Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LXXXVII. - Presbyterian Divisions

I BELIEVE that eighty per cent, of the native-born population of all Scotland call themselves Presbyterians, and the proportion exceeds that figure in the Highlands. It is clear to everyone who has eyes to see, and intelligence to understand, that our country, and other countries as well, must pass through the fiery ordeal of a transitional era, which already exhibits not a few of the dangers it carries in its bosom. The cause of religion, sound education, wise and firm government and administration, calls loudly for organised defence and cautious progress on lines which will lead to safety and save us from plunging into chaos, to find destruction there instead of the Socialist Golden Age. When proverbially and actually union is strength, and disunion is weakness, the question which every Christian possessing commonsense should put to himself is "Why do we not knock down paltry hedges of partition, and unite into a great host, fit, should there be need, to repeat the achievements of our ancestors in a new form?"

In 1860 the Free Church was as yet pervaded by the preaching fervour of evangelicalism and revivalism, and flourishing on Disruption principles, from which there could be no lapsing as long as the ruling power remained in the hands of those who had gone through the excitement of the "Ten Years' Conflict," and sealed their testimony by leaving the Church of Scotland in May, 1843. The representatives of Old Secessions that united in 1847 on the platform of Voluntaryism, and threw aside the testimonies and declarations of the founders of their little communions, counted for nothing in the High- lands, but were of consequence in the southern towns, and had a footing in southern villages and rural districts. They took a lively part in political and municipal affairs, and were worthy and prosperous people, who, in the opinion of their less bustling and less self-confident neighbours, had not the least need to pray the Lord to give them a good conceit of themselves. Their ministers were orthodox evangelicals, and they kept themselves as much as they could out of the political and municipal affairs in which their hearers liked to display their gifts, and from which they often snatched the prizes of their ambition. In the South the Church of Scotland had, before 1870, in a great measure recovered from the staggering blow of the Disruption, and the party within her walls who wished to throw Lord Aberdeen's Act to the dogs and get patronage abolished root and branch, were gaining power and courage to fight and conquer. In the Highlands the smashing-up had been too thorough to allow of anything more than very slow recovery. The majority of Highland Church of Scotland ministers had to put up for a long time with skeleton congregations, and although a vast improvement has taken place since the abolition of patronage, some of them have to do so to this day.

In 1880 the Presbyterians of Scotland remained divided as they were in 1860 between the Church of Scotland, the Free Church, and the United Presbyterian Church. But in the interval of twenty years the policy and relations of the three bodies had changed, and modifications of theology with innovations in worship were insensibly going on. The abolition of patronage, which popularised the Church of Scotland, in place of being hailed as a blessing was, unfortunately, resented as a grievance by the ruling party in the Free Church, and having taken their stand on the narrow platform of Voluntaryism, the United Presbyterians had committed themselves to the policy of the English Liberation Society and clamoured for disestablishment. The abolition of patronage gave to disunited Scotch Presbyterianism a grand opportunity for a union which involved no sacrifice of any principle worth keeping and which would promote the cause of religion and morality, and give Scotland ecclesiastical peace. Surely it is to be deeply regretted that the opportunity was not eagerly and instantly seized upon, and that the work of rebuilding the broken walls of the Presbyterian Zion was not immediately taken in hand with united forces. The spirit of rival sectarian interests spread her wings on the blast, instead of the spirit of patriotism and religious harmony. Had there been the will there would have been the means, by using money thrown away on worse than useless strife, for providing funds to meet life-interests, and save every superfluous minister from unjust loss. Feelers were thrown out, and union negotiations, tried in a half-hearted way, were carried on for some years. They could not be whole-hearted since the disestablishment agitation which the Free and the U.P. Churches set on foot left no place for a successful issue when the Church of Scotland had to encounter a war of aggression with a war of self-defence.

As long as power remained in the hands of Disruption ministers and of the laymen who had gone out with them, and had been their partisans or followers and pupils during the "Ten Years' Conflict," there was no visible sliding away from the principles of 1843, among which the Establishment principle, or the union of Church and State in a manner which left spiritual freedom to the Church, was emphatically asserted. The abolition of patronage swept away the grievance round which all the other controversies had fixed themselves as barnacles. But as death diminished, from year to year, the number of the Disruption ministers and elders, their successors drifted into politicalism, ceased to wish for reunion, and bitterly resented the abolition of patronage as it was sure to strengthen the Church of Scotland. What they desired and sought was alliance with the United Presbyterians who had tied themselves to Voluntaryism and disestablishment. Modifications of theology, common to all Churches, and abatement of Disruption-time religious fervour and discipline, accompanied the development of political activities.

