The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 9
The vision of the Scottish Church that floats before the eye of the Dean of Westminster is a vision of the Church militant. To him it appears militant, not only in the sense of withstanding and enduring what an evil world might lay upon it, but in the sense of standing ready, with a peculiar appetite for combat, to call to a reckoning any one who may cross its path. Here he finds his main clue, as regards the question of the Church's independence. Looking at that principle merely as a principle, he finds it very difficult to account for. It grew partly, he says, out of convergent circumstances and a democratic spirit. But he is not very happy in selecting his "circumstances." Much is to be ascribed, he thinks, to the influences that arose when the covenanted Church and the covenanted State fell asunder and quarrelled. Unfortunately, the doctrine was most clearly, carefully, and elaborately defined, just at the very time when they had not quarrelled, but were in the strictest friendship. The doctrine of the Church's independence could not be very ripe, he thinks, in the early covenanting days, for in those days the Church taught a quite different doctrine, viz., that the State had a great deal to do with religion. But what will he say when he learns that these outrageous Scots taught both doctrines, and even developed them side by side in no fewer than a hundred and eleven propositions? After all, however, the passion for national independence and the passion for antagonism he finds to be the main sources of it. So that, if I may translate the Dean into the language of our worthy page 25 fathers themselves, the liberty of the Church was a plant that grew wholly on the stock of old Adam. This is all we can make of it. And a sad mistake our history must have been, for the most part, if this be so. For his own part, the Dean's theory is very simple. The best state of the Church is to be regulated by the wisdom of Parliament. The old interpretation of a figure in the Revelations was that the Church, crowned with twelve stars, signifying the apostolic doctrine, has the moon, the region and representative of mutation, under her feet. But the Dean crowns her with the moon, and what becomes of the twelve stars we shall sec perhaps in next lecture.
For the present we speak of the Church.
In the presence of this great gulf between the Dean and us, will the audience forgive me if I halt a little, and try to get footing and survey the position before we proceed? Since the difficulties are so great, we must look well about us. Is the Church of Christ a distinct society? Indeed, is it a society? Was it meant to be such? Was it constituted as such? Was it furnished with means and institutions, whereby it could exist and be—could have a mind, express a mind, and apply its mind as a society? Is it distinct, as such, from other societies, say the State? When we are aiming at complying with God's revealed will about the Church, are we to aim at what I have now expressed? are we to take that to be our duty and set it before us, as part of our ideal and our goal?
It has been a prevailing conviction among Christian people that the Church of Christ was to be a society, having its own basis, its own peculiar life, its own constitution and means of action, and supplying some uses and ends not unimportant to the world. If so, there is no escaping the question what sort of society it should be, and on what principles it should be regulated. That is a question which will exercise the world—not the Church itself only, but the world too—in the coming years.
Well, but if we mean that, let us understand what we mean. page 26 According to some people, according to Dean Stanley, for instance, we must take it that the Church is not so much a society, but rather a dispersion. It is the discrete aggregate of Christians, or rather of people touched more or less by Christian sentiments and influences, existing in the world, or in any particular country. It may indeed have formed itself into various organised forms of Churches, hierarchies, and the like, to good effects and to bad, at various times. And these organisations, or some of them, have been in a sense necessary and proper. But still the best state of the Church is that it should dissolve itself as an element or flavour in the general community, and that the representation of it, as well as the regulation of it, should devolve upon the organ of the general community, i. e., the State. This is the goal. All other arrangements are therefore provisional and inferior.
One ground on which this scheme tries to rest itself, in a confused way, is the general impression conveyed by this question, After all, are not the Christians the great thing—the Christians with their Christian belief and their Christian practice? If you have got the Christians influencing the community, and influencing one another, as they cannot but do, is not that the great thing? What more do you need or should you care for? Well, I reply, being a Protestant, Yes, that is the great thing. In those Christians, those believers, whom spiritual bonds link to Christ and to one another, stands that great eternal Church invisible, which, frail and fleeting as it may seem, is steadfast as the being of the Son of God. Whatever Churches may be, or may not be, let believers be the salt of the earth. But then most Christians believe that, in virtue of their obedience to Christ, one of their first duties is to join outwardly in society with other Christians for some appointed ends, whereby they become visible as a society; and the operations of this society, in point of fact, were meant to bear most directly on the continual maintenance and reproduction of that invisible Church. Now, if it still be page 27 said, Ah, well, but the Christians—the Christians are the great thing—then I say this: If you choose—if you think it scriptural and right—do without the Church visible altogether. Dismiss it and be done with it. Only in that case don't meddle farther with it, and don't pretend to speak about it. There are Christians, earnest people, whose views amount practically to a renunciation of all visible Churches. That is a conceivable plan; if it is ever generally carried out, it does not need much of a prophetic gift to see what will come of it. Take that plan if you will; have nothing but the individual Christianity, and such benevolent associations as may rise up out of it. But if you are to have the Church, why, then you must have regard to what the Church was meant to be.
