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blood of Jesus Christ, that a merciful God may for his sake pity us, and not give us over to the will of our enemies abroad, nor consume us with famine and other judgments at home. Therefore the assembly did, and hereby do, recommend to and appoint all the several presbyteries at their first meeting to fix upon the day most convenient for their respective bounds, and that this day be at least within the month of June next, and that where presbyteries lie at such a distance as this act cannot reach them before their first meeting, that the moderator sball call a presbytery for this effect, and appoint a day with all convenient speed. That presbyteries consider not only the general causes, but the particular sins most prevalent among them, that they may be confessed and mourned over before the Lord, and all persons be called to repentance and amendment of heart and way, as they would escape through the Lord's mercy the judgment hanging over our heads, and heavier strokes being yet inflicted."
This assembly, of which the Rev. Mr. James Ramsay, minister at Kelso, was moderator, and Alexander, earl of Leven, commissioner, presented a congratulatory address to his majesty upon occasion of taking the forts near Carthagena, an event which very soon proved to be matter for lamentation rather than congratulation; and they added to the general disgust of the people, by several violent stretches of power in the settlement of parishes, as in the cases of Bowden, Auchterderran, &c. At the same time they sanctioned a grant of sixty pounds sterling to Mr. John Currie, minister of Kinglassie, as a reward for his pamphlets written against the seceding ministers, which, but for this circumstance, and the masterly replications made to them by Mr. William Wilson of Perth, would long ago have been utterly forgotten.t
The seceders now indeed occupied the attention of the church, both sides of which were alike inimical to them, in a way that had never been anticipated, and both laboured to put them down, though by different means.
The moderate party attempted to ruin them by the censures of the church, and the
* Printed Acts of Assembly, 1741.
arm of the executive government, in consequence of these censures, stretched out against them. Happily, however, the spirit and genius of every administration under the illustrious house of Brunswick, unlike that of the Stuarts, has ever been utterly averse to persecution, and their hands, in this case at least, were tied up by positive statute; yet the assembly, which met at Edinburgh on the sixth of May, 1742, learning by a report from the presbyteries of Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline, “ that notwithstanding of the deposition of Mr. James Thomson at Bruntisland, and Mr. Ralph Erskine at Dunfermline, by the General Assembly, 1740, and notice of the said sentence given to the magistrates of these burghs, yet the said deposed persons have been suffered ever since to occupy the pulpits in these churches, and officiate as formerly before they were deposed; and therefore the assembly resolve to apply to the civil government for a legal redress of this grievance and contempt, and ordered that letters be wrote to the secretary of state and his majesty's advocate, to the end the said sentence of deposition may be supported and rendered effectual, and that the vacant churches may be planted without delay; and further appoint the moderator to write letters to the magistrates of these burghs, exhorting them to give no longer countenance to such disorders, but to perform their duty by debarring the deposed persons from access to officiate in the parish churches, and to give from time to time free access to such as shall be sent by the respeotive presbyteries to supply these during the vacancy, and to pursue the necessary steps in order to planting the same, so as the sentence of the assembly may take effect in these burghs as well as elsewhere, without the necessity of employing the authority of the government, and the methods of redress or compulsion competent by the laws of the land."*
This was certainly very bold on the part of the assembly, which knew, or at least ought to have known, that the law had expressly prohibited all magistrates from giving effect to any ecclesiastic censures; and, perhaps, in no civilized country but Scotland would any body of men have required, or any set of magistrates, though required, have dared to proceed to denude
* Index to Unprinted Acts of Assembly, 1742.
men of their natural rights, in the face of an explicit and but recently promulgated statute; and we would gladly believe it was also the only country where any body of men would have quietly submitted to be so denuded, without at least having the question at issue tried before the proper tribunals, and making the injustice, if it was to be perpetrated, not the act of a paltry burgh magistracy, of an ignorant sheriff, or even of a presuming lord advocate, but the act of the country, through the highest and best constituted of her tribunals.
