The Duke of Argyll
said, that in pursuance of a notice which he gave on Friday last, he now rose to present a bill for the better regulation of Church patronage in Scotland. Their Lordships were perfectly aware, that in the early part of the history of the Church of Scotland, as soon indeed as it became a regularly organised body, it was one of the fundamental laws of that Church, that no Minister should be forced upon any parish or body of the people, for the purpose of taking spiritual charge of them, or of discharging among them the sacred functions of the ministry, who was in any manner objectionable to them, either on account of grave and serious faults, or upon the less easily defined ground of want of congeniality with them in religious feeling; and no attempt was ever made in any of those Acts of Parliament, which adopted the Church of Scotland as the national church, and conferred endowments on her to fetter the exercise of this principle. It was repeatedly confirmed by different Acts of Assembly, and enforced whenever the Church, being at any time free from persecution, had it in her power to act without restraint in ecclesiastical affairs. This was the state of the Church government for twenty years previous to the Act of Parliament of the 11th of Queen Anne, which restored to patrons their former powers, of which they had been deprived 1479 by the acts of 1649 and 1690. During the period that elapsed between the acts of 1690 (by which all the laws and privileges of the Church of Scotland were confirmed) and the subsequent act of 1712, restoring patronages to the former lay patrons, the right of nomination and presentation to vacant benefices had been exercised by the heritors and Kirk Session, subject always to the approval, or disapproval of the congregations, thus effectually preserving the principle of non-intrusion of Ministers upon reclaiming, that is to say, refusing parishes; and although the act of 1690 sufficiently secured all the rights and privileges of the Scottish Church, they were still further and more solemnly confirmed to her by the Act of Union between Scotland and England in 1707, without which confirmation of her rights the Church of Scotland then, as now, a most powerful and influential body, would never have given her consent to the union, and by her refusal must have thrown much difficulty and delay in the way of that wise and salutary measure. Unhappily, however, a Ministry was appointed by Queen Anne, who sought to forward their views for the restoration of the Stewarts, by oppressing the Scottish Church, whose known attachment to the Protestant succession in the house of Hanover would have proved a formidable impediment to their ulterior views; and they, therefore, moved the British Parliament and the Crown to pass an act for the restoration of patronages to the former patrons, without any reservation of the rights of the congregation to give their approval or dissent from the appointment of any presentees that might be offered to them by their patrons. Now, had the act of 1712 reserved that fundamental law of the Church, that no minister should be forced upon a reclaiming parish, there would have been little cause to regret an act that restored the right of presenting to vacant parishes to its ancient possessors; for in the opinion of many, and it was decidedly his own, the former patrons were as likely to present fit and proper persons to vacant parishes as the heritors and Kirk Session, between whom many inconvenient disputes and delays might arise; and, if bound and restricted by the free exercise of the non-intrusion principle on the part of the people, this restoration might have proved an advantage and a blessing to the Church of Scotland. Upon that principle he had ventured to submit the bill which he held in his hand for their consideration; and 1480 to prove that he had not done so upon rash and inconsisderate grounds, he should now proceed to read some letters from the most celebrated and influential leaders of the dominant party in the Church, showing that they were far from thinking the total abolition of patronage, as by law established, the only, or even the best way of settling the unhappy differences at present existing in the Church of Scotland, and of preventing the recurrence of those disputes between patrons and congregations of which they had seen of late too many examples. His Grace rend the following document:—MINUTE OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY NON-INTRUSION COMMITTEE.Edinburgh, March 5, 1841.Dr. Gordon laid before the meeting a letter which he had received from the Duke of Argyll, dated the 3rd instant, together with a copy of the answer which he had returned to his Grace, dated the 5th instant. These letters were in the following terms, viz.:—HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF ARCYLL. TO THE REV. DR. GORDON, EDINBURGH.Dear Sir,—I am very sorry that, owing to the illness of ray son, I was not in my place in the House of Lords last night, when some statements were made by two noble Lords which appear to me to be likely to make an erroneous impression upon the House, so far as relates to a supposed wish upon the part of all non-intrusionists for the total abolition of patronage in the Church