THE MODERATOR addressed the Assembly as follows:—
"Fathers and Brethren, — By the good hand of God upon us we have now brought our Assembly to a close. Let us praise the Lord for His great goodness, and pray, both for a special blessing to follow our meetings, and for pardon in so far as we may have thought, said, or done anything in this Assembly inconsistent with His holy will.
My simple duty, rendered by your good order and kind indulgence very easy and pleasant, has been to preside over your deliberations; and in offering a few closing observations, I shall not profess to review the past, but solicit your attention to what I reckon some of the special duties and dangers of our beloved Church.
At the outset, let us always fix this anew in our minds, that the grand object of a Church is to preach the glorious gospel of the grace of God, to be a witness for God in the earth, to save immortal souls, and that any Church prospers just in proportion as it is honoured of God to promote these grand results.
In formerly addressing the Assembly, I referred to the great and permanent importance of our distinctive principles.
Our struggle was a part of the great "Conflict of Ages;" and the necessity for maintaining our principles against those who would either deny or under-value them will remain equally great till the end of time; for Christ must ever be "a Prince" as well as "a Saviour." The prominent maintenance of this truth by our church has become all the more essential, both because of the erroneous and defective views or total silence of some other Churches on the subject, and because of the open support of falsehood on the part of the civil government. This is exactly what might have been anticipated.
Civil governments can no more be indifferent than individuals to the cause of Christ. "He that is not with Christ is against Him. He that gathereth not with Him scattereth abroad" Of this we have now abundant demonstration.
Gibbon, speaking of the old religions, says: — "The common people thought them equally true, the philosophers equally false, the politicians equally useful." Such an infidel spirit seems manifestly to be too prevalent in high places in the present day. Whilst this may well reconcile us to our own separation as a Church from such entangling alliances, and make us value our perfect liberty to serve Christ, according to his own word, we ought to feel with all the more force the obligation to proclaim our principles aloud, and to hand them down to coming generations. This will require much prayerful consideration on the part of our leading men.
The great Moses of our Exodus was, in the holy providence of God, very soon removed; and the experience of the world and the Church unfortunately proves that the greatest principles are apt to be forgotten, unless wisely embodied in permanent institutions; nay, that the deepest impressions will soon be worn out unless constantly renewed and perpetuated by diligent care.
Whitefield in his day, for example, probably made a much more powerful impression upon the world than Wesley, and the principles which he maintained were, we believe, more entirely in accordance with the truth of God. But Whitefield had little genius for construction, whereas Wesley was constructive as a beaver. [Laughter.] Hence the one man and his system are almost forgotten in the South, whilst the other has given name to probably the largest and strongest dissenting system in England or the world. We will do well to apply this lesson to ourselves.
The impulse of the Disruption struggle is passing away, and the Disruption ministers and men are gradually being removed into eternity; and it ought to be our earnest desire that nothing should be left undone to secure that our principles shall be embodied in imperishable institutions, and that the burning and unconsumed bush, which we have inherited as our emblem, shall truly represent the future of our Church in Scotland.
We may well acknowledge with gratitude to God the much that has already been done in so short a time, the men of singular and various gifts with whom He has graciously blessed us, the missionary spirit which is the glory of our Church, the means placed at our disposal, the general appearance of permanence and solidity by which our ecclesiastical system is already marked; but we must not rest satisfied with this so long as anything remains doubtful or undone, and, if I may be allowed to speak freely in this place, there are some matters which seem to me still to call for the most serious attention.
One of these is the securing, by God's blessing, not only a sufficient number of ministers to supply our vacancies, but of men of the right stamp and quality, and thoroughly imbued with Free Church principles.
The people of Scotland knew the Disruption ministers mainly by this, that, generally speaking, they were the most zealous and devoted, the men of missionary spirit, and the best preachers. They were the picked and tried men of the Church; and these antecedents would warrant us in insisting, and the people in expecting, that our regiment should, if I may so speak, always be one of Scots Greys, — six feet men, and nothing less. [Laughter and applause.]
Much and just anxiety has been manifested in regard to the supply of funds for the support of the ministry, and a much more adequate maintenance is undoubtedly greatly required. Our strenuous attention cannot be too much devoted to this; but I am confident that there is another matter of even more urgent importance, and upon which the procuring of funds mainly depends, viz., the securing of a soul-searching and heart-enriching ministry. [Applause.] Let the spiritual sustentation of the people be well attended to, and, by the blessing of Him to whom the silver and the gold belong, the sustentation of the ministry will not be long neglected. [Applause.] I am thankful to say that we have many noble specimens of young ministers amongst us; perhaps as a body our ministers are equal to any in the world: but to this subject too much attention and care cannot be devoted.
Someone has said, "The Church was corrupted by wealth before it was corrupted by power" — [hear, hear]; and, on the other hand, the saying of Matthew Henry, which is also true, has often been quoted, — "A scandalous maintenance makes a scandalous ministry;" but the converse is also true in all unendowed Churches, and we may make a new proverb, and say, "a feckless ministry makes a feeble maintenance." [Applause.] The matter here which requires the greatest care and attention on the part of the Church is, first the selection, and then the careful training, of men for the ministry; the object being, not merely to secure numbers, although that is important, but sterling gifts and solid piety.
There are three things, as has been often said, which go to make up a minister's qualifications. These are piety, talent, and attainments.
The two first — piety and talent — can only be supplied by God; and whilst they call for earnest prayer, they bear directly on the question of selection. They are by far the most important. The third, viz., attainments, can be supplied by men in almost any degree. These are essential in their own place, although worthless, if not mischievous, without the others. The Church of Christ has suffered deeply from the want of learning, but quite as much at least from unsanctified talent and attainments. The tendency which we have inherited from the Established Church, moreover, is to do little in the way of the selection of men of gifts and graces, but to be most particular — and in its own place we cannot be too particular, especially in the present day — in inquiring about attainments.
No doubt there is a difficulty in inquiring very minutely into matters so manifestly personal, and the utmost discretion is necessary; but the paramount interests of the Church, and especially of such a Church as ours, require that this matter should be fairly and fully faced. The Apostles make these qualifications, — gifts and graces, — first and paramount; and the production of men so endowed ought to be matter of constant and earnest prayer.
"The harvest truly is plenteous, the labourers are few. Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth labourers into His harvest." A heaven-sent and heavenqualified ministry is the constant and paramount need of the Church.
Something much more systematic seems still necessary also in the way of watching over theological students during their course of study. Our courses of instruction are able and excellent, but some kind of personal supervision is still required, and students ought not to be left so entirely to themselves during those hours which are not absolutely spent in the class-room. Something of the nature of residence might, in our opinion, be engrafted with great success upon our present System.
Our retired ministers and others might be well employed in this important service. The student, far from his father's house, might, even at a cheaper rate than at present, have all the advantages of a Christian home; his true spirit and capabilities might be ascertained, his piety cherished, and his studies directed; his personal manners might be cultivated, and careless habits, which impair his after usefulness, might be avoided. 5 Our students have not now so much the advantages which they formerly had of living as tutors in families, and thus being forced into contact with higher civilised life; but by the course suggested this want might be more than supplied.
