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The Awakening of Scotland
Chapter IV. Ecclesiastical Politics


The ecclesiastical system of Scotland had long provided the only outlet for its popular spirit; but at the beginning of the period with which we are concerned Presbytery retained little of its vigour, and the Church was fast approximating to the repressive ideas which we have found to be dominant in the State. The law which placed benefices at the disposal of laymen was an instrument rather than a cause of this change, and opinion favourable to its exercise was of recent growth. Patronage had been abolished in 1690 in so ambiguous a manner that it was commonly supposed to have been merely transferred to the heritors and elders; its revival in 1712 was one of several political measures designed by the Jacobites to weaken the Church; and, after the accession of George I., when Whig counsels once more prevailed at Court, there was a general disposition on the part both of the Crown, in whose gift were more than a third of the livings, [In Scotland and the Union, p. 237,1 stated on the authority of Professor Hutcheson that the Crown had the right of presenting to 550 out of 950 livings, and Carlyle in his ironical attack on the Tragedy of Douglas, p. 20, exceeds this statement, estimating the Crown patronages as more than two-thirds of the whole. That both these writers were greatly in error is evident from the following table compiled from a most judicious pamphlet, Thoughts of a Layman concerning Patronage and Presentation, 1769, p. 35 :

Benefices in bands of Crown, -    -    -    -    334
„    „    „     Nobles, -    -    -    -   309
„    „    „    Gentry, -    -    -    -   233
„    „    „     Royal Burghs, -    -    -   45
„    „    „     Colleges and Universities 18
„    „    „     Burghs of Barony   -    -    2
„ sold under Act of 1690, -    -    -    -     3
Total    -    -     944]

and of private patrons to concur with the congregation in making a settlement, or, more frequently, to allow a section of the Act to come into force which provided that, if the patron did not present a qualified minister within six months, the right of presentation "for that time" should pass to the presbytery. The method to be followed in appointing pastors was thus left in great measure to the discretion of the Church; and, until a sharp division had disclosed itself as the result of certain doctrinal disputes, no serious objection was made to the filling of vacancies, either independently or in concurrence with the patron, according to the rule introduced at the Revolution, which gave no more power to the congregation than that of appealing to the presbytery against any minister who should be proposed for its acceptance by the heritors and elders. When, however, it had become evident that this method was no barrier to the admission of ministers popularly supposed to be lukewarm or unsound, the Covenanting tradition still cherished by the masses found expression in a species of Christian socialism, which asserted that “a piece of land55 could give no preeminence in a kingdom which was not of this world, that the poor, rich in faith, were preferable to the “man with the gold ring and gay clothing,” that the Church recognised heritors no more than patrons, and, in short, that the call to a minister ought to be subscribed, not by heritors as such, but by communicants,1 or at least by the heads of families. Such teaching, prevalent in certain districts, brought the local courts into collision with the Assembly; “riding committees” were appointed to override the reluctance of presbyteries to ordain obnoxious candidates; forced, even violent, settlements not infrequently occurred; and a crisis arose in 1782, when the rescinded statute of 1690 was converted, in a still more stringent form, into an ecclesiastical law. This Act of Assembly, having caused the Secession headed by Ebenezer Erskine, was repealed two years later, when a fresh attempt was made to procure the abolition of patronage, undogmatic preaching was censured, and non-intrusion was even declared to be a principle of the Church; but these concessions to popular feeling were powerless to arrest a movement which was inspired by the spirit of the age. There were now three parties in the field—the people, the heritors and the patron; and the second and third, both identified with Moderatism, were driven into alliance against the first. After 1735 presentations, backed as they had always been by a call from heritors, began to come into general use; and the Government which succeeded that of Sir Robert Walpole is said to have dispensed the royal patronage from 1742 to 1746 in such a manner as to conciliate both heritors and people.

The disposition to submit to patronage was quickened by some experience of the hardships which might ensue from repugnance, or even from indifference, to the law. As early as 1735 the Presbytery of Cupar had discovered that they might indeed ordain a popular candidate in preference to a presentee, but that the patron in that case was legally entitled to retain the stipend. In 1751 a similar decision was given in a case which had arisen, four years earlier, at Culross; and a disputed settlement at Lanark in 1750 resulted in a decision of the House of Lords that even a presentation conferred no claim to stipend if another than the reputed patron should subsequently succeed in establishing his right.1 The bearing of this controversy on their material comfort was, however, brought home to the clergy in a still more forcible manner, when the cordial recognition of their services during the late rebellion had encouraged them to apply to Parliament for an augmentation of stipends.

The wretched condition of the Scottish parochial clergy was one of the evils which had passed from the ancient into the modern Church; and it was not till 1617, nearly sixty years after the triumph of the Reformation, that a provision long promised to the clergy was at last secured to them by the appointment of commissioners to assign to each minister a stipend from the tithes of his own parish, not less, if possible, than 500, and not more than 800 merks (about £28 and £45 sterling), or the equivalent of these sums in victual. By an Act of 1633, completing Charles I's memorable tithe settlement, the maximum thus prescribed was made the minimum; and the clergy, as the result of these two Acts, were raised from abject poverty to considerable independence and comfort. The arrangements made in 1617 were avowedly intended to be final; but it was a disputed point, which in most cases was decided against the clergy, whether the Act of 1633, though limited by no maximum, was of such a tenor that stipends allotted since that date could be subsequently increased. The question was not of much importance till the growing prosperity of the nation, more than a century later, had produced a great rise in prices; and the Lords of Session, who by the Treaty of 1707 were constituted a Court of Teinds, confined the clergy to a standard of subsistence much lower in reality than that which had been fixed in the reign of Charles I. by refusing to increase stipends, not below the minimum, which had been augmented since the Union.

