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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LXXXVIII. - Some Pleas on behalf of the National Union of Scotch Presbyterians


IF the Christian nations are to retain freedom and position in the world, if they are to escape being slowly or suddenly dragged into chaos through moral and industrial bankruptcy, it is surely high time for all the Christian Churches, as the pledged defenders of faith and morals, to federate themselves as a marshalled host against a levelling movement which aims at effacing the old rules of right and wrong, and at swamping all creeds and all civilization under the waters of a universal deluge.

Looked at in the light of reason, the divided condition of Scotch Presbyterianism is a sickening scandal. The cause of religion and morality urgently demands union. The worldly wisdom, which is called common sense, endorses that demand; and the only real obstacle to union is the perversity of unreasoning and degrading sectarianism. Scotland, although a small and poor corner of Christendom, in Reformation days struck out a bold course for itself in regard to the system of Church organisation. Our Reformers, and their successors, the Covenanters, sought their tenets of faith in the New Testament, but there they found no clear guidance for Church organisation. With what New Testament uncertain light afforded, and with their very certain knowledge of the corruption of the pre-Reformation Scotch Church, and what King James and his son were aiming at, they had no hesitation in asserting that the jus divinum of ecclesiastical authority belonged not to Pope or King, or bishop, but to the believers, exercised through Kirk Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods, and Assembly, which were to represent the clergy and laity, on an equal footing.

Unlike English Congregationalism, Presbyterianism was a system devised for national purposes. The founders of the Free Church took with them into dissent that large national aim, and realised it so wonderfully that in an incredibly short time all Scotland was covered by Free Churches with ministers placed in them. The previous Secessionists also long retained the national Establishment principle, but were never able to extend beyond very restricted areas. It was long, and after long disputes, that they renounced their original principles, and adopted Voluntaryism; which adoption was a confession of inability to advance beyond narrow bounds, as well as a war-cry against the Established Churches. Through the Sustentation Fund, the Free Church acted like a national Church without endowments for many years as long as the rule remained in the hands of the Disruption ministers and elders. The poor Highland congregations were held up as examples of piety and devotion to the rest of the country, and flattered in reports to the Assembly. Little did the flattered and praised ones foresee then that a time would come when fidelity to what gained them credit would be deemed an offence, and that they should be made to feel their dependence, and that their southern financial supporters expected them to be humbly grateful and obedient. That change of attitude was sure to come with change of policy at headquarters.

It appears to me as demonstrable as any proposition in Euclid that by no other means than reunion with the Church of Scotland, on the old, well-guaranteed foundations, can Scotch Presbyterianism redeem its character and recover strength to carry out its responsibilities for the upholding of the cause of Christianity and public morals in the land north of the Tweed. The kind of parity between rich and poor congregations which has all along existed in the Church of Scotland cannot exist long, if at all, among the non-established Presbyterians. To obtain that parity, each congregation must have a separate endowment which makes it financially independent of contributions from a central fund. In the Church of Scotland the rule is for the parish minister's stipend to come solely out of his own parish teinds. To that rule the chief exceptions are the new parishes founded and endowed during the last century. Being endowed to a modest extent, the new charges acquire the equality with the old parishes which is not obtainable between rich and poor charges, except by separate endowments in a non-established Presbyterian Church.

