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Life of the Rev. Thomas Guthrie D.D.
Chapter VI - The Disruption


We need not re-write the story of "The Ten Years' Conflict," nor recount all that Dr Guthrie did during that great crisis in the ecclesiastical affairs of Scotland. It is a somewhat singular, and, as some may think, an inconsistent thing, that although his first settlement in the Church was made under the law of patronage, he had always been a strong and uncompromising opponent of that vicious system. But it did not follow that, because he was subject to the law, lie approved of it. From the first he took his place among the leaders of the Non-Intrusion party in the church. He had great regard for the rights of the Christian people, and stood boldly forward in their defence. He had confidence, too, in the ability of a Christian congregation to judge as to the qualities which should be possessed by a preacher of the gospel. Hence he pleaded for the "Veto," and without reasons. Referring retrospectively to this subject in the Assembly of 1862, he said:—

"Fathers and Brethren,—Whether it was right in us to do as we did, to claim, as the slightest relaxation from that yoke of patronage which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear, that our people should have a veto without reasons,— I speak for a moment as to the rights of the people,—I think may be now left to the judgment of those who have been trying the veto with them. If the people are dissatisfied, and if they have the pluck to fight their own battle, through what a frightful ordeal has the poor presentee to go! And then, how are people tempted to manufacture reasons which the church courts must allow, and bolster up a good cause with bad arguments. We thought, and the longer we tried our way, and saw the other, we had the more confidence we were right, that a man, a free agent, is not hound to give his reasons, nor a woman either, why he does not like a minister. A man is not bound to give reasons if he refuses a servant. A constituency is not bound to give reasons why it refuses a candidate for a membership of parliament. I am not bound, as a patient, to give reasons why I decline such and such a physician. A client, and even a criminal, is not bound to give his reasons why he declines the services of a particular lawyer; and everybody knows that a lady is not bound to give her reasons why she declines a particular suitor, even though she might have no better reason than that when the gentleman came to pay his addresses, he took out his spectacles, placed them upon his nose, and read a long lumbering speech. That may be a very bad reason; but all the world knows that the liberty which we claimed in the church is claimed by every other person, in every other way in the community; and if people should be left to the freedom of their own will without giving their reasons in secular matters, much more should it be so when the interest of souls, the cause of Christ, and the concerns of eternity are at stake. And, Fathers and Brethren, how have events proved that it was not without reason that we insisted on a veto without reasons? The Church Settlement Act has done nothing but unsettle everything. The arrangement that was to please all parties has displeased all in turn; and the basis on which the Established Church was to stand against all attacks from without and from within is turning out to be a ruin, and now with the stones of it the people are pelting both presentee and patron. I rejoice at this; not so much because it proves that we are right, although that is a matter of some satisfaction—and I do not rejoice at it at all because it damages the Established Church —I speak for myself, and commit no man to my sentiments; for when I took this chair, I claimed the liberty of speaking out my own sentiments; but I rejoice at it because I think that in God's good providence it will come permanently to secure for the people of the Established Church the rights which they so frequently ask, and which, to the honour of the patrons be it said, they now so often concede. Now, it may be that it is a hard thing that we should have lost our livings for principles on which those we have left behind us—who have stolen our clothes when we were not bathing, should now be acting. But would they have acted on them if we had not gone out? I believe never; and if the effect of these matters is to purify the Established Church, and enfranchise her people, we have won the battle after all — only it happens that other men have gone in and reaped the fruits of our hard fighting."

Whilst approving the "veto," Dr Guthrie did not regard it as the best possible remedy for the evils frequently attendant upon the settlement of ministers in the Church of Scotland. He was opposed out and out to the law of patronage, and sought its abrogation. He said :—

"Unmusical as I am, the words anti-patronage are sweet words to my ear. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished by the friends of the church and true religion; until that is obtained. I wish no resting place for the church in her present conflict. I wish the flood to rise and swell, and not subside until the ark of the churches is landed on the Ararat of anti patronage. Some talk of the difficulties and danger in which the church is now placed, but I for one rejoice in the storms which are compelling the church to take refuge in the haven of anti-patronage. Government is, in fact, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. When William of Orange sailed for England, lie meditated landing on a spot which was the very lion's den for him; but, wonderfully enough, the wind blew strong from that quarter. It rose to a hurricane, and eventually, contrary to bis wishes, lie was drifted, and compelled to land in the very spot that was best and safest for him. So with the church ; she has tried to effect a landing at Veto, and next after this she was in danger of striking on the shoals of Liberwn Arbitrium, but the force of wind and tide has at last driven her into the harbour of anti-patronage, where she will be safest and best."

