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Principal Developments In Scotland

Principal Developments In Scotland


In 1712, five years after the legislative union was effected between the English and the Scotch realms, Parliament passed an act destined to be the fruitful cause of disturbance and division in the Church of Scotland. This was the act for the restoration of patronage. The measure was uncalled for and obnoxious to national feeling, a most unfortunate piece of legislative inter-meddling. Trouble first began in 1732, when an act supplementary to the law of patronage, which was passed by the Assembly, was protested against by a minority as being a still further encroachment upon the rights of the people in the settling of their pastors. Among those protesting there were four, namely, Ebenezer Erskine, Alexander Moncrief, William Wilson, and James Fisher, who urged their cause with so much vigor and determination that they earned the displeasure of the Assembly, and finally in 1733 were suspended by the commission of that body from the ministry of the Established Church. Being thus denied what they deemed their rights, and being furthermore inclined to complain of latitudinarian tendencies in the Establishment, they proceeded to form a church of their own, which was known as the associate Presbytery. Ralph Erskine and others joined with them, and in 1742 they numbered twenty-six ministers. A few years later the Associate Presbytery split into two factions, on the question of taking the burgher oath.

1 The one taking this oath declared that he professed and allowed with all his heart "the true religion presently professed within this realm and authorized by the laws thereof."
In 1820 the two sections came together and formed the United Secession Church. Not very long after the schism headed by Ebenezer Erskine, a second occurred for similar reasons. An obnoxious candidate having been presented by a patron to a perish, the people and the presbytery refused to settle him. The Assembly undertook to deal with the presbytery, and commanded them to ordain the patron's nominee. On their refusal, one of their number, Mr. Gillespie, was deposed (1752). This led to the formation of the so-called Relief Synod, which held the place of an independent Church till 1847, when it was incorporated with the United Secession Church. The whole body is now known as the United Presbyterian Church.


Besides these sects of Scottish Dissenters, another of a different type had its origin in the eighteenth century. From his study of the teachings of the New Testament, John Glass came to the conclusion that church establishments are inconsistent with the gospel, and in 1727 published a book to that effect. This caused his deposition. a small sect was gathered by him, called Glassites, or Sandemanians, the latter name being derived from Robert Sandeman, the son-in-law of the founder. In pursuance of their literal acceptance of New Testament precedents, the sect insisted upon weekly participation of the eucharist, love-feasts, the kiss of charity on certain occasions, abstinence from blood and things strangled, feet-washings, plurality of elders or pastors in each church, exclusion from the pastoral office of those having been twice married, and liberal sharing with each other of private goods.


The secessions which occurred did not leave the Established Church homogeneous in spirit and policy. Two rival parties continued within its bounds, the one known as the popular or evangelical, the other as the moderate party. Of these the latter was in the ascendant in the eighteenth century, first under the leadership of Patrick Cuming, and then of William Robertson. This party, if not from conviction enthusiastically in favor of patronage, believed in accepting it as the existing law of the Church, and was disposed to grant little indulgence to those who felt themselves aggrieved on this score. Its policy, conceived in a rather arbitrary spirit, had its advantages; but it had also its disadvantages. "It introduced order within the Church. It crushed the revolt of presbyteries. It silenced in many cases popular clamor. But it quietly and gradually alienated masses of people from the Establishment." 1 John Tullock, in the St. Giles Lectures.


As the eighteenth century advanced, the rigid spirit of Scottish orthodoxy found itself invaded by more liberal tendencies. There was not a little aversion, however, to departure from old grooves, and some remarkable exhibitions of inveterate prejudice are on record. As late as 1727 a woman was burned for witchcraft, and in 1736 the Associate Presbytery solemnly protested against the repeal, which was then effected, of the laws against witchcraft. It is also recorded that sticklers for old-time customs "denounced in repeated resolutions the legal vacation in December as a national sin, because it implied some recognition of the superstitious festival of Christmas." 1 Lecky, ii. 90; Burton, History of Scotland from 1689 to 1748, ii. 333.


