« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
daunted spirit in religion, as well as in politics. The Scottish mind in its texture, naturally firm and independent, fierce and impatient of control; and, moreover, trained up under a discipliné far from being indulgent, but on the contrary severe, and even rigorous, as well in the domestic as in the public application of it, has been gradually brought into this national habit under various causes. There are two which seem to have exerted no small influence over this natural firmness and independence in religion. First-Before the accession of James VI. to the English throne, the feudal aristocratical system had been in great force; the vassals of the two rival parties (the king and the nobles) were muchcaressed by their respective feudal lords, in order to secure and strengthen their attachment. This made the vassals who were in fact the body of the people, feel their weight and importance. Second---The ministers, and the laymen, in the character of elders, meet in the assemblies for government on the same floor, on a footing of the most perfect equality. This equality rouses the mind to vigorous exertion: it creates a boldness of inquiry, and energy in deciding on matters of the greatest importance; and in proportion as a nation is enlightened, the spirit of inquiry in religion, even more than in politics, will show itself impatient of restraint from the highest human influence.
Nor should I omit the influence on the public mind of that unquestionable right of every free christian man to have a voice in the choice of his spiritual guide. This, perhaps, as much as any other, keeps up the high tone of the people's independence and firmness in religious matters; and in times to which I refer, the Scottish Presbyterians exercised that right. The act of A. D. 1711 had not paralyzed the people's energies, nor had the act of A. D. 1784 completed the mischief.*
This equality of Presbytery has diffused this spirit among all ranks in that country; and the manner in which the pastor's duties are discharged necessarily keeps up the excitement. The
* It is rather a singular fact, that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, from the year 1711 to 1784, professed to consider the law of patronage a grievance. Hence they gave annually their instructions to their commission to seek every opportunity of getting that law abolished by parliament; but in A. D. 1784 they gave this up, and tamely submitted, and wished “no innovations in settling vacant churches.”
parish minister does not stand at that awful distance from his flock which is constantly witnessed in the hierarchy. He visits every family: he exhorts and prays with his humblest cottagers: he carries home his instructions in this manner to their fire sides. They reason, they judge, they decide for themselves: and such is the genius of that metaphysical and daring people, that having once made their decision, no earthly power--or to use a proverb which originated in the days to which I allude---" neither the de'il nor Claverhouse" could shake them from their purpose.
Hence from an early period they have been a sober and grave people. Their firmness in religion displays not the stubbornness of the bigot, but the energy of the soul that has examined and decided for itself. Their reserve and gravity is not the gloom of the fanatic; it is the habit of a mind addicted to anxious reflection and daily devotion. The Scottish population, with all their faults, are equally removed from the gloom of the fanatic and the madness of the enthusiast, as they are from the frigid indifference, "the fat contented ignorance" of the uneducated population of England, which frames its creed, too often, to the views of the present incumbent, who comes without their call, and who goes without their regrets!
Such is a rude outline of the religious character of the Scottish nation, during the religious phrenzy in the commonwealth of England. Bishop Burnet has given a fair picture of it. The old Scotch ministry, before the Restoration, says the good bishop, were a brave and solemn people; their spirits were eager, their tempers soured by universal sufferings; but their appearance created respect. They visited their parishes much; they were full of the scriptures; they could speak extempore on any doctrine, and with fluency: they were ready at prayer; it was the custom of the people, after dinner and supper, to read the scriptures, and the minister, when present, would expound them to the family. By this means, such a degree of knowledge and piety was diffused among the people, that the poor cottagers could pray extempore, and discourse with accuracy on the leading doctrines of the gospel.*
When these ministers were driven from their churches, at the
* Burnet's Hist. of his own Times, p. 84, 226. Edinb. edit.
Restoration, they were succeeded by bishops and priests. "These," says the bishop, "were ignorant to a reproach, and openly vicious."* The principal nobility and the priests were the creatures of the court and of Charles II. Through these fit channels the court poured its pestilential influence over the unhappy land. Ignorance and impiety, and boisterous profligacy, spread their desolations among the higher circles. Nor did they confine their desolating ravages to these: they swept before them the great mass of the population.†
National crimes are like raging torrents: when they burst the barriers they sweep all before them, with a fury encreased by the very means of their restraint. The Presbyterians and Independents, under that religious spirit, by which the public mind had received such an impulse in that age, had manifested a laudable zeal for the prosperity of the church of God. Much impressed with religious matters, much exercised in secret devotions, they did not shake off the deep formed habits and temper of their minds; they brought these forth, in a most natural manner, into active life. Their common conversation, their political measures, their every employment, bewrayed often unconsci ously, minds deeply engaged in religious matters; the affairs of the church were deemed, to say the least, fully as important as those of the state. Reformation in the former was of equal importance at least with that of the latter; hence among these christian patriots the news of the day had yielded to religious intelligence, or theological discussion. The retailing of family secrets and scandal was displaced by statements of cases of conscience and christian experience; riot and mirth had been displaced by social meetings and prayer; the music that lent its charms to a pitiful ballad, or an indecorous song, had yielded to the rustic notes of psalmody flowing warm from the heart. The field, the desert, the street, rung morning and evening with these wild unmeasured notes. They were above criticism; for on them floated the praises of Almighty God, from the bosoms of a simple and pious people. Every thing earthly has its drawback. These good men were not without their blemishes, and many
* Burnet's Hist. of his own Times, p. 229. Neal's Hist. of the Purit. vol. iv. p. 383. Bost. edit.