That these harsh measures, through the general poverty of the country, and the consequent dependance of a great propor, tion of its inhabitants, bad a considerable effect in circumscribing the secession, cannot be disputed; but they had a natural tendency to strengthen and to confirm its spirit, and while they impeded its rapidity of growth, gave vigour to its constitution, and prepared it for a more lengthened and active maturity. The plan pursued by the opposite party in the church, who were the pretended friends of the seceding ministers, and actively opposed to all these violent measures, was to overcome them at their own weapons. In theory they were equally zealous for the rights of the christian people, in the exercises of the pulpit they were equally earnest and devout, and in their external deportment equally circumspect and severe; but they held the authority of the judicatories to be paramount, and separation they regarded as the most deadly sin. The necessity of holiness they did not dispute, but a steady adherence to definite principles they made little account of, especially if they were of the class which they denominated non-essentials, a word which was brought into vogue about this period, but of which the meaning is not to this day very apparent. Universal charity was of course the shibboleth of the party; and a piety half mystic half sentimental, the great object of their attainment and their admiration.
By adopting to such an extent the principles of the reformation, and pointing out the defects of the revolution settlement, as well as by condemning the subsequent failings of the national church, seceders had become conspicuous among men of observation both at home and abroad. Among others, they had attracted the attention of the celebrated Mr. George Whitefield,
who, with Mr. John Wesley, Mr. James Hetvey, and others, had been particularly distinguished for peculiarity of conduct while attending the university of Oxford, had already laid the foundations of Methodism, and had been for some time previous to this, acting the part of an evangelist both in England and America. From some epistolary correspondence with Messrs. Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine, Mr. Whitefield had been induced to visit Scotland the previous year, and, from the above circumstance, addressed himself in the first instance to the seceders. No two things, however, could be more discordant than the principles adopted by the seceders, and those by which Whitefield professed to be guided. To unite christians in a uniform profession of divine truth, that, guarded by the strictest discipline, might be transmitted, pure and entire, from one generation to another, was the object of seceders; to produce sudden and extraordinary effects, with less regard to external means for rendering them permanent, was the great aim of Mr. Whitefield. Of course, though he preached his first sermon in Scotland from Mr. Ralph Erskine's pulpit in Dunfermline, when he came to converse with the seceders as a body, they did not come to any thing like a cordial agreement, and he very soon parted with them, perhaps not in the most pleasant manner. He was, however, received with open arms by some of the principal leaders of the orthodox party in the establishment, who seem to have considered it no small triumph to have taken him out of the hands of the seceders, of whose popularity and progress they appear to have been particularly jealous. Branded by the seceders as betrayers of the truth, abiding in their breaches, and, Issachar-like, couching down beneath the burden, when they ought boldly to have shaken it off, this party had, many of them, already begun to undervalue the matters in dispute, and to represent them as not worthy of being contended for. “ It is one of satan's devices,” says one of the most zealous of their partisans, to engage some distressed souls to be deeply exercised about those things which either are not their sins, or among the least of them, that hereby he may divert them from minding their greatest sins, and those which are the cause of God's controversy with them. Some zealous good men, both ministers and others, fell un
warily into the snare. They looked upon some things of mismanagement in government and discipline, which others were dissatisfied with as well as they, with such earnestness, that they cried out against them, as the most crying sins, the cause of the Lord's controversy with us, portending dreadful judgments, and what corrupted the church so far, as nothing could secure the salvation of her members, but coming out of her, and separating from her. Hereby they were led to overlook our greatest evil, and the cause of God's controversy with us, namely, the corruption of the lives of the members of this church, and that we had a name to live, while we were in a great measure dead, as to faith, love to God and one another, and other branches of holiness.
“ This unhappily filled the heads and mouths of the most of professors to such a degree, as to mind and converse about nothing, even upon the Lord's day, but ministers, judicatories, and some other disputable things, far from the vitals of religion. The state of their souls was much forgotten; and they were either disaffected to their worthy ministers, and the Lord's ordinances dispensed by them, or if they attended, they were diverted by these things from a concern about their regeneration, conversion, and amending their ways and doings, which were not good. Wherever our lamentable divisions prevailed, serious religion declined to a shadow."*
Such has been the language of all the advocates of corrupt churches, from the days of Tetzel, who arraigned Luther as an atheist, because he declared the utter insignificance of popish pardons, down to this very day. Such were the bursts of piety which the curates re-echoed during the bloody reigns of Charles II. and James VII.; and so were all those accounted of, who could not in conscience submit to their ministry.t To men of such sentiments, and so situated, Whitefield could not be other than highly acceptable. Free grace was his constant theme, and all pleading for fixed principles in church government he reckoned, if not impertinent, unnecessary. His conversion, according to his own account, had been distinctly marked,
• Preface to Robe's Narrative, pp. 44, 45.
† Vide Sir George Mackenzie's Defence of the Government of Charles II. and the Case of the Present Afflicted Clergy of Scotland truly represented, &c.