[Footnote 5: Dr Begg here referred in a few separate sentences to the offensive habit of smoking, so often acquired at present by students in their lodgings, and which they and others find a great evil in after life. Wesley entirely prohibited this. To students it is peculiarly mischievous, as they are apt, in the quiet of their studies, to smoke to excess, and thus destroy their nervous systems, and even, to some extent, incapacitate themselves for public duty. We heard lately [this was published in 1865] of a Free Church vestry where the minister and office-bearers had a round of smoking before the service commenced.]
It is well known that this system of residence formerly prevailed, and still prevails, amongst the Dissenters in England With great advantage. Jay of Bath, in his Life of Cornelius Winter, tells us how that remarkable man, with whom he was sent to live, thus superintended his habits and studies. Mr. Winter took particular pains in instructing the young men in the art of preaching, going out with them to the villages, hearing them preach, and afterwards privately giving them hints and suggestions. Mr. Jay, who, from the humblest ranks turned out one of the greatest preachers in England, was deeply impressed With the importance of good preaching, as really the great end of all theological study. Addressing the students at Bristol long afterwards, he dwelt upon the importance of this, and told a story to illustrate his meaning. He had come along from Bath to Bristol on the outside of the coach. A youth, sitting near the coachman, had been constantly teasing Jehu with questions, "Who's house is that?" "Where does that road lead to?" and so forth, to which the gruff coachman only answered, "Don't know, Sir." At length the youth, getting nettled, impertinently said, "Do you know anything, Sir?" "Yes," said the coachman quickly, "I know how to drive the coach." [Laughter.] The application to the students was, that whatever were their other requirements, the power of preaching and performing their other ministerial duties ought to occupy the most prominent place in their anxieties. [Applause.]
What Dr. Thomson, in the case of Little Dunkeld, said about the Gaelic, is equally applicable here. He threw all the other qualifications of Mr. Nelson aside, because the presentee could not intelligibly address the people. "Little Dunkeld,'' said he, "is the mouth of the Highlands, and ought certainly to have a Gaelic tongue in it. [Laughter and applause.] Mr Nelson may have any number of qualifications; he may be as great as his great namesake the thunder of whose achievements sounded from the Baltic to the Nile; but he has no Gaelic." [Continued laughter.] So the people will always reason, if a man, however great a scholar and divine, cannot preach with acceptance, and discharge creditably the other duties of the ministerial office.
The same system of private residence and training might be adopted with even more manifest advantage, by the establishment, as has been suggested, and as I suggested several years ago, in addition to a lectureship, of an Institute for the training of missionaries under the charge of one or more of those who have returned from the mission field, and this without in the least interfering with the attendance of the students at the ordinary theological classes.
They might by this domestic training learn much, without any great effort, — nay, it might be made to some extent a recreation, in regard to the history, languages, and manners of those countries in which they may propose to labour, things only learned at present by a great waste of time, strength, and money, in the mission field itself; Whilst the very existence of such an institute would concentrate your strength, and give a great impulse to the spirit of missions at home.
Rome, wise in her generation, has such a central training institute in the Eternal City, with students of all nations, ready to go forth upon her work. She has even Gaelic students there, training for the work of Rome in our own highlands. Such institutes also exist in England, although in an imperfect form. If we had such an institute, we should not only, by the Divine blessing, have a constant supply of men, but be able to estimate our young missionaries before sending them out, and to select their appropriate fields of labour.
We should have thus also a noble field of work for the matured zeal and experience, although diminished energies, of our retired missionaries. It seems to me that we can only fully avail ourselves as a Church of the gifts and experience of our accomplished Braidwoods, Murray Mitchells, Thomas Smiths, and others, by adopting this suggestion — [applause] — and that, if the return of our noble friend Dr Duff from India, and the meeting of this Assembly, should be productive of no other result than the accomplishment of this one unspeakably important object, both events would be for ever memorable in the history of our Church and of Christian missions. [Applause.]
Other improvements are also required in our Church management.
Something more than at present exists is still necessary in the way of perfecting our executive, of fairly distributing our probationers, of promoting and perfecting our education scheme, of establishing everywhere, on proper principles, Sabbath schools, of procuring endowments for poor districts, of simplifying our under-graduate course of study, of securing that our churches, before being opened, are adapted to our forms of worship, and of making sure of a more complete presbyterial superintendence of our ministers and other office bearers, so that the more slothful shall be stimulated, and the zealous cheered. [Applause.] We have a presbyterial system, but undoubtedly, ever since the days of Moderatism, with too little of presbyterial action and in some parts even of our Church it may almost be as when "there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes."
We may also remark, that if our Free Church is to remain strong and be perpetuated, our ministers must, whilst earnestly missionary and catholic in spirit, feel it a solemn duty to expound to their people from time to time, all our distinctive principles, — the great principles of the Disruption as inseparably connected with the glory and gospel of Christ. Generations are constantly passing away; and as God arranged in regard to the passover, it is absolutely necessary that the young, as they rise up, should know why our Church exists in separation from the State, and why the Headship of Christ has been a matter of debate in Scotland ever since the days of Knox.
I am well aware that we begin to be met here with a difficulty. We cannot be faithful in this matter without encountering resistance, misrepresentation, and reproach. But the very intensity of opposition is often only a test of success. "Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers of the false prophets." [Applause.]
In the days in which we live, strong opposition is made in certain quarters to the maintenance of any dogmatic and unalterable truth. Sometimes this takes the form of a covert infidelity. Everything else is making progress, say they, and why not the doctrines of the Christian Church? Here, of course, it is quietly assumed — although infidels have found it, and ever will find it, impossible to prove it — that the Scripture is not the Word of God, containing the oracles of unchangeable and infallible truth; for otherwise, except in a very limited sense, the idea of progress would not arise. Where God has not spoken, man is quite free to speculate; but where Jehovah has uttered His voice, all flesh should be silent before Him. From His Word, which, however, we are diligently to search by all the lights of knowledge, nothing must be taken away, and to it nothing must be added. Hence, in a sense, and until God gives a new Revelation, which He never will, theology is a science that never can essentially change.
Against this inevitable conclusion, however, unsanctified reason rebels; and were some of these objectors to speak out their minds, they would probably cast aside the authority of God altogether and say, with Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?" This is the very essence of depravity, which, however reckoned venial, or even brave and manly, amongst men, is the very sin of Satan, — the highest sin of which creatures can be guilty. In this gross and palpable form the objection to which we have referred can only be rejected with scorn and pity by the ministers of our Church. [Applause.]
But we sometimes hear a similar objection but in a milder form. It is said, "Why not state your own view's without finding fault with the view's of others?" This of course, goes to the very root of our position as a protesting Church, and, in fact, of our office as ministers of Christ, in so far as we are watchmen set for the defence of the Gospel, bound to "blow the trumpet in Zion, and to sound an alarm in God's holy mountain;" and it would make us dumb dogs that could not bark, or at least should not. [A laugh.] What would Elijah, or Paul, or Knox, or Luther have said to such a form of objection? It is unnecessary to answer.
No doubt the same suggestion sometimes takes a sentimental, and even a devotional form, and men allege that all controversy ruffles the spirit defeats its object, and hinders the progress of the cause of Christ. No doubt we require carefully to guard our spirits, and to seek by prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God; but how far this indifference to error is to extend, men are rather chary in saying. Whether we are to give free scope to all error, including infidelity and Romanism, and allow the Reformation itself to be subverted, they do not say; but, with studied vagueness, "speak the truth," say they "in love, and error will die of itself." This axiom is equally inconsistent with all the past struggles of our Church, and implies a charge against the preaching of our Lord himself, much of whose preaching was directly and undoubtedly controversial, and roused the strongest opposition. "Ye have heard that it hath been said," said our blessed Lord, "but I say," affirming the very opposite.