Now, the question about the Church which comes before us to-night is more general and more important than any question of Church government merely in itself is. It is a question for all Churches, on the assumption that they believe themselves to be organised and governed in a lawful way. But questions of Church government do get mixed up with that which alone concerns us to-night in this manner—Churches may be organised in such a fashion that they could not possibly get on, if they were set to do Church work, without help and without control. Hence the members of those Churches are biassed in favour of vague and confused views, and they try to bias others. The answer to any representations coming from this quarter is to say, Go and get organised better, and then we will speak to you. For instance, the Church of England, for the purpose of forming and expressing its own life through its own organs, is clearly the worst organised Church in the world, with the exception perhaps of some of the Lutheran Churches. It would be a mockery of common sense to trust the uncontrolled government of that great Church to a score of bishops, or to such a body as Convocation now is. But then while German writers modestly confess that the Lutheran Church organisation page 28 is the weakest and least defensible part of their whole system, members of the Church of England come down here full of the impressions derived from their own system, or no system, and would have us to copy them. They know so surely that to get the Church absorbed in the State and governed by the State is far the best way; no other system will do half so well; indeed, no other system will do at all. The short answer—but, of course, it would have to be very politely expressed—but the substantial answer is—Go home again and get your own Church organised. If Episcopacy be the right way of it, keep it, and organise your Church with bishops; but put it in working order; if you can't trust the clergy, take in the laity; if Episcopacy alone won't do, eke it out with Presbyterianism; and if that won't do either, go on to Congregationalism, and help it out with that. Do this, and make a beginning even in this nineteenth century. But if you won't, then don't come to us, who have been working our Churches these 300 years, to tell us, like the fox in the fable, that your own defects are a providential blessing which have qualified you to be the model for all mankind.
Now, not in our bewildered country only, but even elsewhere, a suspicion has visited the minds of Christians, that this society, the Church, ought to be free—more particularly that it ought not to be subjected, and ought not to subject itself, to the authoritative control of the State in the discharge of those functions which are allotted to it by Christ. To speak of Scotland only, one of Knox's companions wrote these words to the Regent:—"There is a spiritual jurisdiction and power which God hath given unto his Kirk and to those who bear office therein; and there is a temporal power given of God to kings and civil magistrates. Both the powers are of God, and most agreeing to the fortifying of one another, if they be right used. But when the corruption of man entereth in, confounding the offices, . . . then confusion followeth in all estates." Knox himself embodied page 29 his views of the subject rather in practice than in theory. Under his guidance the Church acted with the freest consciousness of her own competency, while at the same time she showed the utmost anxiety to get the State to act along with her. At that time no one could foresee the questions that might arise regarding the Church's freedom, and the form in which they might arise. Very soon, however, they began to come into view, and from that day to this Scotland has been familiar with them. The incidents have altered, and the changes in men's views of toleration, as well as on other matters, have somewhat varied the pressure of particular difficulties and of particular arguments. But in all essential respects, in those respects in which it ought to occupy thinking men, it is the same question as when the opposition to the Church's liberties was carried on under the banner of the royal supremacy.
But now, before we go further, we have a great difficulty to face. How I can decently ask such an audience to join me in attempting it, is a hard question. I am to make plain what this liberty of the Church can possibly mean. Yet to Dean Stanley it is either utterly unintelligible—and in that case how can it be made plain either to me or to you?—or it is Hildebrandism, that is to say, rank Popery—in which case, if I dare to utter it, surely I shall as well deserve a "cutty stool" as if I had even sung mass in your "lug." In this strait I shall, at all events, try to be short. We say that the Church of Christ, as a society, acting through its own organs and guides, is entitled and bound to have a conscience about the doing of those things which are the peculiar work of Churches. This conscience is to be regulated by a regard to God's revealed will, and not to accept authority imposing obligation to obey from any other quarter; and the Church is entitled and bound in all the things specified always to give effect to this conscientious judgment.page 30
Those things which the Church is thus freely to do, subject to the bidding of no master on earth, are those things which Christ set it up to do. As to all other matters, the Church and the members of it are simply to obey lawful rulers. But Christ delivered to His Church truth to be confessed and taught, and also work to be done in the forming, maintaining, and loosing of various relations, and in seeing to the performance of various services. These, as we fanatical Scottish men say, are the sphere in which the Church must not bind herself to take authoritative direction from any quarter but one.
Now this may be true or false, absurd or sane; but to say that it is difficult to understand is what, in a Scotsman, we should call affectation. In the Dean one does not know what to call it. Perhaps civilisation. As to calling it Hildebrandism, we shall say a little about that by and by.
Yet the Dean finds it so difficult to imagine the principle I have stated taking root in any body of men as a genuine principle, that he is forced, as we have seen, to account for the whole long struggle as merely one form of our national jealousy of foreign domination. It is the same temper, he thinks, the same principle, the same cause. The Scotsman would not have his national way of it altered. When a question in dispute concerned his Church, he cast about for a theological pretext, and persuaded himself to believe it. But that was merely putting on an ecclesiastical uniform for ecclesiastical battle—changing the kilt, as it were, for the celebrated blue cloak. Really, it was the old secular national self-assertion applying itself to the new battle. Nolumus mores Scotice mutari. And so certain is this, that on the strength of it he appeals pathetically to the Seceders. You have been persuaded, he says, to become voluntaries, to cut loose from Church and State connection. That, on your part, is so great a mistake that it is a kind of felo de se. The Seceders, I may say, have often been told that, but now they must hear it on a quite page 31 new ground. The very bottom, the Dean argues, of your assertion of independence, if you trace it to the bottom, is not Church, but State, not ecclesiastical, but patriotic; it is simply the old Scottish privilege, which is not of grace, but of nature, the privilege, namely, of being always in the right. Hear that, Andrew Melville and George Gillespie, Ebenezer Erskine and Adam Gib!