As the incomes of the clergy were thus determined by the least favourable interpretation of a statute which no longer fulfilled its purpose, it was natural that they should look for relief to an amendment of the law. In the Assembly of 1748 a motion to take steps in this direction was defeated only by the Moderator’s casting vote. The next Assembly, when the proposal was renewed in the form of a recommendation from five synods and twenty-five presbyteries, appointed a committee to consider the advisability of applying to Parliament for an augmentation of stipends; and, this committee having reported in favour of such an application with a view to establishing a minimum of £1000 Scots or £83 6s. 8d. sterling, the Assembly of 1750 agreed unanimously that the smallness of many of the stipends1 should be represented to Parliament and such relief be craved as the legislature should think fit. A petition was then prepared which asked for no more than a better division of parishes and such reform of procedure as should enable ministers to recover more cheaply and expeditiously their legal dues, and the framers of which recommended that no alteration of the minimum should be proposed. The House, however, resolved to apply for ‘ ‘ further relief5 5; and the Moderator declared in its name that the Commissioners to Parliament were at liberty to petition for an increase of marginal stipend.

Four members of the committee appointed in 1749 had dissented from its report, and it is remarkable that all four were ministers. The Popular party associated augmentation with patronage, believing that the one could not be obtained without a general submission to the other, and they had little sympathy with the desire to raise the social position of the clergy which prompted the advocates of both. One minister sought to prove that his poorer brethren ought to be “passing rich with forty pounds a year": another reminded them that no order was so much respected in the Catholic Church as that of the begging friars. When we consider the justice and modesty of the augmentation project and the fact that so many ministers opposed it, there is something almost ludicrous in the alarm, if not consternation, with which it was received. Twenty elders protested against the refusal of the Assembly to commit itself against an alteration of the minimum, and the Commissioner applauded their discretion in his closing speech. Throughout the country meetings of the landed interest were held, which could hardly have been more indignant if every rural pastor in Scotland had claimed the revenue of a mitred prelate. As early as May, 1749, the gentlemen of Ayrshire had found themselves "obliged in justice to themselves and their posterity to testify and declare to the whole nation that they are of opinion that the clergy are already abundantly well provided"; and in the following year county after county added its quota to the chorus of wrath. Morayshire declared its "abhorrence of the scheme." Aberdeenshire denounced it as a violation of the Union, which, it seems, had declared the laws of private right to be “unalterable”; Kincardineshire found that the Scottish clergy were thrice as well off as the English, and thought that their endowments ought to be diminished rather than increased; Stirlingshire was "most sensibly affected" when it perceived that the humility and disinterestedness so long characteristic of the Church of Scotland were giving place to "the grasping at so much wealth"’; Renfrewshire attributed the "decent and sober manners” of the ministers to their limited means, and condemned the attack on those tithes "which in the days of Popish ignorance and superstition, indeed, were looked upon as the property of the clergy,” but which “since the happy era of the Reformation” had been acquired by laymen.

A committee of Midlothian heritors was instructed by all the other counties to act on their behalf, and the methods of this body were not remarkable either for moderation or for good faith. Writing to James Oswald, the Earl of Lauderdale said that "the landholders of Scotland” would not be content if the proposal was “slurred over or even rejected without a hearing.” Its enormity must be exposed with sufficient thoroughness to put “a final stop to such applications, which can never be made without great confusions and heart-burnings in this country.” The Commissioners of the Church had not been long in London when they discovered that any mention of augmentation would merely prejudice their cause, and they therefore put forward only the articles relating to the payment and distribution of stipends which the Assembly had agreed to without a division, expecting to be supported in these by the Midlothian committee, since they had abandoned the idea of “further relief.” Their petition, thus limited, was, however, opposed, chiefly on the extravagant plea that it was the outcome of an agitation for raising the minimum; and, both parties having been examined by a committee, the Commons on June 3, 1751, put an end to the whole business by postponing its consideration to an impossible date. On the previous day a paper had been circulated amongst the members, accusing the Scottish presbyteries of ignoring presentations, and submitting, since many of the ministers had obtained their stipends in violation of patronage, that, if any favour was shown to them, it should be accompanied by provisions for enforcing the statute of 1712.

It was now evident that a crisis was impending similar to that of 1732; for, as the men who had accepted presentations began to predominate in the Assembly, the opposition to patronage steadily declined; and, whilst presbyteries within whose bounds the Secession was making progress showed a growing reluctance to countenance intrusion, the populace, knowing that a refuge was open to them in case of defeat, became more obstinate and headstrong in asserting their claims. Two contests of the usual kind, which occurred in succession at this period, brought the controversy to an issue.

In order to meet the delicate situation created by the death of an ultra-Evangelical minister, Lord Torphichen in 1747 had submitted a leet of five candidates to the parish of that name. One of these, a Mr. Watson, received a call from twenty-four heritors, and was therefore presented by the patron; but a majority of heritors, all but one of the four elders, and almost all the heads of families, persisted in demanding a Mr. Turnbull, whose name, despite their petition, had not been added to the leet. The Presbytery of Linlithgow referred the case to the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, whose decision in favour of Watson was confirmed by the Assembly of 1749; and in 1750 and again in 1751, on a reference from the Synod itself, in consequence of the Presbytery still delaying ordination, the same judgment was given. On this, the third and last occasion, the mutinous presbyters, after pleading in vain their reluctance to fan the flame of secession, were rebuked at the bar; and a committee was appointed, with or without their concurrence, to ordain the presentee.

