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the churches were small, for the Scottish mind is so strongly predisposed to Presbyterianism, that nothing save the strongest conviction of duty will lead it to adopt another “ism." While, therefore, crowds flocked to hear the Gospel preached in its fullness and freeness, but few were prepared to enter into a connection, which, from the days of Cromwell, had been classed among those that were enemies to the faith professed by the true kirk within the realm of Scotland; hence, though to this day these churches have always good congrega tions, the membership continues to be limited in number.
To add to their perplexity, they were required to decide within a specified time whether they were to purchase or leave the houses in which they had worshiped. In consequence of this peremptory mandate, a few entered into terms for purchasing the cherished meeting house, and friends became bound for the payment; the others had to quit, and the properties were sold as purchasers could be found. That at Dumfries was afterwards used as a theater. At the same time the Theological Seminaries were broken up and the progress of the movement, which had prospered so amazingly, was effectually paralyzed.
From this time, (1808), Mr. Robert Haldane had no further connection with the Congregational churches, beyond what we have just stated, viz: the realizing, as far as possible, the money he had expended in the erection of Tabernacles. He had been stung to the quick by what he, doubtless, considered the ingratitude of those whom he had so liberally assisted, in their refusing to change their opinions when he changed his; and thenceforward, Scotland, in great measure, ceased to engage his regards.
It is evident that the other friends of the movement had manifested, from the first, an apparent want of prudence and foresight, in not providing for the healthy and permanent support of the churches which sprang into existence so rapidly. Yet there were active business men amongst them, and the neglect can be accounted for only on the ground that, as Mr. Robert Haldane had avowedly consecrated to the evangelization of Scotland that portion of his means, which he had not been permitted to employ in India to the evangelization of
Scotland, it would have been unseemly to interfere with his way of disbursing it. But even supposing that they were influenced by this consideration they certainly allowed the excitement of success to lead them too far. The precariousness of the fund from which supplies were drawn never seems to have occurred to them; it had not failed them in times past, and, therefore, they seem to have concluded that it would not fail in the future, or at least not till their cause, from its consolidation, might be able to sustain itself.
This unwillingness or delicacy in intruding on that department of the party's machinery which Mr. Robert Haldane had assumed as his own, this unwise dependence upon him, and this intoxication of success, all operated to mislead, and urged them to press forward to the occupation of fresh fields, without due calculation how the enterprises in prospect and those already in existence were to be sustained, in the event of Mr. Haldane's death, or of his ceasing to exercise his wonted liberality. His energy, in short, diffused itself through them, and gave that onward impulse which characterized the general operations of the body; the consequence was, an unhealthy expansion, which, when his aid was suddenly and altogether withdrawn, suffered an immediate collapse.
"In estimating," says Dr. L. Alexander, "the cause which furthered the growth of Congregationalism in Scotland at the first, beyond what the intrinsic energies of the system, left to their own operation, would, in all probability, have effected, something must be assigned to the excitement of the public mind at the time, something also to the novelty of the plans adopted by the founders of the system, and not a little to the sympathy which was felt for men of high character and talents, who were made the objects of ecclesiastical censure and personal obloquy, simply in consequence of their zeal for the spiritual welfare of their countrymen. The chief of those extrinsic causes of prosperity, however, was, beyond all question, the liberal pecuniary aid afforded to the party by Mr. Robert Haldane. The establishment of a new religious sect, in such a country as this, is, always, of necessity, connected with heavy expenses, or a certain weight of pecuniary obligations. Places of worship must
be built, and funds for carrying on the cause must be provided, and when the adherents of the new party are neither numerous nor wealthy, the impediments thus thrown in the way of their progress are often insurmountable. From all such difficulties the first propagators of Congregationalism in Scotland were in a great measure exempted, by the liberality with which Mr. Haldane employed his great wealth in advancing the interests of the cause. By the support of itinerant preachers, by money advanced to erect chapels, and by the aid rendered to churches that were unable of themselves adequately to support their pastors, Mr. Haldane contributed very materially to give Congregationalism a prosperous footing in Scotland. The influence, however, thus exerted, was rather from without than from within; it was a system rather of forcing than of natural growth; and the consequence was a show of flower and fruit much greater than the plant, when left to itself and to ordinary influences, could sustain.