In the Highlands the abolition of patronage did much to rehabilitate the Church of Scotland in public opinion, and to make ministers and congregations hold up their heads. "Moderate" ceased to be the term of reproach it had been in the mouths of Free Churchmen for a generation. Assailed by disestablishers from without, the "Auld Kirk" had peace within, while the Free Church was internally in a chronic state of commotion. Highland Free Churchmen stuck to the principles and religious fervour of Disruption days, from which they saw with horror their rulers and co-religionists in the South were, at first surreptitously, and at last quite openly, falling away.

The founders of the Free Church claimed to be the true successors of the Covenanters in doctrine, discipline, and purity, and, with the blue banner over them, looked down on the "Moderates" with the pity or dislike of the orthodox for lapserians. The Free Church "Highland Host" stuck to that orthodoxy after it had lost its vice-like grip on the Free Church ministers, elders, and laity of the South. The Robertson-Smith heresy case so much excited the "Highland Host" that, if the heretic had not been got rid of, there might have been a split there and then over the first case which aroused the suspicion of unorthodoxy finding a lodgement among Free Church professors and rulers. Matters had much changed, and the "Highland Host" had, by the loss of leaders like Dr Kennedy, of Dingwall, and Dr George Mackay, Inverness, become less formidable when the far-reaching departure from orthodoxy contained in Professor Drummond's "Ascent of Man" was gently slided over.

In its day of power the Highland Host comprised, with very few exceptions, all the Free Church ministers of the Highlands and a large majority of the Highland people. The ministers had no doubt about their divine commission. They preached with authority and effect, because they preached what they thoroughly believed to be God's truth and message to the world. The influence of the old ministers of the '43 was like an Elijah's mantle over the younger ministers. Behind the ministers were a laity, drilled and marshalled as Christian soldiers by catechists and the "Men," who gathered on Communion Fridays to discuss the "question" and exercise their functions as critics of faith and morals.

The "Men" were peculiar to the North. They are now a lost tribe, but their memory is cherished, and some survivors of their order still are influential in a few places. It was impossible not to respect the deep piety of the "Men," and the consistency with which they carried out their doctrines in their lives; but, at the same time, their views were narrow and their intolerance extreme. They plagued good and faithful ministers with in- judicious interference, and they laid themselves open to the jeers and gibes of the irreligious, and the laughter and mimickry of those who only saw the grotesque side of their character and proceedings. "Moderates" had a right to make fun of the denunciations which the "Men" poured on them pretty continuously; but it was significant of thoroughly changed relations when speakers and writers of the Rainy party took to holding them up to ridicule and scorn.