Were the teinds to be confiscated, as predatory Socialists or reckless politicians wish them to be, the old parishes would be thereby deprived of the sure provision our ancestors had left them for the maintenance of religious service in perpetuity. As for the recently erected and endowed charges, they may be put aside at present, because only the Parliamentary parishes, few among five hundred, could be touched by the self-styled Liberationists without laying Dissenting Churches exposed to an immensely heavier amount of confiscation. Socialists, if they could, would sweep all ecclesiastical property into their plunder bags, and that all would be small in comparison with the rest of what they are looking forward to. Sectarianism drags good people into bad company, but disestablishes are not general plunderers. They would gladly secure their life-interests to the ministers of the Churches they are so fatuously anxious to disestablish and disendow. They say, and it is charitable to suppose many of them are silly enough to believe, that they are animated by zeal for religion in assailing, tooth and nail, the two National Churches. If life-interests were to be respected, the sale of the parish teinds would not bring in much money for immediate use of any kind, and what it brought in would quickly be spent, as in the case of the Irish Church, with little benefit to the plunderers. The parishioners, of course, ought to have, for parish purposes, the whole value of their parish confiscated Church property. But would they be likely to get it? And if they got it, could they make a better use of it than that which had been made of it before, and which puts each parish on a footing of independent equality with any other parish in Scotland? Voluntaryism has never succeeded in covering the country districts with places of worship, like an Established Church. The Free Church upheld the Establishment principle and repudiated Voluntaryism when performing the wonderful feat of taking seisin of Scotland with Free Churches and ministers. That feat is one that only could take place at a time when the spirit of religious enthusiasm had reached its highest level. It is not a feat which can be often repeated, nor were it repeated could parity be long maintained. Besides the parity between rich and poor- Presbyteries, and town and country congregations, the fully developed Presbyterian system of Church government and representative organisation requires that there should be equality of rich and poor in electing ministers. That was always the theory, although in practice it was for a long time the custom to leave the nomination of elders to ministers and kirk-sessions, whose nominees, unless objected to on their names being submitted to congregations for approval, were forthwith ordained. The practice of leaving ministers and kirk-sessions to select and nominate fit persons for the eldership prevails yet where congregations are satisfied with it, but when direct nominating and voting by the congregation get the preference, the popular claim cannot be refused. Before the abolition of patronage, the Free Church had cause for adhering to the "'43" severance; but after that there was no justification for further disunion which could be pled in reason's court; and the mustering forces of secularism formed an unanswerable argument for reunion. But the old sects of Seceders who entered into the Union of 1847 made Voluntaryism the corner stone of their new United Presbyterian Church, and on the abolition of patronage, instead of sticking to Disruption principles and gladly joining with the liberated mother Church, the Free Church, by a great majority of ministers, elders, and people, went over to the United Presbyterians, and adopted their disestablishment and voluntary policy. What a sad result of cultivated and politically-poisoned sectarianism that throwing away of a glorious opportunity for immediate reunion was!

The abolition of patronage left the Church of Scotland the freest and most truly democratic Church in the world. Futile attempts were made by some of those who were indignant at losing the old argument against the "Auld Kirk" to deny that the liberation was complete, because in the event of a congregation failing to elect a minister within six months from the date of the vacancy, the jus devolutum would come into operation, and the choice would fall to the Presbytery. That jus devolutum limitation was a very ancient and wise device for preventing prolonged vacancies. We have had now sufficiently long experience of election of ministers by Church of Scotland congregations to feel certain that it was good to retain it. Six months give ample time for looking out for a fit minister and completing his election. But the fear of losing the right of congregational patronage by not exercising it within six months helps to keep down wranglings between the partisans of ministerial rival candidates, and to lead to unanimity of choice in the end. I always felt confident that, in nine cases out of ten, congregations would neither fight among themselves, nor let the patronial right lapse to the Presbytery; and I am now glad to know my trust in the people has been proved well-founded. Popular election of ministers has not caused many serious wrangles, and in the few cases in which the jus devolutum was allowed to take place, Presbyteries acted so judiciously as to heal possible splits in congregations.

To judge by calls at large, and delayed settlements, there were more troubles about the elections of ministers in the late Free Church than there has been in the Church of Scotland from the abolition of patronage to this time (1909). But the years referred to could not be used for fair comparison, since all that time there was strife within the Free Church and peace within the Church of Scotland. Scotch Presbyterian congregations, to whatever section of divided Presbyterianism they belong, go, as a rule, with few exceptions, about the work of electing their ministers with a solemn sense of responsibility, and carry it out with peaceful decorum. In regard to the voting in these elections, it is not so easy to make the rich man's vote and the poor man's vote of equal value in any Dissenting Church as it is in the Church of Scotland, where ministers' incomes do not depend on voluntary subscriptions, whether administered by a central body or a congregational one. This is a matter which rural congregations should bear well in mind, for without the sure parochial endowment they must on the whole depend on outside help, and that outside help, however carefully the fact may be veiled, robs them of their Presbyterian parity, and reduces them to a position of dependence. If this position hurts the self-respect of poor congregations, it is ten times more trying to their worried ministers, who have to endure lecturing exhortations from head- quarters, and waste their time and energy on flattering and beseeching their people for more contributions than they can well afford to give. As for the bazaars which all Churches now use for raising money, do they not too often bear a close resemblance to Vanity Fair exhibitions, and can they not almost be described as modern imitations of the sale of papal indulgences for raising money for the building of St Peter's, which roused the wrath of Luther?