Who will despair of progress or deny new light? Here are Andrew Melville, who came from Geneva, formed in the school which Calvin had left to the presidency of Beza, and that circle of genial and able men who went with Melville into banishment. Here are Henderson, and Gillespie, and Dickson; and Rutherford, as interminable in distinctions as he is rich in poetry and feeling; and Durham, whose favourite field is not Church questions, but who touches them often, and always with a master's hand, and many more, contemporary and subsequent, whom I do not name. They thought they had a principle in their minds. Really they did. They were confirmed in that opinion by finding that they agreed with one another about it. They also thought, or were under an impression, that they loved that principle as scriptural. In their own apprehension also they felt bound to contend for it—they thought that was what they contended for. Great numbers of their countrymen also were under the imagination that an agreement with these men had come to pass within them. Some wrote books and some read them, and some even answered them; some went to banishment, some went to battle, some went to the hills and were shot, or captured and hanged, or starved, thinking in their own minds they had a belief, which they could not deny as long as they had it. On the strength of the idea that they were contending for this principle, men have differed about them ever since; some have blessed them for it, and some have banned them. Down comes the Dean of Westminster, and he tells us, Pooh! principle! not a bit of page 32 it; of course the honest men thought a principle was at the bottom of their minds, and of their battle; quite a mistake; fought just because they were Scotsmen; had to fight; couldn't help it; gallant fellows, though; and then he takes a survey of us from Andrew Melville's days down to the Disruption; and as he marks each successive trial of strength and endurance he choruses, Magnificent! what independence! what sturdiness! what courage! magnificent!
Yes, I reply, very magnificent; but if this be the true view, oh, what fools! what utter, arrant fools! what unchristian fools, that cursed the history of their country with the miseries, the divisions, the arrested development, the interrupted Christian activities, not for a principle, not even for a false principle, but for a mere doggedness which only fell into the mistake of supposing that it served a principle! What an array of fighting fools, from Andrew Melville down to the greater name of Thomas Chalmers! And how great a man the Dean of Westminster, who has seen through them all!
And what is the ground of it? How had the patriotism of Scotland occasion to betray men into so wonderful a mistake? When the question began, it began on Scottish soil, between Scottish men. James wished arrangements made which the Church disapproved; the Church stood upon her right; James stood on his supremacy. What he proposed, and what he professed would content him, was the revival of the arrangements entered into in the year 1572. Those had been Scottish arrangements; the sanction of Knox himself could be plausibly claimed for them; there was nothing to arouse mere Scottish jealousy. And unless men had believed that there was a principle on which they ought to stand, we have no reason to believe that any mere desire to thwart the King and to have their own way would have been allowed to create the difficulties and the sufferings that followed.
It is nothing to the point to say that political circumstances page 33 existed in Scotland that tended to suggest the idea of a claim for the liberty of the Church. It is a mistake to confound the essential principles of a cause with the circumstances which may have favoured its development. Political circumstances favoured the Scottish Reformation. Much more did political circumstances not merely favour, but in a manner determine, the course of the Reformation in England; and yet neither in Scotland nor in England was the Reformation essentially a political movement or a political passion.
As little does it affect the merits of the case to say that feelings of patriotism reinforced the energies of the Church's struggle. Very likely they did; and when Dean Stanley speaks of the temper formed in the wars of independence reappearing in the Church conflicts, I have nothing to object. I suppose that for the maintenance of any kind of independence, secular or sacred, some natural staunchness is a help. God can make the weakest strong; yet that which Burns calls a "stalk of carle hemp in a man" is a gift not to be despised. If the Scots had any of it, they needed it all.
In this as in other connections the Dean is fond of pointing out what he deems the littleness, of the questions that sometimes arose. I grant it to be very clear that, in defending the liberty of the Church, if the cause itself be great, the points which become the occasion of raising it must sometimes be little. That depends on the assailants. They are generally skilful enough to try to make their onset on a point that seems small, knowing that so they can make the defenders seem more punctilious and unreasonable. Besides that, however, it is quite true—let us conceal nothing that is true—men may be small as well as points. You cannot avert the presence of human infirmity. If you discuss questions, you cannot always avert casuistry; if you call men to have a conscience and to exercise it, you cannot always avert scrupulosity; if you call men to take up responsibilities, you cannot always avert fussi- page 34 ness and exaggeration; if you call men to claim privileges and power, you cannot always avert arrogance, impatience, injustice. What share of these faults our fathers showed I am not careful to determine. They had their share doubtless. But here I will leave generals, and take one of the Dean's instances, that I may try in that instance whether the cause in which Scotland contended should be deemed small or great.
"I could not say Amen
When they did say God bless us."
"Consider it not so deeply,"
"But wherefore could I not pronounce Amen?
I had most need of blessing: and Amen
Stuck in my throat!"
How impressively does the Dean end his account by reminding us that the "main offence which provoked these terrible manifestations might now be repeated, one might almost say with impunity, in every Church of Scotland, Established, Free, or Seceding!"?page 35
Well, now, I will not make much of the fact, believed then, and believed still, that these innovations were but steps in a progress; and that the progress was to be, under Laud's inspiration, either to Popery or to a point so near Popery that it would not be difficult, after it was reached, to complete the baneful transformation. That was what made people's minds so electrical about the mass. But I will not dwell on it. Look at the obvious facts. I mentioned in my last lecture what the experience of the Scottish Church had been for a generation before the date in question. What happened now? Under the authority of the Crown there came forth, first of all, a Book of Canons, and then a Prayer-book; and I shall not dispute about the character of the Prayer-book. Look only at what is indisputable. The Book of Canons might seem at first to bear hard on the ministry only. It involved and required an explicit acknowledgment of the royal supremacy. By what it contained, and by what it omitted, it could be shown to provide for sweeping away the remaining framework of a Presbyterian Church, and it laid the Church completely at the feet of the bishops. But more than that, it denounced excommunication on all who should deny the king's supremacy, on all who should say that the Liturgy contained anything contrary to Scripture, on all who should deny the authority of Church government by archbishops and bishops. Hereby the people, as well as ministers, were exposed to the severest oppression at the hands of the bishops' courts. A man must not have a mind nor speak his mind about the worship of God without incurring excommunication. And excommunication in those days was no light matter. I have not really had time to look up the point, but I believe it inferred confiscation of goods for all who did not within a certain time make their peace with the Church. And then, which is the main matter, there was the Prayer-book. It was imposed without the least pretence of examination or sanction by any organised body or court page 36 representing the mind of the Scottish Church; no discussions in Assembly, or Synod, or Presbytery; nothing of the informal process by which in our Churches the real mind is formed and gathered on important questions—the conferences of thoughtful and serious men with their elders and with the minister, the explanations asked and given, the doubts offered or cleared away. Here was the right claimed and used to revolutionise on the largest scale the worship of God in which the people continually joined. It was done in defiance of their known wishes, and under the inspiration of a theological tendency which the whole people abhorred.
