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ARTICLE I.—THE LIVES OF THE HALDANES, AS ILLUSTRATING THE RISE OF CONGREGATIONALISM IN SCOTLAND.
Memoirs of the Lives of Robert Haldane of Airthrey, and of his brother James Alexander Haldane. By ALEXANDER HALDANE, Esq., of the Inner Temple, Barrister at Law. New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.
Tue Memoir of the brothers Haldane is deeply interesting, not only as exhibiting the course of life and labors of two remarkable men, but as throwing some light on a very important period in the religious history of the people of Scotland.
It is chiefly in regard to the latter point, we propose to consider the information it furnishes, and to gather together and supplement the hints it gives as to the rise of Congregationalism in that country; for, although from the time of Cromwell a small sect of Independents existed, their numbers were so trifling, that they were lost sight of, in the general Presby
terianism of the people.* Congregationalism was unknown, as a distinct organization, until the beginning of the present century, when it arose out of the Great Awakening which then took place. We, therefore, naturally feel an interest in such a movement, and shall endeavor to trace it, in its incipient stages, until it brought under its influence a large and influential portion of the religious community; and at the same time discharge the less pleasant duty of indicating those unfortunate differences of opinion and practice, among its leading men, which suddenly put a stop to its previously triumphant progress.
But in order to a right understanding of that awakening, and its Congregational result, it will be necessary to take a rapid survey of the state of religion in Scotland during the eighteenth century.
In the year 1712, the Law of Patronage, which had been abolished in 1690, was reënacted, and the right of choosing their own pastors was taken from the people, who were, thenceforth, to accept as their minister whomsoever the patron might present to the living; they could neither object to, nor protest against the presentee's settlement in the parochial charge, however unacceptable he might be to them. From that time religion began to lose its vitality among the people, the tie which had erewhile bound them to their minister was broken, there was no longer that interest taken in him and his ministrations which had formerly been felt; and as the old pastors died, and patronage men took their places, this indifference became general, save in those parishes, to which, a man endued with the spirit of his sacred calling, chanced to be appointed, but even such men labored for years, ere they succeeded in gaining the affections of their people. The result was, that in by far the greater number of the parishes, dislike to the man who was obtruded on them, poisoned their religious feeling ; a mere bodily attendance at the kirk was rendered, and soon a dead formalism became prevalent; from many pulpits too, lax doctrines were propounded, from some a modified Socinianism was preached, and too generally a heathen morality formed the staple of the discourses of the new men.
* About forty years ago a little band of “Old Independents” used to meet in the Candlemakers Hall, Edinburgh, but they died out;-they were persons of excellent character, in middle or humble life, Puritans descended from some of the old stock who followed the Protector into Scotland, and settled there, when he returned with his army to England. The only prominent man in the body was worthy David Dale of New Lanark, whose son-in-law, Robert Owen, did much to obliterate the good the old saint had done. Father Dale, on every New Year's day, (old style), sent a large cheese to each of the Elders of the scattered flocks, and visited them, in rotation, periodically.
In vain did the few orthodox ministers in those Presbyteries where laxity of doctrine or actual heresy notoriously existed, complain ; their complaints and overtures were voted down by the majorities which domineered alike in presbyteries, synods, and assemblies; this policy, steadily pursued for years, led in 1733 to the first secession of ministers from the communion of the kirk; these were the brothers Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine, with six others, who, after struggling long to bring some hereties to account, withdrew, and boldly constituted themselves a presbytery under the name of “The Associate Synod,” thus laying the foundations of the first dissenting ecclesiastical body in Scotland.
In the protest which they issued in justification of their secession, they refused thenceforth to acknowledge the authority of the kirk judicatories, because they denied it to be any longer a church of Christ, seeing that flagrant immorality, open heresy, laxity in doctrine, neglect of discipline, and manifold other corruptions existed, and were shielded and defended in it; this led to retaliatory measures on the part of the abandoned kirk; the protesters were libeled as schismatics and contumacious, cited to appear at the bar of the assembly, tried in their absence, found guilty, and deposed in due form from the office of the holy ministry.
