THE SECESSION CHURCH FROM 1820
UNITED SECESSION; SINCE 1847,
UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF SCOTLAND.
It might have been thought that after the heavy hand of
persecution was removed in 1688 there would have been a long and happy period
of religious progress. But it was not so, and there were causes for It. At the
Restoration of Charles II. 100 of the most devoted ministers were expelled from
their charges, and their places supplied by a time-serving, ignorant, and often
immoral class of clergy. This character is given to them by men who were not
Worthy men remained among the indulged, but they were compromised by their position, and unable or afraid to take a decided stand. For twenty-eight long years the withering curse of an inefficient clergy lay on a great part of Scotland, and a whole generation grow up under it; for, though the Gospel was faithfully preached on the hills and the scaffolds, it only reached a limited number. When the Revolution came, only sixty of the ejected ministers remained, and those who had filled the vacant charges were most of them willing to retain place and pay by compliance. It is a question whether some parts of Scotland ever recovered fully the blight of that time, and it has been felt most where the faithfulness of the Covenant men left the greatest number of empty pulpits. In consequence of this, the old struggle of the seventeenth century had to be renewed in the eighteenth, with this favourable difference, that the Revolution had brought religious liberty, and that any persecution was more social than political.
There were two questions that rose as the testing ones of the day, and that touched the old principles which are debated in every age under different forms - truth and freedom. These two questions gave the public life of the Erskines and their friends that meaning which they have for us. The question of truth was raised in the case of one Professor Simson of Glasgow in 1714, whose teaching, as far as it can be understood through his dim language, was of an Arian kind, and who claimed to have time syrmpathy of the enlightened members of the Assembly. With him thore was Professor Campbell of St. Andrews, who, in defending the Apostles from what was beginning to be esteemed the odious charge of enthusiasm, denounced such expressions as consulting the throne of grace, laying their matters before the Lord, and imploring His light and direction, as terms of art much used by enthusiasts. Views entertained by him, that were admitted to strike at the root of revealed religion, were condoned after some loose explanations. Protests against this laxity form part of the struggle of the time. But it took another shape, which had more lasting effects.
One day Thomas Boston, when visiting in the house of one of his people at Simprin, found a little old book above the window head, which he took down and began to read. It was a book that has become famous in Scotland, The Marrow of Modern Divinity. . . . The object of the book was to clear away the barriers which are so often raised between the sinner and Christ, in the shape of certain conditions, such as repentance, or some degree of outward or inward reformation, and to present him immediately with the words, Whosoever will, let him come, assured that in heartily receiving Christ full repentance and a new life will follow. The system of Neonomiaism, as it was called, which changed the gospel into a modified and easier kind of law, had grown up in Scotland, as elsewhere, and this little book became the instrument of a revival of clearer and fuller Gospel preaching. It did what the discovery of Luther on the Galatians, in the house of a country schoolmaster, has done for Sweden of late years. . . . Boston tells us that he rejoiced in the book as a light which time Lord had seasonably struck unto him in the darkness, that he digested its doctrine and began to preach it. Through him it found its way into the hands of James Hog of Carnock, who republished it with a recommendation in 1717. It attracted the attention of a number in the Assembly, and especially of Principal Haddow of St. Andrews, who instituted a prosecution against its friends as guilty of Antinomian errors. After much controversy, twelve ministers who held to the views so stigmatised were condemned to be rebuked and admonished at the bar, and narrowly escaped deposition. . . . Looked at from our time the anti-evangelical growth within the Scottish Church was part of that wide movement which produced the latitudinarianism of the Church of England, weakened the spirit of Nonconformity, brought down the old Presbyterianism of the Puritans first to Pelagianiam and then to Socinianism, and in Germany led to the long reign of Rationalism, which Pietism retarded but did not prevent. The importance of this survey will be seen in the fact that Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine were prominent supporters of the Marrow theology, that Ebenezer drew up the representation of its principles, which was condemned by the Assembly, and that the view of the Gospel contained in it was the basis of the Secession preaching, as it had been of the clear and unfettered offer of Christ in great seasons of quickening ever since.
After the question of truth we come to that of freedom, which has a closer connection with it than may be at first apparent. Certainly in Scotland it is the friends of evangelical doctrine who have always shown themselves the friends of the freedom of the Christian people. At the Revolution the choice of the minister was granted to the congregation, though, it must be confessed, in an imperfect way. In 1712 lay patronage was introduced in a bill hurriedly carried through the British Parliament by the intrigues of the High Church and Jacobite party. It was in direct opposition to the Treaty of Union, and the whole procedure was treacherous in motive and manner. At first there was a yearly remonstrance by the Assembly against it, but it ceased as doctrinal defection set in; and ministers began to be forced, under various pretexts, upon unwilling churches. At last in 1731 an enactment was paseed by which, in cases where the patron declined to present, the choice of the minister was given to a majority of the heritors and elders being Protestants, without regard to the will of the congregation in any way. In many cases this put the choice of the minister in the hands of the Jacobites and High Church Episcopalians; yet the Assembly passed it summarily, in violation of the Barrier Act, and refused to hear or heed the protests lodged against it. During all this time the evangelical party had been maintaining a weary battle for popular rights in the face of an increasing majority, and now time door was closed against remonstrance. it is always a dangerous act to shut a safety valve, but a change was coming over the spirit of the times.
Old Wodrow describes, in a melancholy tone, the flippancy of habits and superficial religious training of the ministry of his time, and predicts the evil that is impending from a new quarter. Thomas Boston finishes his memoirs in sadness and yet in hope. . . . Boston died on the 20th of May, 1732, and in that same year it fell to Ebenezer Erakine, as moderator, to preach the opening sermon of the Synod of Perth and Stirling. It is another illustration of a living witness being always ready to take the place of the dead. The text he chose was Psalm cxviii. 22. He sets forth the defections of the time, claims for Christ that Headship in the Church which belongs to Him, and for the people that liberty which is their birthright under His rule. The outspoken honesty of the sermon gave great offence to a number in the Synod, and he was sentenced to be rebuked and admonished. He appealed to the Assembly, and at its meeting in May, 1733, the conduct of the Synod was sustained, and rebuke and admonition again imposed on himn.
John Ker, D.D., The Erskines."
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