Long before the days of Non-intrusion, the fires of persecution had been put out in Scotland, but the principle if not the spirit of persecution yet remained. The civil power still sought to lord it over the ecclesiastical, and put the Christian conscience in leading strings, if not in fetters. Happily for the church and for the world, the martyr spirit had not forsaken the land consecrated by martyrs' blood. Of this spirit Dr Guthrie had a full share. When the Strathbogie ministers were suspended, and when they applied for and obtained interdicts from the Court of Session prohibiting the minister appointed by the General Assembly from preaching in their parishes, Dr Guthrie was one of those who set the interdict at defiance, and proclaimed himself prepared to go to prison—which was the threatened penalty—rather than be guilty of rendering to Ceaesar in this matter the things that were God's. But we must give the story in his own words:-

"I have had enough of fighting in my day. I thought I was done with it. I look upon it as a serious calamity when the civil and church courts come into collision. We may come to yield to what we think wrong in civil matters, but we cannot yield to what we think wrong in spiritual matters. I have no desire to be placed in the position I was in before, when, in going to preach at Strathbogie, I was met by an interdict from the Court of Session, an interdict to which, as regards civil matters, I gave implicit obedience. The better day the better deed, it is said; and on the Lord's day, when I was preparing for Divine service, in came a servant of the law and handed me an interdict. I told him he had done his duty, and I would do mine. I was present with Dr Cunningham and Dr Candlish in the Court of Session, and saw the Presbytery of Dunkeld brought to the bar for breach of interdict, and I heard the Lord President of the Court of Session say, that, on the next occasion when the ministers broke an interdict, they would be visited with all the penalties of the law. The penalties of the law were to get lodgings free gratis in the Calton jail. That was my position on that Sabbath morning. That interdict forbade mo, under the penalty of the Calton-hill jail, to preach the gospel in the parish church of Strathbogie. I said the parish churches are stone and lime, and belong to the State. I will not preach there. It forbade me to preach the gospel in the school-houses. I said the school-houses are stone and lime, and belong to the State. I will not preach there. It forbade me to preach in the church-yard. I said the dust of the dead is the State's. I will not preach there. But when those Lords of Session forbade me to preach my Master's blessed gospel, and offer salvation to sinners, anywhere in that district under the arch of heaven, I put the interdict under my foot, and I preached the gospel. I defied them to punish me, and I have not been punished down to this day."

When the Disruption happened in 1813, Dr Guthrie's course was clear. At the Convocation he had taken up his ground firmly, and had been useful in confirming the mind of some that were then wavering. On the 18th of May, he was among the foremost and heartiest of the leaders of the Free Church movement; and the cheery tones of his voice, ringing through Tanfield Hall, were in singularly close accord with the feelings of the enthusiastic multitude that cheered him to the echo. On that eventful day he thus spoke: "I am no longer minister of St John's. I understand that this day there has been a great slaughter in the Old Assembly, and among the rest my connection with the Established Church has been cut, or rather, I may say, I have cut it myself. I know they have resolved to declare my church vacant. They may save themselves the trouble."

To say that Dr Outline never regretted the Disruption, nor cherished the faintest hankering after the flesh-pots of Egypt, would be to utter only half the truth. He was ever ready to vindicate the principles which led to the Disruption, and he cordially rejoiced in the fruits which it had produced. Nearly twenty years after that great event we find him saying: "But to cherish sentiments so eminently apostolical, so calculated to foster union, and pour the oil of peace on the stormy waters, does not imply that we must see things otherwise than once we did, even amid the fiery heat and dust of battle; nor does it imply that we now, though sobered by age, and removed by twenty years from the final struggle, regard the principles for which we contended other than we did in the day of contention, or that those principles in our judgment have lost one single inch of their height and depth, of their breadth and length. If they had been points and not principles, distance of time would have had such an effect upon them as distance of place has upon other things—on the mountain, that it reduces to a molehill. But while the higher ranges of the Alps, to one who has retired far from them, seem but drifted snow-heaps lying on the far horizon, the star that shines above the hoary head of their monarch is not so affected; it shines as bright, and looks as big to the seaman on the distant main as to the peasant in the Vale of Chamouni.

"And so, in contradistinction to points, principles, like things that belong to heaven, are unchanged by years or by latitude: like the fixed stars, or him that made them, they are the same yesterday, to day, and for ever. We have seen, and it is well the world should know it, no cause to think less, but rather more, of Disruption principles. The right of a church to rule her proceedings by the ordinances of her own Divine Head, and the right of the people to choose their own pastors, are clearer to my eye than ever. What has been the history of the last nineteen years? The Free Church is nearly major now, and should be getting on to sense. What, I ask, has been the history of the church for the last nineteen years? Harmonious settlements, unscattered flocks, peace, a good measure of plenty within our borders—mutual regard among the brethren. 'Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.' We left the Establishment for liberty, and liberty is sweet. Our fathers laid down their lives for it, and we laid down our livings for it. We will never repent it, and thank God for our beloved Sovereign, and our free Constitution, we have revelled in the sweetness of it for the last nineteen years. No attempt has been made to rob us of the fruits of our sufferings and victory except one [the Cardross case]: and those who made that attempt seem to me very much in the condition of Pharaoh and his men of war in the Red Sea. They have got in, and I fancy they would thank any one to show them the way out."

On leaving St John's Church his congregation obtained temporary accommodation in the Wesleyan Chapel in Nicolson Square. But in the course of a few years a new church was built for the congregation on the Castle Hill, close to the old one, and Dr Guthrie entered on a new era of his ministry, and was more popular than ever.


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