To censure a contumacious presbytery, and at the same time to provide substitutes for the fulfilment of a task which it was still enjoined to perform, was regarded by some of the younger clergy as a policy no more consistent than wise; and, though they mustered only eleven votes in support of their contention that ministers who refused to do their duty ought to be suspended, they gained so complete a victory in the second of the two cases that the relief now granted to tender consciences in the shape of a “riding committee" was never again to be allowed. The way in which this case rebounded from court to court and the contradictory results arrived at in the course of its litigation were certainly an argument for importing more of vigour, as well as of uniformity, into the discipline of the Church. A vacancy had occurred at Inverkeithing, and the Presbytery of Dunfermline had delayed induction in deference to the wishes of the people, who, if not very serious in prosecuting an irregular call to an English dissenting minister, were at all events determined not to accept the minister of Broughton, a Mr. Richardson, of irreproachable attainments and character, who, with the concurrence of several aristocratic heritors, had been presented by the patron. On a reference from the Synod of Fife, to which an appeal had been made, the call to Richardson was sustained by the Assembly Commission; but the Presbytery refused to give effect to this decision, even after it had been affirmed by the Synod; and the Commission in November, 1751, insisted on compliance, with an intimation that, if the presentee had not been admitted before their next meeting in March, they should then have recourse “to very high censure.” At the March meeting, however, the Commission admitted the reasons alleged for continued disobedience, and resolved, not only to inflict no censure, but even to relieve the Presbytery by devolving its task on the Synod; and a final obstruction was introduced when the Synod, resenting this gratuitous addition to its duties, declined to carry it out. The no-censure resolution was dissented from by seven ministers and eight elders, who published their reasons as a sort of manifesto in the Scots Magazine; and the Inverkeithing case was thus brought before the Assembly of 1752 on complaint of these members against the majority of the Commission, as well as on that of the patron and his friends against both the Presbytery and the Synod.

The Assembly opened in a manner which boded no good to the popular cause. Professor Cuming, leader of the Moderates, and an instrument under the Duke of Argyll of Government influence, though he had been Moderator only three years before, was re-elected to the chair; the Commissioner, the Earl of Leven, in his opening speech, referred to the insubordination shown "in too many instances ” by inferior courts—"The main intention of your meeting is frustrated if your judgments and decisions are not held to be final"; and it is even stated that the Lord Advocate threatened to "enlighten the consciences of some ministers through their stipends.” On Monday, May 18, the Synod was absolved from blame by a resolution, agreed to without a vote, that the Commission in March had exceeded their powers; and on the same day a most drastic motion was carried ordering the entire Presbytery of Dunfermline to meet at Inverkeithing on Thursday for the purpose of admitting the presentee, raising the quorum of ministers from three, the number which it was known could now be obtained, to five, and requiring every clerical member to appear on Friday at the bar to answer for his conduct. From the examination conducted on that day it appeared that, as only three ministers had attended at Inverkeithing on the 21st, they had been unable to act; and, when six of the mutineers gave in a paper in their defence, which they declined to modify or retract, it was resolved by a considerable majority (93 to 65) that one of them should be deposed. On the following day, Saturday, Gillespie, the minister of Car-nock, read another “humble representation55 in his own name; and it was probably this circumstance, added to the fact that he had received ordination from a sect of English Independents, which caused the vote of deposition to alight on him. On June 18 Richardson was at last admitted; but three ministers, who still refused to take part in his induction, continued for thirteen years under a sentence which suspended each of them from acting in any Church court but his own session.

It is evident from these proceedings that the object of the dominant party was not to terminate the dispute at Inverkeithing, but to protract it, in order to strike a crushing blow at those who contested their view of the principle at stake; and they took a series of most arbitrary steps when they first prevented the compliance of the presbytery by raising the quorum; then voted that one, or rather any one, of six ministers should be deposed; and finally, without citation or trial, as if they had been a Tudor Parliament passing a bill of attainder, consigned Gillespie to this fate. Such harshness, if not such irregularity, might indeed have been looked for in those who dissented from the no-censure resolution. It was asserted by these men as a principle essential to society, still more to ecclesiastical society, and most of all to society of that nature when organised on a Presbyterian model—for here the parity of ministers implied as its counterpart the subordination of courts—that the decisions of the legislative power ought to be actively obeyed in all matters of public order, except where such “gross iniquity” was prescribed as made it a preferable alternative that the society should be dissolved; and this contention they defended as agreeable to the practice of “what is justly called the pure and reforming age of our Church.” In the Answers to the Reasons of Dissent, a caustic, vigorous and satirical paper, the Popular party repudiated the doctrine of their opponents as worthy of “priests beyond the sea,” and as raising ecclesiastical rule to a pitch which had never been attained in civil affairs, where at the worst of times "this hard choice" had been allowed, "either actively to obey all commands of the sovereign or passively to submit to his will”; and they insisted that both conscience and private judgment must be stifled if a man was to yield unquestioning obedience up to the point at which he became willing to withdraw from the society or to concur in its dissolution. It was indeed a singular thing that the triumph of liberal opinions in the Scottish Church should have been driven home by those weapons of Puritan fanaticism which were also to be found in the armoury of the Pope;1and, when we find the Moderates referring with reprobation to the “liberty of conscience” dreaded by Covenanting Assemblies, and objecting that the license demanded in matters of discipline might also be claimed in matters of faith, it is easy to believe that Principal Wishart, who had always been foremost in the struggle for intellectual freedom, had now a motive more potent than his repugnance to patronage for retaining his place on the popular side.

"The fiery charioteers of this Church who have the whip in their hands" were headed by two young clergymen of the most advanced type, Robertson and Home, who had entered the ministry as late as 1744 and 1747 as members of a presbytery—that of Haddington—in which patronage had never been opposed; and, if these men had been more careful not to violate the ecclesiastical constitution, it might have been difficult to rebut their contention that peace and order must be unattainable so long as conscientious scruples were admitted as an apology for resisting the civil law. It shows what a change had taken place in the attitude towards patronage that the appointment of a “riding committee,” which presbyteries had once resented as an invasion of their rights, was now eagerly demanded as a means of relief; and this concession to a mutinous spirit was not likely to commend itself to “those modern fine ministers,” as one of their own number ironically called them, whose influence had been so conspicuous in the Assembly of 1752 that the Moderator was constrained to justify it as that of "young men in defence of our old constitution.”

