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--such as, to a large extent, prevented the Revolution Settlement from obtaining a full and fair trial.
The abuses to which we refer regarded matters of vital import, such as the toleration of heresy and immorality; the tyrannical exercise of Church power over brethren, with the unjust denial of the right of protest for the exoneration of individual consciences; the arbitrary enforcing of the law of patronage by corrupt Presbyteries and Assemblies, acting upon their own discretion, and with no compulsion from any civil authority; the grievous oppression of congregations, by the forcible intrusion of ministers into parishes against the will of the people, and other proceedings of a similar kind; in consequence of which, not only were multitudes of godly ministers and people compelled, for conscience' sake, to withdraw from her communion, and to form themselves into separate ecclesiastical societies, but the Church itself from which they seceded was found willing—though always, blessed be God! with a protesting minority in her courts—to make a practical surrender of the most important and distinctive principles of her ancient Presbyterian polity.
Hence it happened, that when, in the good providence of God, and through the gracious working of His good Spirit, this Church once more, for the third time, was led to take up the work of the Reformation,-entering, though, alas! with much shortcoming, into the labours of our fathers, by whom she had been reformed from Popery and Prelacy,—she encountered, as was most natural, no small measure of the same opposition with which they had been obliged to contend, from a formidable body of her own ministers and members, as well as from the civil power; whose aid was called in to coerce and control the Church courts in the exercise of their spiritual functions, and, through them, to crush the liberties of congregations in the calling of ministers to be over them in the Lord.
For it ought to be on record to coming ages, that this Church began the work of reformation, on this third great occasion in her history, in 1831, by refusing to allow any pastor to be intruded upon a reclaiming congregation.
At the same time, also, while thus securing such a protection to her congregations, this Church resolved to give practical effect to another fundamental principle of her Presbyterian polity which had been grievously violated,—the principle, namely, that “the pastor, as such, hath a ruling power over the flock;" or, in other words, that all ordained pastors are equally entitled to rule, as well as to teach and minister, in Christ's house. This, accordingly, the Church did, in an Act of Assembly, 1831, recognizing all pastors of congregations as members of her Church judicatories, and assigning to each, along with the elders of his congregation, the administration of discipline among his own flock, and the oversight of souls, in whatever local or territorial district the Church might be pleased to place under his spiritual care.
It was in carrying out these measures of indispensable practical reform, adopted in 1834, that the Church was visited with the interference of the courts of civil law, in those various forms of unconstitutional aggression upon, and invasion of, her sacred functions as a Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, owning no head on earth but only
Christ, which are set forth at large in the Claim, Declaration, and Protest, adopted by the General Assembly in 1842, and laid before her Majesty, and before the Parliament of Great Britain, in the course of * Claim to the year thereafter. * p. 427., &C These manifold invasions of her spiritual jurisdiction by
the courts of civil law, this Church received grace steadfastly to resist, at the expense of much loss, obloquy, and suffering, borne by her faithful ministers and people.
But this was not all; for she was enabled also, during all her harassing and painful contendings, to carry forward still farther the work of revival throughout her borders, as well as to lift up a still more decided testimony for the purity and liberty of Christ's house,-His Church on earth,—especially in the explicit condemnation which the General Assembly in 1842 passed of the entire system of patronage, as a grievance to be utterly abolished. And, through the blessing of God, she was not left without manifest tokens of the Divine countenance and favour,—such as, in like circumstances, had been vouchsafed in former times in the remarkable pouring out of the Holy Spirit on not a few portions of the chosen vineyard of the Lord.
Among other tokens for good, as the Church humbly considered them, it may be mentioned as one of the most gratifying, that a beginning was made, during this reforming period, of the work of re-union among the true-hearted branches of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. Overtures towards a junction with the Church of Scotland having been made by a highly esteemed body of those whose fathers had seceded from it, and ample deliberation having taken place on both sides, the end in view was happily and harmoniously attained in the year 1839, when the General Assembly, with the consent of the Presbyteries of the Church, passed an Act to the following effect:
“Whereas proposals have been made by the Associate Synod for a re-union with the Church of Scotland, and a considerable number of overtures have been sent at the same time to the General Assembly from the Synods and Presbyteries of the Church favourable to that object; and it has been ascertained by a committee of the General Assembly, that the course of study required for a long time past of students in divinity in connection with said Synod is quite satisfactory, and that their ministers and elders do firmly adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and other standards of our Church: and whereas the members of the Associate Synod do heartily concur with us in holding the great principle of an ecclesiastical establishment, and the duty of acknowledging God in our national as well as our individual capacity; and we, on the other hand, do heartily concur with the members of the Associate Synod in confessing the great obligation under which we lie to our forefathers in the year 1638, and several years of that century immediately following, and the duty, in particular circumstances, of uniting together in public solemn engagement in defence of the Church, and its doctrine, discipline, and form of worship and government: and whereas our brethren of the Associate Synod have declared their willingness, in the event of a re-union, to submit to all the laws and judicatories of this Church, reserving only to themselves the right which the members of the Estab
lished Church enjoy of endeavouring to correct, in a lawful manner, what may appear to them to be faulty in its constitution and government,—the General Assembly, with the consent of the Presbyteries of this Church, enact and ordain, that all the ministers of the Associate Synod, and their congregations in Scotland, desirous of being admitted into connection and full communion with the Church of Scotland, be received accordingly.”