of Scotland.Now, Sir, I think myself authorised, from what fell from yourself and Mr. Candlish at the meeting which I had the pleasure of having with you a few days since in Edinburgh, to contradict upon your part and that of those who appointed you their committee, any wish of the kind; and I presume that I may also state that you are of opinion a measure founded upon the principles which we discussed at that time would be perfectly satisfactory to the Church.I think myself perfectly correct in my recollection of what passed at the time of our meeting; but it would be very desirable if you would favour me with your instructions in writing upon the subject, that no mistake may be made in any assertion I may think it necessary to make in the House of Peers.I have not yet seen any of the members of the deputation here, nor do I know their address, but shall endeavour to find them out to-morrow.—I remain, &c.(Signed) "ARGYLL.London, March 3.THE REV. DR. GORDON TO HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF ARGYLL.My Lord Duke,—I beg to acknowledge the letter which your Grace did me the honour to address to me on the 3rd.1481In reference to the subject of conversation at the interview with which your Grace so kindly honoured my friend and myself in Edinburgh, I beg to say that we had no instructions from our constituents, the General Assembly's non-intrusion committee, even lo propose the abolition of patronage as one way of settling the present question regarding the appointment of ministers to the Church of Scotland, far less to press it as the only way of putting an end to the present unhappy collision between the civil and ecclesiastical courts. There is, indeed, a section of the Church, comprehending able and excellent men, who have always advocated anti-patronage principles; and in consequence of the late decisions in the civil courts, great numbers, perhaps a majority, of the Church of Scotland have united with them in petitioning for the abolition of patronage, on the ground that they see no other probable way of obtaining a measure that would secure the two great principles of non-intrusion and the spiritual independence of the Church. But I have no hesitation in saying, that the Church never has proposed, and does not now propose, the abolition of patronage as the only mode of settling the present most distressing question; and, that this assertion may not rest upon my individual opinion, I beg to enclose for your Grace's perusal a document, published by the authority of the General Assembly's non-intrusion committee, containing drafts of two bills, in either of which they would acquiesce. I take the liberty of especially requesting your Grace's attention to No. 1 of these drafts, and to the note appended to it, which I think proceeds on the very principle which had occurred to your Grace as a satisfactory mode of adjusting present differences. Neither the General Assembly nor its non-intrusion committee has ever taken any step inconsistent with the adherence of the Church to the inclosed measures; and I feel warranted to say, that in either the one or the other the Church will concur. Her great object, which she cannot abandon is to prevent the intrusion of ministers on reclaiming congregations, and the interference of the civil courts in matters spiritual.I have to request your grace's indulgence for this lenghtened letter, and I have the honour to be &c.,(Signed) "ROBERT GORDON.Edinburgh, March 5, 1841.
The committee having considered the documents referred to, unanimously resolve as follows:—
1. They approve of the above letter, ad dressed by Dr. Gordon to the Duke of Argyll and adopt that letter, in all its parts, as containing a correct representation of the views and sentiments entertained by this committee, and by the Church of Scotland, which this committee represents, in reference to the mailers which are treated in the said letter.
2. They renew an expression of their approbation of the above two drafts of bills, and record their conviction that an Act of Parliament passed in conformity with either of them would be acceptable to the Church, and would prove the means of averting the fatal calamities which now so imminently threaten the Church and country.
Extracted from the minutes of the committee by
(Signed) "J. HAMILTON, Secretary.
My Lord Duke—I very much regretted that I was not able to wait on your Grace when you passed through Edinburgh, being at that time confined to my room by an indisposition from which I have not yet wholly recovered, and am therefore obliged to write by an amanuensis.
I have just read Dr. Gordon's letter to your Grace, and beg to state, that I entirely concur in the views which he has submitted to you. I feel it unnecessary to outer on the grounds of this concurrence, after the very able exposition which has been given of them by Mr. Hamilton in his last letter to the Duke of Wellington, printed some days ago, and which embodies not only a roost effective reply to a recent adverse article in the Quarterly Review, but which, apart from the controversy altogether, contains a full and impartial, and temperate exposition both of the present state of our Church question, and of the likeliest measure for its pacific and satisfactory settlement.
