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Scotland's Influence on Civilization
The Churches of Scotland


IN setting forth the influence exerted by Christianity upon the people of Scotland, and through them upon the general advance of civilization throughout the world, it will not be necessary to dwell long on the earlier periods of the history. The precise point of time when the gospel first found its way among the warlike and intractable tribes inhabiting the region has never been clearly ascertained. The strong probability, as stated by the historian of the Church, Hetherington, is that the "religion of Christ had penetrated to the mountains of Caledonia before the close of the second century." During the succeeding centuries, down to the middle of the sixth, it gained an increasing hold upon the people of the land, as seen in the widely-diffused worship of the Culdees and the permanent institutions founded by Columba at Iona. After the sixth century, however, this simple and primitive style of Christianity gradually crave way to the more ambitious and imposing ritualism of the Church of Rome; so that during the Middle Ages, down to the era of the Protestant Reformation, Scotland had become to all intents and purposes a papal country wholly subject to the Roman domination and intensely devoted to its interests.

In the sixteenth century, under the masterly leadership of Knox and his heroic band of Reformers, lay and clerical, that ascendency was after many conflicts broken for ever, and the great mass of the Scottish people became as intensely Protestant and Presbyterian as it had before been Roman Catholic. The relics and the monuments of that protracted ascendency may be seen to this day all over Scotland in the crumbling walls and the ruined splendor of many an ancient castle, cathedral and abbey, which still linger on the scene to tell how terrible was the struggle that delivered the Scottish people from a foreign and despotic sway.

From the thorough reformation of the sixteenth century, the true spiritual glory of the Scottish Church begins. Our purpose, accordingly, in this brief chapter, is to speak only of those influences, evangelical, educational and civilizing, which belong to this last period of the history, and which have gone forth from the combined labors of the several Reformed Churches of Scotland. Of these there have been four distinct and important bodies.

The first and smallest of these, the Episcopal, or Anglican, Church, has never had any strong hold on the Scottish people, and, although its history dates back almost to the period of the Reformation, it represents a very small portion of the population. Its history during the earlier periods, under the Stuart dynasty, was a record of tyranny, usurpation and bloody persecution not exceeded by the worst times of the papal domination, and it fully ,justified the remark which grew into a proverb—that "Episcopacy never appeared on Scotch soil except as a persecutor." Introduced at first by the treachery of James VI. of Scotland, a man of some book-learning, of much pretension and of small practical statesmanship, who had become recreant to his own early professions, it was always an exotic and never flourished. His successor strove in vain to force the system upon people who abhorred its prelatical orders and its ritualistic forms of worship. Its forcible introduction at the first only served to illustrate the extreme folly of the would-be Solomon who attempted it, and its absolute failure to take root in the land, despite the fostering care and the persecuting protection of successive monarchs, only showed how deeply and ineradicably attached were the Presbyterian people of Scotland to their own simpler and purer ecclesiastical polity and worship.

It would not be right, however, to hold the Scottish Episcopal Church of the present day responsible for the intolerant bigotry of its royal supporters and its unwise prelates of the persecuting ages. Presbyterianism itself, though it suffered so much and came so near being crushed under the iron heel of oppression during that long reign of terror, was not entirely free from the intolerant spirit of the times. When the day of deliverance came with the Revolution of 1688 and the Hanoverian succession, Episcopacy in turn had to suffer many disabilities during the following century. Still, it held its ground in Scotland, and, though small, is to-day an intelligent and influential body within the limited sphere of its operations. Both in polity and in the form of worship it has become far more assimilated to the character of Anglican Episcopacy than in its earlier career. It now has seven dioceses in Scotland, with as many bishops, and a clergy numbering two hundred and thirty.

The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is of about equal strength, having one archbishop and a clergy of two hundred and sixty. It, however, draws its ministers and its membership not so much from the Scottish people as from the Irish population resident in the cities. Catholicism does not flourish in the land of Knox.

