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

The Intellectual Development of Scotland
Chapter II - The Reaction: Moderatism

The reaction against Calvinism took the form of Deism, which in Scotland became known as Moderatism. The reaction was partly due to the fact that the Reformed Church under Calvinism took much too narrow a view of its functions. Modelled on the pattern of Geneva, the Kirk was animated by the theocratic spirit. Its ideal State was more Judaic than Christian. The clergy desired to inaugurate in Scotland a reign of saints. Their ideal was a Commonwealth, the laws of which were to be formed not by secular methods, but by study of the Bible. At a time when Scotland was beginning to enter on its great industrial career, when literature and philosophy were making their influence felt, the exacting supernaturalism of the Kirk came into collision with the secular development of the nation, with the result that an attempt was made to so modify theology as to make it harmonize with the new intellectual and social conditions. The reaction showed itself in the Kirk early in the eighteenth century. John Simson, Professor of Divinity at Glasgow, has been well described as the first notable heretic in the Scottish Church. His name is associated with two departures from Calvinism—the one in the direction of Arminianism, and the other in the direction of Unitarianism, or, as it was then called, Arianism.

My intention is not to detail the history of the various heresies in the Kirk, but rather to show the intellectual and social conditions which gave them birth. The new line of anti-Calvinistic thought is undoubtedly traceable to Francis Hutcheson, who influentially represented the reaction from what was described as the bigoted creed of the Covenanters and their fanatical enthusiasm for principles which seemed to be subversive of a well-regulated social order. Tired of the turmoil of the seventeenth century, men like Hutcheson yearned for a social state which would be favourable to the cultivation of learning and good-fellowship.

Deism in the subtle form of Moderatism was indeed a formidable foe to Calvinism. In opposition to Calvinism, with its doctrine of election, the Hutcheson school, after the style of Shaftesbury, postulated the existence of a God whose ruling desire was the happiness of all His creatures; and in opposition to Calvinism, with its doctrine of human depravity, the need for spiritual regeneration as a preliminary to obedience to the Divine will and communion with God, the Hutcheson school viewed man as, on the whole, a self-reliant being, who was supplied by two guides, reason and conscience, in obedience to which he was enabled to fulfil the purpose of his being. The Moderates looked askance at enthusiasm, and greeted the ecstatic utterances of the Covenanters and their spiritual outpourings with contempt and derision. The Moderates stripped theology of all its mystical qualities; they kept to the broad-beaten paths of morality. Theological literature, like that associated with the names of Boston, Rutherford, and the field preachers —literature which dealt with the soul's direct communion with God—was dismissed as unworthy of the consideration of rational thinkers. And here we reach a vital point in the controversy between Calvinism and Deism, between Evangelical Protestantism and Moder-atism. Calvinism with its doctrine of God, as I have shown, has stood the test of modern thought. Can its doctrine of the relation between man and God also stand the test? The deistic conception of life which underlay Moderatism seemed to make impossible the kinship of man with God, implied in such a phrase as the "mystical union." God was viewed as existing outside of His universe, as external to it as an engineer is to an engine, or a watchmaker to a watch. God was a lawgiver, and the relation of man to Him was that of a subject to a sovereign. Now the Calvinists held that God is a universal presence, the life of nature, and the inspirer of human souls. He is not only our lawgiver, but our life—in Him we live and move and have our being. What has modern thought to say to this? The point to be noted here is that the idea which underlies the "mystical union" is an idea towards which philosophy for some time has been tending. When Spencer broke away from the empiricism of Hume and Mill, and made the fundamental basis of his philosophy to rest not on a bare knowledge of finite details, but in recognition of an Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed, he unconsciously entered on the path which leads to mysticism, though it was of the old type, which consisted, as the late Master of Balliol well remarks, in conceiving of the Absolute in its most abstract form. Still, the mystical element is present, even as a germ, whenever, as in Spencer and in Hegel, man is viewed as part of a universal process or life.

Sooner or later the question arises, Is it possible for man, either by thought or feeling, to come into conscious union with the Source of this universal life? Hegel declared it was possible, but by mixing up the universal and the particular, the human and the divine, he substituted a pantheistic for a theistic conception of the Universe. Under the inspiration of Lotze a school of thinkers sprang up who conceived the Absolute as a universal life, which, as

"immanent in our finite and dependent life, renders us capable at once of philosophical thought, of religious aspiration and devotion, of ethical self-renunciation, and of that highest love which is more fundamental than all individual differences, and as it takes possession of the soul, absorbs, and so annihilates, all private egoistic claims."

According to this philosophic conception, in the words of Professor Upton in his Bases of Religious Belief—

"the Supreme Object of religious belief is never entirely an inferred reality, but is even more directly apprehended in the soul's higher life than the external world of Nature is directly apprehended in our sentient and perceptional experience. With this immediate consciousness of the Universal and Absolute is indivisibly blended the consciousness of our dependence on, and our intrinsic relationship to, this eternal Reason, this source of categorical Imperatives, this immanent presence of an all-embracing, all-unifying Love."