A cause distinctly more novel than venerable was now, however, to obtain their support. In the second quarter of the eighteenth century, if not even earlier, Edinburgh could count on the theatre as something more than a precarious addition to the pleasures of its social life. In 1725 an actor named Aston made his appearance at the head of a company of comedians and continued for three years to divert the town, whilst waging a doubtful battle at law with the magistrates, who had withdrawn the patronage extended to him by their predecessors in office, perhaps because they anticipated the action of the local presbytery in issuing an admonition, which was read from every pulpit, against the stage. Aston and his associates had no sooner been driven off the field than the newspapers announced the arrival of “a new set of comedians,” who even proposed to erect a playhouse. In 1733 either this set or another had established themselves with some prospect of permanence in Taylors’ Hall, for they were known as “the Edinburgh Company"; and during this year they acted with such success, chiefly in the plays of Shakespeare, that a sermon was published on the use and abuse of diversions, with an appendix intended to expose the diversions of the stage as so contrary to the Gospel—which, unfortunately, had omitted to mention them—that they should not be used at all. The Taylors’ Hall theatre, and another which had been fitted up only six months earlier by Allan Eamsay, the poet, were both closed in consequence of the Act of 1737, directed by Walpole against the political satire of the London stage, which provided that strolling players should be punished as rogues and vagabonds, and that any person who acted without license should forfeit £50. The latter penalty was exacted from some of Ramsay’s company, who persisted in practising their art, and the municipal and University authorities succeeded in frustrating an attempt to repeal the clause which permitted no theatre to be licensed, except at Westminster and where the King was residing. As, however, the statute mentioned only acting for gain, a happy device was fallen upon towards the end of 1741, when it became usual to defray the expense of dramatic performances, nominally given gratis, through the charge made for a preceding concert; and from this period to the present day Edinburgh is said never to have been without its theatrical season. In 1747 the entertainments given at Taylors’ Hall were practically superseded by the opening of a new concert-hall in the Canongate, which, five years later, entered on a still more prosperous career under the management of Lee, a former associate of Garrick. Lee’s vanity and ill-temper are said to have been quite equal to his theatrical skill; and in 1756 the concert-hall was appropriated by his patrons, to whom he had assigned it, after paying nearly half of the purchase-money, in order to baffle his creditors; and his place was taken by a half-pay ensign of aristocratic lineage named West Digges.

As expert a manager as Lee, and equally improvident in his private affairs, Digges, despite an indifferent voice, was much more successful on the stage; and his gifts were turned to good account in the production, for the first time and in most sensational circumstances, of a new play. John Home, minister of Athelstaneford, in East Lothian, had moved the vote of suspension in the Torphichen case, and had seconded Robertson in bringing the “Reasons of Dissent’5 before the Assembly of 1752; and the “fiery charioteer,55 who had ridden down the opponents of patronage, was now to vanish from the ecclesiastical arena in a shape so nearly diabolical in their eyes as that of a dramatic poet. As early as 1749 he had made a journey to London with a view to having Agis, his first effort in the drama, produced at Drury Lane. Garrick rejected the play, and proved equally uncompliant when the author, after five years intermittent labour, presented him with the Tragedy of Douglas. Digges was easily induced to accept what Garrick had refused. On December 4, 1756, “a new tragedy called Douglas, written by an ingenious gentleman of this country," was announced as in rehearsal; its excellencies, vouched for and quoted at innumerable tea-parties, kept polite society in a fever of anticipation during the next ten days; and on the 14th and three succeeding evenings4 the author's highest hopes were more than realised in the spectacle of a crowded house moved to tears by his pathos and acclaiming his genius in rapturous applause. That the drama did not commend itself to the Edinburgh public on merely national grounds is proved by its subsequent success in London; but the enthusiasm it excited was undoubtedly patriotic as well as assthetic; and the town is said to have been in “an uproar of exultation" that a Scotsman had produced “a tragedy of the first rate,55 and that his master-piece had been submitted in the first place to a Scottish audience.

With the sounds of triumph were, however, soon mingled those of the “drum ecclesiastic” beating to arms; for the Church had some reason to fear a mutiny in its ranks when a clergyman had turned playwright and seven other clergymen had been present at the production of his play. The Presbytery of Edinburgh fulminated in the usual terms against “the illegal and dangerous entertainments of the stage”; and, having meanwhile suspended a minister for three weeks who “had gone to the playhouse only once and endeavoured to conceal himself in a corner," they exhorted the other presbyteries concerned to call to order their peccant divines. These courts confined themselves to an admonition; and the Presbytery of Dunse, in a spirited letter, expressed resentment of the public affront which had been put upon two of their pastors for participating in a diversion which was neither unscriptural nor contrary to any law of the Church, of which elders belonging to the metropolitan presbytery were the chief patrons in Edinburgh, and which ministers of that body were known to have frequented “on the other side of the Tweed.” Carlyle of Inveresk, who had occupied a box, with a party of ladies, at the third rendering of the play, and who had made himself still more conspicuous by turning out of it two tipsy young men, was the only one of the accused brethren who ventured to defend the innocence, if not the propriety, of his conduct. Finding him impenitent, the Presbytery of Dalkeith took the extreme course of preparing an indictment or libel. He appealed, asserting that the offence which he was now ready to acknowledge merited no more than a private admonition; and the Synod, whilst declaring its “high displeasure” with the appellant, affirmed the justice of his plea. This decision, so favourable to Carlyle that a fanatical opponent could say that he had been "dismissed with a playhouse clap,” was endorsed by the Assembly, which, however, after rejecting a proposal to prohibit members of the Church from frequenting the theatre, imposed such a prohibition on ministers. The proceedings against Home, the author of all this commotion, had been delayed owing to his absence in London; and on June 7, 1757, he was permitted, without any mark of censure, to resign his charge.

