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efforts, it was resolved that they should, without loss of time, constitute themselves into a judicative capacity, which, after nearly two days spent in prayer and conference, was done at Gairney Bridge, near Kinross, upon the sixth day of December, 1793.
The commission of the General Assembly, were, in the meantime, diligent in following out their sentence to its completion, and from their particularity in ordering letters to be sent by the moderator to the magistrates of Perth and Stirling, and to the sheriff and baillie of regality of Abernethy, it was evident they wished to give it a temporal as well as a spiritual effect. Fortunately, however, these gentlemen were by an act of parliament disqualified from taking any share in the business, and had the seceding ministers been as versant in law as they were in the duties of their profession, and as tenacious of their civil rights and their personal emoluments, as they were of the interests of truth, and the rights of the Christian people, the probability is, that they had each of them possessed his kirk, his manse, and his stipend, till the day of his death, for the act of toleration, procured for the episcopalians by George Lockhart and his associates, in the reign of queen Anne, prohibits all magistrates from giving effect to any ecclesiastical sentence ; *
The following is the clause of this Act to which we more especially allude. “ And be it farther declared and enacted by the authority aforesaid, that no civil pain or forfeiture, or disability whatsoever, shall be in anyways incurred by any person or persons, by reason of any excommunication or prosecution in order to excommunication by the church judicatories in that part of Great Britain, called Scotland; and all civil magistrates are hereby expressly prohibited and discharged to force or compel any person or persons to appear when summoned, or to give obedience to any such sentence when pronounced, any law or custom to the contrary notwithstanding."
Such is a specimen of the absurdity, which, under the pretence of conscience, and in the face of an express stipulation, a wicked faction found means to establish, which a British legislature has continued to guarantee, and to which the Scotish church and nation has, with the most abject baseness, submitted for one hundred and seventeen years. After considering such a clause, no one will wonder that prosecutions before ecclesiastical courts are always undertaken with great reluctance, and that when undertaken, their issue is so often utterly unsatisfactory. Instances have indeed occurred, of persons, even before the General Assembly, being declared free of all moral culpability, who, before the court of session, have been in a few days after found guilty to the full extent charged against them..
but, as yet, that act had never been contemplated but in its most malign aspect as a protection to the Jacobites, and as the seceders were any thing but Jacobites, they probably scorned to take advantage of a law that was at the time supposed to be of so pernicious a tendency. They were, however, encouraged by the adherence, for the most part, of their people, and a pretty general expression of popular feeling in their favour. Mr. Adam Ferguson, minister at Killin, was appointed to intimate the sentence against Mr. William Wilson from the pulpit of the old church of Perth, but was prevented, as he stated in a letter to the commission, by a tumultuous multitude which met him at a distance from the city, and forcibly resisted his entrance. A protest, taken by professor Campbell of St. Andrews, against the sheriff-substitute of Perth, for refusing to grant him protection in intimating the sentence against Mr. Alexander Moncrief, from the pulpit of the church of Abernethy, was also transmitted to the commission, and by the next assembly to the committee for overtures, where it necessarily rested.*
Having constituted themselves into a presbytery that they might exercise discipline as well as dispense doctrine, and that they might be in a capacity to extend relief to the oppressed and aggrieved parishes generally throughout the land, the seceding brethren proceeded, in the month of March following, to review a Narrative and State of the proceedings of the judicatures against them, which had been published by a committee of the commission, and in the month of May they emitted A Testimony to the Doctrine, Worship, Government, and Discipline, of the Church of Scotland, or Reasons for their protestation before the commission, &c. &c.f containing, a narrative of the proceedings of the judicatures against them.-Some historical observations on the state of the church of Seotland, both in her reforming and declining periods.—Reasons by the protesting ministers for their secession from the prevailing party in the church, Reasons for the validity of their pastoral relations to their respective
* Vide Index to unprinted Acts of Assembly, 1734.
congregations, -—and Reasons for their exercising the keys of government and discipline. Their reasons for seceding from the prevailing party in the church,-for from the church itself they were strenuous in maintaining that they had made no secession,-they reduced to three heads or general charges.--" First, that they were breaking down our beautiful presbyterian constitution.” This they proved by a great variety of facts, with regard to the conduct of the assemblies of the church, and particularly of her commissions, which had been in the habit of appointing sub-commissions or riding committees, as they were called, with powers of trial and ordination, in cases where presbyteries refused to carry forward intrusions upon dissenting and reclaiming congregations. “ What,” say they, “is the difference betwixt fourteen diocesan prelates taking the power of trial and ordination out of the hands of all the presbyteries in Scotland, and a commission of the General Assembly, whereof, thirty-one makes a quorum, divesting all the presbyteries of Scotland of this inherent right and privilege, when their sinful and unwarrantable orders are not obeyed ? For our part we know none, except that the former exercise this lordly dominion over the heritage of God, in a plain consistency with their declared principles, when the latter do it under a presbyterian mask, but in a direct inconsistency with their professed and known principles. Hence it is that the flock of Christ are wounded and grieved, scattered, and broken through the land: the wicked are hardened, and this church is become the derision of her enemies."
