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on the subject by those Presbyterian purists, to whom the law of patronage had always been a prescriptive and conventional grievance, were coldly received. The first announcement of an 'antipatronage society' by members and ministers of the Church of Scotland'-(ministers who owed their appointment to patronage) -was received with a mingled feeling of pity and surprise; and the earnest importunity of their appeals to the public for aid to enable them to defray the expense of their purchased but unpaidfor patronages seemed sufficiently to denote that for some years at least the society maintained no very vigorous or popular existence.
But times more favourable both for lay and clerical agitation arrived. The coincidence of the desire to popularise the ecclesiastical constitution of the Scottish Church, with “the movement which took place a year or two before in the political constitution of the country,' would be in itself suspicious and remarkable, but the connection between the two, as cause and effect, does not appear to be disputed by Dr. Chalmers.* The opposition to the existing law of patronage was one of the forms in which the revolutionary spirit displayed itself in Scotland. The first overt act of hostility to the law of patronage took place in the memorable year of 1832: after the revolutionary convulsions of 1830 had dislocated Europe, and the success of the reform agitation at home had carried into the general mind a feverish longing for innovation and a superstitious deference for the mere expression of the democratic will. To certain political intriguers, who were eager to make a tool of the Church, patronage presented an inviting, and it was now thought a practicable, object of attack. It was a salient point in the polity of the church, upon which it was thought that, in the present restless and unbalanced state of opinion, conscientious convictions, and party spirit ancient prejudices and recent appetite for change-pressure from without, and wavering from some portion of the garrison within-miglit all be brought to bear with combined operation.
A direct and avowed attack on patronage, however, would have been too bold a step. Many who were prepared practically to nullify the right by subjecting it to limitations inconsistent with its exercise-many who conscientiously believed that this mutilation of the right of patronage was required for the well-being of the church—would have been startled by the proposal for its abolition. Even those who were prepared to go the whole length, and who steadfastly contemplated this as their ultimate object, could noi delude themselves into the belief that the church could by her own powers abrogate at once the law of the land. It was * What ought the Church and the People of Scotland to do now? p. 5.
necessary in the mean time, in order to secure the support of a majority in the Assembly, to rest satisfied with a proposal which, while it professed to leave the right of patronage untouched, should yet in truth and substance render it ineffectual. It is of importance to observe, in reference to the way in which the objects of the party have gradually developed themselves, that in the
overtures' submitted to the assembly in 1832 on the subject of patronage, not only was the intention of advocating its abolition denied, but even the idea of giving a veto to the majority of the congregation upon the appointment by the patron was studiously disclaimed; Lord Moncreiff, in particular, expressing his surprise that such an inference should be drawn from the overtures under discussion, which merely proposed to render the formal call or consent—which as a matter of practice, though not of law, had always been given by a few of the parishioners to the nomination by the patron-more real and effectual.* In 1833 the very proposal of giving a veto to the majority of the congregation was submitted to the Assembly by Dr. Chalmers, and supported by the vote of Lord Moncreiff
It is of course no matter of surprise that, in the strangely composite body by whom the veto was advocated, the most opposite views should prevail as to the grounds on which it ought to be rested; some claiming for it the sanction of direct scriptural authority-others content to rest it on no higher basis than expediency; some contending that the proposed measure was but a return to the ancient law and constitution of the Church of Scotland-others admitting its novelty, but maintaining that it was competent for the church by her own inherent powers to establish any new limitation she pleased upon the right of patronage. But it does appear somewhat singular that not a few of those who advocated the measure in 1833, and maintained its competency and legality, did so with a secret consciousness—which the event has justified—that it was neither agreeable to the existing law, nor within the powers of the Assembly, and that the probable result would be a collision with the courts of law, and the consequent sacrifice of the temporalities of the church. Among these, we regret to say, was the most distinguished supporter of the measure, Dr. Chalmers. He has repeatedly admitted that these consequences were distinctly foreseen by himself ; and that a great blunder' was committed by the Assembly when they ultimately passed the measure in 1834!
* Adverting to the remarks of Mr. Whigham, who had pointed out the clear drift of the overtures, his lordship observed, “What is the next point in his speech! He said that those who wished to remit these overtures to a committee maintain that there is, or ought to be, a veto in the majority of the congregation. I have not heard that maintained.'
An outline of the important debate of 1833 will sufficiently place before the reader the general grounds on which a change in the law was advocated and resisted. It will have this farther advantage, that the reasons assigned by the opponents of the measure for their resistance to the proposed change, on the grounds of its injustice and inexpediency, apart from its illegality, will afford an answer by anticipation to the reasonings of those who would now endeavour to obtain from the legislature what the church at last confesses herself unable to accomplish.
The speech of Dr. Chalmers on this occasion was an epitome of the character of the man: fervent, enthusiastic, generally haunted by some one idea which rules over his mind like a spell, to the exclusion of all countervailing or collateral considerations ; distrustful of human nature, and yet always confident of his own power of controlling it by means of some favourite moral or political panacea; a confidence that seems in no case to be shaken by the accident that this latest specific often stands out in startling contradiction to that which it has supplanted. As an oratorical effort the speech had its fascinations; the momentous topics which it agitated, the really sound and striking remarks which it occasionally embodied, could not fail to arouse attention, when clothed in that picturesque and peculiar eloquence which had often communicated an air of novelty to the veriest truisms, by the uncouth grandeur which it stamped upon their expression. But as a piece of logical reasoning, the speech was a phenomenon. It presented the strangest union of sobriety and rashness; of just views of human nature in some respects, with the most delusive and impracticable notions in others; and of concessions which the candour of his nature extorted from the speaker, with an apparent insensibility to the fact that upon every just principle of reasoning these concessions were fatal to his whole argument.