The interest taken by the public in this affair found expression in a plentiful crop of pamphlets and ballads. The Presbytery of Edinburgh had no sooner sounded the alarm than its preparations to demolish the stage were considerably disconcerted by an ironical "argument to prove that the Tragedy of Douglas ought to be burnt by the Hangman," which was easily traced to the manse of Inveresk. Most of the ballad-writers espoused the anti-clerical side, though some of them preferred to ridicule the country parson whose dramatic genius, as extolled by the less judicious of his friends, was superior to that of Shakespeare and Otway;3and the activity of “Satan’s agents” in the Synod of Lothian and Tweed-dale excited the wrath of one writer, apparently a Cameronian, in whose opinion actors were ‘‘ the most horrid and abandoned villains that ever the sun shone upon,” who denounced the stage as “Satan’s school, the seminary of the devil and a nursery for hell, which Beelzebub hath ever claimed as his own chief residence and rendezvous in the world,” and who insisted that the Canongate theatre ought to be razed to the ground, and its very site "salted with brimstone in abhorrence of the abominations that have been committed there.” 

Moderatism did not emerge from this controversy without a widening of the fissure which had become evident in its ranks. We have seen that the high-handed measures advocated in the Torphichen case and adopted in the case of Inverkeithing had originated with a group of young clergymen, for whose influence in the Assembly of 1752 Principal Cuming, the Moderate leader, thought it necessary to apologise. In the following year Cuming was left in a small minority when he opposed the appointment of a Mr. Edmonstone as agent for the Church; and, though Moderator for the third time during the Douglas agitation, his policy at that juncture gave great offence to those country ministers who had been accustomed, when in town, to attend the theatre. With several other Moderates—the Lord Advocate Dundas and Hyndman, the clerical pamphleteer who had defended the deposition of Gillespie—he joined Webster, the leader of the Popular party, in promoting the attack on Home and his friends; and, as Webster was notorious for his convivial habits and Cuming could be denounced as a renegade, the wits of the town amused themselves in satirising the alliance of the two potentates whom they nicknamed respectively, Dr. Bonum Magnum and Dr. Turnstile.

The credit lost by Cuming was transferred to Robertson, who had contrived to obstruct the prosecution of Home in the Presbytery of Haddington and had ably defended Carlyle in the Lothian Synod; and in 1758 the growing influence of this minister, then in his thirty-eighth year, was strengthened by his removal from East Lothian to an Edinburgh charge.

The incident which had estranged Cuming from the junior members of his party was merely the latest step in the development of a policy which was far from being universally acceptable to the people at large. The Scottish corps of the Church Militant during the last few years had been pushing forward to the goal of-intellectual enfranchisement by such forced marches and under such rigorous discipline that mutiny and desertion were constantly thinning its ranks, and the line of advance was as thickly strewn with discarded impedimenta as if it had been that of a disastrous retreat. Patronage was now the recognised instrument, however inappropriate, for propagating liberal ideas, and, wherever patronage was exercised in defiance of popular opinion, a new dissenting congregation was formed or an old one was increased. In 1747 the Secession, initiated fourteen years earlier by Ebenezer Erskine, had split into two antagonistic sections, known as Burghers and AntiBurghers, according as their view of ecclesiastical corruption caused them to accept or to refuse the burgess oath binding its subscriber to uphold “the true religion presently professed within this realm"; and these bodies —the latter especially, as the more intolerant—provided a convenient asylum both for the mutinous spirits who Gillespie was befriended by a powerful party in the Church, and his sentence was immediately followed by an agitation for its repeal—an agitation much keener than any that had arisen since the censure to be passed on Professor Simson had been referred to the judgment of presbyteries in 1728. To procure a more favourable set of elders than those who had turned the scale in favour of deposition was the chief object of Gillespie’s partisans, and to this end during the summer of 1752 and the ensuing winter they published pamphlets, held meetings, formed associations, and even referred to the matter in sermons and prayers. Moderatism stood aghast at the insult thus offered to the majesty of ecclesiastical decrees; and, when the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr, the most numerous in the Church, had passed an overture protesting against summary deposition, and craving that Gillespie and his suspended brethren “upon a proper application from themselves” should be restored, the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale not only refused to concur, but denounced the overture as a reflection on the proceedings of the last Assembly and as presuming “to limit and prescribe to” the next. When the Assembly met on May 24, 1753, the Popular party were rewarded for their exertions by carrying the election of Webster as Moderator against so strong a candidate as Principal Leechman of Glasgow; but they met with a serious obstacle to their success in the influence of the Commissioner, who had opposed them so openly in the previous year, and in the fidelity of Gillespie to what he considered his “glorious cause.” Lord Leven said in his opening speech that, however members might differ as to the expediency of the course which had been adopted “ in a certain case,” they ought all to concur in upholding the decision, “for whatever is fixed by a majority becomes the common concern of each member to support.” He added that he should welcome “such acknowledgment and submission” as should enable the Church to extend pardon without prejudice to its honour; and we have seen that even the plea tendered by the western Synod was qualified by the same condition. No application of any kind had, however, been received from Gillespie, and none that was regarded as at all satisfactory from his friends; and, when the vote was taken, after a long debate, whether or not these ministers should be released from censure, the Popular party, who had counted with confidence on a majority of ten or twelve, found themselves in a minority of three.

In these proceedings a new sub-division of Scottish Presbytery was to take its rise, different in character from either of the two which had already been formed. The Cameronians or Reformed Presbyterians had always denounced the Revolution Settlement both in Church and State : Erskine, politically loyal, had fallen foul of an Act of Assembly, and, when called to account for lifting up his testimony against a backsliding generation, had gone forth from the polluted temple, slamming the door, as it were, behind him in his noisy demonstrations of wrath. Gillespie, on the other hand, “a meek and humble sufferer for conscience’ sake,” could be taxed with nothing but disobedience, and his attitude was entirely passive throughout. He preached at first in the open air, and, after a month or two, in a meeting-house which had been purchased for him in Dunfermline. For nine years, despite the refusal of his former brethren to assist him at communion services, he made no endeavour to found a sect; and he might have continued to revolve in obscure isolation through the ecclesiastical firmament, had not another erratic particle happened to cross his path.