It is through the Presbyterian churches that Christianity has gained its enduring influence over the Scottish mind and made that influence felt around the globe. It may be questioned whether in any other country Christianity has ever gained a hold so strong and so general over all the deepest affections of a united people. With the small exceptions first named—the remnants of the papal and Episcopal Churches—Scotland is to-day, and has been for three centuries, as decidedly Presbyterian as it is intensely Protestant and Christian. The reformation from the beginning was thorough and complete, and it wrought into the inmost convictions of the Scottish people a system of doctrine, worship and polity, grounded on the word of God and the rights of private conscience. This system proclaimed as its distinctive fundamental principle the supreme headship of Jesus Christ as sole Lord of the conscience and Sovereign of the Church. This in essence was Presbyterianism as understood by Knox, and by Calvin at Geneva before him. This, through all its reformations and divisions in Scotland, and in every other land is Presbyterianism still, and this the Scottish people received with all their hearts when they renounced the sacramental system of Rome and threw off the papal yoke.

While the potential influence of Christianity over the Scottish population has remained for centuries an incontestable fact, it is easy to see how Christianity, having once gained that ascendency, has never lost it. Even down to our own times the faith of the children remains substantially the same as was the faith of their fathers. They have neither renounced it at the demand of a rationalistic infidelity on the one hand, nor on the other surrendered it for some more pretentious and plausible form of ecclesiastical order. Why is this, and what is the secret of the strong hold which Presbyterian Christianity has had from the first, and still has, in Scotland? The true answer is to be found partly in the method of public instruction adopted by the Scottish clergy, and partly in that universal system of biblical and catechetical instruction in which every Scottish family was required to indoctrinate its children. The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, was the basis of all Scottish preaching, and the people, from the period of the Reformation down through all the history, were Bible-readers, had the Bible in their hands even in the public sanctuaries, as in their own houses, and would not tolerate any preaching except as it was scriptural. The first and highest element of all pulpit ministration was that it should expound the word of God, inculcate its essential doctrines and apply its precepts to life and conduct. The Scottish preacher was nothing except as he was a student, an expounder, a teacher, of the word of God. A ministry thus biblical, doctrinal and expository made an intelligent Christian people thoroughly grounded in the faith and in the knowledge of the Bible. And in time such a people demanded such a ministry.

Along with this public instruction of the Sabbath-day and the house of worship was the equally potential method of training the Scottish children and youth in the home circle under the faithful discipline and instruction of their parents. Both at home and in their schools the Bible was faithfully taught, as were also the Westminster Catechisms and Confession of Faith. The result was that every Presbyterian child in Scotland, always under the double instruction of the Christian home and the Christian Church, was early indoctrinated in all the essential truths of the Bible, and grew up with a knowledge of God and of salvation which he could nevermore forget. It may, indeed, be questioned whether the youth of any Christian land ever received a more thorough and valuable acquaintance with the saving truths of the gospel than did the youth of Scotland under this vigilant and wise discipline, unless the exception be in our own Presbyterian and New England churches of a hundred years ago, where, in fact, they obtained precisely the same kind of education, both biblical and catechetical, under the wise usages established by those mighty men of old, the Pilgrim and Puritan Fathers. The system in each case was the same, with the same result.

It has become the fashion in our day to criticise and disparage this early method of biblical and Christian training for the young as lacking in breadth and culture, but, with all our wider culture and more artistic methods, it may well be doubted whether we have yet discovered any system of education better adapted to fortify the mind in habits of virtue and form a really great character than the one so long tried and so thoroughly tested by the Presbyterian churches of Scotland, and after them by the early Congregational and Presbyterian churches of our own country. We well know what this system of biblical and catechetical instruction of the pulpit and the fireside did for the people of Scotland and of America through all the earlier history, and what it is still doing both there and here so far as it is maintained. It made Scotland and it made New England Bible-reading and Sabbath-observing lands; it made great individual characters; it made flourishing and intelligent communities whose type and whose influence to this day have not died out. Whether the more popular methods that are now supplanting them will do as much remains to be seen.

