From the Book of that name.
IN the list of our Disruption Worthies, the place
belonging to Principal Candlish is altogether unique as well as eminently
illustrious. Dr Chalmers takes precedence, by the combination of considerable
seniority with the extraordinary character of a very original genius. But,
after deducting what is due to this remarkable exception, Dr Robert Smith
Candlish will appear in the pages of our ecclesiastical history as the chief
and wonderfully qualified instrument who was raised up by God's providence for
expounding the principles, directing the spirit, and organising the government
and system of the Free Church of Scotland.
His father having died previously to his birth, he had the benefit in his mother of a strong character watching over him in his youth. But he seems to have been largely indebted, under God's guidance, to the secret workings of his own vigorous, quick and impulsive, but deep and penetrating, mind. He had a full and regular Scotch education adding the literary and philosophical classes of the University during five sessions, he afterwards prosecuted studies in the Divinity Hall for three full sessions till the month of December 1823, when he had the advantage of varying the scene of his occupation by going to Eton as a private tutor. Significant fruits of his continuance for three years in this position might be discovered even in the brightest manifestations of his powers at subsequent periods. And long before he shone forth as an accomplished leader of men, he had very happily exhibited his familiarity with the best English writing. No intelligent judge of literary acquirement could fail to perceive, in listening to his preaching, the tokens of a cultivated intellect alive to the beauties of Shakespeare and other English classics.
At what stage of his life he first felt the full power of the gospel, and was stirred by zeal for the cause of Jesus and for the salvation of souls, there may be no evidence to shew. But whether the highest influence laid hold of his powerful nature at an earlier or a later period, indications of conscientious devotion to his Master's work may be found in his correspondence for some time before his ordination. While still a probationer of the Established Church of Scotland, he had, as assistant, the entire charge of two very different congregations in succession - the one in Glasgow, from 1829 (the twenty-third year of his age) till 1831 ; and the other in the country, at Bonhill, from 1831 till 1833. Thus, in addition to his protracted course of education and tutorship, he had an extended experience of ministerial work both in town and country before he was called to occupy what was in many respects, in 1834, the most conspicuous pulpit in Scotland. Who can tell what progress of thought or what spiritual growth went on in that lively, clear-sighted and fervent soul, while the great ones of the earth and even the approved guides of the Church had taken no note of him ?
Mr Martin, the excellent and much loved person who immediately followed Dr Andrew Thomson in the pastorate of St George's, Edinburgh, was so quickly removed by death, that the name of Dr Candlish must always stand out in a commanding light as the name of the real successor to that extraordinary man in building effectively and largely on the foundation which his energy and earnestness had laid. The assistant at Bonhill had become in some measure known to the late Dr Welsh, Professor of Church History, who afterwards, as Moderator, laid the Disruption Protest on the table of the Assembly in 1843. That distinguished and consistent man was a member of the congregation of St George's at the time of Mr Martin's illness. Through him Lord Moncreiff and others heard of Mr Candlish, and thus came his nomination to occupy a pulpit which he afterwards illustriously adorned. At the very outset of his course in it, he exhibited so much greater minuteness and subtlety of discussion than the hearers of Dr Thomson had been accustomed to, that there was some division of opinion about him. But the present writer remembers well that, in the view of Dr Thomson's experienced admirers, such as Lord Moncreiff, Mr Donaldson, Mr John Thomson, Mr John Tod, Mr Shank More, and others, members of session, the differences between his style and that of the young preacher whom they now welcomed, were as nothing in comparison with the manifest signs in the latter of uncommon mental power and special capacity for effective speaking, both to the understanding and the heart, along with independence and earnestness of spirit. Their judgment was thoroughly justified by the result. He speedily commanded the attention and regard of all classes in the congregation, and, as a preacher, gradually acquired the reputation which has become so great and well known.