It is a charge against all the prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and the great mass of the Bible, which is largely controversial. It is in the teeth of Scriptural injunction, for we are commanded to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints." It is in the face of reason and experience. The gardener never would get rid of his weeds by merely sowing good seed, and expecting the weeds to die of themselves. [Applause.] The very charity commended in Scripture, and which these objectors wholly misunderstand, is a charity which "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." The opposite spirit, moreover, may seek to wear the laurels which others have won, but it never achieved any laurels of its own. [Laughter and applause.] Faith working by love is the highest and the heroic grace of Scripture, ever zealous of good works, but also ever ready to do battle for Christ in a world of sin and unbelief; and without this grace, however we may please men, "it is impossible to please God." It is by this noble grace, and not by that shrinking cowardice which our ancestors would have characterised as "detestable indifferentism,'' that all the great victories of the Church have been gained — [applause] — that men have "subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, 'out of weakness were made strong,' waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens." [Applause.] And if any Christian Church or man is to stand and be useful, they must stand like men in armour. "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may stand in the evil day."
The Church must be as the salt of the earth, as the light of the world, spreading an aggressive power on every side. If the light ceases to penetrate the darkness, it becomes useless; if "the salt has lost its savour," the world will no doubt cease to object to it; but "it is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men." [Applause.] In the epistles to the Churches of Asia our exalted Saviour commends highly every struggling and protesting Church, whilst the most awful denunciations probably, both in the Old Testament and New, are launched against this very spirit of lukewarmness, which can see error without contending against it. "Curse ye Meroz," said the angel of the Lord, "curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof;" Because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.
The same thing is true of the New Testament. The most fearful denunciation probably uttered by Christ himself is against this very indifferentism. "I would thou wert cold or hot. Because thou art neither cold nor hot, but art lukewarm, I will spue thee out of my mouth." This passive spirit in regard to the truths of God and existing defections, which some would recommend to our ministers at present, is just a new form of the old Moderatism against which we had such a deadly struggle. [Applause and laughter.] Many a bad thing in the world chooses a good name; and when a thing has the choosing of its own name, it is very foolish if it does not choose a good one. [Applause.] Moderatism of old affected to be divine and quoted Scripture in its own behalf, "Let your moderation be known unto all men" — [applause]; but the Christian people of Scotland, drilled in the Shorter Catechism, soon discovered its hollowness and that, whilst it made no struggle for truth, or for the honour of Christ, the essence of the gospel was also very soon forgotten. "They have taken away my Lord," the old Christian woman in Scotland said, "and I know not where they have laid Him." [Hear, hear.]
A worthy minister in those days asked a neighbour of this class to preach one of his fast-day sermons. He preached a well-composed piece of negative theology — [laughter] — something that he reckoned very philosophical, Without any mixture of controversial doctrine, although, as one said, they could be "fierce for moderation" when they had an object in view. Next day the minister met an old village patriarch, and asked him how he liked the sermon. " O, dinna bring him here ony mair," was the answer; "he's very far back in his information; he does'na ken that Adam's fa'en yet." [Great laughter and applause.] We see revised in the present day, in certain quarters around us, all the phases of the very same system.
We see the jovial moderate, the sceptical moderate, the decent and demure moderate; but in every case we find the same objection to dogmatic truth, and to an honest testimony against error, and in behalf of the kingly office of Christ. The old name, which has an ill odour with the people, is no doubt discarded, and the system is called by the plausible name of a system of "progress" or liberality.
Edward Irvine once remarked, that one of the greatest glories of the millennium would be, that "the vile person would no more be called liberal." [Applause.] The system to which I have referred is essentially an old friend, or rather enemy, With a new face. Our honest ancestor would have probably given it the more homely name of a system of apostasy and backsliding. But at any rate, we fully know its nature and results. It is a kind of ecclesiastical dry rot — [laughter] — which, it is hoped, will never seriously find admission into our ranks, or affect the working, of the Free Church of Scotland. If it does so at any future time, it needs no prophet to tell that the Free Church will fall as quickly as it rose. [Applause.]
Our ministers must act upon the principle of being ever zealous witnesses for Christ. But, besides openly and faithfully expounding to our people the grounds of the Disruption struggle, without which a succession of intelligent Free Churchmen is to be expected, there are many other questions upon which a bold testimony for truth may justly be expected at our hands in the present day.
We must defend the whole principles of the glorious reformation against the bold attacks and unscrupulous policy of the emissaries of Rome. The whole doctrines of Grace are also openly called in question in the present day, and upon this subject our ministers should give no uncertain sound. There are just, after all, when the matter is thoroughly investigated, two classes of opinions on this subject. On the one hand, there are those which resolve the whole plan of salvation into the sovereign grace of God, making Him alone to plan, execute, apply, and finish the work of salvation in accordance with the covenant of grace, and thus, whilst affirming man's entire guilt and responsibility, giving the whole glory to God alone. On the other hand, there are all other systems, more or less human which, in forms more or less open or disguised, make salvation turn upon a human hinge, making man virtually his own Salvation, although in some cases men have little logic, and seem better than their creed. [A laugh.] Our ministers should boldly preach the doctrines of our Confession of Faith upon this subject, as "the very truth of God most pure."
Here let me very strongly urge the careful perusal of those noble works of the old Puritans published by my friend Mr. Nichol, and so ably edited by my friend the Rev. Thomas Smith. I know nothing more fitted to elevate the tone of our pulpit, next to a complete mastery of the Word of God, than an earnest study of the works of men so honoured of God, so mighty in the Scriptures, and in the spiritual anatomy of the human soul, as the Goodwins, Clarksons, Adamses, and Sibbses of ancient times. [Applause.]
Much doubt is also raised in the present day in regard to the Divine authority of Presbyterian Church government. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." But if he cannot maintain from Scripture, as I think we triumphantly can, the great outlines of our Presbyterian system, our position is incapable of defence; the whole struggles of the past in Scotland — our ancestors dying on the scaffold and our Highlanders worshipping on the cold sea-beach — have been foolish and unjustifiable; our Disruption ministers were fighting for a shadow, and were truly, as they have been called, "martyrs by mistake," — nay, they were the merest schismatics; our Cardross case ought never to have been maintained; our ecclesiastical meeting here and elsewhere are entirely unwarranted, and entitled to no respect from our people, and to no more respect from the civil magistrate, whose office is undoubtedly more divine than the meetings of some political club.
Some, no doubt, put the alternative that all systems of Church government are equally of Divine authority; but, while the Presbyterian Church has never unchurched other Christian denominations, a theory so burlesque and dishonouring to God's word can scarcely be seriously put forth or maintained.
The Word of God cannot be self contradictory, — cannot at once maintain the parity and imparity of ministers, congregational nothingness, congregational subordination, congregational supremacy, and all the contradictory varieties that exist, and have existed, in the visible Church. Were it otherwise, God would not be the God of order, but the author of all the confusion and disorder in the Church, — a conclusion which itself destroys the theory. [Applause.]