The chief growth of Presbyterianism in Scotland, however, has been during the last two centuries, or since the memorable Revolution of 1688. Prior to that event, as already stated, it had to struggle for existence, and it had been brought so low under the reign of the Stuarts that the General Assembly which met for the first time under William and Mary, in 1690, had not met before for thirty-seven years. "If the Revolution," says Macaulay, "had produced no other effect than that of freeing the Scotch from the yoke of an establishment which they detested and giving them one to which they were attached, it would have been one of the happiest events in our history." Low as the Church was brought by these bitter and persistent persecutions, the truth itself had not been crushed; the people had not lost their martyr-spirit nor renounced their allegiance to Christ's cross and covenant and crown.

Leaving out of view some minor ecclesiastical communions that still exist as the mere fragments of larger divisions, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland of our day is comprised in three separate bodies, each having its own organization, all holding substantially the same doctrinal and ecclesiastical standards or confession of faith, and all together representing the great bulk of the Scottish population. The first of these, and the most ancient, dating from the formation of the First General Assembly, in 1560, in the time of Knox, but distinctly connected with the British government at the Revolution of 1688, is the Established Church, now consisting of about fourteen hundred parishes, or congregations, and nearly fourteen hundred ministers. The second is the United Presbyterians, a body formed in 1847 by the union of two distinct secessions from the old Established Church—one in 1733, called the Associate, or Secession, Synod, under Ebenezer Erskine; the other, called the Relief Synod, in 1761. This united body now consists of five hundred and twenty-six parishes and five hundred and sixty-four ministers. The third is the Free Church of Scotland, the result of what Hetherington calls the third reformation and the third secession, formed in 1843 under the lead of Dr. Chalmers. This Church now comprises ten hundred and nine pastoral charges and ten hundred and sixty-eight ministers. This will suffice to show the relative strength of the three principal Scottish Churches. Besides these, some small remnants of the Original Seceders and the Reformed Presbyterians are still found.

It has been remarked by its enemies, and sometimes conceded by its friends, that the weak point of Scottish Presbyterianism is its tendency to disintegration, as seen in its numerous divisions. Possibly its whole influence on the people and on the outside world would have been stronger and the work of Christ more effectually accomplished had there been no divisions, and had the Church been a unit presenting always an unbroken front to the world. But any one who has attentively read the history knows that this bitter experience of conflict and division has never been a thing left to the Church's option. The division at every great crisis has been unavoidable. It has not sprung from within, but has forced itself upon the Church from without. It has been the sad price paid for being connected by law with the civil state. Every single secession in the long history of the Scottish churches has arisen from some attempt of the dominant civil power to intrude into and control the spiritual functions that belong exclusively to the spiritual sphere of the Church. The civil government, either on the part of the Crown or through the legislative body and the courts of law, has in every case intruded into purely spiritual matters where it had no right to intrude, and could not intrude without violating sacred compacts. This Erastian principle of the English government has from time to time been asserted in one way or another, and this usurped authority in spiritual matters the people of Scotland have always resisted. This alone has Made the divisions and disruptions of the Scottish Church. But for this the three existing Churches of Scotland might have always formed one unbroken body. If this one great stumbling-block of division were out of the way, who will say that the Churches of Scotland might not now speedily come together in one great national Church?

There are worse things than divisions, and these the Churches of Scotland have so far avoided. However much they have been divided, and are still divided, they have all been substantially agreed on the great doctrines of the faith once delivered to the saints; they all stand firmly by the essentials of the Westminster Confession; they all contend earnestly to-day, as in former ages, for the fundamental principles of the Christianity of Knox, of Calvin and Luther, of Augustine and Paul. They have not gone to pieces, as in some nominally Christian lands, on the deceptive rocks of rationalism, nor, as in others, on the equally dangerous sands and shoals of a sacramental ritualism. They stand to-day where they have stood from the first, like a rampart of adamant forming a tempest-beaten but indestructible breakwater of sound doctrine against that wild ocean of doubt and skepticism which has engulfed other Churches and threatens at times to carry everything before it. Divided on the subordinate points of ecclesiastical and political allegiance, they stand to-day, as they have always stood, a unit on the grand old doctrines of the Protestant Reformation.