Having been occupied only as an assistant during five years previously to the full appreciation of his ministerial gifts and his ordination for the charge of St George's, an equal number of years elapsed before his eminence in the pastoral office was accompanied by the discovery and exercise of his unrivalled ability for the management of affairs and the leadership of the General Assembly. He took no prominent part even in the Presbytery of Edinburgh till 1839. In the spring of that year the adverse judgment of the House of Lords in the first Auchterarder Case was pronounced. Great anxiety was felt by the Evangelical party on the question of having adequately qualified persons to take the lead in the ensuing Assembly. Though the name of Mr Candlish was in the order of rotation for the representation of his Presbytery, no such opinion had as yet been formed of him as to relieve that anxiety. The character and superiority of his eloquence appeared for the first time when he spoke in answer to Dr Muir, and supported the motion of Dr Chalmers for maintaining the principle of Non-intrusion in the continued exercise of spiritual independence. But the brilliant displays which elevated him to the undisputed leadership of the Non-intrusion party and of the Church, were made at the meetings of the Assembly's Commission in the latter portion of 1839 and the beginning of 1840, when that body was called to deal with the rebellion of the majority of the Presbytery of Strathbogie against the authority of the Assembly. The position thus acquired by him was maintained till 1873, the year in which he died. In the Free Church Assembly of that year he was specially blessed as an instrument of peace ; and though enfeebled much in bodily strength, shewed a large measure of his former mental power.
From 1840, the enumeration of the services rendered by Dr Candlish, first to the majority of the Established Church before the Disruption, and subsequently to the Disruption Church herself, not only in the prime of his life, but for the advantage of her action in his more advanced age, would be to recount the history of Scottish ecclesiastical events for more than thirty years. From the suspension of the seven ministers in the Presbytery of Strathbogie to the final passing of the Act in 1873, by which, in connection with a fresh Overture then agreed to, the object of Mutual Eligibility between the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church was attained, so as to prevent disruption in the Free Church, this remarkable man made his influence predominantly felt in the prospering, the safety, and the vigorous working of his church. The confidence of an overwhelming majority never ceased to follow him. The high qualities of an eminently Christian and, at the same time, of a singularly master mind, were luminously evident in him along a particularly chequered course of trial and success.
It was said at the commencement of this sketch that he was a chief instrument for expounding the principles, directing the spirit, and organizing the government and system of the Free Church of Scotland. His exposition of her principles was given in its clearest and most impressive manner, at dates previous to the actual escape of himself and his associates from the harassment of the Erastian chains which in 1843 were threatening to encompass them. The principles specially concerned in that memorable escape were at the time represented as two in number - the principle of non-intrusion, and the principle of spiritual independence. His exposition of the principle of non-intrusion began with the striking outburst of eloquence already referred to, by which, replying to Dr Muir in 1839, he proclaimed the necessity of giving to the members of congregations an absolute right to prevent the settlement over them as pastors of persons whom they could not conscientiously receive as such. Throughout the various negotiations, consultations, and discussions which followed during the next four years, Dr Candlish took a leading part in maintaining and guarding the ground thus taken up by him at the outset. The integrity of her adherence to it was an essential element in the liberty which his energy, more than that of any other man, enabled the Church, by God's blessing, to achieve when she carried away her standard to the hall at Canonmills.
The benefit of his acute, perspicacious, and thoroughly comprehensive intellect, was still more felt and enjoyed in his dealing with the great principle of spiritual independence. Not to speak of his splendid assertion of ecclesiastical liberty, in his treatment of the grave case in which the ministers of the Strathbogie Presbytery were concerned, nor of the instances in which, from time to time after the Disruption, he defended and enforced the Free Church view, it is well that attention should be fixed on the lucid declarations which appear in his speeches between the date of the judgment of the Court of Session in the Stewarton case and the date of the meeting of Assembly thereafter. The masterly manner in which he met the conceptions of the_majority of the court as tending to the destruction of all religious liberty, produced a lasting effect upon the convictions of multitudes of earnest people. Adverting to the imputation brought against the Church, of claiming to be the sole judges of what is spiritual and what is civil, he electrified his audience by the three following declarations. He said, first of all, "Whoever may put forth this monstrous claim to be sole judge of what is spiritual and civil, tramples under foot the rights, spiritual and civil, of all mankind, and establishes a despotism altogether intolerable." He said, secondly, " If this claim be put forth by a Church, it necessarily follows that that Church is dragging under her superintendence, to the exclusion of civil courts, all ecclesiastical persons, and assuming an authority in all causes, civil as well as in those ecclesiastical." He said, thirdly, " But if this amounts to a violation of civil liberty when the claim is put forth by a court of Christ, is it less a violation when put forth by a Court of Session ? If such a claim be admitted on the part of civil authorities, they may crush under their foot every vestige of religious liberty ; they may put an end to the free holding of Assemblies; they may put an end to the free preaching of the gospel." These and other statements of Dr Candlish were welcomed with great applause and sympathy. They had a chief part in carrying to a largely prevailing extent the mind of the Scottish religious population into a clear persuasion, that a principle which lawyers and statesmen rejected as extravagant and dangerous, was nevertheless a sacred principle not to be abandoned, and the only principle on which the scriptural freedom of a Church could safely rest. The idea became fixed among multitudes of carefully considering men, that no adjustment of ecclesiastical relations could satisfy conscience which did not fix "that," to use the words of Dr Candlish, "the Church should be fully entitled to determine for herself, and for the regulation of her own conduct in spiritual matters, what falls under her spiritual jurisdiction ; leaving the Court of Session to determine for itself, and for its own guidance, in deciding civil questions, what falls within its civil jurisdiction."