The appearance of ibis pamphlet I reckon to be in the highest degree seasonable; as, within the compass of little more than an hour's reading; it has presented us much as will rectify many misconceptions, and give the reader a very distinct view both of our difficulties and our claims.
I cannot conclude this letter without expressing the very grateful sense which I and many others entertain of your Grace's interest in the Church of Scotland.
I have the honour to be, your Grace's most obliged and most obedient, servant.
Edinburgh, March, 1841.
From these letters, it must be evident, to their Lordships, that such a measure as now proposed for their consideration would meet with the approbation and concurrence of a very large portion of the Scottish clergy, and, he might safely add, with that of the majority of the Scotch nation at large. It was true, that he had heard it whispered, that the approbation of the Church might not be considered any recommendation of his measure, but he could not believe, that a prejudice at once so injurious to the character of that venerable Church and her clergy, and
so unworthy of their Lordships, would be for a moment, allowed to influence the decision to which their Lordships would come on this important subject. He could not and would not believe, that with regard to a measure of which the benefit of the Church and people of Scotland were the sole objects, the opinions and wishes of that Church and people would be wholly disregarded, much less could he believe, that their Lordships would be prejudiced against any measure in favour of which they may be expressed. The object of the bill which he held in his hand was to give effect to the great principle of non-intrusion, which he had already endeavoured to explain as the fundamental law of the Church of Scotland. The bill was now on their Lordships' Table, and he must entreat for it their most serious, earnest; and patient consideration. To all those noble Lords in any way connected with Scotland, and, therefore, more fully aware of the intense excitement which there prevailed on this subject, he should say nothing to secure from them that earnest and patient attention which the subject so much demanded. But to those who were not so intimately connected with that part of the empire, he felt himself called upon to address a few words. He would endeavour to impress on their Lordships' mind the imperative necessity of conceding to the Church the free exercise of the principles for which she was now contending. Their Lordships might not, perhaps, be aware, that the act which restored to patrons their former powers, and made no provision for giving the people a voice in the appointment of their ministers, inflicted a heavy blow on the Established Church by securing the secession of a large body of her clergy and people, who felt, that they could not conscientiously remain in her communion while subjected to the operation of such a law. Under present circumstances, when there was not only no provision for consulting the will of the people in the settlement of their ministers, but when the highest judicial authority in the country had declared it incompetent in the church courts to take their will in any degree into consideration. Under these circumstances, he need scarcely say, that should an enactment to this effect be withheld, there was every reason to believe that a still larger number of members of the Established Church would separate from it, and the mischiefs which must ensue from such a division in the Church were too evident to require, that he should do
more than allude to them. The want of some enactment to secure the non-intrusion principle, had been, in a great measure, the cause of the anti-patronage agitation which at various times had prevailed in Scotland. Much causeless alarm had been entertained that were the Church's demand for a legislative enactment to secure the non-intrusion principle to be listened to, it would only serve to encourage and foster that agitation by giving reason to hope for its ultimate success. He (the Duke of Argyll) had good grounds for believing, that were any measure similar to the one he had the honour to propose passed into a law, it would do more to allay the very strong feeling against patronage which now exists than anything else. This feeling had gained ground, it was gaining ground, and it was evident that it must continue to gain ground every day and every hour, that the matter was allowed to remain in its present state; and not until the Church had obtained the consent of the Legislature for some provisions to obviate the practical evils of patronage, could it be expected to diminish. That there always will exist, as there always had existed, a party in the Church who look upon patronage in any form as an evil, he had no wish to deny; but the very men who entertain these opinions, were well aware that were the proposed restriction of patronage carried into effect, they would have comparatively but few followers, as it was not easy to excite popular feeling upon a merely theoretical objection. In proof of this he would read a passage from a letter from Mr. Candlish, who is well known to entertain anti-patronage views:—
My dear Duke—Those of us who hold anti-patronage opinions on principles, independent of the present struggle, see clearly that the passing of a sufficient measure of non-intrusion might, and necessarily would, supersede the agitation against patronage and diminish the probability of its abolition. But we prefer the security and peace of the church to any peculiar views of our own, and any plan effectually securing the fundamental principles which the church is pledged to maintain, will meet with our hearty support. Accordingly we fully concur in approving of either of the two measures sanctioned by the General Assembly's committee. But I may refer your grace to a much fuller and more able exposition of our case in the recent publication of John Hamilton, Esq. In that pamphlet justice is done to the views of the anti-patronage party, and the real bearing of these views on the present conflict is most satisfactorily explained. In the mode of settling the question
proposed by Mr. Hamilton, we would all most cordially concur.