The Highland Host and its Southern associates called themselves the Free Church Constitutional Party. It was a perfectly correct designation. They were undoubtedly the real representatives of the founders of the Free Church, and the defenders of the principles on which the Free Church was set up. They manfully resisted the Rainy-Hutton disestablishing crusade, admitted that the abolition of patronage made reunion with the Church of Scot- land not so impossible as it had been heretofore, and stuck tenaciously to the establishment principle. It was chiefly on their adherence to that principle the House of Lords sustained the remnant Free Church's claim of right many years afterwards. In the quicksands of a shifting and sifting age, their unyielding resolution to keep the faith they nursed when young the faith, as they maintained, which was once for all delivered to the saints, was, from one point of view, admirable and enviable. Who would not like, if he could, to have unshakable convictions on the questions which concern the soul? They were charged with ignorance, or wilful blindness. No doubt they refused to pay the least regard to the causes which were elsewhere giving trouble to churches and to individuals. Evolution, higher criticism, geology, historical researches, and the "finds" made by archaeological diggings in Egypt, Babylonia, and other lands, they personally knew little about, and would care less were it not that they were furnishing infidels with Satanic weapons, and unsettling the minds of young ministers, who were even now beginning to evade the assertion and inculcation of long-accepted doctrines of Christianity in their flowery moral essays of sermons. True believers, they said, found the oracles of God and the words of eternal life in the Bible and only there. Looking back a quarter-of-a-century, when the "new theology" was yet undreamed of, one can almost believe that intense, if narrow, piety gave to people unlearned, or learned only in Bible know- ledge, a spirit of real prophecy. Secularism has in the interval made great strides towards conquest of schools and creeds. But such a conquest, however deplorable, cannot be lasting, for mankind must have some form of religion; and the ethics of Christianity will survive the trials of this transitional period, however creeds may be modified and worshipping forms altered to suit two sets of people who retain religious instincts notwithstanding all uncertainties of mind regarding the foundations of their belief. The one set may be described as unavowed Unitarians, who will not admit to them- selves the length they have traversed from the faith of their ancestors, arid the second set as those who seek relief from their perplexities by abnegating freedom of will and the right of using self-judgment. Neither the unavowed Unitarians nor those who plunge back seeking something like a lifebelt to keep them afloat in a troubled sea, in sacerdotalism and mediaeval rites and ceremonies, can be blamed in the least. Both sets retain the worshipping instinct and have the taproot of faith, and both are entitled to seize upon the aids to devotion which best suit their contrasted proclivities.

The Free Church Constitutionalists all through their fight with the huge majority of their co- religionists made a tremendous noise about purity of worship. Organs, "human hymns," and much music were abominations to them. They were certainly proofs of the dying away of the religious fervour and assurance of the Disruption time, and from another point of view they were conservative devices. Doctrinal or expository sermons were losing their former hold on congregations, and the ministers were losing the belief their predecessors had in their divine commission, and in every part and particle of the creed to which they pledged their allegiance. The old spiritual life existed longer, unconscious of lessening force, than it did in the Lowlands, and the Highlanders who so loudly protested against innovations knew by experience that where there was a seeking after religious revival, a simple service of praise, prayer, and exhortation held on a hillside or in an empty barn had more soul-inspiring potency than the most elaborate services that could be held in beautiful churches or the grandest cathedrals.

In their wild outcries against organs and hymns, the zeal of the champions of purity of worship outran their discretion. Organs cannot be forced on congregations that do not want them, nor can they on any religious ground be refused to those who do want them, pay for them, and provide salaries for organists, along with inevitable choir and incidental expenses. Organs are an expensive luxury, in which only large or wealthy congregations can indulge. In an unspiritual age like ours they help to draw to public worship numbers of careless people infected with Secularist ideas, who otherwise would not darken a church door, nor spend their Sundays otherwise than like week-day holidays. But, I think, it was in denouncing the use of hymns in public worship that the worse mistake was made a mistake which by some is regretted already, and which, if persisted in, will be troublesome in the future. The collection of psalms which bears the name of David, is very grand as a whole, and riot to be surpassed as an intense outpouring of mono- theistic faith in and adoration of Almighty God, the Creator and Ruler of the Universe. But it is by no means clear in its recognition of the immortality of the soul and the life beyond the grave. The hymns, on the other hand, are saturated with Christian sentiments, and full of New Testament ideas. From the early days of Christianity, pious believers have been in many lands and many languages pouring out their deepest and holiest thoughts in sacred song. It therefore has come to pass that in the hymns of all nations, and all ages, there is a rising above thoughts and things earthly, and a freedom from controversies theological and secular, which, if not amounting to positive inspiration, at least provides suitable praise and prayer means of expression for the thoughts and heart-desires of present-day believers, and which, moreover, has a greater mesmeric power over the unbelievers than pulpit discourses or doctrinal sermons have in the days and changed situation to which, without exception, all the Churches of Christendom have now come. Questions about organs and hymns had not arisen among Presbyterians when the Free Church was founded. But I know, and my coevals know, that the ministers of '43, before and after they left the Church of Scotland, had no scruple in using the paraphrases in public worship. Nor did they draw a line between the paraphrase and the five "human hymns" appended to them. The first and last of the five were special favourites both in churches and homes.

