« السابقةمتابعة »
that though they could not recal the past, if they could by a semblance of moderation gain over those brethren, whose views were the same with those of the seceders, but who had not yet openly declared themselves, a most important point would be gained, and the schism, though not totally made up, might be prevented from spreading. Accordingly, when the assembly met upon the second day of May, 1734, it was found to be of a complexion somewhat different from many that had preceded it. There was still, however, as has been remarked by one exceedingly partial to this assembly, " the mighty opposition of great men, ruling elders, who had a strong party in the house to support them,"* and who by this means took effectual care that nothing should be done in the way of reformation, further than might be justified by a prudent and calculating worldly policy.
Of this assembly the Rev. James Gordon of Alford was chosen moderator, William, marquis of Lothian, being commissioner. In addition to the ordinary letters of congratulation, this assembly presented a humble address to his majesty on the marriage of the princess royal with his serene highness the prince of Orange, not remarkable for any thing beyond the verbiage common upon such occasions. The first private cause that came before this assembly, was an appeal of the heritors and elders of the parish of Cambusnethan against the presbytery of Hamilton, their sentence concerning the settlement of that parish,” which was decided in the use and wont style, the case being remitted back to the presbytery to be determined as they shall judge to be for the edification of that congregation. In a complaint, however, by the parish of Auchtermuchty, and the presbytery of Cupar, against the commission concerning the settlement of Mr. Matthew Moncrief, probationer, as minister of Auchtermuchty, they found that the commission had exceeded its powers, and, contrary to common practice, annulled the settlement.t
In examining and passing the commission book also, it was done “ with a reservation as to their conduct, and sentence
Fair and Impartial Testimony, p. 76. + Unprinted Acts of Assembly, 1734.
past against Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moncrief, and James Fisher, excepting also from the approbation of their book the settlement of the parish of Troquire, and the judgment given by them relative to the planting the parish of Portmoak, which are reserved till the complaints concerning these be heard, reserving also the consideration of the remarks made on their method of proceeding to, or executing other settlements."* This was certainly somewhat new in the mode of disposing of commission cases; but it was soon found that the assembly wanted time to inquire more particularly into these matters, and they were turned over to the next commission.
An act, declaring the seventh act of assembly, 1730, discharging the recording of dissents from the deeds of church courts, and the eighth act of assembly, 1732, concerning the planting of vacant churches, to be no longer binding rules in this church, was passed by this assembly, and, on the last day of their sitting, the following, respecting the seceding brethren:
_“ The General Assembly, considering the great hurt and prejudice that hath at all times arisen, and must yet arise to the church from divisions and animosities creeping in and taking root among the members thereof, notwithstanding their unanimity in sentiments upon material and fundamental points which more nearly concern the promoting the interests of our blessed Lord and Saviour, the establishing the peace of the church, and the advancement of practical godliness, and true religion within the bounds of it, and particularly the lamentable consequences that have followed, and may yet follow upon the separation of Messrs. Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moncrief, and James Fisher, from this church and judicatures thereof, and judging it their duty to endeavour, by all just and proper means consistent with the honour and glory of God, and the maintaining the peace and authority of the church, to restore harmony and brotherly love amongst all the members of it. Therefore, the General Assembly, without further inquiring into the occasions or steps of proceeding, either on the part of the said brethren, or by the several judi
* Unprinted Acts of Assembly, 1734.
catories, under whose consideration their case hath been, which may have produced that unhappy separation, but resolving that all questions on these heads shall for hereafter be com-, fortably removed, have empowered, and hereby do empower the synod of Perth and Stirling, before whom the exceptions to some part of the conduct of two of these four reverend brethren were first taken and tried, upon such application made to them, as they shall judge proper, to take the case of the said four brethren, as it now stands, under their consideration, with full power to the said synod to proceed, and do therein, as they shall find most justifiable and expedient for restoring the peace and preserving the authority of this church, and for promoting the edification of the members of the body of Christ, and particularly for uniting the said four brethren to the communion of this church, and restoring them to their respective charges. But with this express direction, that the synod shall not take upon them to judge of the legality or formality of the former proceedings of the church judicatories in relation to this affair, or either to approve of, or censure the same, but shall only, in virtue of the power and authority now delegated to them by the assembly, proceed to take such steps for attaining the above ends for the future, as they shall find just and tending to edification. And the assembly do hereby appoint the foresaid synod to meet at Stirling, upon the first Tuesday of July next, and from time to time to name and appoint the place and diets of their after meetings on the said affair, as they shall see cause, until the matter shall be ripened for a final conclusion, and recommend to them to use their utmost endeavours to bring the matter, as soon as reasonably can be, to a final and happy issue." .