The parish of Jedburgh having become vacant in 1755, the elders entered into a written obligation “to stand and fall together in the election or voice of a minister"; and on the same day a petition was largely signed in favour of Thomas Boston of Oxnam, son of the noted Evangelical divine. The Crown, however, backed by almost all the heritors and magistrates, presented a Mr. Bonar, grandson of the minister whose death had occasioned the disputed settlement at Torphichen; and the elders carried their complaint to the Assembly of 1756, protesting against lay patronage on the somewhat singular ground that “ in the 2nd Psalm, long before this Church, the ends of the earth, Scotland and England, were gifted of the Father to his Son.” As Bonar did not care to be intruded, and had, moreover, received a call to Perth, the Lord Advocate withdrew his name and issued a much more unpopular presentation in favour of a Mr. Douglas, minister of Kenmure. The Presbytery of Roxburgh refused to admit Douglas at the bidding of the Commission, and did not give way till the orders transmitted to them by the Assembly of 1757 had been re-affirmed by that of 1758. Their resolve no longer to obstruct the presentee may have been due to the fact that there was now almost nothing to admit him to, except the walls and the stipend. As soon as the preceding Assembly had issued its decision, the town council, the session, and all the heads of families except five had combined to build a new place of worship for the man of their choice; and on December 7, 1757, having waited with exemplary discretion till the meeting-house was finished and his supporters had pledged themselves to pay him £120 a year for life, in place of the £90 he had enjoyed at Oxnam, Boston handed to the presbytery a resignation of his charge. He and Gillespie, though the one had quitted the Establishment and the other had been expelled, were now in the same position, and they could hardly have failed to unite. Gillespie was invited by Boston to assist him at the second communion which he celebrated after resigning his cure; and, three years later, they were enabled to form a presbytery by obtaining the additional minister essential to its clerical quorum. In 1760 Kilconquhar in Fife was the scene of a disputed settlement similar to that of Jedburgh, and terminating in the same way, except that the parishioners built a meeting-house without first selecting a pastor. By the advice of Gillespie they applied without success to a dissenting minister in the north of England, and then to another named Collier, who accepted their call; and on October 22, 1761, at the new church of Colings-burgh in the parish of Kilconquhar, Boston, Gillespie and Collier, with an elder from each of their congregations, "formed themselves into a presbytery for the relief of Christians oppressed in their Christian privileges.” 

Meanwhile, in spite of protests and secessions, the Church was advancing towards a complete acceptance of patronage without any slackening of its pace. It shows the distance which had been traversed in little more than twenty years that the original Popular party had wholly died out; that the men who had succeeded to its name and position, instead of contending for the divine right of popular election, which many had asserted who did not secede with Erskine, insisted merely on the necessity of a call from heritors and elders; that the older Moderates, whose principle this was, had been overborne by Cuming, who subordinated the call to the presentation, and that Cuming in turn had given place to Robertson, who treated the call as a mere form. Cuming survived till 1776; but his influence, already weakened through his opposition to the theatre, received a further blow in the death of his patron, the third Duke of Argyll, in 1761; and Robertson in the following year supplanted him as leader on obtaining a permanent seat in the Assembly as Principal of Edinburgh University.

From 1762 to his resignation of the leadership in 1780 Robertson maintained a personal ascendency such as had fallen to the lot of no ecclesiastical statesman since the death of Carstares, an ascendency so stable and undisputed that, unlike his predecessors, he acknowledged no patron, and every successive Government was constrained to employ, or rather to support, him on his own terms. Strict in his conduct, liberal in his ideas, excelling in tact and persuasive eloquence no less than in dialectical skill, he had qualities calculated to conciliate opponents as well as to win the admiration of his friends; and the clergy of both parties concurred in honouring the man whose historical works had won for him a reputation which added lustre to their own. His theory of Church order was one which had been hardening into practice ever since he himself as a country minister had expounded it in the "Reasons of Dissent"; and he must, therefore, be held responsible not only for the measures initiated during his administration, but to a great extent for those which had been adopted during the previous ten years. His ideal being that of a Church loyal to the civil constitution and obedient to its own decrees, it might have been supposed that, in proportion as the authority of the General Assembly was exerted under his guidance, he would have been careful to see that the restrictions it imposed on the appointment of pastors were no more, if also no less, than those which had been prescribed by the State. Unfortunately, however, it was not law in the abstract, but the spirit embodied in one of its most unpopular enactments, that Robertson was determined to uphold. Cuming, in addressing his brethren as Moderator of Assembly in 1749, had referred to patronage as “a hard law” which might involve them in many difficulties and a regard to which might expose them to great reproach. Robertson, on the other hand, though he continued the practice invariably maintained since 1736 of instructing the Commission to apply to Parliament, as occasion offered, for the redress of this “grievance,” did not scruple to extol patronage as a system which had raised the clergy to a higher social and intellectual level; and the cumulative effect of his management was to add materially to its rigour.

It had long been usual to accept any expression of approval, however sparsely signed, as sufficient to support a presentation; but Robertson derided the fiction of popular choice if he did not actually substitute the word concurrence for the word call; and he certainly referred to the use of the word ‘concurrence’ in the Carsphairn case as “a language new and unprecedented.” was ordered, which, though it terminated in the same way, was overruled by the result of a third, conducted by the Commission. An attempt to ordain Wells at Shotts was frustrated by the mob, and, as the presbytery declined to go thither again, even under an escort of infantry and dragoons, the ceremony, after six years’ delay, was performed at Hamilton. The men who restricted the testing of presentees to its legal minimum, and in this case had deprived a presbytery of even that, found no difficulty in acting on a decision of the civil courts that ministers were as much entitled as probationers to accept a presentation, though in the opinion of the Popular party, and of several leading Moderates, including Lord Karnes and Principal Tullidelph, this was contrary to an Act passed—for a temporary purpose, it is true—in 1719. The clergy were naturally disposed to favour a practice which secured to each of them the prospect of a better living; but the Church had an undoubted right to determine the distribution of pastors; and its leaders could not be congratulated on their discretion when they showed an equal disregard of popular feeling, whether they were availing themselves of the power to bring a learned divine into the ministry, which was the usual argument for patronage, or were merely transferring him from one parish to another.