On the abolition of patronage there was no defensible cause to prevent the union of the three Presbyterian Churches. Religion, reason, economy, and efficiency demanded the consummation of noble reunion, and so did Scotch patriotism and honour, both of which had suffered heavily from disunion. Why was the glorious opportunity so lamentably missed? It was what the Americans would call "the pure cussedness" of sectarianism, with its concreted party interests and personal ambitions of men who would lose importance and ruling power in a re-united National Church, which really caused the throwing-away of the glorious opportunity. The other reasons and arguments that were mustered against national Presbyterian reunion were as ragged an array as Falstaff's recruits. Against this ragged array had to be set the contemporaneous relaxation of doctrines and discipline by the very men who were such sticklers for trifles which they labelled "principles." The ruling party in the Free Church rejected the grand project of the national reunion of the Scotch Presbyterian communions on the old guaranteed foundations for which the first Reformers and the Covenanters contended, and to which the Revolution of 1688 and the 1707 Treaty of Union with England gave legal, and, as far as it could be, perpetual sanction. That rejection was deplorable enough in itself, but it was made ten times worse by the adoption of the project of union with the United Presbyterian Church for disestablishing the Churches of England and Scotland. For worthy people it was surely an unworthy course to take; but sectarian rivalries cause religious and moral blindness when warmed and cherished after justifying reasons for disunion have come to an end. The Rainyites displayed skill and patience in seeking to accomplish the union for disestablishing the National Churches. They brought to their work the wisdom of the serpent, if not in all cases the innocence of the dove. It took them twenty years of continuous struggle to reach their goal, and, when reached, it was not all they had wished to find it. There was opposition to their policy in the Lowlands as well as in the Highlands. But the opposition in the Lowlands was confined to certain towns and localities. It had in Dr Begg and others able leaders, but behind these leaders there was no solid army. Politicalism, influence of the largest giver to church funds, and the lowering of spiritual forces among the masses had done their work in the Low- lands, while in the Highlands there had been no marked change since the Disruption in the religious life and ideals of the people. The Highland Host had therefore to be taken in hand and dealt with as the main army of the Opposition. The Host, in place of joining in the disestablishing campaign, at the head of which Dr Rainy placed himself and came with his henchmen to the North, stood aloof, and then held protesting demonstrations of its own. Free Churchmen stood and spoke on anti-disestablishment platforms side by side with Established Churchmen.

After death deprived the Host of the notable Disruption ministers who had long been its leaders, the Rainyites fondly hoped the time for their victory had come at last. So, one year they brought the Free Church Assembly to Inverness, where they held its meetings in a spacious wooden building on which floated the blue banner of the Covenant bearing the old inscription "For Christ's Crown and Covenant." To flatter the Host one of their surviving Disruption ministers, Dr Aird of Creich, was elected Moderator. Outwardly, all passed pleasantly, but a professor from the South nearly raised a tempest by assuming a bullying tone which gave offence that was instantly resented. Though outwardly there was a truce, the war went on after the Inverness Assembly on the part of the people who suspected the backsliding, as they called it, of some of their ministers, with increasing bitterness and determination. Although I belonged to the "Auld Kirk," I was, as editor of the Northern Chronicle, kept well informed about every phase of the long contest, and especially so regarding the proceedings, opinions, suspicions, and grievances of the Host. The purpose for which the Free Church Assembly was brought to Inverness was, of course, understood by both parties, and the soldiers of the Host considered that incursion, and Dr Rainy's various visits to the Highlands with his "tail on" like a chief gone out to war, as fair campaign tactics. Cajoling flattery, along with attempts to persuade by arguments, were not listed among the grievances of the minority, who were convinced that they had right and truth on their side. Such perverting attempts were simply to be rejected as they deserved. It was freely granted that, having the majority in the Assembly, and a great one to boot, entitled the Rainyites to rule within the Constitution- and control the administrative machinery, superintend the finance and take care of title deeds of churches, manses, and all other sorts of property. Rightly or wrongly, it was complained that matters had been so artfully managed as to enable the majority to use, quite legally, some special funds for party campaigning purposes. Rightly or wrongly, it was vehemently suspected, rather than proved, that undue pressure was brought to bear on ministers of the minority to make them desert their party. Highland Free Church people, whether they belonged to the Host or not, felt much hurt by being accused of making smaller contributions to the Sustentation Fund than they could and should do if they so willed it. It was Dr Ross Taylor's duty to work up the Sustentation Fund, but he knew the Highlands too well to make such a charge is the grossly insulting form in which it was made by speakers and writers of the Rainy party who did not know the Highlands and liked to give a sharp prick to Highland pride. The sting of the charge was that it was colourably true. The number of Highland congregations which were self-supporting was small, while the number whose ministers received more out of the Sustentation Fund than the contributions sent in to it by their congregations, was relatively very large. The indignant counter-assertion was that on a comparison of means and numbers the wronged and insulted Highland congregations were more liberal contributors than the large and wealthy congregations of the South. That assertion I believe to be true. It was a very injudicious thing to accuse Highland congregations of the niggardliness of their givings, and consequent beggary and dependence: a dependence which indicated the duty of humility and servile obedience to the Southern paymaster whom Dr Rainy and his followers were amply authorised and commissioned to represent.