It was when things were in this state, the whole country getting into ferment, deputations coming to Edinburgh to supplicate and remonstrate, all ranks organising and combining—it was then that the use of this Liturgy was begun in the High Church—taking place for the first time in public service, and claiming the acquiescence of those who worshipped there. The outburst was merely the accidental and yet inevitable explosion, among passionate people, of a feeling which possessed the gravest and wisest men. It was no more dignified than any explosion is apt to be. Nobody need applaud it; but nobody need moralise over it. As to the young man in the corner, I don't know what he was saying Amen to. I make no doubt he meant nothing but good; but if he was thought to be saying Amen to the imposition of the Canons and the Liturgy, I don't wonder that any one who was near him should lay hands on his throat.
All honour to the firmness of the people who said that this should not be done, who resolutely stopped it; and all honour to the discernment of the people who saw that the principle here embodied was false and dangerous in all its applications, and resolved that henceforth the Church should not be called upon to sanction or submit to institutions not in her own judgment warranted by God's Word.page 37
I ask if this uprising of the Scottish people is worthily spoken of by the Dean, not in reference to its manliness—he admires that—but as to the worthiness of the cause that was put to issue?
When those who adhered to the Commons of England rose in arms, what was the quarrel? "Various causes mingled; but no doubt with many of them the decisive point was this, that taxes should not be raised in England without the consent of Parliament. All other powers and prerogatives hinged on that one. Would it be thought well in a historian to say of those who died in that quarrel, that they threw away their lives for a matter of half-a-crown, perhaps, or five shillings?—for the question, whichever way decided, was never like to concern them to more than that amount. Do we not honour the men who stood for a principle that concerned the destinies of England, all the more because their personal stake was small? Did not these men do well to judge that if the sum was small, the principle might be great? But I say fearlessly, which was the nobler cause, or if you will, which was the nobler nation—the nation that fired at the thought of taxes raised by power without the consent of Parliament; or the nation that fired at the thought of worship thrust in by force without the consent of the Church?
It was this feeling which expressed itself in that great movement, the signing of the Covenant. There was the deepest conviction in men's minds that the course of things which had been submitted to in the past was fraught with intolerable mischief. The Crown forcing on and the Church dubiously and unwillingly submitting to arrangements which the Church judged unscriptural and unedifying—this was a state of things in itself wrong and demoralising, leading to a moral paralysis of the Church's best energies, and sure to multiply inward division and distrust. Moreover, it was becoming plain that no one could tell to what page 38 results the process might be forced on. Men knew very well that in making a stand the risks might be great, and that the odds must be heavy. But having for a moment the opportunity to breathe free air, and to utter common convictions and resolves, it was a grand impulse which led them to join together and to pledge themselves to one another in a common recognition of this, as duty to God, that the system they had known should end, and that what they agreed in regarding as destitute of Scripture warrant should henceforth, as far as their power extended, be shut out, and kept out. In time past they had finessed and paltered, and had halted between two opinions. They had felt the effect of that. Now henceforth they would keep a clean conscience, and walk straight upon principle, agreed upon by all. Lower motives mingled with the higher, no doubt. For all that, it was a grand impulse. In the thrill that went through Scotland the bulk of the nation felt itself one, as it perhaps never did before or since. We have the testimony of an enemy to the "great joy" with which, through burgh and land, the Covenant was signed by all kinds of people. Surely it is a striking thing that what so united the nation was a resolution that God's authority, discerned by themselves in His Word, that and nothing else, should set up institutions in their Church. That principle was written then on the fibre of the Scottish people in a manner that is legible enough yet. May it never be obliterated.
So far most Scottish Presbyterians will be agreed. Beyond this I daresay a great variety of opinions will emerge. For myself, I think it only candid to express my belief that the use made of the Solemn League and Covenant, when it was made, in theory at least, a test of membership in Church and State, was to a certain extent* unwarrantable and proved to be a mistake.
* I say to a certain extent; because I admit the right of States, and Churches too, on particular occasions, when they are placed on their defence, to subject their officials to tests which it might not be warrantable permanently to maintain.
The temptation, however, was of the very strongest kind; strongest for the strongest and most resolute minds in that difficult time. To resist the influence of the Crown in Scotland, taken by itself, might prove in the long run hard enough. But if England backed the Crown, if the Crown gained and held England in the name of the supremacy and Prelacy, what would the result be? 1660, and the years that followed, showed what it might be. Now Scotland was still thrilling with the surprise of its awakening, its unity, its sudden resoluteness, both about the basis and the end of action. But did not England itself, all that was best in England, seem, in that memorable Parliament, to be verging towards the same temper and contemplating the same results? Might not England's action and Scotland's be brought into the same line? Might not England thrill with an impulse as thorough and mastering as Scotland's had been? Might not the nations be bound to each other to achieve delivery? For so great an end ought not Scotland to offer to pledge every atom of manhood and resource that was in her, that, joined with the better part of England, with one great effort she might win the victory? The place given to the Solemn League and Covenant very much represented this dead-lift effort to get Prelacy and, as it was believed, Popery, dislodged from influence in the three kingdoms by a great heave. It was a "most powerful mean," so it was described, for "purging and preserving" the Protestant religion. Therefore, the State was to go through with it, and pledge every man to the cause. And the Church could hardly be behind the State in a case of that kind.