But whilst it is thus of high importance to understand and maintain all our Scriptural principles of doctrine, it is of equal importance to urge upon all our people a high tone of practical religion. The absolute necessity of conversion and of a new heart — [applause] — of personal prayer, of the maintenance of prayer-meetings, and of family worship, should be strongly urged; the sacredness of God's holy day as a day alike of privilege and duty, and on no lower ground than part of perpetual morality, binding on all men, because coeval with creation, and made the very central precept of the holy law of God, whilst endeared also to all Christians in connection with a risen saviour the duty of diffusing Scriptural education, and of extending the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth; in a word, the paramount obligation of promoting all that is "just, true, honest, lovely and of good report," and resisting all sin — ought to engage our strenuous efforts, in humble dependence upon the Divine blessing. A low tone of doctrine naturally leads to a low course of practice.
There is accordingly, in certain quarters around us, a lamentable mixing up of the Church and the world, — a vain attempt at once to serve God and Mammon, — highly commended by the ungodly, but a system of compromise, where the Church makes all the concessions, and Satan gets all the advantage — [hear, hear] — which makes one sometimes wonder if some professing Christians have misread their Bibles, and imagine that Christ had said, "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth unto life, and many there be that go in thereat. Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth to destruction, and few there be that find it." [Laughter and applause.]
But apart from questions of general doctrine or practice, it is very evident that we are upon the eve of a new struggle, or rather an old struggle revived, for which I hope our Church will be prepared, for it is only another form of the Disruption contest, — a struggle in regard to purity in the worship of God. [Applause.] A manifest apostasy on this subject is evidently afoot in certain quarters.
A new "pilgrimage to Canterbury" — [laughter] — has apparently commenced, the key-note of which was sounded some time ago from the chair of the General Assembly of the Established Church, although I for one rejoice that its progress for the present is somewhat arrested. [Applause.] The struggle now, however, is a natural result of giving up high principles in the Established Church at the time of the Disruption; for if I were prepared to abandon the Word of God as my only rule, I do not see why I should occupy a humble Puritan position after I have abandoned my Puritan principles. Why not make the Church as attractive to human nature as possible, if I am under no restraint from the Word of God? Thus men have always naturally argued; and the new struggle may probably yet take the very shape of the struggle of our ancestors, but, let us hope, with a like result. Meantime, there are great principles at issue, which it is most important that our people, like our noble ancestors of old, should thoroughly understand.
The worship of God is the most sacred thing with which His creatures have to do. It is more sacred than the government of the Church, more sacred even than Christian doctrine, for these are, in a sense, merely instrumental in bringing us into proper relations to God; and if it is true in anything whatever that God's will must be the only rule, it is especially true of his own worship. In approaching an earthly sovereign the minutest rules of the Court are rigidly enforced; and Jesus says, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Of unspiritual worship God says, "Who hath required this at your hands?"
Some preliminary impressions, however, must here be brushed aside. It is most natural that such blind creatures as we are should imagine that what is pleasing to ourselves must necessarily be pleasing to God; and hence have arisen gorgeous cathedrals, the splendid vestments of priests, magnificent images and pictures to gratify the eyes, clouds of incense for the nostrils, and peals of instrumental music for the ears. As the gospel has died out, all this formalism and ritualism have come in; and it is all part and parcel of the very same system of sensuous worship, as opposed to spiritual. Yet no man with intelligence beyond that of a Hottentot — [a laugh] — can really suppose, on serious consideration, that the great Creator of all, the High and Holy One, who fills immensity with His presence, and inhabits eternity, can be influenced by such means and appliances as these. When the matter is really pressed in the form of argument, this must be admitted. God says, "My son, give me thine heart," and it is therefore only alleged that the devotions of the worshippers are by this sensuous process stimulated.
Will this allegation, any more than the other, stand the test of reason or experience? Has it not been often remarked, that just in proportion to the gorgeousness of outward worship, the reality of worship itself has dwindled and decayed? Man hates direct spiritual contact with God, and these external additions have become the very trees of the garden, amongst which he has hid himself, like Adam, from Jehovah's presence whilst with the outward magnificence and melting pathos of so-called worship at Rome, where this sensuous system has culminated, religion itself wholly disappears. One of our noblest poets has said of that land of ecclesiastical splendour and the most enchanting sacred music. —
"Far to the right, where Appenine ascend,
Bright as the Summer, Italy extends
But small the bliss that sense alone bestows
And sensual bliss is all the nation knows.
In florid beauty groves and fields appear;
Man is the only growth that dwindles here
Though grave, yet trifling, zealous, yet untrue,
And even in penance planing sins anew.
While low delights succeeding fast behind,
In hateful meanness occupy the mind.
My soul! turn from them, turn thee, to survey
Where rougher climes a nobler race display." [Applause.]
It is not the clime, however — [hear, hear] — but the Christian principle and the spiritual worship, that have made the difference.
Lord Macaulay, in speaking of the Puritans of England, — those men of Britain who have left behind them the noblest monuments of sanctified genius, and who undoubtedly founded civil and religious liberty on both sides of the Atlantic, in short, the only real liberty which exists in the world, — says,
"The Puritans rejected with contempt the ceremonious homage which other sects substituted for the worship of the soul. Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an obscuring veil, they aspired to gaze full on His intolerable brightness, and to commune with Him face to face. Hence originated their contempt for terrestrial distinctions. The difference between the greatest and the meanest of mankind seemed to vanish when compared with the boundless interval which separated the whole race from Him on whom their own eyes were constantly fixed."
Look on this picture and on that, and apply to this important question the maxim of Christ himself, "By their Fruits ye shall know them."
The truth is, the boasted effect produced by instrumental music and other similar means, in religion, is not upon the soul at all, but simply upon the nerves. [Laughter and applause.] The nervous system of the most wicked will sometimes, we are told, be so affected at a theatre, that temporary tears will be shed, whilst the soul remains hard and insensible as the nether millstone. At a soldier's funeral, also, it has often been remarked, that when the "Dead March in Saul" is played, all will appear most grave and sombre; but when the body is buried, and the troops return with a merry tune, all the gloom is given to the winds. Even so, the boasted effect produced in the Church by instrumental music has no more to do with true, spiritual, or Christian feeling than have the contortions of a frog under a galvanic battery — [Laughter and applause] — whilst in speaking of the simple and noble worship of loving hearts that God has touched, — not a dead instrument, like the praying machines of China, but an intelligent soul really worshipping in lowly reverence before God, — we may well exclaim with the poet, —
"Compared with this how poor religion's pride,
In all the pomp of method and of art
When men display to congregations wide
Devotion's every grace except the heart
The Pow'r incensed the pageant will desert,
The pompous strain, the sacerdotal stole;
But haply in some cottage far apart
May hear well pleased the language of the soul,
And in His book of life the inmates poor enrol." [Applause.]
But even although the state of the case were otherwise, the question still remains, — What is the principle by which the worship of God should be regulated in the New Testament Church? and on that subject there cannot be two opinions amongst honest Presbyterians. "God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." The Confession of Faith says, — "The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or in any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture." The Shorter Catechism says, — "The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or in any other way not appointed in His Word."
Has instrumental music been so appointed in the New Testament Church? No one acquainted with the subject will affirm this. Organs and other instruments were used, indeed, in connection with the temple service, and abolished along with that system, but had no connection with the simple worship of the synagogue, upon which that of the Christian Church was undoubtedly based. That worship was the same in substance as ours. It consisted of prayer, singing the Psalms of David and of Asaph the Seer, reading the Word of God, "explaining the sense, and causing the people to understand the reading." In the New Testament, the temple service being entirely abolished, we are commanded, in the worship of God, to read the Word, preach, pray, and sing, but nothing more.
