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Secession From The Church Of Scotland
by [?]


A great revolution has taken place in Scotland. A greater has been threatened. Nor is that danger even yet certainly gone by. Upon the accidents of such events as may arise for the next five years, whether fitted or not fitted to revive discussions in which many of the Non-seceders went in various degrees along with the Seceders, depends the final (and, in a strict sense, the very awful) question, What is to be the fate of the Scottish church? Lord Aberdeen’s Act is well qualified to tranquillize the agitations of that body; and at an earlier stage, if not intercepted by Lord Melbourne, might have prevented them in part. But Lord Aberdeen has no power to stifle a conflagration once thoroughly kindled. That must depend in a great degree upon the favorable aspect of events yet in the rear.

Meantime these great disturbances are not understood in England; and chiefly from the differences between the two nations as to the language of their several churches and law courts. The process of ordination and induction is totally different under the different ecclesiastical administrations of the two kingdoms. And the church courts of Scotland do not exist in England. We write, therefore, with an express view to the better information of England proper. And, with this purpose, we shall lead the discussion through four capital questions:–

I. What is it that has been done by the moving party?

II. How was it done? By what agencies and influence?

III. What were the immediate results of these acts?

IV. What are the remote results yet to be apprehended?

I. First, then, WHAT is it that has been done? Up to the month of May in 1834, the fathers and brothers of the ‘Kirk’ were in harmony as great as humanity can hope to see. Since May, 1834, the church has been a fierce crater of volcanic agencies, throwing out of her bosom one-third of her children; and these children are no sooner born into their earthly atmosphere, than they turn, with unnatural passions, to the destruction of their brethren. What can be the grounds upon which an acharnement so deadly has arisen?

It will read to the ears of a stranger almost as an experiment upon his credulity, if we tell the simple truth. Being incredible, however, it is not the less true; and, being monstrous, it will yet be recorded in history, that the Scottish church has split into mortal feuds upon two points absolutely without interest to the nation; first, upon a demand for creating clergymen by a new process; secondly, upon a demand for Papal latitude of jurisdiction. Even the order of succession in these things is not without meaning. Had the second demand stood first, it would have seemed possible that the two demands might have grown up independently, and so far conscientiously. But, according to the realities of the case, this is not possible; the second demand grew out of the first. The interest of the Seceders, as locked up in their earliest requisition, was that which prompted their second. Almost everybody was contented with the existing mode of creating the pastoral relation. Search through Christendom, lengthways and breadthways, there was not a public usage, an institution, an economy, which more profoundly slept in the sunshine of divine favor or of civil prosperity, than the peculiar mode authorized and practised in Scotland of appointing to every parish its several pastor. Here and there an ultra-Presbyterian spirit might prompt a murmur against it. But the wise and intelligent approved; and those who had the appropriate–that is, the religious interest–confessed that it was practically successful. From whom, then, came the attempt to change? Why, from those only who had an alien interest, an indirect interest, an interest of ambition in its subversion. As matters stood in the spring of 1834, the patron of each benefice, acting under the severest restraints–restraints which (if the church courts did their duty) left no room or possibility for an unfit man to creep in–nominated the incumbent. In a spiritual sense, the church had all power: by refusing, first of all, to ‘license‘ unqualified persons; secondly, by refusing to ‘admit‘ out of these licensed persons such as might have become warped from the proper standard of pastoral fitness, the church had a negative voice, all-potential in the creation of clergymen; the church could exclude whom she pleased. But this contented her not. Simply to shut out was an ungracious office, though mighty for the interests of orthodoxy through the land. The children of this world, who became the agitators of the church, clamored for something more. They desired for the church that she should become a lady patroness; that she should give as well as take away; that she should wield a sceptre, courted for its bounties, and not merely feared for its austerities. Yet how should this be accomplished? Openly to translate upon the church the present power of patrons–that were too revolutionary, that would have exposed its own object. For the present, therefore, let this device prevail–let the power nominally be transferred to congregations: let this be done upon the plea that each congregation understands best what mode of ministrations tends to its own edification. There lies the semblance of a Christian plea; the congregation, it is said, has become anxious for itself; the church has become anxious for the congregation. And then, if the translation should be effected, the church has already devised a means for appropriating the power which she has unsettled; for she limits this power to the communicants at the sacramental table. Now, in Scotland, though not in England, the character of communicant is notoriously created or suspended by the clergyman of each parish; so that, by the briefest of circuits, the church causes the power to revolve into her own hands.