Or, as Emerson puts it: "The rapture of the Moravian and the Quietist, the revival of the Calvinistic Churches, the experiences of the Methodists, are varying forms of the shudder of awe and delight with which the individual soul always mingles with the universal soul." Translate this into theological language, and you are not far from the mysticism of Calvinism, and you have a key to the mystical union which holds such a prominent place; in the Reformed Theology.

Moderatism, with its deistical outlook and its tendency to minimize the supernatural, found a congenial environment in Scotland at the Union. With the decay of theological, ecclesiastical and political strife, the national mind woke up to the necessity of cultivating the intellectual and industrial side of life. How great was the intellectual leeway that had to be made up is seen from the following utterance of Carlyle: "For a long time after Scotland had become British we had no literature; at the date when Addison and Steele were writing their Spectator our own good Thomas Boston was writing with noblest intent, but alike in defiance of grammar and philosophy, his Fourfold State of Man. Then came the schisms in our national Church, and the fiercer schisms in our body politic. Theologic ink, with gall enough in both cases, seemed to have blotted out the intellect of the country. Lord Kames made nearly the first attempt at writing English, and ere long Hume, Robertson, Smith and a whole host of followers attracted hither the eyes of all Europe." To the Moderates largely belongs the credit of the intellectual revival, whatever their defects—and they were many—in the sphere of religion. The latter half of the eighteenth century, during which Moderatism lent the weight of its influence to raising the intellectual status of Scotland, was characterized by extraordinary brilliancy. As has been well said, nowhere but in France was there so rich and varied an efflorescence of genius. As Mr. Mathieson in his really admirable work The Awakening of Scotland remarks: "The England of that day produced no such philosopher as Hume; no such opponent of his scepticism as Campbell; no such historians— to adopt the contemporary verdict—as Hume and Robertson, no such biographer as Boswell; no such preacher as Blair; no such economist as Adam Smith; no such physician as Cullen; no such chemist as Black; no such engineer as Watt; and it was within this period that Robert Burns, the finest and fullest embodiment of his country's genius, lived and died." It is not for a moment to be supposed that the Moderates had a monopoly of intellectual power; but they had, what the Evangelicals lacked, the genius of literary expression. The late Dr. John Watson (Ian Maclaren) puts the matter in a nutshell in his comment upon the oblivion that has overtaken the learned productions of the leading Evangelicals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: "Those theologians of the Kirk have passed into oblivion because their theology was divorced from letters. If they could have written like Hooker or Bunyan they would have lived, because they could have spoken to us in our own tongue at its best; because they wrote in a local style they have died."

In so far as the Moderates emphasized the great value of learning and literature, which the Evangelicals unduly depreciated, their influence was beneficial; but their gospel of culture, resting as it did on a superficial estimate of human nature, was bound, sooner or later, to prove its insufficiency when confronted with the grim realities of life. The French Revolution dealt Moderatism in Scotland—as it did Deism in England—a staggering blow. In presence of that great eruption of evil, the theory of the natural goodness of man and the all-sufficiency of reason seemed the product of a poetic imagination. Was there not in that terrible convulsion striking confirmation of the Calvinistic theory of the depravity of man? Moderatism in Scotland, which at best was confined to a small section of the clergy and laity, could not withstand the spiritual reaction caused by the French Revolution. The reaction took the form of an Evangelical revival, which had for one of its important results the bringing to the front the question of patronage, thereby leading to the Disruption.

It is significant that the leaders of the Disruption were also leaders in the Evangelical revival. The Moderates were greatly weakened when Chalmers left them, and to him and Dr. Andrew Thomson is largely due the rise of Evangelicalism in power and popularity. Nor must we forget Dr. Thomas M'Crie, who, by his intellectual penetration and his wide culture, showed that there was no necessary antagonism between Calvinism and literature.

Hugh Miller's contributions to the Witness further showed that it was possible to combine hearty acceptance of the Evangelical doctrines with a vivid interest in science and literature. Moreover, by his marvellous wealth of sympathy, Chalmers showed that the old Evangelicalism, which had been denounced for its narrowness, was wide enough to embrace all phases of intellectual activity, from theology to sociology. Unhappily, the controversial atmosphere of the Disruption period was not favourable to the high conception which Dr. Chalmers and Hugh Miller formed of Evangelicalism. Gradually the theological and the ecclesiastical spirit dominated the Church, the result being the divorce between religion and life, between theology, science, and literature.

How far the gulf had widened between theology and literature was seen in the uncouth form in which the Evangelical leaders presented their doctrines. In his day William Cunningham was a leading champion in the theological and ecclesiastical field. His intellectual massiveness is apparent on every page of his writings; but the reader will search in vain for anything approaching sweetness and light. Men like Cunningham were so absorbed in the work of defining the relations between Church and State, and in defending and expounding the Reformed theology, that they had no time to cultivate the graces of style.

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