Their second charge was, that the prevailing party are “pursuing such measures as do actually corrupt, or have the most direct tendency to corrupt the true doctrine contained in our excellent Confession of Faith.” This they illustrated largely in the cases of professors Simpson and Campbell, and from the manner of preaching adopted by many of the more fashionable clergymen, " in whose discourses,” they observe, “ there is as little of Christ to be found, as in Plato or Seneca's morals." And they add, “ through the influence of this party, there is too
• A Testimony to the Doctrine, Worship, and Government, &c., p. 66.
much ground to fear, that in a little time (if God do not prevent) this established church shall only be orthodox in the same sense that the church of England is so, by subscribing the Thirty-nine Articles, which are truly Calvinistic in the doctrinal parts, while yet Arminian doctrine is every where taught by her clergy. Upon which account, we judge this generation and our poor posterity in the utmost danger of losing the gospel, in its power and purity, through the prevalency of a corrupt and unsound ministry. If a man have any little acquaintance with what they call the belles-lettres, or gentlemany learning-if he have the art of making his compliments and address to a person of quality—if he can accept of a presentation from a patron, and be a fit tool to carry on the measures of the ruling party of the church-that is the man that shall find encouragement in our assemblies and commissions, though he know not how to speak a word in season to a weary soul. No regard is had to a man's acquaintance with experimental religion, and the power of godliness upon his own soul, according to the acts of the church in former times. But on the contrary, if there be a man who has an air of piety and religion, however well polished by the Lord for edifying the body of Christ, and for overthrowing the works of the devil, for which purpose the Son of God was manifested, the prevailing party have an evil eye of jealousy upon that man, as a person of dangerous and divisive principles. And if a clear gospel call to such a man offer from the body of a Christian people, he must be set aside, and the hue and cry raised against him, as though an enemy were coming into our borders. By these and the like methods of management, it looks as if a faithful ministry, in a few years, shall be gradually wormed out of Scotland, and our posterity left without the knowledge of the gospel, and a covenanted work of reformation buried in perpetual oblivion."*
The third charge was, “that sinful and unwarrantable terms of ministerial communion are imposed by restraining ministerial freedom, and faithfulness in testifying against the present course of defection and backsliding.” This charge they illustrated
* Testimony to the Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, and Government, &c. Pp. 79, 80.
principally by a retrospect of the proceedings against themselves, which we have already narrated; and they conclude, “ We do then upon the whole conceive, that although we have hitherto continued contending and wrestling in a way of church communion with our brethren, yet now finding that there is no stop put to the backsliding measures, and that the current of defection runs with such an impetuous torrent, and that we are excluded from keeping up a testimony against their many sinful and unwarrantable proceedings, in a way of church communion with them. Therefore we judge it to be our duty to make a secession from ministerial communion with the present prevailing party in the established church, till they are sensible of their above-mentioned sins and mistakes, and reform and amend the same.
“ But notwithstanding of this our present secession from the prevailing party in the judicatories of this church, yet we hereby declare, as our protestation bears, “That we are willing to hold communion with all such as desire with us to adhere unto the principles of the true presbyterian covenanted church of Scotland, in her doctrine, discipline, worship, and government; and particularly with every one who are groaning under these evils, and affected with those grievances that we have been complaining of, and who are in their several spheres wrestling against the same,' and we hope that there is a goodly number of such in the several corners of this church."*
The boldness of this procedure, while it astonished and appalled their enemies, seems to have, at the same time, surprized, and in some degree offended many of their friends, especially those of them that had already half, but were unwilling wholly to commit themselves. Of course these friends made more than ordinary efforts to have something done, that might, at least, if it did not heal the breach, afford a plausible pretext for standing back, and taking no active hand in the matter. The leaders of the assembly too, fearful of the consequences of a system new and untried, were also willing to concede something at the present time, in order to fix the wavering, and confirm the doubtful; well knowing,
* Testimony to the Doctrine, Worship, &c. pp. 93–95.