† Cook's Hist. of the Church of Scotland, vol. iii. ch. 22.
had mingled with them who yielded to the ungovernable spirit of enthusiasm; these too often formed a strange medley of things earthly and things spiritual. They often made sudden and rude translations from earthly things to religion; and from religion to trifles. They carried on their profane lips the most sacred things into common conversation. They used indecent freedom in their conversational prayers to the Almighty; they renounced the common names of ancestry, and with ridiculous gravity assumed names appropriated to the saints and the elect; and as the nobility blazon a sentence on the scroll of their arms, they adopted occasionally a whole text, or the member of a text, for a surname. Their disgusting cant rung eternally on the ears of men in the house, in the field, in the conventicle, and in the camp.
Charles II, and his licentious courtiers identified religion with these men men and their measures. Unable, or unwilling to distinguish the hypocrite from the pious, accustomed to associate in their minds the profanity and irreligion of the cavalier with his loyalty, they hated religion, and the very name of religion, because it was so much on the lips of those who had put them down.* Of course when Charles II, and his creatures gained the ascendancy, their zeal burned with equal fury against religion as against the treason of their enemies. To scoff at religion, to burlesque the most sacred truths, to become slaves to vice; and not only to palliate, but to glory in crime, soon became the prominent feature in the manners of that age. Impiety and profligacy be came identified with loyalty; to be vicious was to be in the path of honours and offices. On the contrary, a devout life, an abhorrence of crime, brought honest men to death on the gibbet, or by the steel of the life guards. And in military rencontres, and in the mock trials before a military jury, or before the council, there was no surer way for the victim to escape the fangs of the military assassins, the Grahams, the Dalziels, the Yorks of that day, than to make proof by imprecations and riotings, that he was no psalm-singer, nor a covenanter, nor even a christian---but only a very wicked man! The bowels of the inquisitors were moved marvellously in them at the well known voice of brotherhood and loyalty.
*See the interesting "Memoirs of Col. Hutchinson," by his accomplished Lady, p. 358. 4to.
In this deplorable state of religion and morals there was an illustrious band of christian patriots, neither small in numbers nor of little influence, who presented a bold front against invading error and profligacy. Among these the persecuted ministers lurked, and held their assemblies by stealth on the moors or in the morasses. These martyrs kept alive the spark of vital religion, and truth, and liberty in that degenerate age. Their influence was secret, but extensive; their ardour inspired their followers with a noble enthusiasm in the cause of truth; they were prepared to defend the holy cause of religion and their lives, equally by the force of argument and by the edge of the sword; and they actually did so.*
Through the storm of persecution, which raged for twenty and eight years, these christian patriots maintained their righteous cause with various success. By an overwhelming power they were at last broken down, and driven to the wilds and fastnesses of their rugged country. Even thither the tyrant's vengeance pursued them: he turned loose on them a brutal soldiery; urged on by such ferocious assassins as Graham of Claverhouse, and Dalziel, they swept the land like the pestilential blast of the desert, breathing out death and destruction; they spared neither men, women, nor children; they employed, in some instances, the sagacity of the blood-hounds to discover their retreats, and hunt them down. At last the Almighty looked upon their sorrows, and pitied their agonies. He roused the sleeping energies of their country; he hurled the Stewarts from the throne of their fathers, and their bloody oppressors in the dust. He put the reins of government into hands which conferred a portion, at least, of her rights on bleeding Scotland.
In the days of the national settlement, justice was not rendered to these brave and pious men, who, with all their failings, (and they were not great,) had secured to their country all the civil and religious liberty which she enjoys.§ That country has
*Wodrow's Church Hist. and Cruikshank's Hist. of that period; Cook's Hist. of the Kirk of Scotland, vol. iii. ch. 24, &c. See Hume's Hist. vol. iii. ch. 40, p. 58. Ed. of A. D. 1822, and Quart. Review, No. 25, on Charles I. Char.
From the Restoration of Charles II. A. D. 1660, to the Revolution, A. D. 1688.
Laing's Hist. of Scotland, vol. ii. $ Edinb. Rev. No. 54, p. 258.