Politics and their Church polity were mixed and rolled together by the Rainyites, who found them- selves dragged after Mr Gladstone into the bog of Irish Home Rule, and into alliance with Roman Catholics on the one hand and Socialists and Secularists on the other. The Host tried very hard to keep politics and the religious controversy entirely separate, and they did so to an almost miraculous degree. Having got household suffrage, the crofters, cottars, and labourers of the Highland counties in most cases elected parliamentary representatives who promised to do, or attempt to do, great things on the land question. But the political strangers who made all things square with the voters on the land question, had to be cautious and conservative on the disestablishment question. At the 1885 General Election, of all the Radical-Gladstonian candidates for Highland county and burgh seats, as far as I can remember, only one, Mr Walter B. Maclaren, who contested the Inver- ness Burghs against Mr Finlay, proclaimed himself a disestablisher. Mr Finlay had drawn up a Bill which was intended to facilitate the union of the Free and Established Churches, by removing some real and also some fancied obstacles; and that Bill was so well received that, at a crowded meeting in the Music Hall, Inverness, Dr Macdonald, of the High Church, and Dr George Mackay came arm in arm to the platform, followed by a crowd of Free and Church of Scotland ministers. That spontaneous and hearty demonstration in favour of the larger union represented Highland ecclesiastical views and wishes far more truly than did any of the disestablishing demonstrations which the Kainyites, with their better organisation and ample command of money and possession of electioneering skill, could ever at that time get up in any part of the Highlands.

As the years rolled on the Disruption leaders of the Constitutionalists died out, and the new leaders who stepped into their places had not their weight of personal authority and experience. The old leaders knew what were Disruption principles far too well to be misled, and their testimonies kept others from being misled. When Dr Begg came to Inverness to attend a large gathering of Constitutionalists he was the last of the ministers who had taken a conspicuous part in Church affairs before the Disruption, and was ever afterwards a prominent personage in the Free Church Assembly. Age did not rob Dr Begg of his natural forcibleness of character, tenacity of opinions, and downright mode of expressing them ; but age added to his authority, because the course of events proved his former foresight. After that visit to Inverness Dr Begg also in a short time slept with his fathers.

While death deprived the Constitutionalists of their Disruption leaders before the war within the Free Church came near its climax, they were suffering loss of strength from another cause the effect of unsettling science and literature upon their new ministers and upon their own younger people. Religious numbness was creeping over the whole land, and the younger ministers could not help being less sure of their theological tenets than the old ones had been, and wishful to get relief from strict Formula adherence to everything contained in the Confession of Faith. They are not to be condemned for assuming that for the general cause of religious worship and life in Scotland relaxation and modification were required to suit reasonable requirements of the restless spirit of the age. Anyone who will try to imagine himself in the position of a minister of any Protestant Church will sympathise with the men who are confronted by the clerical difficulties of the time in which we live. But was it not like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire for the harassed ministers of the Non-established Protestant Churches of England and Scotland to throw themselves into political turmoil, and substitute disestablishment crusading for lost spiritual doctrines and confidence in their own calling? A good deal more could have been said in defence of the theological compromises of the Rainyites had they not been coupled with the disestablishment crusading against the Established Churches of Scotland and England, whose chief offences are historical continuity and superior capacity for serving the religious needs of every parish in Great Britain.

