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time to be relieved from the grievance of patronage, until the same shall, by the blessing of God, prove successful,” and they gave directions to “ the commission to make due
application to the king and parliament for redress of the said grievance, in case a favourable opportunity for so doing shall occur.” They also set forth “ some of the grounds in law, upon which the assembly apprehend that claim is founded, being the laws made for the establishment of this church at the revolution, and solemnly confirmed at the union of the two kingdoms.” At the same time they dismissed the complaint of the parishioners of Denny, against the sentence of the commission, appointing the settlement of Mr. James Stirling, as minister of that parish, though the congregation were reclaiming almost to a man.
The harshness of the sentence, to be sure, was attempted to be a little taken off, by enjoining the presbytery to deal tenderly with the people of Denny; but they were to be at pains to bring them to submit to the decisions of the church, and to the intruder Mr. Stirling's ministry. They also appointed the presbytery and synod of Dumfries to enrol Mr. James Pursell, who had formerly been intruded upon the parish of Troquire, a member of their respective judicatories, support him in his ministry, and endeavour to bring the people of that parish to submit to it.
After all this, with marvellous inconsistency, on the last day of their meeting, this assembly passed an “ act against intrusion of ministers into vacant congregations,” in the following words: “ The General Assembly considering from act of assembly, August sixth, 1575, Second Book of Discipline, chap. iii. par. 4, 6, and 8, registered in the assembly books, and appointed to be subscribed by all ministers, and ratified by acts of parliament, and likewise the act of assembly, 1638, December seventeenth and eighteenth, and assembly, 1715, act 9th, that it is, and has been, since the reformation, a principle of this church, that no minister shall be intruded into any parish contrary to the will of the congregation, do therefore seriously recommend to all judicatories of this church, to have a due regard to the said principle in planting vacant congregations, and that all presbyteries be at pains to bring about harmony and unanimity in congregations, and to avoid every thing that
may excite or encourage unreasonable exceptions in people, against a worthy person that may be proposed to be their minister, in the present situation and circumstances of the church, so as none be intruded into such parishes, as they regard the glory of God, and edification of the body of Christ.”*
The above act was certainly in contradiction to their own practice, and to this day, seems never to have influenced any one assembly in any one of its decisions. This assembly also turned an excellent overture of the late assembly, concerning gospel preaching, into a standing act; yet this same assembly declined to pass any censure upon professor Campbell of St. Andrews, though he had taught privately, and published to the world, “ that men by their natural powers without revelation, cannot find out the being of a God;" and, with an inconsistency common to depraved hearts and heretical heads, he taught at the same time, “ that the law of nature is sufficient to guide rational minds to happiness. That self-love,” which he modified into interest or pleasure, " is the sole principle and motive of all virtuous and religious actions. That Christ's disciples had no notion of his Divinity before his resurrection, before which, they expected nothing from him but a worldly kingdom, and during the interval between his death and resurrection, that they looked upon him to be an impostor.”+ Mr. Campbell, as the reader may readily believe from this specimen, had promulgated many other absurdities, but these were brought directly before the assembly, and, after being heard at great length upon his own positions, the grossness of which was made more apparent by his laboured attempts to force upon them an orthodox meaning, he was dismissed without any censure, further than that the assembly “ do recommend to the said professor Campbell, and to all ministers and teachers of divinity whatsoever, within this national church, to be cautious in their preaching, and teaching, or writing, not to use doubtful expressions or propositions which may be constructed in an erroneous sense, or lead the hearers or readers into error, however sound such words or propositions
• Printed Acts of Assembly, 1736.
may be in themselves, or however well intended, but to hold fast the form of sound words."
An humble address was presented by this assembly to his majesty, upon the marriage of his royal highness the prince of Wales with the most serene princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha; and an act was passed, enjoining “ all the ministers of this church to pray for her royal highness the princess of Wales, as well as for his majesty king George, his royal consort the queen, his royal highness the prince of Wales, the duke, the princesses, and all the royal family; and that her royal highness the princess of Wales be named immediately after the prince.”
It is not probable that the seceding brethren ever entertained any very sanguine hopes of being restored to communion with the established church, and if they did, this assembly seems to have put an end to them. So far back as the month of August, 1735, they had appointed a committee of their number to prepare a draught of a testimony, tracing the defections of this church as far back as the year 1650; which draught, after spending many sederunts upon it, with diets of fasting and prayer, they enacted as their first judicial deed under the name of The Judicial Testimony, at their twenty-fourth presbyterial meeting at Perth, the third of December, 1736.