But the effect was that the nation proved to have pledged itself to a work beyond its strength, for England proved not at all to be of the temper which covenanting implied. And since the requisite consent in England could not be maintained, the task was really as much beyond Scotland's rights as it was beyond her strength. Yet Scotland was sworn page 40 to persevere with the enterprise. Then even for Scotland itself difficulties were sure to arise—difficulties for the State, from imposing so peculiar a test of citizenship; and difficulties for the Church in carrying through the theory that all her members were so pledged, and must carry out their pledge consistently. These difficulties appeared in a very edifying form when Charles II. came over from Breda, and appeared among the Scots as their own covenanted king. No wit of man, not even of the Scot, could resolve such a problem as that. Immediate entanglements followed, which got worse and worse, till Scotland was utterly paralysed and bewildered. And yet that policy, mistaken as I think the event proved it, had a strange mixture of effects. In so far as it embodied in the most striking form the feeling that the line of action indicated in the Covenants was the true, and safe, and upright line for Presbyterians, the line for a man to pledge himself to with all he had, it helped to inspire that tenacious, long-enduring, indomitable resolution which won the day at last. No wonder that in those after days of confusion and division—days so trying that it must have been a bitter thing merely to live in them—men looked back wistfully to the time when, whatever the apprehensions and the dangers, the bulk of the nation moved with one impulse, and vowed to labour and to suffer together. But in so far as it seemed to pledge Church and State by oath to a definite Scottish or British constitution, irrevocable and unalterable, it entangled men unwarrantably, and led to misunderstandings that never could be cleared up.
And so there is no difficulty in producing from the martyr time, along with the basis of clear conviction on which the sufferers stood, evidences enough of the painful intricacies through which some of them strove to hammer out the scheme, at once complete and consistent, of their own duty, and their Church's, and their nation's. Now, I honour first of all the clear, broad truth on which those sufferers stood, and which mainly sustained their page 41 courage, which deserved and won the sacrifices they made; but as I read their quaint, earnest reasonings about the whole detail of a position of things so entangled, bewildering, and depressing, I confess that my eyes grow dim with tears—tears of admiring sympathy for those who held on through all, striving their best to clear an honest path through endless perplexities and temptations—firm upon this point, as one of the noblest of them phrased it, that they had "sufficient points to suffer for." "Honour," says the Dean, "honour to those Scottish Churchmen for their devotion of themselves, not only to death, but even at times to absurdity;" and no one can doubt that, in his view, the absurdity is a very considerable element in the whole performance. Well, now, I will take leave to ask a question. I am not going, I think, to say anything unfair. I hate the system of insinuating a calumny which one dare not. openly express. The Dean has as full right to receive credit at our hands for perfect sincerity and integrity as any of us at the hand of another. And therefore I say beforehand, that whatever sacrifice the Dean's conscience might require of him in the maintenance of candour and honour, I am not to doubt he would make it freely, God's grace helping him, which is needed by us all. But what I cannot but ask is this—What is that thing, what is that doctrinal truth, in behalf of which the Dean's conscience, according to his present lights, would lead him to think that people ought to undergo martyrdom, and might do so without absurdity? Where would he draw the line and make a stand? I declare most seriously I don't know. I have not the least idea. I don't see how any one can draw an inference or hazard a guess upon the subject. The Dean appears to me to be wonderfully able to hold both sides on most theological questions. Judging from the intense ardour of his demonstrations during the last three years, I have a kind of impression, but I am not sure, that in his judgment in behalf of Erastianism a page 42 man might lay down his life joyfully at the scaffold or the stake. If not for that, then I am at an utter loss.
Ah, but martyrdom in a good cause is the life-blood of the Church and of the world. It is that which stems the current of an unbelieving epicureanism and of a scoffing scepticism, and rings into the hearts of men the conviction that the faith cannot die, cannot be killed, cannot be conquered, lives on in the strength of an unseen Lord, and has its coming victory sure. It is not the less impressive—all the more, I think—because the men who suffer and overcome have plainly enough their human infirmities and defects. Smooth insinuations about absurdity are not going to cheat us of the memories of our Scottish martyrs.
The Dean, making another effort to find out the meaning of this mysterious Scottish principle, says that it was intended, no doubt, to represent, though in a very distorted manner, the indefeasible superiority of moral over material force, of conscience over power, of might against right. This is only about half of what it represents. It represents also this, viz., the conviction that Christian people, joining together in an instituted society called the Church, are called and bound, and may expect to be helped and enabled, all of them, and each one in his own place, members, elders, pastors, and so forth, to act out the Lord's will as a society. I repeat, as a society; that at all events they must try to do it; and their doing of it must be guided by truth and animated by faith all through. Therefore, they must hold themselves free to do that thing, out of conscience and faith—free, not as individuals only, but as a society.
Here it is that the Dean and we diverge, and here is the point that is utterly impenetrable to his understanding. It seems to him that all reasonable exigencies are satisfied if it is granted that an individual man is not to do or say what is against his own conscience. He grants if any such thing is required, he must refuse; if it is made the condition of any society in which he is, page 43 he can leave it and keep his conscience clear, unless, indeed, on second thoughts he comes to think that he had better not make so much fuss about it. To conceive it to be a point of conscience that the society, the Church, should as such be responsible, be free; that it should, on common principles, and in the use of institutions agreed upon as authentic, ripen its mind, express its mind, give effect to its mind about its own affairs—this is to the Dean impossible. I am not here to argue about it. But if I have not already wearied the audience, I would like at this place to say a few words about the moral significance and effect of this idea—what it is worth, in short.