If we are to go beyond this, we may as well re-introduce the whole Levitical service, with its priests, vestments, incense, and sacrifices; and, in point of fact, this is what the Church of Rome, which first, under the New Testament, introduced instrumental music in worship, has done, carrying out her principle consistently; the introduction of instrumental music into the service of the Church being, however, one of her very latest corruptions, dating as far down as nearly the eighth century.
Men say, does not the Psalmist command us to praise the Lord with organs? Yes, let them go on, "organs in the dance." They have the same authority now for re-introducing dancing in the Church as for the use of instrumental music.
But do not the Dissenters and Presbyterians of other countries introduce instruments in Divine worship? Some of them do; but our appeal is to God's Word, and not to human example — [applause] — and in every case it is done by Presbyterians, where done at all, in the teeth of their own principles, and has tended to smite their Churches with atrophy, and to confuse and destroy their testimony. [Continued applause.]
The Greek Church has never worshipped by instruments; and the more thorough of the Reformers all condemned instrumental music in the Church as a Popish corruption. Even the homilies of the Church of England condemn it; and some of the American Episcopalians are seeking to get rid of it. In the Homily anent the "Place and Time of Prayer," it is said,
"They see the false religions abandoned and the true restored, which seemeth an unsavoury thing to their unsavoury taste; as may appear by this, that a woman said to her neighbour, — Alas! Gossip, what shall we now do at church, since all the images are taken away, since all the godly sights we were wont to have are gone, since we cannot hear the like piping, singing, chanting, and playing upon the organs that we could before?"
To which the answer is, —
"But, dearly beloved, we ought greatly to rejoice and give God thanks that our churches are delivered of all those things, which displeased God so sore, and filthily defiled His holy house, and His place of prayer; for the which He hath justly destroyed many nations, according to the saying of St Paul, 'If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy.'"
The Church of Scotland from the first, whilst earnest for good vocal music, disallowed all instrumental music, as not appointed by God in His worship. The assembled Puritans of England, with the Hendersons, Rutherfords, and Gillespies, representing the Church of Scotland at the Westminster Assembly, pulled down the organs, as part of their great work. The following letter from them to the Scotch General Assembly is the best declaration of the principles which they held: —
"We cannot but admire," say they, "the good hand of God in the great things done here already, particularly that the covenant, the foundation of the whole work, is taken, prelacy and the whole train thereof extirpated, the Service Book in many places forsaken, plain and powerful preaching set up, many colleges in Cambridge provided with such ministers as are most zealous of the best Reformation, altars removed, the communion in some places given at the table with sitting, the organs at Paul's and Peter's in Westminster taken down images and many other monuments of idolatry defaced and abolished the Chapel Royal at Whitehall purged and reformed, and all by authority, in a quiet manner, at noon-day, without tumult."
The same doctrine on the subject has existed and been acted upon till now — amongst the Scotch Presbyterians. Any attempt to proceed in an opposite direction ought to excite our vigilance and alarm. Is this to be the miserable end of the whole struggle which has made Scotland so famous, and marked out our land as especially that of Bible Christianity, — a pitiful surrender of the whole principle hitherto at issue?
If organs are allowed in our parish churches, this is a clear violation of the Revolution settlement; and, being accomplished without the authority of Parliament, rather serious questions will arise. Are the civil authorities doing their duty in allowing this illegal procedure? Will the people of Scotland be any longer bound to uphold an Establishment where it is thus so essentially and illegally altered? [Applause.]
I remember, when the organ was introduced into a parish church in Glasgow, an opinion was given by high legal authority that it was illegal. The organ was pulled down, the ministers who introduced it soon left the city, and at the time there was a caricature of him, with the organ on his back, and the words, "I'll gang nae mair to yon toon." [Laughter.]
I would like to see the matter terminated elsewhere on some such thorough way as that. 6 But, above all, our simple confidence must again, as of old, be in the truth of God and the God of truth. Meantime we must be cautious, and avoid the thoughtless introduction, for example, of instruments of music, even into our congregational singing classes, or in extra times of worship, as contrary to sound principle, and tending to further change.
[Footnote 6: When the attempt was made to introduce an organ into St. Andrew's Church, Glasgow, in 1806, intimation was immediately made of this by the Lord Provost to the Presbytery. It is also said, "The Lord Provost also laid before the Magistrates and Council a letter from the Rev. Dr Ritchie, minister of St Andrew's Church, and a petition from a number of respectable inhabitants who possess seats in that church, requesting the permission of the Magistrates and council, as heritors, to make such alterations in the seats behind the pulpit as may be requisite for the introduction of an organ." The opinion of Mr Reddie, then Town-Clerk, a friend of Lord Brougham, and one of the ablest lawyers of his day, was then asked on the subject. He intimated that, whilst personally not unfavourable to the change, it was neither in the power of the minister nor magistrates to make it at their own hand, although he reserves his opinion of how the case would stand in the event of the sanction being obtained of the General Assembly in behalf of the innovation.
The following are some sentences from this opinion:— "In the petition, and in Dr Ritchie's letter, it seems to be hinted that the Magistrates and Council have the power of granting or refusing the present application merely on the ground of expediency or in expediency as to the removal of the seats in the church. With me this opinion has no weight, because I do not conceive it to be warranted by the law of the land." "Of thepresent application, the Magistrates and Council have a right to judge in two characters, — as representative heritors and as civil magistrates. As heritors they have a legal right to insist that their patrimonial interests shall not be impaired by the proposed measure. These patrimonial interests the gentlemen of the Magistracy and Council might perhaps, on such an occasion, be disposed to waive, were they heritors in their own personal right. But the members of the Magistracy and Council are not heritors in their own right. They are heritors merely as representing the community of Glasgow; and to the interests of the community they are bound, on this, as on all other occasions, to attend." "That there is any express act of the Legislature prohibiting the use of organs in our Established churches I am not aware. But that the introduction of organs into our churches would be a material alteration and innovation in our external mode of worship, there cannot be a doubt." "As civil magistrates, you are legally bound to maintain our Constitution in Church and State in its present condition; and by express statute you are bound 'to take order that unity and peace are preserved in the Church,'" "From the language of the petition, it seems to be supposed that, were not the Magistrates and Council heritors of St. Andrew's Church, the subscribers might, of their own authority, introduce an organ. In this opinion I cannot coincide. To the happiness and glory of this nation, every man may worship God in the manner he thinks fit. But while unlimited toleration prevails in this country, we have at the same time an ecclesiastical Establishment recognised by law. Under that Establishment a certain mode of worship is, and has been for ages, observed. And to that mode of worship, until altered by constitutional authority, whatever Dissenters may do, the members of the Establishment are bound to conform." How completely these sound principles of law and reason have been thrown to the winds in the late anarchical proceedings in the Greyfriars' Church, Edinburgh, and elsewhere, no one requires to be told. But if the matter is not set thoroughly right by the Church courts, by removing the innovations which they have properly condemned, the people of Scotland may find that they have an obvious way of redress. They are no more bound to support a church with an organ and Liturgy in it, than they are bound to pay for a Mosque; and if difficulties arise on this subject, our ecclesiastical authorities may now only thank themselves.]