As this work has been for nearly ninety years before the public, and has been acceded to, till of late, by every member of the secession church, which now in many places outnumbers the establishment, any particular account of it here would be superfluous. We may, however, be allowed to remark, that the first seceders were men of much more extensive views than the most of those who have followed them in latter times. For many years they had been struggling, in a way of communion with the established church, against a variety of evils deeply affecting the interests of religion, and the progress of civil society; and had they been allowed, there can be no doubt that they would have continued to struggle in the same way till death had closed their career, without, per
• Acts of Assembly, 1736.
haps, ever thinking upon any thing farther than the evils they were immediately called to contend with. But now that their brethren had cast them out, they found themselves placed altogether in a new situation—they found themselves in possession of a liberty they had not previously known, and looking around them on the state of the church and nation with which they were connected, and taking into consideration the manifold obligations under which they lay, they found themselves called upon to employ every mean competent to them for bringing about a general reformation. In prosecution of this design, they began with acknowledging the singular goodness of God, in early visiting these lands with the light of the gospel; in preserving witnesses for himself therein, even in the midst of popish darkness, and for at last giving a happy deliverance to his church therein, by the light of the blessed reformation. This reformation they thankfully commemorated in all its parts, and they bewailed the many mournful defections from it, with which the church and nation were chargeable, from the year 1650, down to the day of their testimony being enacted. But in all this they were careful to state that they appeared as a part of the true presbyterian covenanted church of Scotland; adhering to her reformed constitution, testifying against the injuries it had received, seeking the redress of these injuries, and pleading for the revival of a reformation according to the word of God—a reformation which they held had been attained to in a former period, approved by every authority in the land, and ratified by solemn vows to the Most High.
These principles, however, had never been cordially embraced by the leaders of the revolution church, and they were not clearly comprehended by many with whom the seceders had been united while they were striving together in communion with her. Of course, pride, presumption, and self-will, were the most prominent qualities the seceders were allowed to possess; and by individuals who knew not the first letters of the principles by which they were actuated, they were charitably pronounced ignorant and illiberal.* Even one of the most enlightened
* Vide Currie's Essay on Separation, with Wilson's Defence of the Reformation Principles of the Church of Scotland, one of the most luminous and dispassionate controversial books in the English language.
of their old friends, after charging them with nine distinct and grievous failures, concludes, “but notwithstanding of all these extravagant steps and accusations of our seceding brethren, occasioned through their intemperate party zeal, we still have regard to several of them as good men upon the main, and uses ful preachers of a crucified Jesus, and upon that account we wish well to them, not doubting but they have as good a title to our charity, as the Donatists and Novatians of old, and the Brownists and M.Millanites of latter years.”*
But we must now resume the consideration of civil affairs, which unfortunately were still so carried on as to inflame more and more these ecclesiastical animosities which we have already seen carried to such an unhappy issue, and, in order to this, return to the parliament which we left prorogued in 1732, and which, while the events of a religious kind we have been narrating were taking place in Scotland, was fruitful in nothing interesting to the historian. Endless debates, prolonged their sittings from week to week, but were productive of no useful results. Intrenched behind the circumvallations of office, and defended by numerous bands of pensioners and expectants, the minister pursued his favourite objects and bade defiance to all his opponents. In 1734, however, a motion for repealing the septennial bill was supported with so much spirit, as to induce his majesty to dissolve the parliament, which was done, and another convoked by proclamation on the sixteenth of April.
War was now raging on the continent, and the French, who had been the allies of Britain, paid so little respect to the faith of treaties, that in the month of November this year, an edict was published at Paris, commanding all British subjects, from the age of fifteen to fifty, who were not actually in employment, to quit the kingdom in fifteen days, or enlist in some of the Irish regiments, on pain of being treated as vagabonds and sent to the galleys. This cruel edict was executed with the utmost rigour. The prisons of Paris were instantly filled with the subjects of Great Britain, who, thus taken by surprise and cut off from all communication with their friends, must have, many of them, perished for want, had they not found unex
* Willison's Fair and Impartial Testimony, &c. &c. pp. 97, 98.