It is at this point that we are brought face to face with the essential element of the entire Scottish civilization and with the real strength of the Scottish character. It lies in its religion, in the theology of the people. The fundamental fact of Scottish civilization as developed in all the history of the country is Christianity. But for Christianity, Scotland, shut up within bleak and narrow borders, would scarcely have been heard of in the world's affairs. Christianity has made the Scottish character. Still more: the fundamental fact in Scottish Christianity through all the ages has been its uncompromising adherence to the word of God. No people were ever more thoroughly indoctrinated into the very letter and spirit of the Scriptures. The true Scotsman—at least, since the time of Knox—has known nothing so well as his Bible. That he has read from his youth up, and in large measure committed to memory; that has been his life's catechism. Of the nation it might be said, as it was of Timothy, " From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation." That knowledge has been like a fire in the bones of the Scottish people. It has taken possession of them and controlled them. Scottish Christianity from the beginning has been a living faith. It has been both a life and a doctrine moulding the entire character of the people. In other words, it has been a theology grounding itself on the word of God and on the sound philosophy of experience and common sense.

This element of Scottish character has been strikingly presented by Hugh Miller in his fine volume First Impressions of England and its People. After contrasting the strong characteristics of the common people of the two countries, lie says: "It was religion alone that strengthened the character of the Scotch where it most needed strength, and enabled them to struggle against their native monarch and the aristocracy of the country, backed by all the power of the state, for more than a hundred years." To the question of an Englishman whom he met, and with whom he discussed the subject, " What good does all your theology do you?" he replied, "Independently altogether of religious considerations, it has done for our people what all your societies for the diffusion of useful knowledge and all your Penny Magazzlles will never do for yours: it has awakened their intellects and taught them how to think. The development of the popular mind in Scotland is a result of its theology." The deeply-significant fact is that Christian theology, through its Sabbath worship, its pulpit ministrations, its weekly expositions of the word of God, its Church catechisms and its various schools of learning, has been, and is, the chief civilizing element of Scotland--the one great educational influence over the young and the adult mind of its people. Scotland is to-day a standing demonstration to the world of what Christianity can do for a people, and can accomplish through them, when it is permitted to gain a complete ascendency in the land.

The successive periods and movements in the Scottish Church during the whole three hundred years since the Reformation are well represented by their prominent leaders as given by Dr. W. M. Blackburn in his Church History. John Knox represents the Reformation, 1525--1575; Andrew Melville, the introduction of a purer Presbyterianism, 1575-1638; Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford, the Solemn League and Covenant and the Westminster Confession, 1638—1660; Archbishops Robert Leighton and Sharpe, the enforcement of Episcopacy upon Scotland, 1660—1688; William Carstares, the Restoration of Presbyterianism, 1690; Ebenezer Erskine, the tendencies to disruption, 1734; William Robertson, the moderation of the Established Church, 1750-1840; Alexander Duff, the spirit of missions, 1800-1843; Thomas Chalmers, the Free Church, 1843.

The controversy which led to this last disruption of the old Establishment was of ten years' continuance, from 1833 to 1843. It grew out of the abuse of patronage and the interference of the civil courts, intruding a minister into a pastoral charge contrary to the will of the people, even when the presbytery had refused to install him. With singular infatuation the English government persisted in forcing this issue, so that all efforts to compromise the difficulties at last became fruitless. The great result is graphically set forth in the following paragraph from Dr. Blackburn's History:

