an examination of his theological sufficiency. But in this it could not be expected that he should fail, because he must previously have satisfied the requisitions of the church in his original examination for a license to preach. Once dismissed with credit from this bar, he was now beyond all further probation whatsoever; in technical phrase, he was entitled to 'admission.' Such were the steps, according to their orderly succession, by which a man consummated the pastoral tie with any particular parish. And all of these steps, subsequent to the '_reception_' and inaugural preaching, were now summarily characterized by the revolutionists as 'spiritual;' for the sake of sequestering them into their own hands. As to the initiatory act of presentation, _that_ might be secular, and to be dealt with by a secular law. But the rest were acts which belonged

Theological Essays and Other Papers v2 - 1/36

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