In opposing the Free Church Declaratory Act, the "Men" and those who followed their teaching and example took up a more unyielding attitude than did some of the protesting ministers. I gathered from conversations with some of the out-and-out opponents of change that they had been reading and studying the Confession of Faith from beginning to end, and had come to the conclusion that the attack on the Confession was a false one to divert attention from the real attack, which was aimed at the plenary inspiration and authority of the New Testament. They spoke of Robertson-Smith's case, and said the first attacks had been made on the Old Testament, and they were now followed by attacks on the New Testament, under the pretext that nothing but the Confession was being meddled with.

The passing of the Declaratory Act caused the secession of a few ministers and divinity students, who forthwith founded the small Free Presbyterian Church. The Declaratory Act secessionists departed shaking the Free Church dust off their feet, and making no claim to buildings or funds, as they well might have done. Their secession pleased the Rainyites and weakened the ranks of the Host, for the secessions of little companies of the Free Church people were spread over wide districts and zealous above measure. The Constitutionalists who protested but did not secede, as subsequent events demonstrated, were wiser than those who went out on the Declaratory Act. By resisting, protesting, and remaining in, they served themselves, on the union with the U.P. Church, legal heirs to the Free Church of the Disruption, and got a good share of its property and funds.

It is my firm belief that if the majority, when they carried their unfortunate union project through the Assembly, offered a proportionately fair share of buildings and funds to the unconquerable minority, the offer would have been accepted, and thereby all the subsequent troubles avoided. The minority, both ministers and people, believed themselves to be the genuine Free Church. Many of them feared that their rights might have been circumvented by the skilful arts and devices of their opponents. Why did the majority not make a generous offer of partitions of buildings and funds? Later on it was said by them, or for them, that they had it in their minds to treat the minority generously, after they had proved their own exclusive right to the name as well as to the whole property of the Free Church of the Disruption. That may have been their intention, but their previous methods of dealing with the minority were not calculated to make the latter expect any kindness or semblance of justice from the majority. Moreover, they did not relish the idea of being picked up after having allowed themselves to be contumeliously knocked down and robbed of what they thought their proper inheritance.

The majority professed to be quite certain that if the minority went to law with them, the Court of Session and the House of Lords would give them all they asked. By ingenious, if sophistical reasonings, they had gained numerous converts from the Constitutionalists between the passing of the Declaratory Act and the completion of the Union with the United Presbyterians. Their ministers declared from their pulpits that the Declaratory Act and the proposed union neither abandoned nor essentially altered the principles of 1843, nor the doctrines of the Confession; and I believe that the men who made these assertions were, with few exceptions, saying what they thought was true. Perhaps a small number of Constitutional ministers owed their conversion, or perversion, to undue pressure and fear of losing their modest share of the loaves and fishes ; but higher motives shaped the conduct of the larger portion of those whom their former Host associates came at the severance time to think of as backsliders. The confident boastfulness of the majority that they were sure to gain the whole property of the Free Church, and also serve themselves heir to the title as well, got to be louder- voiced than ever in consequence of their Court of Session victory, of which perhaps the less said the better. "Would the minority venture to appeal to the House of Lords?" was then the question. They had no such financial resources as the majority. The narrow, technical view of the case taken in the Court of Session, along with the cost of appeal, might, it was thought by many, induce them to throw up the sponge. But those who thought so, thought wrongly. The appeal was persisted in, and the money for paying its cost was obtained without much difficulty. The House of Lords judged the case on the broad principles of law and equity, applicable to all societies, religious or secular, who exist under articles of association, and hold property for defined purposes. The judgment of the House of Lords was an astounding surprise and a stunning blow to the majority, who had made themselves so sure of victory all along the line. They, however, upon the whole comported themselves with remarkable dignity of demeanour and moderation of speech and action. Wild ebullitions of wrath and threatenings by the few were only the exceptions which went to prove the calm dignity with which the many bore the unexpected blow.