Dr Candlish not only expounded Free Church principles in a felicitous manner ; he also had much to do with directing the spirit of Free Church action. Besides the force of his inspiriting addresses, imbued as they were with the influence of the gospel in its highest tone, he gave a peculiar impulse at once by example, by exhortation, and by his proposals, to a habit of personal disinterestedness and self-sacrificing zeal in the various ecclesiastical movements of the emancipated Church. The success of the new organization, and its continually growing strength, even in the face of outward assaults and inward conflicts, are due in an incalculable measure to the strength of the spiritual fire which was thus cherished, by God's grace, in response to the endeavours of Dr Candlish, and those who went along with him or followed him.
Dr Candlish was the chief instrument in organising the government and system of the Free Church of Scotland. He possessed a marvellous combination of high-reaching thought so as to be always applying the most commanding principles, with a capacity for sifting and arranging the most minute details. This combination, accompanied as it was by a most unselfish disposition, produced in him one very rare quality, the absence of which is often manifest in very excellent and intelligent persons. He had so great a habit of putting himself in thought into the place of other men, that he almost always saw things not only from his own point of view, but also from theirs. Whether he were dealing with the minister of a small country congregation, or with the office-bearers of a large one in the Highlands, or with any party in a large town, or with the clerk of a Presbytery, or with the clerk of the General Assembly, or with the convener of a committee, he scarcely ever failed to shew that he appreciated the other person's difficulties, making every allowance for the necessities and obligations of his position. Hence arose the great and general confidence placed in him. Thus, whatever faults he had were regarded by those who knew him, and by great numbers of persons who had experience of his consideration and tenderness, as well as of his ability and his painstaking and disinterested labour, as nothing in comparison with his surpassing merits.
It is astonishing how he was enabled, amid his incessant work for the Church during more than thirty years, to maintain the character of a pastor and preacher of a very high order, and to keep gathered round him an overflowing congregation of intelligent and devoted men and women. His success, both in the pulpit and among those to whom he ministered otherwise, went on increasing in place of abating, while he gave so much of his vigour to the general and public cause. At the same time he contributed various publications to theological literature, which of themselves are sufficient to establish a high place for him among the gifted servants of Christ. He was not a mere advocate of Free Church opinions. His mind took a large grasp of Christian interests and objects throughout the world, and he heartily sympathised with all sincere efforts for their promotion by churches and denominations differing from his own.
Great as the loss of him was to his congregation and the Free Church at large, those who had the privilege of his personal friendship are, next to his own family, the greatest mourners in thinking of the bereavement occasioned by his removal. That friendship was indeed a treasure. He was very true and faithful. He was full of loving-kindness and sympathy. He thought, in any contingency, of the interests and prospects of others in the view of their comfort and usefulness, even before they had begun to look at that contingency themselves. He entered readily into their anxieties, and did his best to guide them. He cordially reciprocated all confidence placed in him. He quickly forgot all unpleasant occurrences, and dealt with the persons concerned as if those occurrences had never been. To any one now called upon to take any measure of responsibility with respect to Free Church affairs, the feeling is strongly brought home that a channel of strength and goodness has been withdrawn, to which he formerly had recourse with lively expectation and with continual satisfaction. H. W. M.
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