"The final issue came in 1843, in the General Assembly at Edinburgh, when that old city was full of excitement on one great question: Will these four hundred non-intrusionists secede from the Established Church? Some said that not forty of them would go out. Dr. Welsh, the moderator, took the chair, invoked the divine Presence, and calmly said that the Assembly could not be properly constituted without violating the terms of union between Church and State. He read a protest against any further proceedings, bowed to the representative of the Crown, stepped down into the aisle and walked toward the door. To follow him was to forsake the old Church, its livings, salaries, manses, pulpits and parishes. Dr. Chalmers had seemed like a lion in a reverie, and all eyes were turned upon him. Would he give up his chair of theology? He seized his hat and took the new departure. After him went Gordon and Buchanan, Macfarlane and MacDonald, Guthrie, Candlish and Cunningham, and more than four hundred ministers, with a host of elders. A cheer burst from the galleries. In the street the expectant crowd parted and admired the heroic procession as it passed. Jeffrey was sitting in his room quietly reading, when some one rushed in saying, 'What do you think? More than four hundred of them have gone out.' Springing to his feet, he exclaimed, 'I am proud of my country. There is not another land on earth where such a deed could have been done.'"

The deed was in keeping with scenes that had often been witnessed in Scotland in the olden times, but for the nineteenth century it was certainly a spectacle of sublime import, as demonstrating that spiritual Christianity was still a living power amongst men, and not an empty name. No stronger proof short of actual martyrdom could have been given that the Christianity of our day, as embodied in one of the leading Churches of Christendom, was more than an abstract theory, more than a genteel profession. Men saw that it was a grand principle of right and duty which could lead hundreds and thousands of educated people to sacrifice all earthly interests for truth's and conscience' sake. It was an argument and a vindication which even ungodly and worldly men could not fail to understand and profoundly respect. Both the Church and the world needed such a demonstration, and unquestionably the moral influence of it was felt to the ends of the earth. What Scotland thus did was not done in a corner: it was in the full light of the sun ; it was at the noontide of our century; it was an act and a lesson for all mankind and for all coining history. The future alone can estimate its true dignity and its inestimable worth.

The ministers of the British Crown just forty years ago stood powerless to prevent that great disruption or repair the injustice which their own egregious folly had forced upon an intelligent and conscientious Christian body, but since their day a far abler minister than Lord Aberdeen—Mr. Gladstone, one of the greatest statesmen of any age or nation—has taken occasion in the British Parliament publicly to vindicate the principles and the character of the band of Christian heroes who, with Welsh and Chalmers at their head, made the eighteenth day of May, 1843, memorable and glorious in the annals of Scotland.

What followed this impressive separation from the old Church and inauguration of the Free Church of Scotland is thus briefly told by Dr. Hetherington:

"On the Sabbath after the termination of the first General Assembly the ministers of the Free Church abstained from using their former places of worship, and preached in halls or barns or in the open air to audiences many times more numerous and unspeakably more intensely attentive than had ever before attended their ministrations. There were in their own devotions and instructions a fervor, a pathos and a spirituality to which they had rarely or never before attained, and their people gazed on them and listened to them with an earnest, sympathizing and admiring love which rendered every word precious and its impression deep and lasting. It may be safely said that the gospel was that day preached in Scotland to a greater number of eager and attentive auditors than had ever before listened to its hallowed message. And yet that was but the beginning. From Sabbath to Sabbath and almost every week-day evening the people sought to hear, and the ministers of the Free Church hastened to proclaim, the glad tidings of salvation. Nor did the remarkable avidity of the people to hear and willingness of the ministers to preach bear almost any reference to the recent controversy and its result, but both ministers and people felt themselves at last free, and they used that freedom in the service of their divine Lord and Master. Within two months after the disruption upward of two hundred and forty thousand pounds sterling had been subscribed, and nearly eight hundred associations formed. Churches in all directions began to be erected; every minister and probationer was constrained to discharge double or threefold duty; and still the demand continued to increase."

From that day onward until now this last and freest of the Scottish Reformed Churches has had a steady increase, and has sent its evangelical influences into every Christian land and into the dark regions of paganism. Nor in this has it stood alone. The other two great Scottish cornmunions, the Established Church and the United Presbyterian Church, have been awakened to new life and activity in all the departments of Christian work.


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