Other arrangements in regard to worship, although to be settled on a totally different principle, are important in their own place, and we must resist the restless spirit which would change our forms of worship without lawful authority. The very liberty we enjoy in a Presbyterian Church makes order all the more necessary, and anarchy all the more dangerous. Every congregation with us is only part of a great whole, — one room, as it were, in a great house; and I am entitled, as I pass from room to room, to be protected against the evil of having my devotions disturbed by the crude alterations which may be introduced without the authority of the collective Church.
It may be said that the proposed alterations are small; but this only makes the unwarranted introduction of them less excusable if they in any measure interfere with the rooted habits of our congregations. The very attitudes of our worship have been thoroughly considered, and are capable of the fullest vindication; and the times of worship are often more important than people suppose. Ordinary worship in the evening, for example, instead of in the afternoon, although an occasional evening sermon in a city may be necessary and useful, seems a very harmless change even in rural districts; whereas it has been found by experience, that this both extinguishes family catechising, — the old family work of the Sabbath evenings, — an enormous mischief in itself, and that it has been greatly productive of sin, by inducing young people to go out under cloud of night, on pretence of worship, but often without the control of parents, and in circumstances of great temptation.
We scarcely take up a paper, moreover, without seeing that some parish minister has abandoned one or more of the preaching days, as they are called, in connection with the communion, because few people attend. If this be a good reason, it should also lead to the shutting up of some of the parish churches altogether. [Laughter and applause.] The Monday service of thanksgiving, which originated at the famous revival at Shotts, and was honoured at the time also of the revival of Kilsyth, has long been dear to the good people of Scotland. [Applause.] I see that this service is being frequently abandoned by the parish ministers. The older ministers were in the habit of urging attendance on this service by referring to the case of the lepers. "Were there not ten cleansed, and where are the nine?" But here the tables are turned. The few that do return to give thanks have the doors of the church shut in their faces, because they are not more numerous. Because the nine won't give thanks, the tenth is not permitted to do so. [Laughter.] God says, "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them." But it would appear that where God does not disdain to be present, some of his professed ministers reckon it not worth their while to come. It would be interesting to know how they are better employing their time on the sacrament Monday. [Applause.] They may rest assured that just in proportion as they yield to this tide of defection, the spirit of carelessness will grow. [Continued applause.]
The real question in such cases, however, is not about times or attitudes, but about the right of a minister or congregation in a Presbyterian Church to alter the worship without authority. Take the case of a human regiment. The soldiers are all clothed in red; but a few, let us say, have arrayed themselves in green. This would seem the smallest possible matter in itself: The real question, however, would not be as to the respective merits of these two colours, but as to the value of uniformity, and whether individual men can make the change without authority from their military superiors. [Applause.] And so it is in the present case. The thing done may be small, but the principle involved is great; and why should the propriety of the proposed alteration not be considered? If the proposed change be good, let us all make it; and if not, let none be permitted to do so. We must either see thus to secure uniformity of worship, or not mock the people by solemn vows on the subject of uniformity, administered in the presence of God to all our ministers in every case of ordination or induction, but which have really in such a case no meaning. It is hoped that such matters will all, in our Church, be wisely and amicably settled. [Applause.] If any change is proposed, — and the subject is a fair one for consideration, — it ought to be submitted, not to the congregation, for that is pure Independence, but to the courts of the Church, and settled by lawful authority.
I shall not resume the questions discussed in the Assembly in regard to our psalmody. Some respected brethren apparently wish our psalmody changed in various ways, and the matter is a fair one for consideration. I shall not enter upon any of these questions, because, if spared, there will be other opportunities of discussing them; but I am very anxious to say a few words in regard to the value of our own Psalms as they stand, especially as some very unworthy attacks have been made upon them elsewhere.
It implies an ignorance almost astounding to hear the Psalms objected to as not containing the name of Jesus. If the meaning be, that these five letters are not found in conjunction in the Book of Psalms, this is admitted, although the Psalms are full of Christ. If there were any force in this objection, it would be an equally good argument for setting aside the whole Old Testament together. [Applause.] The Psalms, we say, are full of Christ, under a variety of names, as He himself explained to His disciples, and as the Apostle Paul proves in his Epistle to the Hebrews.
The author, moreover, of the version which forms the basis of ours is said to have been intimate with the great Milton; and it is alleged, on what precise authority I know not, that the hand of the great author of the "Paradise Lost" may be seen in that noble version. Be this as it may, whatever alterations may be suggested, we have at present, I have no hesitation in saying, the grandest psalmody in the world, if our people were only all taught to sing well — [applause] — and it is hoped that the experience of other Churches will teach us at least to observe the greatest caution in any change. [Applause.]
Admitting that it is lawful to sing other portions of Scripture than the Book of Psalms, we do not know a single instance in which this has been extensively done by other Churches without virtually superseding the Book of Psalms altogether, to the great injury of spiritual religion. You almost never hear a Psalm sung now in the public worship of God in England or America. And yet, it is a very remarkable fact, as mentioned by Dr MCrie, that whilst God has not given the Church a Prayer-book, he has given her a Psalm-book. [Applause.] This book, moreover, is not a short one, but consists of one hundred and fifty psalms; so that, taking three for each Sabbath, one with another, a sufficient number of psalms are provided for the whole year, or, at the rate of six for each Sabbath, — enough for half a year. If, therefore, as in some Churches, a multitude of other compositions are added, it is easy to see how, as it has turned out in practice, the Psalms must be virtually set aside. And yet these Psalms, divinely inspired, contain the most exalted matter of praise, the most sublime ascriptions of glory to God, the most wonderful and ample references to the whole scheme of grace: they supply the awakened soul with the deepest expressions of humility, and the most rapturous language of faith, confidence, and love. [Applause.]
They are also inseparably connected with all the grander passages of our Church's history, of which an historical statement or index would be of great value. Every successive period of revival has brought out their beauty with renewed lustre. It was in the language of these noble Psalms that the Covenanters breathed forth their manly devotion:—
"Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt
From trouble keep me free;
Thou with songs of deliverance
About shall compass me."
"God is our refuge and our strength,
In straits a present aid;
Therefore, although the earth remove,
We will not be afraid."
How many a glen and scaffold re-echoed with the sound of these heaven-inspired odes, during the fearful twenty-eight years of struggle and bloodshed by which our spiritual liberties were won, bringing out sometimes with rugged grandeur, no doubt, but in sublime language, the deepest feelings of spiritual heroes in circumstances fitted to stir to their utmost depths the strongest emotions of the human soul Who can help thinking of Drumclog when he hears —
"In Judah's land God is well known,
His name's in Israel great," &c.;
or of Hugh M'Kail when he sings —
"Into thine hands I do commit
My spirit, for thou art he,
O thou Jehovah, God of truth,
Who hast redeemed me.
Those that do lying vanities
Regard I have abhorred
But as for me, my confidence
Is fixed on the Lord.
"I'll in thy mercy gladly joy:
For thou my miseries
Considered hast. Thou hast my soul
Known in adversities;
And thou hast not enclosed me
Within the enemy's hand;
And by thee have my feet been made
In a large room to stand."
At the Disruption the Psalms alone were almost universally
sung. We all know the Psalm of Dr Chalmers, which formed the guiding
note of the Disruption;—
"Unto the upright light doth rise,
Though he in darkness be."
and that rapturous verse with which he commenced our
noble Free Assembly in Tanfield Hall,—
"Since better is thy love than life,
My lips thee praise shall give;
I in thy name will lift my hands,
And bless thee while I live."