The life and being of Christianity, which is first of all in Jesus Christ our risen Saviour, is doubtless to be found next in the actual faith and love of individual men and women, saved by grace, learning Christ's will, and doing it. That is the main, most essential thing; no Scottish peasant, whose heart beat true to his Church's teaching, ever placed the Church first. The first thing is to be in Christ; and the next thing is to be like Him in all manner of conversation.
But then it was our Lord's intention and is part of His revealed will to have in the world a society, having its own peculiar life, and doing its own peculiar work. It was to be constituted, not by force or necessity, but by the influence which Christ's call should prove to have in the minds of men. It was to express itself in its distinctness as a form of force and influence in the world, in addition to the influence of individual Christians. For this purpose an appointed sphere was given to it, of truth to be confessed and taught by the society, and of work to be done; not superseding the confession nor the work of the individual Christian as such, but resting on that, drawing strength from that, lending order and method to that, reinforcing that in turn. In this sphere the society was to act consciously, unitedly, learning its lessons and finding its way to its work, operating with the force and weight of a society, amid page 44 the currents of the world's affairs, striving to keep itself true to its own ideal, and to win the world for Christ. Now, at this point I admit that if everybody who has received a touch of the civilisation of Christian countries ought to be recognised as of this society, in full standing and with equal rights—and if the faith uttered by the society may equally include all opinions which anybody likes to hold—and if its institutions are to be any institutions which the State happens to think will best accommodate them all—then undoubtedly I should have difficulty in showing any important good object to be secured by maintaining my views against Dr. Stanley's. But if these views are not accepted, then the problem remains for this society, so constituted, to express its peculiar life and genius, and to perform its peculiar functions. Now, observe that the benefit arising or to arise from this society, its power for good, depends very much indeed on certain difficulties which it meets because it is a society, and has to overcome. It is easy enough perhaps for me to come to my own conclusion as to what I can declare to be true, or what I ought to attempt in duty; at least I can be agreed with myself about it. But this society has to come to joint decisions on these subjects, it has to ripen and express a common mind, so as to attain the ends for which it is instituted. There must be consent; joint appreciation of truth, of duty, of the relative importance of truths and duties. Here there arises a peculiar tension, a necessity for dealing earnestly with problems which continually require solution, of entering into consultation, of ripening decisions. It must be done under a supreme regard to Christ's will, but also with a regard to the various apprehensions of brethren, for to this last we are expressly appointed to have regard in this department. Some things are to be fixed, some are to be left free; some things may be ordered so in one part of the Church, and differently in another. And in all this the Church has to realise its page 45 peculiar position and calling, by a constant regard both to truth and to liberty, the authority of the Lord being supreme over both; a constant regard both to purity and to charity, the authority of the Lord being supreme over both.
The tension thus created in the Church, and the earnest exercise of mind and heart thence arising, the strenuous application of conscience to all these problems, is the moral preparative for the Church's becoming powerful in her offices. It is the means for creating and securing a force of thought and feeling, a sense of duty, a clear consciousness of the Lord's will, and of the circumstances in which it is to be gone about, which mere sporadic and individual Christianity would be most unlikely to attain.
But now all this is real and useful just in proportion as the society in every part of its peculiar and proper work holds itself free to do it out of faith and conscience. It must hold itself free, that it may feel its constant and direct responsibility, and realise its calling, that it may keep in view its ends, and express its own proper genius and life.
If you ask how we Christians in the Churches have answered this great responsibility, I reply at once that too often we have failed sadly, conspicuously. The evidences of it are too clear. There is plenty of the world in all the Churches and in all the Christians, and the effects have been seen. But he knows little of human nature, and little of the administration of the scheme of grace, who finds in such a confession a proof that it does not greatly matter how this business is arranged. All the more because we are so prone to fail, and do fail, it is imperative that the true conception of the Church's position and work should be ever before us, and the Church's obligations clearly bound upon us; all the more necessary to admit no principle that should allure us to resign ourselves to be governed, as a society, otherwise than by the sense of duty, ripened in the Church by the heed she gives to the Lord's page 46 word and the Lord's providence. Therefore, in this sphere we cannot, and we will not, admit any authority imposing obligation to obey, to control the free movement of the society in its allotted work.
Now the Scottish minister, or the Scottish peasant, believing that the Church was instituted for such weighty ends as have been stated, took part in the work of it on that ground. He was to contribute his share, to the expression by the society of its own Christian mind and heart, in the appointed sphere. It was an important Christian duty directly arising out of his Lord's revealed will. The very first obligation lying on him as a Christian man was to be in Christ's Church, by profession, adherence, and sacramental seals, and in that Church to lend help according to his place and gifts in carrying out the objects of the society. He felt that the whole meaning and worth of the Church's being and doing hung on its being true to its own ideal. That implied direct responsibility, direct dependence, direct obedience. Therefore, he spoke, and he speaks of the Headship of Christ, by which he means that in duties which have their being for the Christian society simply by the Lord's institution, and by her relation to the Lord, she cannot shift her responsibility nor escape the Judge's eye. These are her work. She must do it. In doing it, as she must trust no other, so she must hear no other. The great use of the Church in the world is that, striving continually to apprehend and give effect to the great and various considerations which her Lord supplies, she should be herself.
