Churches' Continuing Duty

The recent alteration in the law of Patronage does not affect our position. It may or may not he satisfactory to the Established Church. Of course we cannot approve of Patronage. We have never done so. It was not in the Evangelical party that Patronage found support, nor can it find support in the Free Church. But the new statute, whatever it does, does not remove the causes of separation ; it does not secure, and was not intended to secure, the spiritual independence of the Church ; and after thirty years’ experience of Disruption life, all thoughtful Free Churchmen must have been taught that Evangelical Nonconformity has in it a charm and a power which the State cannot bestow, and must have been taught also that the Church is freer, safer, and purer when depending only on the free-will offerings of the Christian people.”
This is the duty, then, which lies on the Free Church, in the Providence of God ; the great principle for which she made the sacrifice of 1843 must be maintained. It has, indeed, the most sacred hereditary claims on her loyal support. “Among the first words,” says the Rev. Andrew Gray, “uttered by onr Church, when she awoke out of Popery three centuries ago, that testimony was claimed as her own. To the Parliament of the kingdom, and in the hearing of Christendom, she said: ‘We confess and avow Christ Jesus to be the only Head of His Kirk, our just Lawgiver, our only High Priest, Advocate, and Mediator; in which honours and offices, if man or angel presume to intrude themselves, we utterly detest them as blasphemeus to our Sovereign and Supreme Governor, Christ Jesus." Thus spake the Scottish Church the mouth of John Knox, and while yet in her cradle. Providence must have guided her words. They announced her peculiar vocation from God, and presented an epitome of her history fron that day to this. She did not forget the lesson her lisping tengue had learned. ‘The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King,’ formed her watchword from generation to generation. In courts, in prison, on the scaffold, at the stake, she cried; ‘The Pope is not our head, the prince is not our head, our only head is Christ.’
To the Church of England, to the Church of Holland, to the Huguenot of France, to the Protestants of Germany, the language of her struggles and manifold sufferings was: ‘Give not the things of God unto Caesar, nor the prerogatives of Christ to the civil magistrate; let kings he your nursing fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers, but let Christ alone be your Lawgiver aud Head.’ It is no light matter to inherit such a testimony - a testimony in itself so great, and that was so maintained. Especially is it no light matter to have such a testimony committed to us gt a time like this. Everywhere, both at home and abroad, the Churches of Christ are astir, and looking into their constitutional foundations. All over Europe the relation between Church and State as it has existed for centuries is becoming unsettled, and the servants and people of God are daily growing more free and willing to consider what the true and proper relation is. The Churches to which the Scottish testimony has made its appeal so long, are now at last in a favourable condition for listening to it. Who knows but that God had an eye to this crisis when he raised up the Church of Scotland, and appointed both her recent baptism of tears, and her former baptisms of tears and of blood.
Let us then, through the grace of God, keep our banner aloft, that it may be seen from afar on these Scottish hills, among which martyrs nsed to dwell, drawing hope and confidence from the cross of Christ let us hold forth with one heart and soul the testimony for His crown. But while this is a duty imperatively demanded, it would be an evil day for the Free Church if her strength were chiefly given to such contendings. While our people should know the principles of their Church, and be able on fitting occasions to render a reason, yet a Church has other work to do, and in looking forward to the future, we may be allowed to cherish the hope that all the sections of onr divided Presbyterianism in Scotland may yet he gathered into one. It may even he that the Disruption of 1843, in the mysterious Providence of God, may be designed to prepare the way for such a result. Already, as we have seen, three unions have taken place on the ground of these common principles. The original Synods of both branches of the Secession, and the Synod of the. Reformed Presbyterian Church, have made common cause with the Free Church.
But apart from such ecclesiastical movements, the tendency of events in Scotland, ever since the Disruption, has been step by step to place all different Churches on the same level. Within two years after 1843, a change was made in the administration of the poor-law, by which the Established Church lost much of the influential position she formerly held. Another change was the abolition of the tests by which all University Professors were bound to attach themselves to the Established Church. What brought the question into prominence was an attempt to expel Sir David Brewster from the. office of Principal in the University of St. Andrews. He was the leading man of science of his day in Scotland; but no sooner had he joined the Free Church than the Presbytery rose in arms, and took action, on the 13th of June, within less than a fortnight after the first Free Assembly. The most eminent advocates were engaged, and a remarkable correspondence took place between the Presbytery and one of their counsel, Mr. Inglis, now Lord Justice-General, whose opinion was adverse to the proposed prosecution. The Presbytery were resolute, however. After “a long and anxious conversation with Dr. Cook,” they wrote that they had come to the resolution to libel Sir David Brewster. It was a question “involving, as we think the very existence of the Establishment.” They were ultimately persuaded - not without difficulty - to refrain from prosecuting the case.
Other cases occurred; public attention was called to the whole subject, and by Act of Parliament the Professors, other than those in the Faculty of Divinity, were set free, the Established Church losing the jurisdiction she claimed. A still more serious change was made in regard to the parochial schools. ‘We have seen with what relentless severity all teachers adhering to the Free Church were expelled, and how our great scheme of education was set up. But soon the need of a national system became apparent. The Free Church threw her influence into the scale; the public took the matter into their own hands, the present School Boards were set up, and the exclusive control of the Established Church came to an end. In these different changes something was due to the effect of the Disruption. In connection with such national questions, the position of the Establishment had become untenable. It was one thing to claim exclusive control in the days when nearly the whole population belonged to a Church truly national, but it was different when a majority of the people were outside its pale.
Step by step the course of events has been moving in the direction of religious equality. The Disruption, whose history we have endeavoured to trace, has, it is obvious, left behind it many important lessons which well deserve the careful consideration of every thoughtful mind. The simple duty of faith in God, for example, was enforced in a way that was very memorable. Often in the midst of the conflict the path of duty was dark. The world was full of scornful mockery as to the folly of expecting that churches could be built, and incomes provided for the outgoing ministers; and many a time, in our secret minds, we were inclined to agree with the world that it was all very hopeless. The only thing clear was that we must “do the right.” In mercy there was grace given for the day of trial; and now, in looking back, the Free Church has simply to tell of the faithfulness of a faithful God. This, then, is one message which, in the most emphatic way, the Disruption brings to all men of all Churches,- that, if only they walk in the path of duty, they will not be forsaken. Many a time, in the midst of these Disruption experiences, men’s hearts have overflowed with gratitude as they were able to set up their Ebenezer and say, “Hitherto the Lord hath helped us.” -

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