We have seen something of the political conditions which fostered, if they had not produced, this truly illiberal spirit; and Robertson’s opponents did well to insist that his policy was not to be judged merely by its effect on the Church. Dr. Oswald of Methven, a Moderate of the old school, declared in 1767 that social welfare had long been imperilled by “an aristocratical power founded upon the irresistible influence of a few great families by means of the practice of splitting superiorities and of engrossing and entailing a prodigious share of the property of the nation,” and that the influence of the gentry was still further diminished by “the arbitrary exercise of the right of presentation.” 1 A more explicit warning was given by Andrew Crosbie in the pamphlet of 1769, which has been more than once cited. Referring to the restriction of the parliamentary franchise, which in burghs was engrossed by self-elective corporations and in counties had been reduced to an absurdity by the Act of 1681, he pointed out that the people owed whatever spirit of liberty, whatever consciousness of their political existence, they still retained to "the little stir" occasioned by the election of pastors; and he insisted that patronage tended to corrupt the representative system as well as to aggravate its defects, since patrons had been known to use their power as a means, not only of influencing votes, but even of punishing obnoxious heritors.

The travesty of Moderatism, which was perverting the ecclesiastical constitution “from a truly Christian, British model into a despotic French mould,”1 would have been more intelligible if its exponents had contented themselves with multiplying dissenters, and had done nothing which they could help doing to forfeit their goodwill. Unlike the Seceders, who had abjured the national Zion and shaken its very dust from their feet, Gillespie was most anxious to remain in communion with the Church, and had he and his friends been permitted to exchange pulpits with those whom they recognised as “worthy ministers,” the Belief Presbytery, far from becoming an opponent, might have been retained as an ally.2 Nothing, however, could have been further than such a concession from the designs of Robertson, who wished to isolate the Popular party, and to reduce the non-intrusion principle by blockade as well as by direct assault. In 1766 a Mr. Baine, one of the ministers of Paisley, resigned his charge in order to become pastor of the Relief congregation in Edinburgh, protesting, despite his abhorrence of the late "abuse of church power,” that this step made no change “in his principles of Christian and ministerial communion—nay, none in his cordial regard to the constitution and interest of the Church of Scotland.” The Assembly, in disposing of this case, very properly resolved without a vote that Mr. Baine was no longer a minister of the Church, and therefore incapable of receiving a presentation or call; but it also, by a two-thirds’ majority, prohibited the clergy from co-operating with him in any ministerial function. The Relief Presbytery, owing both its origin and its progress to ecclesiastical intolerance, was soon to develop and to propagate the opinion that such grievances were inseparable from the existence of a State Church; and for the rise of Voluntaryism, with its attendant bitterness, Principal Robertson must be held largely to blame.

It was claimed for patronage that it had raised the social and intellectual status of the clergy; but not a few of the Moderate party, who credited and valued this result, believed that it was being purchased at too exorbitant a price. This reaction, due primarily to the growth of dissent, must also be ascribed to the fact that more caution and much less harshness were shown in exercising the moral discipline of the Church than in enforcing its administrative decrees; and the effect produced by such causes became manifest when a motion was carried, “after a very spirited debate,” in the committee of overtures, recommending the Assembly of 1765 to devise remedies for a schism which was both formidable and still increasing, especially in the larger towns, inasmuch as it was credibly affirmed that there were now one hundred and twenty meeting-houses erected, to which more than a hundred thousand persons resort, who were formerly of our communion”; when the Assembly however, seems to have drawn his information from a list published eight years later, in 1773. Nineteen Relief congregations had then been formed, only about four of which existed in 1765.

The controversy excited by the schism overture was continued in the press, and the Popular party made a vigorous effort to retrieve their defeat. In the Assembly of 1768, favoured by the absence of Robertson, who was then in England, they succeeded in carrying a proposal, similar to that of 1766, for the appointment of a committee to correspond with presbyteries, with the landed interest, and with the royal burghs, in order to devise measures for mitigating the law of patronage, and even for procuring its repeal. This committee sent a circular letter to presbyteries recommending that ministers should call meetings of their heritors, and in burghs should consult the provost; and with each letter were sent six copies of a pamphlet2 intended to prove that “settlements by absolute presentation” were neither expedient nor required by law, and advocating a scheme according to which the call to a pastor was to be subscribed by delegates representing the heritors, the kirk-session, the parishioners, and even the patron, if he had refrained from exercising his right. This appeal, however, elicited no replies, and the work of the committee came to an end when the Assembly of 1769 resolved by a majority not to renew its powers.

A dozen years were to elapse before another effort was made to emancipate the Church. In 1778 some of the worst penalties affecting Roman Catholics in England were repealed, and an intimation that the measure was to be extended to Scotland provoked, as we have seen, so violent an outburst of popular feeling that the Government, at the instance of the Scottish Catholics themselves, decided not to introduce the Bill. The success of this agitation was followed by an attempt to get rid of the ecclesiastical system, which in the Second Book of Discipline was described as an abuse which "had flowed from the Pope and corruption of the canon law.” In 1782, on the model of an organisation which had been instrumental in frustrating the proposed measure of Catholic relief, societies were formed at Glasgow, Falkirk and Edinburgh to correspond with the various parishes in order to engage them in an application to Parliament for the abolition of patronage. Several of the Church courts were soon enlisted in the cause, for the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr had already taken advantage of the retirement of Robertson to petition the Assembly that the induction of a minister opposed by the majority of parishioners should be declared unlawful—an overture which was dismissed without a vote as incompetent and dangerous; cases of intrusion had recently occurred at Biggar, Fenwick and Carsphairn; and it was reported that some presbyteries were dispensing with even the formality of a call. Four successive Assemblies were thus called upon to deal with the familiar overtures, in which they were besought to use their best endeavours, in concurrence with the landed interest, that heritors and elders should be restored to the legal rights secured to them at the Revolution, or, if this could not be obtained, to give full scope to the non-intrusion principle, which was supposed to have been sanctioned even by the statute of 1712. In 1783 a coalition of Popular men and conciliatory Moderates succeeded in carrying a Declaratory Act “that the moderation of a call is agreeable to the immemorial and constitutional practice of the Church 5 5; but in the following year, emboldened, perhaps, by two overtures of a different kind, in which the maintenance of patronage was expressly advocated, the Assembly at last vindicated its consistency by omitting the instructions to apply to Parliament for the removal of this "grievance" which had been given yearly to the Commission since 1736. The Church had thus withdrawn its protest; and, though the controversy was revived in the following year, the Popular party made no further attempt to procure an alteration of the law, and soon abandoned their hostility, if not even their repugnance, to a system, which they had so long and so persistently opposed.