Relaxation of dogmatic zeal was especially conspicuous among the so-called Moderates. While expressing no open dissent from the creeds of the Church, they gave to doctrine a secondary place in their spirit and practice, and adopted to a considerable extent in their sermons the moral-essay style so current in England in the early part of the eighteenth century. Their bias is also seen in the fact that their reputation as writers was won mainly in the held of general literature rather than in that of theology. In the former domain they commenced about the middle of the century to acquire an enviable fame. A catalogue of these literary Churchmen has been given as follows: "Beginning with Robert Wallace, author of a 'Dissertation on the Numbers of Mankind in Ancient and Modern Times,' which anticipated Hume's essay on the same subject, and led the way to the later Malthusian speculations, there is a perfect galaxy of distinguished authors to be found in the Scottish Church during the next forty years. Robert Watson, the historian of Philip II.; Adam Ferguson, the historian of Rome; John Home, the author of the tragedy of 'Douglas;' Hugh Blair, the author of the celebrated 'Sermons,' and of the 'Lectures on Rhetoric;' Robert Henry, the philosophic author of the 'History of Great Britain;' and lastly and chiefly, William Robertson, the historian of Scotland, of America, and of Charles V., were all ministers of the Church of Scotland. Add to these Thomas Reid, the well-known head of the Scottish philosophy, and George Campbell, author of the 'Treatise on Miracles,' in reply to Hume, and of the 'Elements of Rhetoric,' and the intellectual picture is still more striking." 1 John Tullock, in the St. Giles Lectures. It seems a little remarkable that out of all this list of writers only the last two appear to have made any definite reply to the skeptical productions of Hume. But perhaps a sufficient explanation may be found in the predominance in these authors of the literary over the dogmatic impulse, and in the manner and character of the unbelieving metaphysician. There was very little in Hume, aside from his bare speculations, to provoke into controversial antagonism. In ordinary intercourse he was remote from the style of the scoffing free-thinker. As Mackenzie remarks, "He had, it might be said, two minds; one which indulged in the metaphysical scepticism which his genius could invent, but which it could not always disentangle; another, simple, natural, and playful, which made his conversation delightful to his friends, and even frequently conciliated men whose principles of belief his philosophical doubts, if they had not power to shake, had grieved and offended. During the latter period of his life I was frequently in his company amidst persons of genuine piety, and I never heard him venture a remark at which such men, or ladies, still more susceptible than men, could take offense." 1 Quoted by J. H. Burton, Life and Correspondence of David Hume, ii. 439.


So far as the scope of rational proofs is concerned, Hume's system was thoroughly skeptical. It cast doubt upon the substantial existence of both mind and matter, questioned the validity of the category of causation, and discredited the ability of testimony to establish the fact of miracles. Still, had Hume's writings contained a larger element of reverence for sacred things, it would not be necessary, in spite of his radical propositions, to charge him with a wholesale scepticism. Men of the most believing temper, while magnifying the office of faith or spontaneous sentiment, have sometimes accorded almost as little to the sphere of demonstration as was left to it by Hume. Moreover, it actually appears that Hume gave to sentiment some part of that which he took away from reason. Various passages in his writings indicate a preference for the theistic conception, or the supposition of an intelligent Author of nature. It appears also that he did not mean to challenge unqualifiedly the idea of causation. In a letter, belonging presumably to his later years, we find him writing: "Allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause. I only maintained that our certainty of the falsehood of that proposition proceeded neither from intuition nor demonstration, but from another source. ... There are many different kinds of certainty, and some of them as satisfactory to the mind, though perhaps not so regular, as the demonstrative kind." 1 Burton, i. 97, 98. To this may be added the response which Hume gave to Boyle, as the latter intimated that his excessive grief over the death of his mother was due to his lack of religious faith. "Though I throw out my speculations," said the philosopher, "to entertain the learned and metaphysical world, yet, in other things, I do not think so differently from the rest of the world as you imagine." 2 Burton, i. 293, 294.


Some effort was made in the direction of an ecclesiastical censure upon the opinions of Hume. In the General Assembly of 1756 it was moved to appoint a committee to inquire into his teaching. The motion, however, was far from commanding a majority. To the end, Hume lived in friendly relations with the leading clergymen of Edinburgh.


The Philosophy of Common-Sense founded by Thomas Reid, and carried forward by Dugald Stewart and others, served in a measure as an offset to the system of Hume. The distinctive characteristic of this philosophy was its stress upon intuitive beliefs, or those fundamental truths which command the assent of men of sound understanding who attend to them without prejudice. Demonstration, it was maintained, is not needed for this order of truths; being thoroughly agreeable to man's mental constitution, they carry in themselves an adequate sanction.


On the whole, very little of positive heterodoxy came to the surface in Scotland during the eighteenth century. In the early part of the century, Simson, professor of divinity in Glasgow, fell under suspicion of Pelagianism, and in 1729 was suspended from teaching and preaching. Among those who thought his sentence too light was Thomas Boston, one of the "Marrow Men," as they were called. The Erskines were included in the same party. They derived their name from a work which they brought to notice,--a work composed in the time of the Rebellion by an Oxford Puritan, and styled the "Marrow of Modern Divinity." Its tone was the extreme opposite of Pelagianism, and its strong statements on the subject of grace were pushed well-nigh to the border of Antinomianism. The Assembly censured the book. In the latter part of the century some of the Moderates evinced more or less dislike of creed subscription, and a few are supposed to have leaned to Arian or Socinian views. A book written in 1790 by Dr. M'Gill of Ayr, on the death of Christ, incurred the charge of Socinianism, but the author by the help of explanations succeeded in escaping sentence of deposition. Those credited with similar views were styled the "New-light" party,-- a designation which appears in the poetry of Burns.


The eighteenth century, in general, was not a time of eminent religious enterprise in Scotland. While something was done to propagate Christian knowledge among the rude and Romanized Highlanders, and a society was organized to this end, there was a general lack of missionary zeal. Church extension was not carried forward, and many sanctuaries were allowed to become dilapidated. The border of the nineteenth century had been passed before practical Christian enterprise began to press forward with worthy strides.

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