How well I remember, amongst many others,
Dr M'Kellar giving out, at a trying time —
"Jehovah hear thee in the day,
When trouble he doth send;
And let the name of Jacob's God
Thee from all ill defend."
and Dr M'Donald of Ferintosh embodying with remarkable precision the very endurance and hopefulness of Celtic piety, in the words —
"Oft did they vex: me from my youth,
May Israel now declare;
Oft did they vex me from my youth,
But not victorious were."
This peculiarity was equally remarkable also at the wonderful Irish revival, — perhaps the most distinct phase of such a work that we have witnessed. The deep emotions of awakened souls found their appropriate expressions in the same language. How earnestly they uttered —
"He took me from a fearful pit,
And from the miry clay,
And on a rock he set my feet,
Establishing my way."
"My soul is vexed sore, but, Lord,
How long stay wilt thou make?
Return, Lord, free my soul, and save
Me for thy mercies' sake."
I well recollect with what a thrill
of feeling the words were sung, —
"From out of Sion, his own hill,
Where the perfection high
Of beauty is, from thence the Lord
Hath shined gloriously."
No doubt some are ready to say, "We cannot always find appropriate Psalms for our sermons." It may be so; but, after all, this statement may often raise two questions: First, may not the fault lie in your sermons, and not in the Psalms? [Laughter.] To us it seems ordinarily rather a bad sign of a sermon if there is no Psalm to suit it. [Laughter.] But, secondly, it may be asked, have you thoroughly sought out an appropriate Psalm? Have you carefully studied the Book of Psalms, to see what riches of devotional matter it contains? I put this latter alternative because I used to find the same difficulty myself with the American Hymn-book, with which I was unacquainted; and I can never forget, on the other hand, what treasures my old friend Dr Jones brought from the Psalm-book, before and after his preaching, to suit all his subjects, which were very various, although he had cut the hymns and paraphrases out of the book.
The late Dr. French, a man of great talent and piety, who had been accustomed as a Relief minister, chiefly to sing hymns, told me, not long before his death, that he took far more interest in the Psalms after he had attended the death-bed of an old pious woman in his congregation and heard her, with her withered uplifted hands and solemn countenance, express her dying faith in these striking words, the wonderful force and beauty of which he had never seen before:—
"Thou my sure portion art alone,
Which I did choose, O Lord
I have resolved and said that I
Would keep thy holy word.
With my whole heart I did entreat
Thy face and favour free;
According to thy gracious word,
Be merciful to me." [Applause.]
These Psalms have not only formed the spiritual food of heroes, and of the most earnest Christians of modern times, — they are not only inseparably interwoven with all that is grandest and most distinctive in the past history of our Church, — but many other great men have admired them. John Wilson introduces in one of his most impressive scenes that beautiful verse —
"With thy tabernacle, Lord,
Who shall abide with thee,
And in thy high and holy hill
Who shall a dweller be?"
Sir Walter Scott strongly opposed the idea of altering our present version; whilst Mr. Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, in defending it against Professor Tennant, made many statements illustrative of its beauty and power. Hear, said he, the thunder of the old Calvinist:—
"Praise waits for thee in Zion, Lord;
To thee vows paid shall be:
O, thou that hearer art of prayer,
All flesh shall come to thee."
We are convinced, that if not the life, at least the spiritual stamina and vigour of our Church, depends greatly upon its people being fed, as heretofore, with the strong meat of the Psalms, and this apart from all questions of principle, upon which I do not at present enter. If the Church is again thrown into the furnace, and if spiritual life remains, she will, I have no doubt, grasp at the Psalms, as Luther did of old, and as David himself grasped, in his straits, at the strong blade of Goliath, saying, "Give it to me: there is none like it." It was the token of past success, and the pledge of future victory. [Applause.]
The teaching of our theological students thoroughly to understand, relish, and use the Psalm-book, would do more, by the Divine blessing, to strengthen and build up the spiritual element in our Church, than anything else of this nature that I can imagine. We may apply, to a large extent, to this the language of a late eminent minister of another Church to a rather unstable brother whom he was inducting: — "Preach the old doctrines," said he, "and stick to old language. No man having drunk old wine straightway desireth new for he saith the old is better." [Laughter and applause.]
Your time will not now allow me to touch, except in the most cursory way, upon a matter which I regard as of the utmost importance, viz. the anxiety which, as ministers of the gospel, we should feel in regard to the social state of Scotland. Patriotism is one of the noblest fruits of Christianity, whilst the social state of our own country is one of the surest tests of the results of our Christian work. It is our moral thermometer, as it were, by which to ascertain the spiritual temperature.
God commanded the Jews of old to manifest an interest in the country in which they were only strangers and captives; and far more are we bound to feel a special interest in the land of our fathers' sepulchres. Jesus himself wept especially over Jerusalem; and Paul had a peculiar sorrow and heaviness when he thought of his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh. So it was with the large-hearted founders of our Presbyterian Church. They repudiated the selfishness of the idle monk, who cared for no country, and denounced the whole theory that the clergy should be a caste by themselves, standing aloof from the ordinary sympathies of the world. Knox was our great statesman, as well as Reformer. Henderson was more influential than any of the nobles in Scotland, even in temporal things. Rutherford wrote, not only his beautiful spiritual treatises and letters, but a noble discourse on civil liberty, his famous "Lex Rex." Carstairs was a main instrument in effecting the revolution; whilst Dr. Duncan of Ruthwell, in our own days, with his saving banks, Dr. M'Gill and Dr. Chalmers, with their treatises on social questions, all indicate what the true spirit of the Presbyterian ministers of the best type has ever been and should be.
The Disruption has unfortunately, but by no means necessarily, tended to break up this connection between the temporal and the spiritual in Scotland; but there never was a time when the powerful influence of the Church and of Christian men w as more necessary in stemming the tide of social degeneracy, and in proclaiming, to rich and poor, in the words of our poet Laureate, —
"Howe'er it be, it seems to me
'Tis only noble to be good
Kind hearts are more than coronets
And simple faith than Norman blood.
Clara, Clara Vere de Vere,
If time be heavy on your hands,
Are there no beggars at your gate,
Nor any poor about your lands?
Go teach the orphan boy to read,
Or teach the orphan girl to sew." [Applause.]
The present degeneracy of Scotland is partly the fruit of past neglect, and partly the result of the mistaken policy of our own day. The government of Scotland has passed through several distinct transformations. First, she was under the dominion of Rome, and was degraded as all Romish countries are. Next, she was ruled mainly by the aristocracy, made immensely powerful by the spoils of the Church. Their power was no doubt partly checked and restrained, but not always for good, by the influence of the Protestant ministers.
Of late the main power of our government has centred chiefly in Edinburgh, the influence of the Protestant Church being nearly withdrawn, but, as I think, foolishly and mischievously so. Coupled with this, we have a great influx of the bad element of Irish Romanism into Scotland; whilst our railway system, our press, and electric telegraph, are bringing us more under the influence of England, and, unfortunately, whilst what is evil in the state of things in England is copied in certain quarters, what is good and noble is carefully excluded. The anti-Sabbatarian and other Church views of England begin to spread to some extent, and have a pernicious influence; but her system of coroners' inquests, her liberal franchises, and her high ideas of public rights, social comfort, and civil liberty, are not transferred.