My Lord Duke,
Your Grace's most obedient servant,
(Signed) "ROBERT CANDLISH."
Edinburgh, March, 1841.
He had endeavoured shortly to lay before their Lordships the reasons which had induced him to adopt his present opinions on that subject, and such were the reasons which he ventured to hope would induce their Lordships to consider favourably the measure which he had laid on the Table. In conclusion, he felt it his duty to state his conviction that should that or some similar measure be ultimately refused by the legislature, the most lamentable consequences must ensue to Scotland, and he therefore once more entreated their Lordships, by every motive of religion, justice, and good policy, to pause and consider well ere they rejected the only apparent remedy for evils so great, and hitherto so much neglected. The noble Duke then moved that, the bill be read a first time, and stated that it was not his intention to move its second reading until after the meeting of the General Assembly.
§ The Earl of Aberdeen
said, that the bill of the noble Duke was nothing more nor less than un attempt to legalise what was called the veto, and to legalise it under circumstances more objectionable and more odious than its original language. He objected to the recognition of the principle of "the call" by the Legislature. The noble Duke's bill provided that if a majority of the male heads of families in a parish, communicants of the Church, should go before the Presbytery and state its dissent from the call, and after the Presbytery had failed to reduce the number to less than a majority, the Presbytery should be compelled to reject the presentee, though no reason should be assigned by the parties. He (the Earl of Aberdeen) had no objection to give full weight to the feelings and wishes of the people in these transactions; and in any mode by which that could be done so as to secure the real, genuine, and honest feelings of the people of Scotland he was at once disposed to concur. He thought that he had sufficiently provided for that in the bill which he introduced last year. He could mention one or two instances to show the ill effects and inconveniences which would result from the noble Duke's measure. A presentee was appointed to a parish, and the heads of fami- 1486 lies objected to him merely because he had been presented. The Presbytery failed to reduce the numbers more than one-half, and therefore they rejected him. Would the Legislature permit the law standing in the statute-book to be defeated by such a regulation as this? Again, a presentee might be objected to merely because he was compelled to take the oath of allegiance, and still the Presbytery would be bound to respect him. Was it to be tolerated that anything so monstrous should be sanctioned by Parliament? He could not, therefore, give any support whatever to a measure which would lead to such results. Even if their Lordships consented to make the mischievous concessions contained in the noble Duke's measure, what proof had they that such a concession would be either final or satisfactory? The manner in which the agitation had been carried on was not such as to entitle those parties to any such favour; and what their Lordships would not grant to reason he was sure they would never yield to fear.
The Earl of Rosebery
suggested that there was great inconvenience in attempting to discuss a measure before it was printed, and it was scarcely a fair mode of treating a bill of that importance. There existed the most urgent necessity, in his opinion, of adopting some wise and comprehensive measure, since, if they did not, the difficulty of avoiding the abolition of patronage would increase and grow upon them year after year.