This step was hailed with lively satisfaction by the supporters of the old hereditary principles of the Scottish Reformation, as not only a testimony to the returning faithfulness with which these principles were now maintained, but a pledge and presage also of other movements of a similar kind which might be expected to follow, as the work of reformation and revival went on: thus holding out the hope of this Church being honoured to be successful in healing the breaches of Zion as well as rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
Thus, with much cause to sing of mercy as well as of judgment, the Church for ten years continued to testify, to contend, and to labour, in the great and good cause. But as time rolled on, and the causes of collision between the ecclesiastical and the civil courts became more embarrassing, it was apparent to all that an emergency was at hand, such as would call for the utmost wisdom of counsel as well as the firmest energy of action.
All along, indeed, while the contendings of this third Reformation period were going forward, not only did “they that feared the Lord speak often one to another," but most solemn consultations of the brethren were held at every step, with much earnest prayer, and many affecting pledges of mutual fidelity to one another, and to God. And as the crisis manifestly drew near, the whole body of those ministers of this Church by whom the contest was maintained met together in convocation, in November 1842, being convened by a large number of the fathers of the Church, and, after a sermon preached by the late lamented Dr Chalmers, continued in deliberation for several successive days, spending a large portion of the time in united supplication for the guidance and grace of God; and did not separate till, with one mind and one heart, they were enabled to announce, in resolutions having, in the circumstances, all the force of the most impressive vows and obligations, their final purpose, at all hazards, to maintain uncompromised the spiritual liberty and jurisdiction of this Church. And this they resolved to do, not by prolonged resistance to the civil courts, should the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain refuse the redress craved in the above mentioned Claim of Rights, but by publicly renouncing the benefits of the National Establishment, under protest that it is her being Free, and not her being Established, that constitutes the real historical and hereditary identity of the Reformed National Church of Scotland.
The Claim of Rights adopted by the General Assembly in 1842, having been denied and disallowed, first by Her Majesty's Government, in a letter addressed to the Moderator by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and thereafter by the Commons' House of Parliament, in a vote taken on the 7th March 1843, and carried against a large majority of the members representing Scotland; it became apparent that the system of patronage,—to which this Church, although viewing it as a grievance, had submitted, under the impression that the right was restricted to the disposal of the benefice, while the Church was left free in the matter of admission to the cure of souls,-must be held, as now interpreted and maintained by the supreme power of the State, to be altogether contrary to the Word of God and the liberties of the people of Christ; and that this Church, therefore, in that as well as in other departments of her administration, had no choice or alternative but submission in things spiritual, to civil control, or separation from the State and from the benefits of the Establishment. Holding firmly to the last, as she holds still. and, through God's grace, will ever hold, that it is the duty of civil rulers to recognize the truth of God, according to His Word, and to promote and support the kingdom of Christ, without assuming any jurisdiction in it, or any power over it; and deeply sensible, moreover, of the advantages resulting to the community at large, and especially to its more destitute portions, from the public endowment of pastoral charges among them : this Church could not contemplate without anxiety and alarm the prospect of losing, for herself, important means of general usefulness,-leaving the whole machinery of the Establishment in the hands of parties who could retain it only by the sacrifice of her fundamental principles, and seeing large masses of the people deprived of the advantage of having the services of a gospel ministry provided for them independently of their own resources. But her path was made plain before her. For the system of civil interference in matters spiritual being still persevered in, so as to affect materially the very constitution of the General Assembly, in the election of commissioners from the Presbyteries to that supreme court, it became the duty of those of the said commissioners who were faithful to the crown of Christ,—and who formed decidedly the major part of the members chosen according to
est en the laws of the Church,—to protest,* in presence of Her * Protest, P. 443.
**Majesty's representative, on the 18th of May 1843, against
the meeting then convened being held to be a free and lawful Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
Under which protest, and in the terms thereof, the said commissioners withdrew to another place of meeting, where, on the same day, and with concurrence of all the ministers and elders adhering to them, they proceeded to constitute, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the only King and Head of the Church on earth, the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, and to take measures for the establishment of the Church apart from the State in the land.
How signally God opened for her, in her new position, both a door of utterance and a door of entrance, not only in this, but in other countries also_how mercifully He disappointed all her fears, and procured for her acceptance among the people—how wonderfully He disposed all hearts so as to continue to her the means of missionary enterprise, both at home and abroad-how graciously He cheered her, by giving to her the signal privilege of finding all her missionaries, to the Jews and the Gentiles, true to herself and to her principles, in the hour of trial; and in general, how large a measure of prosperity and peace He was pleased to grant to her,—though with some severe persecution and
oppression in certain quarters,—this Church cannot but most devoutly acknowledge: mourning bitterly, as she must at the same time do, over many shortcomings and sins, and lamenting the little spiritual fruit of awakening and revival that has accompanied the Lord's bountiful and wonderful dealing with her. In deep humiliation, therefore, but at the same time in the holy boldness of faith unfeigned, she would still seek to retain and occupy the position which the foregoing summary of her history assigns to her; humbly claiming to be identified with the Church of Scotland, which solemnly bound herself to the Reformation from Popery, and again similarly pledged herself to the Reformation from Prelacy; deploring past shortcomings from the principles and work of these Reformations, as well as past secessions from her own communion, occasioned by tyranny and corruption in her councils; and, finally, resolved and determined, as in the sight and by the help of God, to prosecute the ends contemplated from the beginning in all the acts and deeds of her reforming fathers, until the errors which they renounced shall have disappeared from the land, and the true system which they upheld shall be so universally received that the whole people, rightly instructed in the faith, shall unite to glorify God the Father in the full acknowledgment of the kingdom of His Son, our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to whose name be praise for ever and ever. Amen.
Extracted from the Records of the General Assembly of the Free
THOMAS PITCAIRN, CI. Eccl. Scot. Lib.