Nothing, for instance, could be more just than the picture he drew of popular election; the caballing, the scandal to which it gave rise; the interested motives of the bad, the gullibility' of the good; their hopeless incapacity to choose a pastor; and the necessity of a check by the Church itself, not only on careless patrons, but on a graceless population;' and then, having painted these evils with a power of graphic and sarcastic expression, which would have led any one ignorant of his views to suppose that he meant to give to the proposed measure the most uncompromising opposition, he suddenly set himself to maintain that the same people who were so utterly incompetent to choose, were so admirably fitted to sit in judgment on the object of the patron's choice, that their simple negative, unaccompanied by any reasons, ought to be conclusive against the presentee; and that all those
grievous grievous and admitted evils which attended a direct voice in the choice of a pastor would disappear at once in the case of an unreasoning rejection !
The main grounds relied on by the advocates of a popular veto without reasons assumed something of the following shape : That if the veto, in the precise form in which it was now proposed, was a novelty, the principle at least was of scriptural authority; coëval with the Presbyterian establishment; laid down in its Second Book of Discipline; and if not expressly enacted, at least recognised by statute : that even if it were an admitted novelty, the Church, being bound by statute to admit only a qualified presentee, might declare non-acceptability to a congregation a disqualification, as she had declared ignorance of Hebrew, Gaëlic, or any other supposed requisite for the cure, to be so : that the ordinary range of objection competent to the people-embracing, as they assumed it did, only doctrine, learning, and morals—was quite inadequate to meet the many cases of objections, serious in themselves, yet falling under none of these categories : nay, that the most important objections to the spiritual efficiency or usefulness of tlie presentee might exist without being capable of being stated in a distinct or tangible form by ignorant but pious persons to a church court; while even if so stated it appeared to be doubtful whether, under the existing law, any effect could be given to them: that the simple disinclination of the congregation, if not proceeding from factious or unworthy motives, was in itself conclusive proof that the individual objected to was unfit to instruct or edify that congregation : that by any other rule extreme injustice would be done to humble and pious congregations by having the formal ministrations of an uncongenial minister forced upon them: and that only by the recognition of a negative by the people without the necessity of reasons could there be secured to the Church of Scotland that salutary and vigorous efficiency, from which it was at the same time with singular inconsistency admitted that under the existing system she had not declined.
If the arguments of the opponents of the measure were less vehemently stated, they appear at least more consistent, more agreeable to law and to the experience of human nature.
What scriptural sanction, it was asked, could be claimed for the principle of a popular veto? The doctrines advanced on the other side, if true, necessarily led to popular election, which was studiously disclaimed, instead of a simple negative on the choice of the patron. The vague and pliable texts quoted in support of them might with equal propriety be cited in support of any ecclesiastical, nay, of any political change. The direct sanction of scriptural authority was accordingly disclaimed by the
cooler majority of the supporters of the measure. As little could any argument be drawn from practice in its favour. That of the apostolic times, of the earlier Christian churches, was admittedly hostile to the popular initiative. Nowhere in the actual history of the Scotch Church could a trace of popular election be found. The very claim put forward to that effect in the First Book of Discipline, which never became law, was dropped in the Second, which to a limited extent was sanctioned by the legislature.
But if the initiative was always with the patron, just as little had the people ever possessed the right of putting a capricious and unreasoning negative upon his choice. From first to last, from the acknowledgment of the Presbyterian Church as the established Church of Scotland, in 1567, down to the Act of 1712, the rule had been unalterably this:- presentation by the patron; ohjection, but on reasons stated, by the people; decision on those reasons by the Ecclesiastical Court. The place of objectors, but on reasons stated and substantiated' to the presbytery, was the only place 'which the language of the Church, both in early and later times, uniformly assigned to the people.'* A popular veto was as unexampled as a popular election.
The argument on the point, that the Veto Act was inconsistent with the existing statute law, it is unnecessary after the decision of the House of Lords to refer to. But if the presbytery, it was then urged, were clearly bound by the law of the land to admit to the benefice every qualified presentee,' the proposition that they might by their own authority require as a qualification acceptability to a majority of the congregation, was a quibble too miserable to be maintained. From every one of the acts of parliament, as from the plain reason of the thing itself, qualification was evidently something existing in the presentee himself, not in the caprices of others—something, the presence or absence of which the patron could apprehend, and the competent tribunal could adjudicate upon; and to say that a condition altogether extrinsic should suddenly be imposed as a qualification, would be about as reasonable as it would be to declare for the first time, in 1833, that it should henceforth be matter of qualification that the presentation by the patron should be countersigned by the moderator of the General Assembly.
Thus the proposed measure could not be defended according to the existing law of the Church, while it could as little be doubted that, if attempted, patrons would resist so obvious an encroachment on their civil rights; and that if resisted the consequence must be endless litigation; the suspension of any regular ministry in every contested parish; and, finally, either the submission of the Church to the law by the abandonment of the measure, or
* Sir H. Moncreiff, * Life of Erskine,' p. 446. VOL. LXVII. NO. CXXXIII.