§ Lord Dunfermline
said, that there was an urgent necessity to put an end to the agitation on this subject which prevailed throughout Scotland; but the question was, would this measure have that effect? In his opinion, it would not; on the contrary, it contained within it, he thought, the seeds of future agitation. It was impossible that any State Church could co-exist with an entire abolition of patronage. If they were to give the patronage to the mule heads of families in communion with the Established Church, it would lead to contests and animosities throughout the country, which would not always be tempered with a regard for sacred things, or for the real interest of the Church. He was aware that an opinion prevailed to the effect that those who were opposed to the principle of the measure under discussion were by that means opposing popular right. He had all his life been the advocate of liberal measures based on constitutional principles, and in resisting this bill he 1487 conceived he was adopting a course which, more than any other, would tend to secure practical toleration, religious peace, and civil and religious liberty.
§ The Marquess of Breadalbane
thought that if their Lordships did not pass some measure similar to that which had been laid on the Table, the destruction of lay patronage would be the inevitable consequence. He would remind their Lordships that the Church of Scotland was not merely an ecclesiastical corporation, as the laity had a full and fair portion of its authority. It had been asserted that the agitation in Scotland was merely a clerical agitation, but he was quite convinced that the people generally fully participated in the dislike to the present system. Neither was it of late date, for he could assure their Lordships that he had been a candidate for a seat in Parliament immediately after the Reform Bill, and that he was on that occasion pressed on all hands on the subject of Church patronage. He would entreat their Lordships to approach the question in a spirit of Christian benevolence, and to act up to the advice given by the Duke of Wellington in a letter to his noble Friend the noble Duke who had introduced the bill. It enlarged on the advantage of a State connexion, preserving the spiritual powers of the Church intact, and expressed a hope that such a settlement would be arrived at as would at once preserve existing rights and satisfy the reasonable wishes of the people. If they wish to come to a fair decision on the question they should consider it on Presbyterian grounds, and with a careful recollection of the feelings of the people. The Scottish people were strongly attached to their religion; they had made great sacrifices for it, and they would look with great suspicion on any attempt at tampering with its rules. The noble Marquess concluded by expressing his intention to express himself more fully on the merits of the bill when it should come on for a second reading.
The Earl of Haddington
admitted the agitation which existed on this subject in Scotland, but contended that it was more of a clerical character than otherwise. It was an agitation not springing from the people, but from a party. It was natural enough that if the people were told no man ought to be intruded on them against their will, they should agree in the sentiment; but the agitation which had been thus excited had not, he contended, been either general or spontaneous, and instead 1488 of increasing it was at present on the decline. It was true, that giving power to the Church in Scotland was at the same time, to a great extent, granting power to the laity; but he apprehended that the power proposed to be given would be given in an improper way. In short, it would be nothing more nor less than the old veto.
The Earl of Roden
observed, that though this was, as the noble Marquess called it, an exclusively Scotch question, he could not refrain from taking a deep interest in it, owing to the grateful recollection which he had of the service which the clergy and people of Scotland had rendered to him on a question which he had deeply at heart—he meant the question of national education. He would not express any opinion on this bill that night; but would reserve himself for a future occasion, when it should be again under discussion. That some measure was necessary on this subject was now admitted on all hands. He trusted that, whatever measure their Lordships might ultimately pass, it would be one calculated to tranquillize the people of Scotland, and to enable the clergy of the Church of that country to carry on the administration of its affairs in that manner which had hitherto proved so eminently useful.
The Marquess of Normanby
observed, that it was contrary to the usages of their Lordships' House, and was likely to prove practically inconvenient, to bring on a discussion without notice on the first reading of a bill. He merely rose to say, that neither he nor any other noble Lord must be considered as pledged either to the principles or to the details of this bill, because they did not upon this occasion offer any objection to them.
§ The Earl of Aberdeen
observed, that it was doubtless contrary to the usages of the House to raise a discussion on the first reading of a bill. The usual, indeed he might say the invariable, practice was to lay a bill on the Table, and have it read a first time without remark. The explanation of, and the discussion on, the bill took place on the second reading. But, as the noble Duke had made a speech on the first reading of this bill, and had then deferred the second reading of it till after the meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, he had thought it necessary to offer a few observations to their Lordships in behalf of the view which he had formerly taken on this subject.
§ Bill read a first time,