We have given the above document entire, as we consider it one of the most important, and one of the strangest on record. The preceding assembly had enjoined its commission to do all that had been done with regard to the seceding brethren; this assembly orders a synod to reverse all that the commission had done, but with the express proviso that they should not take it upon them to judge either of the legality or the formality of the proceedings they were thus ordered blindly to reverse. Upon what principle was the synod to proceed? If the sen
tence was pronounced upon proper grounds, and the subjects thereof had discovered no symptoms of repentance, the assembly itself could not warrantably nor consistently take it off. This the leaders, “ the great men, the ruling elders, who had a strong party in the house to support them,” were perfectly aware of, but there were a few men, such as Willison, Currie, M“Intosh, &c. &c. still adhering to them, whom they wished to secure, and they secured them by an act more absurd than any of those which had immediately occasioned the secession, an act requiring a synod to reverse a sentence that either was or ought to have been pronounced in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, without inquiring into its validity, or presuming to give an opinion respecting it! Closely connected with this act, and of a similar character, was that “ concerning ministerial freedom in this church,” in which, “ the General Assembly considering that some are under apprehensions that by the seventh act of assembly, 1733, concerning Mr. Ebenezer Erskine, and others, ministers are laid under greater restraints as to their ministerial freedom than they were by the rules of this church before the said act was passed. Therefore, they do, for the satisfaction of all, hereby declare, that due and regular ministerial freedom is still left entire 10 all ministers, and that the same was not, nor shall be held or understood to be any wise impaired or restrained by the late assembly's decision in that particular process."*
Every man of common understanding must be astonished at the trifling insignificancy of these acts, and the “leading elders” of the assembly must have smiled at the simplicity of the rer formers, and friends of the seceding brethren, who agreed with so much self-complacency to statutes pretending to annul, bụt at the same time intended to confirm, if not the acts themselves, all that was intended by them, and to leave them special precedents to be acted upon so soon as circumstances would permit. Though these performances, however, were greatly important in the estimation of the churchmen, who had been, as they supposed, the authors of them, and in the estimation of a great part of their followers, they had no soothing effect upon the seceding
• Acts of Assembly for 1734.
brethren, who had far too much penetration to be imposed upon by means so very superficial. At the same time, aware of the popularity of the scheme, and certain, that though it should not bring back the seceders, which they in all probability never expected that it would, it would somewhat reduce the number of their followers, the leading party in the church hastened to bring it to a conclusion. Accordingly, the synod of Perth and Stirling, assembled at the latter place, July the second, 1734, " and taking the case of the four brethren, Messrs. Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moncrief, and James Fisher, under their consideration, with the power and authority delegated to them by the act of the General Assembly, dated at Edinburgh, the fourteenth day of May last, to do therein as they should find most justifiable and expedient for attaining the ends mentioned in the said act, and tending most for edification for the future, and also, considering the applications that have been made, and petitions and addresses to this synod, from towns and parishes concerned, in behalf of these brethren, and remembering how warmly the elders in many parishes of this province did address their respective presbyteries in their favours before the last assembly, and after long and serious desi liberation, and reasoning upon the whole case of the said four brethren as it now stands, they are of opinion, that restoring and uniting them to ministerial communion with this church, to their respective charges, and to the judicatories to which they belong, and the free exercise of their ministerial functions therein, by a solemn act and judicial deed of the General Assembly of this church, whose power and authority as to this matter, is, by the forementioned act, delegated to this synod, will very much tend to restore the peace, and preserve the just authority of this church in the exercise of all its righteous privileges and ministerial functions, and to promote the edification of the members of the body of Christ; therefore, this synod, by virtue of the foresaid delegated power and authority; and, in name of our Lord Jesus Christ, did, and hereby do, with one voice and consent, take off the sentences pronounced by the commission of the General Assembly, 1733, against the foresaid four brethren, Messrs. Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moncrief, and James Fisher, declaring the same of