Meantime the social state of Scotland, whatever be the cause of it, is evidently far from satisfactory, and in some respects, and in certain quarters, we fear, getting worse. Great expense is no doubt being lavished, a vast machinery of law and police, commissioners and boards, are multiplied, and the wiser views of other days are decried; and yet matters do not improve. The real reason is, that the moral element is ignored.
There are some infallible tests by which to judge of the social state of a country. One of these tests is the state of the family system, and the diffusion of social comfort, as indicated, for example, by the state of the houses of the people, or, in other words, the state of their domestic relations. The family system and the Sabbath are the remains of paradise, and form an index to the social state of any country.
When we know that one third of the people of Scotland live in houses, or rather hovels, of only one apartment, and that the social state of some of our towns, and even rural districts, is positively awful, we may easily judge what mischiefs prevail; and yet to this main indication and source of evil our statesmen do not seem to advert. Coupled with this, we have the growth of other forms of social degradation.
The Eighth Report of the Commissioners of her Majesty's Inland Revenue, lately published, indicates that in 1862-3 the number of gallons of spirits entered for consumption in Scotland was 4,511,193; whilst in 1863-4 the number had increased to 4,769,150, being an increase of 257,957 gallons in one year; the cost of the whole being about £3,000,000, and of the increase about £189,569. The miserable houses of the people partly account for this, coupled with a low moral tone; for nothing will sooner drive a man to the public-house than a total want of all domestic comfort. This again resulting in disease and death, springing from the same causes, is a fruitful source of pauperism; and hence, whilst so late as 1836 the cost of pauperism in Scotland was only £171,042, last year it had increased to £770,029. 14s. 9d, and the amount is steadily advancing year by year. The notorious social immorality of some parts of Scotland, connected also with the same causes, is sufficiently lamentable.
Now, if the Church is to stand aloof, how are these evils ever to be dealt with? The theories of our politicians, lawyers, and mere sentimentalists are manifestly at fault. The idea, moreover, of dealing with men by mere coercion, or dealing merely with the lapsed classes, while nothing is done to prevent men from lapsing, is plainly abortive — [applause] — or, rather; it is a plan by which, as in the case of the lean Kine of Egypt, the fat are eaten up, whilst those who eat them are never a bit fatter themselves. [Laughter.] To this issue Scotland in some districts seems rapidly tending, and Christian men and ministers are loudly called to come to the rescue.
The utter want of bringing Scriptural and moral principles to bear upon our social problems is more and more apparent and lamentable to intelligent men every day. The absence of any distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor, for example, — the deliberate multiplication of public-houses in our cities by our public authorities — [applause] — thus promoting crime and social evil with the one hand, whilst they profess to be pulling it down with the other — the maudlin sympathy with criminals which prevails in our legislative arrangements, making them far more comfortable than honest working men — [applause] — the short-sightedness or hypocrisy that will allow whole hecatombs of decent people to go to their graves uncared for and unpitied, from defective social and sanitary arrangements, and will yet utter a sigh over the just punishment of individual murderers, thus "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel" — the re-introduction by public support of the whole Romish system, that enemy of all social progress — the toleration of two of the greatest public curses to any land, viz., the system of lotteries and of privileged mendicancy — these are only a few of the many things in our social arrangements which loudly call for exposure on the part of our ministers, and which never will be resisted, we may rest assured, except by Christian men. [Loud applause.]
We might also refer to the general torpor and long delays in regard to a national plan of education, as indicating the same spirit. [Loud applause.] It is painful to think that, whilst we are only talking on the subject, no fewer than 1987 schools were planted in Italy in 1862-3. [Loud applause.]
In a word, all the most true and just views of social science are only to be found in the Bible; and it is one of the highest duties of the Church, and of all her ministers, to enforce the views therein contained, as intended for the guidance of rulers, to prove their value as illustrated by our past history, and to say to those who would attempt to rule men apart from moral elements, or, in a word the nation, on any other principles, "they have rejected the Word of the Lord, and what wisdom is in them?" [Applause.]
But I must bring my remarks to a close. Our Church, if it is to continue and become stronger, ought to seek still more and more to be, in the hand and by the blessing of God, an instrument for good, — the highest good, in time and eternity, — to our country and the world.
The Emperor of France, in his late work on Julius Caesar, has stated a solemn truth, although in a perverted form, ascribing to fate what is the result of God's holy providence. "There exists, one would say," says he, "in moral as well as physical order, a Supreme law, by which to institutions as to certain beings a fated limit exists, marked by the term of their utility." The people of Scotland have been taught to look to our Church as the leading conservator and promoter of all that is precious and sacred in our Presbyterian system, as founded on the Word of God. It is for this reason they have stood by us so nobly hitherto; and it is hoped that they will never have cause to look to us for this peculiarity in vain.
The times in which we live are, moreover, very peculiar. The 1260 years of prophecy must, on whatever calculation, be nearly expired. Coupled with this, three things may certainly be expected, — a great revival of Romanism, for "he deadly wound of the beast is to be healed," — an abounding of infidelity, so that, "if it were possible, the very elect would be deceived," — and this followed by scourging judgements, "a time of trouble such as has not been from the beginning, and never again shall be," amidst which the glories of the latter day shall at length be ushered in, — the grand jubilee of the world. And yet, "none of the wicked shall understand these things, but the wise shall understand."
Do we see no resemblance to all this in the times around us? The improbable growth of Romanism, sneered at by many, is now palpable; and so is the growth of infidelity, and yet it is an infidelity precisely in accordance with the inspired record. In the perilous times of the last days, men, we are told, shall be lovers of their own selves, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, and yet not professed atheists for they are to have "a form of godliness, but to deny the power thereof."
Moreover, does not God seem to have begun in the great western world to ride his bloody circuit of judgement for the overthrow of gigantic evils, not only punishing the crimes of nations, but, as the Americans themselves now admit, in such a way as to force them in their punishment to remember their sins? [Applause.] Is that to terminate in America? or is it not the beginning of sorrows? Shall the cup of judgement not go round? Shall the hoary systems of European crime and despotisms always continue to curse the earth? or shall they not also be visited by Him who is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness, and who has said that he will overturn, overturn, overturn, until He come whose right it is to reign?
Whether nearer or more distant these solemn events may be by which Christ shall take to Himself his great power and reign, "Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments clean." The cry, "who is on the Lord's side ?" is now emphatically passing through the world and through the land, and is addressed equally to Churches and individuals. "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the Heavens from above, and to the earth that he may judge his people. Gather my saints together unto me, those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice."
May we each have grace to work and watch as those that must give an account. May we be prepared to stand in our lot at the end of the days, and in the language of Scripture to respond to the stupendous summons, "The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the time of the singing of birds is come. This is our God: we have waited for Him, and he will save us. We will be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
So much for ourselves; and what of Scotland? In these days of Romanism, rebuke, and blasphemy, may we not exclaim, —
"My country, wilt thou faithful be,
Through the tempest of the night,
To God, thy martyr'd ancestry,
And thy witness cloud so bright?
Till the breaking of the morning
Be thou still the gospel's home;
And the cause of truth adorning,
Be watchword, War with Rome. " [Great applause.]
The Moderator then engaged in prayer, and gave out the last three verses of the 122nd Psalm, which were, as usual, sung by the Assembly standing. The benediction was then pronounced, and the Assembly rose shortly after eleven o'clock.