Voluntaryism and Socialism are words which have been wrested from their original good meanings to label purposes which are the reverse of good. In the good sense of the term, we are all of us Socialists in recognising the mutual obligations of individuals and of classes and masses. In a similar way we are all Voluntaries. But Socialism, seeking to destroy existing institutions, in the vain hope of establishing Golden Age happiness on the ruins, means in its acutest form the suicidal madness of people who have lost hold on faith in God and belief in their own immortal and accountable souls. We are, or ought all of us to be, Voluntaries in regard to free will contributions of such means as we have for distinctly good purposes. But when Voluntaryism is made the corner-stone of Church policy, and used as the fulcrum for the lever of disestablishment, the good sense of the term is lost, and an evil and ridiculously inconsistent one is substituted. The Church of England, not to mention the larger sums devoted to strictly ecclesiastical purposes, raised by free-will offerings since, say, 1836, fifty millions sterling for the secular and Christian education of the English people; and since the Disruption, the Church of Scotland has, by the same means, equipped and endowed some four or five hundred new charges, besides the big sums spent on other Church schemes, some of which might well have been dispensed with, had it not been for sectarian dissensions and rivalries.

Voluntaryism among the Presbyterians of Scot- land in my opinion unnecessarily divided from the day on which the Church of Scotland was liberated from that old grievance, the yoke of patronage I think I may venture to say, has since the Disruption yielded a total sum which would have been sufficient for the purchase of the fee simple of the Kingdom of Scotland, had it been set up for sale at twenty-five years' purchase of its annual national income, like a private estate, on the day on which King James departed for England. How much of that total has been wasted on keeping up indefensible disunion, and sectarian rivalries, which weaken and dishonour Presbyteriauism, and waste energies as well as material resources that should be concentrated on the high duty of upholding and spreading the Christian faith and zealously guarding Christian morals from its numerous assailants? Where is the proverbial worldly wisdom of the Scotch people who tolerate, and by their contributions support, profligate expenditure on keeping up miserable hedges of partition, when the need for union is so overwhelmingly urgent, and all the substantial reasons for disunion have ceased to exist, except as ghosts of ghosts which are imagined rather than seen even when looked at through the conjuring glasses of sophistry?

Christian Endeavour is much heard of. Co-operation, of a kind, between disestablishers and defenders of establishments is played at. The value of these things amounts to this, that they are admissions of the desirability of, as soon as possible, getting forward to union, without strict uniformity. In a broad-based union formed to act as a division of the defensive Christian host ranged in battle array against the anti-Christian host, with many banners, there should be scope enough for such small differences as those about the use of organs and the exclusive use of the psalms. Voluntaries could be left to support themselves by their congregational contributions and endowments, if they possessed any, while country congregations would be safe with their parochial teinds, and the endowments secured for supplementary charges.

If brought about without a delay that might be fatal, how such a union would gather together for the fight on behalf of faith and morals the forces and resources which are dissipated by division, and in a large measure worse than wasted on suicidal sectarian rivalries! How it would redeem the honour of our democratic system of Church organisation and government ! How strongly it would splice the present with the past! How the blue banner of the Covenant would float again over a marshalled Presbyterian nation vowed to defend civil and religious liberty, with order and justice, against worse than Stuart Kings and their Episcopal tools ! Is not the very idea of such a union enough to inspire every true-hearted Presbyterian with an ardent desire for making that desire a realised fact?