An attempt is made, no doubt, by Dean Stanley to escape all such considerations, by alleging that in a Christian country Parliament represents well enough the mass of Christians, and may therefore be accepted as the representative of the Church, especially of the sound lay mind of it. The Church and the State become one. I will not now spend time on this transparent fallacy. If it were granted that Church and State are page 47 or ought to be composed partly or even exactly of the same members, that would not go an inch towards showing that they are not distinct societies. The nature of a society depends not on the mere men as you count heads, but upon that in the men on which it rests, upon the ends for which and the conditions under which they join it, upon the act or authority which instituted it, and the grounds on which its maintenance is secured. Is Parliament elected, or ought it to be elected, to express and represent the care of Jesus Christ over His Church? Is Parliament fit to watch over a society in which authority on the one hand, and obedience on the other, are both alike to rest on faith and conscience, and not on force? Are the State, and membership in the State, and office and eminence in the State, grounded on spiritual life, spiritual attainments, spiritual gifts? This is, as Erskine of Dun said long ago, a mere confounding of all estates.
I know very well what the Dean will say, one thing at least that he will say, to views like these. He will say this is Hildebrandism—the Popish principle which makes the Church supreme in every matter she chooses to call her own. Or, varying the epithet, he will say, this is Laudianism, in principle identical with the Anglican High Churchism as it has existed both of old and of late—a system that exalts the Church in order to give dominion to the clergy—a system that fences in a sacerdotal domain into which neither common sense nor plain daylight shall be suffered to intrude. When objections take this form, the question that first occurs to me is—Does Dean Stanley suppose that the way to disarm Hildebrandism is to flee into the arms of Erastianism? Will he as a historian maintain that, in the days of Hildebrand himself, a mere Erastian principle reduced to practice throughout Europe would have been safe? Can any one estimate the corruption that would have ensued? Or will the Dean deny that precisely the most spiritual, the most intensely Christian, page 48 men of the time were Hildebrand's most effective allies? That does not hinder that Hildebrandism should be judged to be, as indeed it was, a springing fountain of enormous and enduring evils. But it does suggest that there was something in Hildebrandism itself which appealed with immense power to the instincts of Christian hearts. Grant that Hildebrandism was false coin; still you shall confess that there must be true coin which it imitated and strove to represent; and your business is to search out the image and superscription of that. The same remark holds of Anglican High Churchism. We believe it to be a mischievous system, in a variety of ways. But as long as it is merely denounced from an Erastian position, whether by Broad Churchmen or by Low Churchmen, it will retain, and it will righteously retain, an element of power that will carry it through the conflict. Minds earnestly occupied with the prospects of the Christian religion as a public cause, and of Christ's Church as a divine institute, never will submit easily to the idea that such a body as the House of Commons ought to have the supreme earthly control of its constitution and its action.
As to Hildebrandism, it is enough to say that we recognise the duty of the State to regulate its action in its own sphere according to its own sense of duty, and to accept no authoritative dictation from the Church. The State is to have its own conscience; and the Church is to affect the State's action only as it can, upon the merits of each question, influence the common convictions and intelligence of those who form the State. Therefore the State is not only at liberty, but under obligation, to judge of its own duty for itself: the State ought to endow or disendow, establish or disestablish, concur with the Church or leave the Church to its own responsibilities and resources, as the State shall see good. Further, if the Church presumes to meddle authoritatively with things that belong to the State's wide domain—for instance, with pro- page 49 perty, or legal rights, or the legal incidents of social relations, or the like—the State is simply to disregard the Church's interference, treat it as res non, maintain its own action according to its own convictions. But the State ought to take notice that a society has been set up, by no human authority, in which exist duties, privileges, relations, based solely on the common recognition, in conscience, of a common Lord. In this society what is done takes effect, not by force, but simply by the power that conviction and conscience happen to have in the minds of those concerned. First, then, the State is to take notice that the society, charged with duties in this peculiar sphere (called spiritual, because it takes effect only in the spirits of men by spiritual motives and considerations) will apply its own conscience to them, and will not go against its conscience. Secondly, it is claimed of the State that in regulating the outward incidents of such a society (money, buildings, claims for damages, and the like), the State should give full and equitable effect to the principle that such a society has a right to exist, and to do its own work according to its own conscience. If the State will not, the society will still do its own work, not minding the State, carrying out its decisions in the strength of its own spiritual resources. It will also submit peaceably to the wrong inflicted on it; but it will call that wrong persecution, and take all proper means to fasten the charge of persecution on the conscience of the nation. Thirdly, while the State may not judge that particular societies claiming to be, in their own extent, representative of the Church, do accurately represent in principles or spirit the Church as originally constituted, yet if these societies credibly profess to take up Church responsibilities as their own conscience guides them, then the State ought to respect their conscience. So long as they are dealing with things which it belongs to the Church to deal with, they are to be regarded as having a right to a Church conscience about those things. Fourthly, while the page 50 State regulates its own action from its own point of view, both State and Church ought to count it of high importance that those matters which they touch upon from different sides should be regarded and treated by them, not upon discordant, but on harmonious principles. This, it is maintained, might to a large extent be attained by each society seeking, on its own responsibility, to give effect to revealed truth—the Church in all its concerns, the State in those to which revealed truth applies. But the State is acknowledged to retain all its rights and powers, whether it is Christian or not. Surely this is something different from Hildebrandism. The essence of Hildebrandism is to assert that the Church's decision ought to bind the State's conscience, and so decide the State's action.
