1902 Encyclopedia > Church of Scotland

Church of Scotland




SCOTLAND, CHURCH OF. In the article PRESBYTERIANISM the history of the Church of Scotland was brought down to the middle of the 18th century, and the story of the secessions of 1733 and 1751 was there told. We take up here the church's history at the beginning of the " Moderate " rule. Her annals during the next three-quarters of a century are singularly uneventful. In close alliance with the state, she increases in power and dignity, and becomes the home of letters and philosophy. But there is no great movement of a theological nature, no striking religious development to lend her popular interest.

The strength of the church as well as her tendency to moderation arose in great part out of the political circum-stances of the early part of the 18th century. Presbytery, being loyal to the house of Hanover, while Episcopacy was Jacobite, enjoyed the royal favour and was treated as a firm ally of the Government. .The Patronage Act of 1712 threw the filling up of parishes into the hands of those well-affected to the Government, and the example of the mode of patronage pmctised in England may have tended to promote a disregard of the religious feelings of the people. The effect on the clergy was to encoUrage them to seek the friendship of the landed gentry and to regard the higher rather than the lower orclers of society as their natural allies, so that they were at the same time led to liberal ways of thinking and rendered largely independent of their congregations.





It is remarked by Dr Hill Burton, and Carlyle repeats the remark, that " Scots dissent never was a protest against tho principles of the church, but always tended to preserve the old principles of the church, whence the Establishment - by the progress of enlightenment as some said, by deterioration according to others - was lapsing." The secessions carried off the more fervent elements ; yet enough of the old leaven always remained to exert a powerful influence. Thus, while the church as a whole was more peaceful, more courtly, more inclined to the friendship of the world than at any former time, it contained two well-marked parties, in one of which these characteristics of the religion of the 18th century were more marked than in the other. The Moderate party, which maintained its ascendency till the beginning of the lOth century, and impressed its character on the church, sought to make the working of the church in its different parts as systematic and regular as possible, to make the assembly supreme and enforce respect for its decisions by presbyteries, and to render the judicial procedure of the church as exact and formal as that of the civil courts. The popular party, regarding the church less from the side of the Government, had less sympathy with the progressive movements of the age, and desired greater strictness in discipline. The maini subject of dispute arose at first from the exercise of patron- ' age. Presbyteries in various parts of the country were still disposed to disregard the presentations of lay patrons, and to settle the men desired by the people ; but legal decisions had shown that if they acted in this way their nominee, while legally minister of the parish, could not claim the stipend. To the risk of such sacrifices the church, led by the Moderate party, refused to expose herself. By the new policy inaugurated by Dr Robertson, which led to the second secession, the assembly compelled presbyteries to give effect to presentations, and in a long series of disputed settlements the " call," though still held essential to a settlement, was less and less regarded, until it was declared that it was not necessary, and that the church courts were bound to induct any qualified presentee. The substitution of the word "con-currence " for " call " about 1764 indicates the subsidiary and ornamental light in which the assent of the parishioners was now to be regarded. The church could have given more weight to the wishes of the people ; she professed to regard patronage as a grievance, and the annual instructions of the assembly to the commission (the committee representing the assembly till its next meeting) enjoined that body to take advantage of any opportunity which might arise for getting rid of the grievance of patronage, an injunction which was not discontinued till 1784. It is not likely that any change in the law could have been obtained at this period, and dis-regard of the law might have led to an exhausting struggle with the state, as was actually the case at a later period. Still it was in the power of the church to give more weight than she did to the feelings of the people ; and her working of the patronage system drove large numbers from the Establishment. A melancholy catalogue of forced settle-ments marks the annals of the church from 1749 to 1780, and wherever an unpopular presentee was settled the people quietly left the Establishment and erected a meeting-house. In 1763 there was a great debate in the assembly on the pro-gress of schism, in which the popular party laid the whole blame at the door of the Moderates, while the Moderates rejoined that patronage and Moderatism had made the church the dignified and powerful institution she had come to be. In 1764 the number of meeting-houses was 120, and in 1773 it had risen to 190. Nor was a conciliatory attitude taken up towards the seceders. The ministers of the Relief desired to remain connected with the Establish-ment, but were not suffered to do so. Those ministers who resigned.their parishes to accept calls to Relief con-gregations, in places where forced settlements had taken place, and who might have been and claimed to be recog-nized as still ministers of the church, were deposed and forbidden to look for any ministerial communion with the clergy of the Establishment. Such was the policy of the Moderate ascendency, or of Principal Robertson's adminis-tration, on this vital subject. It had the merit of success in so far as it completely established itself in the church. The presbyteries ceased to disregard presentations, and lay patronage came to be regarded as part of the order of things. But the growth of dissent steadily continued and excited alarm from time to time; and it may be questioned whether the peace of the church was not purchased at too high a price. The Moderate period is justly regarded as in some respects the most brilliant in the history of the church. Her clergy included many distinguished Scotsmen, of whom an account is given under their respective names. See

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