When looked at from the higher ground of present time duty and expediency, the hedges of separation are too artificial, costly, and unprincipled to be kept for continued mischief. They have done more mischief than can ever be repaired, except through the atoning work of a national Presbyterian union. The real difficulty is how to deal with superfluous ministers. That difficulty is mainly, but not wholly, a financial one. Life-interests must be justly dealt with, and compensation given even to those who wish to "compound and cut." In Africa, India, and the British Colonies there is room for any number of Presbyterian young ministers with University and ministerial qualifications, irreproachable character, and energetic devotion to their high calling. Divisions at home account for the fact that Scotch Presbyterianism has not kept pace with other denominations in the outside parts of the British Empire. From Canada I have, in correspondence with friends there, heard about the scarcity of Presbyterian ministers ; and complaints were also made that the Church of Scotland and the Free Church I do not remember that anything was said of the United Presbyterian Church had, for the last generation or so, allowed their wastrels, who should have been disciplined at home, to go to Canada and impose themselves on trustful congregations there, with every chance of in a short time bringing discredit on themselves and on Presbyterianism at large. Cases of that kind could not have been numerous, but, however few, they did damage. The Canadian Presbyterians have now University and theological facilities for producing ministers of their own, but the new settlers on the Western plains would welcome gladly Presbyterian ministers from the Old Country. In South Africa, the Scotch Presbyterians, through apathy, closely connected, if not entirely due, to the divisions at home, failed to provide a connecting link between the Dutch Reformed Church and the Church of England. The Confession of the Synod of Dort, and the Westminster Confession, on all essentials are concordant, and the Dutch have the same Presbyterian Church organisation as we have in this country. But language and race- rivalries kept the Dutch apart more than would have been the case if the Scotch Colonists had, while otherwise in union and communion with them, churches in which the services were in the English language. In 1866 the only church of that kind was the one at Cape Town, of which Mr Morgan was the pastor; and although neither belonging, by way of official recognition, to the Church of Scotland, or the Free Church of Scotland, or the Irish Presbyterian Church, Mr Morgan and his congregation very worthily represented the whole three of them, and showed in that small corner what healing and cementing work among the whites Presbyterian churches with services in English could have accomplished, if there were many of them and well spread out. As a field for missionary labour, Rhodesia, Uganda, and the West African British possessions can take any number of devoted workers. Where Mahometanism has struck its roots, or made an impression, Presbyterian missionaries will have better chances of gaining converts than almost any others, because of the Mahometan hatred of any semblance of idolatry, and because of more than superficial similarities in modes of organisation.

At and before and after the inauspicious and obstructive Union of 1900, aged and infirm ministers of the uniting Churches retired on their pensions, and, to ensure efficiency, others were furnished with colleagues and successors. Were a national union of the Presbyterians of Scotland to be happily accomplished, there would be many resignations, on generous pensions, of aged and infirm men, and much consolidation by the collegiate process. Re-formation and restoration by a great national union will undoubtedly require for its satisfactory and just realisation a hearty shoulder-to- shoulder de- termination to financially pay the penalty for a disunion continued long after the justification for it had terminated, and the conquering progress of infidelity and steady growth of the lapsed showed the dire necessity for mustering defensive forces on behalf not only of Christian faith and morals, but also of what in all times and all lands have been, are now, and shall ever continue to be fundamental principles of every form of tolerably just and workable civilisation. Besides the profligate expenditure on superfluous ministers and church buildings, the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church spend money on other ragged selvedges of disunion, which, if they joined, could immediately be cut off. If the Highlands formed part of a National Church, with teinds and endowments retained, what need would there be for Edinburgh Highland and Islands Committees, and for the incursions of loudly-trumpeted ministers and intermeddling deputations from the South? Whatever erroneous views of the Highlanders may be held in the Lowlands, they have in theory and practice more of the faith once delivered to the saints, and, as the fruit thereof, purer morals than are to be commonly found either in the towns or more or less rural districts of the South. Self- respecting Highland pride is hurt at being treated as dependent on Lowland charity, and spoken down to by invaders assuming airs of superiority who do not understand the Highlanders or their language, nor how they are themselves judged and found wanting. When there is so much lapsing in one and all of the Churches professing the Christian religion, they might well drop their schemes for the conversion of the Jews, whose monotheistic faith remains unaffected by the infidel literature and unsettledness of this revolutionary era. By concentration, retrenchment of disunion extravagances, and a national shoulder-to-shoulder support of a redeeming project, the financial problem can be solved without imposing much heavier burdens on voluntary contributors than disunion does just now. Then there is this great difference to be taken into account, that while disunion would perpetually require the present, or, if they could be got by hook or by crook, ever-increasing contributions, union would in the course of a few years require less and less for bearing the burden left to it by abolished disunion, and what it asked for and was gladly given would be all devoted to religious purposes universally approved of. Appeal for funds to consummate a national union of the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland would surely meet with a heartier response than it is now possible to give to appeals for money, money, money for keeping up strife and the suicidal policy of disunion.