Having adopted anti-paedobaptist views, and become an advocate of several innovations upon the previously accustomed usages of the Congregationalists, Mr. Haldane lent all the weight of his great talents and influence to propagate his own peculiar sentiments. He felt it his duty to withdraw from those churches that persisted in their former opinions and practices, the pecuniary aid which, to many of them, he had hitherto been in the habit of affording; and he even went so far as in some cases to call up the money he had advanced upon the erection of the places of worship, in which they assembled. It is but fair to Mr. Haldane's memory, however, to say, that he appears to have acted in this matter upon the principle, that he was not at liberty to be aiding in any degree to the propagation of what he deemed error, however unimportant that error might be.
We must be allowed, also, to say, that however painful were the immediate consequences of this step to many of the Congregational churches of Scotland, Mr. Haldane's withdrawal was about the best thing that could have happened to the denomination at large, as, by closing up an artificial source of strength, it threw the churches upon their internal resources,
and taught them to look for success more steadfastly and exclusively to the soundness of their principles, the activity of their efforts, the purity of their character, and the blessing of their Divine head."*
For some years the churches, which had been so hardly dealt with, struggled hard for existence; and their pastors, in some instances, had to resort to secular employments in order to eke out a subsistence for themselves and families. The larger churches had comparatively no difficulty; they were from the beginning self-sustaining, and such of them as occupied Mr. Haldane's Tabernacles had paid pew rents as a duty, which went to the pastor, and if a surplus remained over his stipulated stipend, it went to aid in home missionary efforts; but there was no organization of the body generally, for mutual comfort and support; collections, it is true, were, from time to time, made, to assist the more necessitous churches; those who had the command of means contributed freely to help others; still, there was no recognized affiliation, though the want of such a bond was often deplored, and it was not till 1812 that the idea of forming a union of the churches was thought of, so that the strong might help the weak, by forming together one society.
The plan of such a union was first drawn up by Mr. Tait, a Deacon in the Musselburgh church, submitted to a council of ministers and lay brethren, approved of by them, submitted to all the churches, was finally adopted, and, in June, 1813, the first meeting of "The Congregational Union of Scotland" was held.
Of the good that has resulted from its formation, Dr. Alexander says: "In so far as prosperity may be held to be a proof of the Divine approval, this society must be regarded as one on which the Lord has graciously smiled. As year after year has added to its responsibilities, its resources have wonderfully expanded, not pari passu with the demands made upon them; yet in such measure as to leave its operations unencumbered, whilst no urgent claim has been left unsatisfied. Looking back
upon the small beginnings of the society, considering the difficulties which in the first instance impeded its progress, and taking into view the limited extent, influence and wealth of the churches by which it is sustained, what can we say when we see it such as it is in the present day, with an income of nearly £2,000 ($10,000) per annum, and operations extending over the greater part of Scotland, but that "this is the Lord's doing, and it is wondrous in our eyes."
But the introduction of Congregationalism was a small good, compared with the salutary influence which the whole movement, in which it originated, exerted, not only on the entire public mind, but on the pulpit ministrations generally throughout the kingdom.
The Rev. Dr. Russel of Dundee, (one of Mr. Haldane's students, and author of a valuable work on the covenants), bears testimony on this point. "By means of the movement which took place at this period," he says, "there was awakened a spirit of greater zeal in serious religious bodies. A more pointed manner of preaching was adopted by many. There came to be more discrimination of character. The empty flourish of the instrument gave place to the well defined tones and melodies which awaken all the sympathies of the soul. The unfettered fulness of the gospel was more fully proclaimed, while its practical influence was more distinctly unfolded. In course of time, there appeared an increased and increasing number of Evangelical ministers, and a beneficial influence was formed to operate upon other denominations."+
In short, the Evangelical element went on increasing in "the kirk" until, in asserting the liberty of prophesying and denying the right of the state to interfere in its affairs, it came into collision with the laws of the land, and finally issued in the disruption of the establishment and the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. The bold plan of the Free Church embraced the whole country; for it claimed to be, de facto the national church, so that every district, every parish came under its provisions; and this called forth and exhibited in a
*Life of Rev. J. Watson, p. 107.
Memoir, p. 318.