Then as to Laudianism, I cannot possibly go here into detail. But we differ from Anglican High Churchmen in recognising the right of members of Churches to be satisfied in their own conscience of the propriety of those things which are required of them: we recognise the competency of an appeal to the Lord himself from the decisions of the external Church. And in harmony with these views, we do not unchurch those who break the external unity, if they do so only as professing to be obliged in conscience to do so, that they may follow what appears to them to be the Lord's will, which they cannot perform otherwise. We believe there may be, and often is, sin in such divisions; but we unchurch none merely on that account. Laudianism begins with the hierarchy, and prescribes from without and from above the conditions of accepted Church life. But we begin at the foundation. We still set before us, first, the ground of all Church life, in professing Christians joining together at their Lord's call. We acknowledge the reality of Church life in very low and imperfect degrees of it. We set up the model of what we judge the more perfect system, combining elements that vary in the clearness page 51 of their revelation and in the order of their necessity; but we set it up as the goal to be attained; and we commend it, not as indispensable to the being of the Church, but as divinely given, that in the use and exercise of its various provisions the Church from age to age may form itself, may grow, may work to its great results. Therefore, also, our principles have never divided the clergy from the people. Say what you will of Church domination, our people have ever felt that their footing in the Church is as good and sure as that of the office bearers. It is the people that have fought our battle and have carried the Church through. They have sometimes been before the ministers, they have never been far behind. And why? Why, because religious men in our Churches feel to their very finger-ends that it is the common cause of us all, one cause, in which their right is just as good as ours.
It is very convenient for the Dean to treat this principle as something either impossible to understand or impossible to appreciate. And when he comes to the Disruption, it is very convenient to dismiss it with the courteous sneer at the consciences of so many excellent men being wounded by a legal suit unintelligible out of Scotland. Is this unintelligible out of Scotland, that we refuse, as a Church, to take it as part of our duty to form, or profess to form, the pastoral tie between pastor and people, merely on the ground that a civil court bids us; that we refuse in like manner to fulfil or forbear any purely spiritual act on the mere ground of the same authority; that when it turned out that the terms of Establishment, in the view of the State, imported an obligation in point of duty to obey such decrees, the Free Church saved her honesty by renouncing the pay and privileges for which she could not fulfil the terms? Why, the whole world understood it; many parts of the world are feeling the effects of it. But does not Dr. Stanley himself understand it? That he does. Why, is not Erastianism, State supremacy, the very apple of his eye? Has he not contended page 52 for it these last three years, as if on this subject alone he could become fanatical? Does he not argue habitually that the principle which applies to property, viz., that the State decides through its courts, on its own views of equity, all contests about it, carries with it, and ought to carry with it, the decision of everything else? Does he not denounce the opposite view as Hildebrandism and supremacy over the State? does he not represent supremacy of the State over the Church as the very optimism of the Church's condition? When in all these assertions he himself says Ay, has he not the least conception of what it means to say No: Yes, truly, he knows very well what it means. Meanwhile, let me once more fix your attention on this, that there is no doubt whatever as to the standard by which Dean Stanley measures all these matters. The essential features, he says, of Church and State connection are—"first, that the State should recognise and support some religious expression of the community; second, that this religious expression should be controlled and guided by the State."* These two elements are inseparable. Therefore he elsewhere argues that Parliament or the State is far the best and most suitable supreme power to control Church affairs. Nor is it easy to see how the argument can be resisted, that if this power can or ought to command authoritatively in one of the peculiar functions of the Church, so it may in all; and the only reason why it can be admitted to regulate one is because there is nothing inconsistent with the Lord's will in its regulating all or any. In that case, as the Dean puts it, the State may devolve a part of its functions, larger or smaller, upon General Assemblies or other ecclesiastical bodies, but retain its supremacy, and may at any time recall what it has given without introducing thereby any new principle or violating any to which effect had been given before.
* See Address at Sion College, republished in "Essays on Church and State."
Well, from this point of view it is that Dr. Stanley advocates the cause of Establishments as far as the question now before us is concerned. Standing here, he conveys to us his assurance that in the Established Church the Church has as much liberty as she has any need for. Standing here, he commends her as a Church not likely, happen what may, to sacrifice her position, or to fail to conform herself to whatever the condition of the nation or the indications of the State may seem to require. Standing here, he rejoices in the conviction that no scruples about Church independence will in any case induce that Church to resign the position in which she blesses the simple and the intelligent, and the heretics and the half heretics. Now, I am not to say whether this advocacy is accepted or repudiated. I don't know whether the Establishment welcomes it or no. But I see that things are running all this way in regard to Established Churches generally, The idea of guarding the Church's liberty in such Churches grows less and less practicable—indeed, it was always difficult—but it also apparently grows less and less intelligible. Like Dr. Stanley, men are tempted to try to represent that there really is no such question, that the whole affair is a dream; and they argue in particular, just as he does, that since in all Churches, Established and non-Established, the Courts will dispose of questions of property and actions of damages, that really settles everything, and no tangible distinction remains. That is a most significant token of the mode of view and feeling which men are cherishing. It indicates just a wish to get rid of the subject, to cease to see it, to escape from all trouble about it, and all obligations connected with it.
In that prospect I will not resign the hope that among those who will come forth and fight by our side will be some of those who are at present in the ranks of the Establishment itself. But the prospect is a very serious one in our existing circumstances; it is so for a reason which I will page 54 give. Heretofore, even in Churches constituted on Erastian principles as to their general administration, the sense of a certain separate sphere and peculiar province has been maintained in this way, viz., that the Church's faith, settled by ancient creeds or by Reformation standards, was regarded as a thing by itself, not to be meddled with, not to be altered. Just because that was understood, a certain ecclesiastical firmness, though within narrow limits, could appear, which maintained the impression, that over against the State, the Church, as the representative of the faith, had a place and right of her own. But this modern Erastianism has it for one of its principal objects and ends, or I may say, relies on this as one of its principal conditions, that the Church's faith, through the action of the State, shall be made so latitudinarian as to leave religious sentiment perhaps, but little indeed of fixed and definite religious teaching. I believe that great forces in this country are working steadily to that result. But the considerations connected with the topic are more appropriate to my next lecture.