Why do I in this closing chapter of my rambling "Reminiscences and Reflections" plead earnestly, if feebly, for the reunion of the Presbyterians of Scotland on the old foundations laid by our ancestors ? Well, is it not a good excuse that I am a Scotsman, and a Highlander to boot? In my youth the Church of Scotland was efficiently discharging the religious duties of a National Church from the Tweed to Thurso and the isles beyond, and, in addition, giving unpaid and important services in superintending schools and administering the affairs of the poor, which are now entrusted to new boards and costly officials. Of course, in Glasgow and other towns the inflow of strangers had even then outstripped the powers of the parochial system, which, however, was sufficient for all the requirements of rural parishes until the Disruption diverted by far the larger part of the customary "box" contributions to Free Church purposes. I looked on the Disruption when it took place, and more so afterwards, as the heroic mistake of truly pious and honest men, who first committed the mistake of seeking to circumvent an Act of Parliament by an Act of Assembly, instead of working to get it properly repealed, and who, in the after controversies, became too heated to go back on their steps and attack patronage in the right manner. I hoped, too sanguinely, that on the abolition of patronage the Church of Scotland and the Free Church would gladly unite again, and that in time the United Presbyterians, looking at the clouds which were even then darkening the horizon of Christianity at home and abroad, would likewise be drawn into the great defensive union.

Disestablishment, from whatever point of view it is looked at, is a policy not of reconstruction, but of destruction. It is for one thing used as an auxiliary by those who are directly assailing all Christian denominations. It is a policy of which the United Free Church of Scotland ought to be ashamed, and of which, indeed, members and adherents of it do feel ashamed when they are called upon to politically associate themselves, on its behalf, with Socialists and Irish Separatists. I have no chance of living to see it, but I still hope that the reunion of the Presbyterians of Scotland is bound to come before this twentieth century is much further advanced.

In conversation with men and women of the divided Churches, I meet with none who do not admit re- union is a thing to be desired. I find that many are perfectly sick of disunion, and of the profligate cost with which it has to be upkept, and of the almost blackmailing pressure and arts by which funds are obtained. Voluntaryism is right enough in its proper place, and the Established Churches make as free use of it as the Dissenting bodies; but it cannot be relied upon like teinds and endowments for the perpetual maintenance of religious services in every parish, and for giving every one of them the equality status which is demanded by Presbyterian organisation. Voluntaryism elevated into and insisted upon as a primary doctrine of salvation made all attempts for bringing about a union of the Free and Established Churches vain, when the door for it had been opened by the abolition of patronage. The Rainy-Hutton alliance, bent upon effecting its own scheme of obstruction, and semi-political union, made disestablishment the precedent condition to union with the Church of Scotland. The other objections were palpable shams. I was sorry at the time that the project of the larger union so completely failed, but now I am disposed to believe that the obstructive union, in doing its best for the prevention of Presbyterian reconstruction on the old foundations, has deeply impressed on people's minds the value of the ancestral legacy, and the worse than folly of dissipating and wasting religious energies which ought to be unitedly directed against aggressive infidelity and spreading immorality.

The populace more than the rulers decided every great national event in the history of Scotland. The feudal nobility betrayed Wallace, and looked askance at Bruce, while the common people fought stubbornly for the liberty and independence of their native land. At the Reformation, and at the Covenant time, there was a coalition of gentry and commons against the rulers. In 1688, the Church of Scotland, by the nation's backing, won her Bannockburn victory. I do not hesitate to say that it was to a tornado of lay opinion the Disruption owed its completeness and reconstructive strength. The Forty Thieves, with their wise policy, would have had many accessions to their numbers had the pressure from without been withdrawn. In this time of unsettlement and encompassing clouds of many dangers, I can think of nothing which makes a stronger claim on the religious duty and the patriotism of Scotch Presbyterians than the project of reunion in a reconstructed National Church, with all the ancestral legacies preserved. And that glorious project can be realised very promptly as soon as the laity will arouse themselves and imperatively demand reunion.

A CHRIOCH.

DA Campbell, Duncan
Reminiscences and reflections of an octogenarian Highlander


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