The Church may have derived much peace of mind from its reconciliation with the civil power, but, contrary to the expectation of its leaders, it obtained no other reward. The question of a better provision for the clergy was again to be brought before Parliament, and it could no longer be objected that many of them had been admitted to their livings in violation of patronage, or that Evangelical ministers preferred poverty to comfort. Incomes fixed at low-water mark before the tide had turned in favour of national prosperity had been alleged as a grievance in 1750; but, though prices were now at a much higher level, the Court of Teinds still adhered to their rule not to enlarge stipends, legally valid in amount, which had been augmented since the Union. The establishment of a Widows’ Fund in 1744 had proved burdensome as well as advantageous; for the average annual subscription of five guineas was more than a tenth of many rural stipends, and impecunious pastors, however honest, had to be dunned for arrears. A well-known Evangelical clergyman, Sir Henry Moncreiff, was in 1788 Collector of the Fund. He had seen with concern how severely it pressed on small incomes; and, having no faith in the generosity of landowners, he proposed to tax them for augmentation only in so far as they were interested in the disposal of vacant stipends. These were, indeed, appropriated to pious uses within the parish; but local proprietors were sufficiently ingenious, if not sufficiently pious, to bring themselves within the scope of this term. Sir Henry estimated the annual value of vacant stipends, after deduction of payments due to the Widows’ Fund, as £2865; and this sum was to be placed by Act of Parliament in the hands of trustees, who were to apply it, after it had accumulated for ten years, to stipends under £50, and at subsequent periods to stipends less deficient.

Projects of augmentation were discussed by three successive Assemblies; and the scheme, as finally and unanimously adopted in 1792, was much the same in principle as that which Sir Henry had proposed. Vacant stipends were not, indeed, to be formed into a general trust, but a collector appointed by each synod was to invest them for the benefit of ministers till they could be employed in purchasing extensions of glebes. The Commissioners of Teinds were to have the liberty—which they had denied to themselves—of renewing augmentations within a certain term of years, and of making rules “for expediting business,” and the minister’s stipend, if not paid as soon as it became due, was to bear interest from that date. If Scotland had been ruled by a statesman to whom justice was more imperative than the security of his own position, this scheme, prepared by a committee of which the Solicitor-General was convener, would at once have become law; but the ruler of Scotland was Henry Dundas; and ministers must, therefore, be content to cultivate the graces of humility, whilst maintaining their wives and providing for their widows on £45 a year. An Augmentation Bill was brought into Parliament, but "at the desire of a great body of landholders ” it was promptly withdrawn. This or a similar proposal had been before the public for five years, but the landlords had not yet been able to consider it “with sufficient attention and desired delay.” Lord Advocate Dundas, nephew of the statesman, assured the Assembly of 1793 that the Bill was “not to be considered as lost,” and the Moderator, with touching simplicity, tendered to him the thanks of the House for ‘ ‘ his zealous exertions on this occasion.” What the clergy had failed to gain by a legislative enactment was, however, in some measure secured to them by a judicial decision. The Commissioners of Teinds continued to act on their rule not to increase augmentations granted since the Union till, in 1784, the plea of a minister, who contested this maxim, was upheld by the House of Lords; but it was not till another appeal had been decided against them in 1789 that the Scottish judges gave full effect to this decision.

If Dundas was not likely to befriend insignificant ministers at the expense of men who had votes, the Church had another grievance with which so good a Scotsman might have been expected to sympathise. When the Treaty of Union was passing through Parliament in 1706, the Assembly Commission had urged that members of the Kirk, on accepting office not confined to their own country, should be exempted from the obligation to communicate with the Church of England; but the demand was rejected; and Scottish Churchmen, after the Union, had either to conform to the Test Act or to look for protection to the annual Indemnity Bill. In March, 1790, when the French Revolution was beginning to excite alarm, a motion to abolish the test was thrown out by a majority of nearly two-thirds; but certain words were used in the debate which led Dr. Somerville to believe that a claim to exemption on the part of Presbyterians who were not dissenters might be more favourably received. Not a few of his fellow-Moderates, including all the principal laymen connected with Government, disapproved of this claim. In denouncing it as intolerant, they forgot that the readiness of Scotsmen to take the sacrament of a Church which disdained to take theirs must be a very equivocal proof of liberality so long as it continued to be a qualification for office; but they had good grounds for praising the Test Act as "the key that opens all the treasures of the south to every honest Scotchman.” The General Assembly decided in favour of an application to Parliament, and in May 1791 its case was submitted to the House of Commons. Sir Gilbert Elliot, who presented the petition, argued that, if tests were retained, there ought to be one for the Scottish as well as for the English Church; and, commenting on the hardship imposed on Scottish military officers, he mentioned the remarkable fact that Scotsmen who commanded troops for George II. in 1745 had been included in the pardon to the rebels. It was no doubt impossible for Dundas to support a petition which Pitt’s Cabinet had no intention of granting; but his "decided negative" was based on somewhat singular grounds. In private he admitted the justice of the petition, and “wished it to be withdrawn at this time” only because the Archbishop of Canterbury was opposed to it. In the House of Commons he stigmatised it as “an attempt to get the better of” the Treaty of Union—a treaty which made no mention of the Test Act, and to whose spirit of reciprocity that enactment was directly opposed.


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