This, however, did not affect the status or influence of the recusant members of the new synod, whose boldness in forming themselves into an independent eccclesiastical body found a multitude of ready adherents in their several parishes; large congregations were gathered, meeting-houses built, and churches regularly organized ; schools for the training of young men for the work of the ministry among them were established, and within a comparatively short period, churches in fellowship with them were constituted in many places throughout the country, and in all of them the pure doctrines of Christianity were preached
But notwithstanding this evidence of the light in which their past proceedings were regarded, and the increasing strength and popularity of “the Secession,” the dominant party in the kirk held on their way; error in any of their number, if called in question, was mildly dealt with, if not shielded; the provisions of the patronage-law were strictly carried out, and ministers settled in vacant parishes in defiance of reclaiming congregations.
This occasioned another secession in 1761, when the Rev. Thomas Gilespie, with two other ministers, withdrew, and as they did not see eye to eye with "the Associate Synod” on
" some minor matters, they formed themselves into another nucleus of dissent under the name of “ The Presbytery of Relief;"—that is, Relief from the unchristian bondage of patronage, and the control of a corrupt assembly. From these charges the managers of the deserted kirk's affairs vindicated themselves in the usual way ;--their new stigmatizers were proceeded against as the first seceders had been, and, like them, formally deposed from the office of the ministry, a measure which greatly benefited the infant cause, and enabled its originators not only to hold their ground, but to stretch far beyond it.
These, however, were not the only troubles with which “The Moderates” had to contend; in 1741, Whitfield visited Scotland on the invitation of the Erskines, and did much to strengthen the hands and encourage the hearts of all, whether in the kirk or out of it, who were “contending for the faith once delivered to the saints ;" between that year and 1768 he revisited it nine times at irregular intervals, and contributed largely by his almost incredible labors, fervent zeal, and persuasive eloquence to fan the flame of evangelical religion which had been kindled, and to scatter its fire in new places.
This was an assault from a strange quarter, one, on which they had not reckoned, and sorely were they perplexed by it; —that a curate of the Church of England, a twig from the tree of black Prelacy which their fathers abhorred, and against which “ the National Solemn League and Covenant" had been leveled, should find not only willing, but enthusiastic, hearers in Scotland, was a new thing under the sun ;-moreover, that “the wild men "* who ate the bread of the establishment, should not only give him the right hand of fellowship as a brother, but admit him into their pulpits, was still more confounding ;-it was a mortifying thing too, that they had no power to hinder him from preaching anywhere,—but it was still more deeply mortifying that they could not prevent him from preaching in their own preserve, for as yet there was no law in the kirk’s statute book prohibiting its ministers from availing themselves of the services of those of other denominations. Nevertheless, the strong spirits among them, especially those in city parishes, where the evangelical Goliah had been most cordially welcomed, buckled on their armor to do battle against him, each in his own way and with his own weapon; they strove to rise to the occasion, in order to stem the flood which was sweeping away so many of their people; and certainly they needed to bestir themselves, for several of their brethren of whom they expected better things, had been induced to hear him, and hearing, had gone over to the ranks of their opponents.
The great evangelist was, in consequence, loudly stigmatized by the rationally religious, clerical and lay, as a designing enthusiast, who made a gain of godliness,--a crafty hypocrite who, under the pretext of aiding the helpless, and befriending the destitute, raised large sums of money, for the greater part of which he never accounted ;-those, too, who countenanced him, were charged as being abettors of his wrong doing; and those who crowded to hear him were denounced as ignorant, credulous dupes. Satan, it was averred, had come down with great power, to deceive and destroy, and the faithful were counseled to flee from him, lest they should become partakers of his
This was the name by which the Moderates designated the Evangelical party in the kirk. “Highfiers” was also another term by which they were disdisguished by their low-flying brethren.