It may be safely assumed that the blow did not fall altogether as a surprise on the most thoughtful persons of the majority, although, as a matter of policy and prudence, they had beforehand concealed their doubts and fears. Spiritual independence, and even religious liberty itself, must have their limits. Property and rights, under society terms of contract, can never be withdrawn from the review of the Civil Courts, when members of such association complain of breach of contract by which they suffer wrong. In respect to religious freedom, it finds its limit at the point at which, under the guise of religion, public morals are set at defiance. The Thugs of India sought salvation by assassination, and were as criminals hunted down. The Mormons of the United States for the smaller offence of making polygamy a part of their religious creed, were placed under the condemnation of public law. Anarchists boldly claim to be a religious sect, but no State in the world can afford to treat them in any other way than as criminals and enemies of mankind, like pirates. Far aloof from criminal association, claiming religious liberty for warring against public morals, are all the communities in which Christians are divided in this country. Every dissenting Christian association among us can formulate its own creed, and form its own governing regulations, and with the assent of all its members it can alter doctrines and regulations. But when things came to the pass they did in the Free Church, the protesting minority that opposed the Union with the United Presbyterians, and who refused to give up Disruption principles and their rights under the organic deeds of the Free Church, had only a choice between suffering loss of rights and property, or appealing for justice and protection to the Civil Courts.

The Civil Courts had nothing to do with the goodness or badness of Free Church doctrines, principles, and organisations, but simply to find whether, in the case and proofs submitted to them, they were satisfied that the defenders had committed breach of contract, and that the appellants were being wronged. In the Court of Session, over the other narrowing technicalities was seemingly thrown the shadow of that unlimited claim to spiritual independence, which would, if allowed, withdraw consideration of breach of contract and of wrong to a minority from review by the Civil Courts. In the House of Lords the case was dealt with on the broad principles applicable to disputes and divisions arising in all societies, whether secular or religious. English precedents were numerous and decisive. In Scotland the case was a new one, and ideas were imported into the pleadings, and not repudiated by the judges, which, if accepted and generally applied, would have been far from harmless. English Dissenters had numerous quarrels and splits, with some unions also among themselves, and they never had a scruple about going to the Civil Courts for settling their property quarrels. Hence the numerous English precedents with which the judgment on the Free Church case is in perfect agreement.

The judgment of the House of Lords, carefully founded on ascertained facts of this special appeal, and on broad principles applicable in similar disputes and divisions of societies and companies associated for any specific purposes, declared the minority to be the true Free Church, and therefore entitled to all the Free Church property. While this judgment was strictly just, its consequences would have been lamentably unjust had no redress been found. The minority could not possibly use for their proper purposes all the buildings and funds which belonged to the Free Church on the day when the union with the United Presbyterians was consummated. Derelict property of all kinds falls in to the Crown, and in this instance, I suppose, it was assumed that all the property of which the small Free Church could not make proper use at once fell in to the Crown, and could therefore be dealt with as Crown property. The preamble of the Act of Parliament appointing the partitioning Commission, and in- vesting it with unusual powers, might have stated more clearly than it does the legal theory which justified intervention; but there is nothing else to account for the legality of the proceedings adopted. Here then is a very curious state of affairs. By the judgment of the final Court of Appeal all the property of the Free Church belonged to the minority, who never abandoned the Establishment principle, or union of Church and State, and the other party, who tried to take all, and legally lost all, because they wanted to unite with voluntaries, and had taken to campaigning for disestablishment, were now very glad to receive part of the property they had forfeited back from King, Lords, and Commons.

It looked like Fate's mocking irony that the disinterested defenders of the union of Church and State should be deprived of the larger portion of the property which the law awarded them, and that those who took pride in repudiating State connection should thankfully receive back the larger part of what they had forfeited in the shape of State endowment. The Commission took a long time over its work, which was full of difficulties, and of course there was grumbling on both sides over particular decisions, and on the part of the remnant Free Church there was unavoidably a disposition to dispute the fairness of the division when it came near to the finish. Still the Frees got more than equalled their immediate power of proper user. In the Highlands, north of the Grampians, they are numerically rather strong, and well spread out over mainland and islands. In the awarding of churches and manses, I think the Commissioners not only showed them fairness measured by proportion of numbers, but in some instances generous favour. The ministers of the United Free Church who were "evicted " felt aggrieved enough, but they have been looked after by their new Church, and with all possible speed furnished with new churches and dwellings. The work of the Commission has had rather a sedative effect, for now both of the lately warring parties know where they stand.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus