HL Deb 05 April 1841 vol 57 cc842-50
The Marquess of Breadalbane

said, he had a great many petitions to present to their Lordships, from different parts of Scotland, on the subject of the differences which at present unfortunately agitated the Church in that country. The petitions were 112 in number; many of them from the clergy; ten of them from synods and presbyteries; others from cities and large towns, as Edinburgh. Perth, Dumfermline, &c., and a great number of them from parishes. Having been requested to present these petitions, he felt that he should not be performing his duty to the petitioners, nor doing justice to his own feelings as a Presbyterian, if he did not express his opinion as to the serious importance of the subject to which they related, namely, that of Church patronage. These petitions all prayed for the abolition of Church patronage in Scotland. A very strong feeling existed with relation to the question in the year 1833–4, but by the interposition of the General Assembly, who passed the veto law, the feeling was considerably suppressed. It was not for him, at the present moment, to deliver any opinion respecting that law, but he begged leave to remind their Lordships of the opinion of one of the ablest and most impartial judges of the question. He alluded to Lord Brougham, who, in July, 1834, expressed himself thus— My Lords, I hold in my hands a great number of petitions from a most respectable portion of her Majesty's subjects in the northern part of this island, all referring to one subject—I mean Church patronage in Scotland, which has greatly and powerfully interested the people of Scotland for many months past—and respecting the expediency of some change in which there is hardly any difference of opinion among them. The late proceedings in the General Assembly (viz. in passing the veto law) have done more to facilitate the adoption of measures which shall set that important question at rest, upon a footing advantageous to the community, and that shall be safe and beneficial to the Establishment, and in every respect desirable, than any other course than could have been taken. I am glad that the wisdom of the General Assembly has been directed to this subject, and that the result of its deliberations has been those important resolutions (viz. the veto law) which were passed at the last meeting. He could refer also to the opinion of Principal M'Farlan and Dr. Cook, very eminent members of the Moderate party—the former of whom acknowledged, that It had been less injurious, and more beneficial, than he and his friends had anticipated; while the latter remarked, that, Judging from the rapid improvement made, he had sanguine hopes, if the measure got fair play, it would prove a blessing to the people, and might be the means of doing much good to the country. The experience they had had of the operation of the law was decidedly in favour of that measure. Since the time it was carried into effect, there had been 244 settlements of parishes, and in twelve instances only (and most of them when it was first introduced) had the veto been resorted to. That law of the Church was now, however, declared to be opposed to the law of the land, and to be illegal. The judgment given in the Auchterarder case had interfered with the power claimed by the Presbyteries; and the new exposition of the law of the land, delivered, on the the grounds of that judgment (for it had never before been viewed in that light), could not possibly be satisfactory to either party in the Church (if they adhered to their principles), and it had excited great alarm among the people of Scotland. It cannot be satisfactory to the minority, for if Presbyteries are bound to admit presentees, to whom no objection can be offered on the ground of their literature, orthodoxy, or morality, the power of judging of the fitness of particular men for particular parishes is taken away, which Dr. Cook and Dr. Lee, in their evidence before the Patronage Committee, declared to be indispensable, and to belong to the Church according to its fundamental laws. When Dr. Cook was asked— Do the committee understand you to say, that certain rights have lately been restored to the people, and which at all times belonged to them, and that at one time their powers had been too limited? He answered,— Yes; for many years after I was a minister, and long before the power of the people to object was limited in this way, they were considered as entitled to object only to the doctrine and character of the presentee, any objection relating to fitness for ministerial duty was invariably disregarded. In the year 1816, in a speech that I made to the General Assembly, relating to residence of clergy, I had occasion to introduce that topic; and I laid down there as strongly as I could, and I thought established, what is now admitted to be the law of the Church; namely, the right of the people and the Presbytery to judge of the suitableness of the presentee to the particular parish, And when Dr. Lee was asked, whether it was not possible that there may be Sufficient reasons for not placing a particular presentee in a particular parish, though he may be perfectly qualified in a moral, literary, and theological point of view. He answered,— Certainly, and that every one who knows any thing of the constitution of our Church must perceive at once; but, then, it is in the power of the Presbyteries, and it is the duty of the Presbyteries, to take trial, not only with regard to the general fitness of a candidate for the work of the ministry, but with regard to his peculiar aptitude for discharging the duties of the station to which he is appointed; and, there are acts of assembly, in the time of the Covenanters, about the year 1641 or 1642, as I well as some of an earlier date, which expressly state that ministers may be fit for some charges who are not fit for all alike. And yet all this is a fallacy, upon the grounds on which judgment was pronounced in the Auchterarder case. And if the law, as thus explained, could not fail to be unsatisfactory to the minority, in the Church, it was still more unsatisfactory to the majority, and to the people at large, who concurred with them in opinion. They bold it to be a fundamental principle of their Church, that no minister shall be settled in a parish without the consent and contrary to the wishes of the people. That principle certainly had not been always acted ou—but even when it was disregarded, it still remained in the standards of the Church, and he need not say it had always been claimed by the people. It was contained in the First Book of Discipline, in which it was enacted, that if the people of a parish, at the time when they were allowed to choose their own ministers, neglected to do so within forty days, and if the superintendent and his Council selected one for them; and if before the latter was inducted, the people brought forward a suitable man, he was to be preferred to the man or the Superintendent and his Council though he might be quite unexceptionable—"for altogether," it is declared, This is to be avoided, that any man may be violently intruded or thrust in on any congregation. And at the same time it is added, that if the people failed to exercise their rights, and the Council gave them a man, it was not to be considered as intrusion; just as when a patron at present allows the jus devolutum to take place, and the Presbytery present, they do not intrude on his rights. And it is laid down no less clearly in the second Book of Polity; and the principle of non-intrusion, he begged to observe, was held by the majority in the same sense in which it was understood by the French Protestant Church, with which the Church of Scotland had the closest intercourse, as well as by other reformed churches, namely, that, whether the people are required to assign reasons for dissenting from a presentee or not, if they continue to object to him after all proper means have been used to lead then to alter their opinion, and if nothing which can subject them to church censure can be proved against them, he must not be forced on them by any court, whether ecclesiastical or civil. Such is the light in which the principle of non-intrusion is exhibited in the sixth canon of the French, Protestant Church; and he would leave it to their Lordships to say, after they heard it, whether as a noble Lord, whom he did not see in his place, had affirmed, last year, the illustrious Beza, who was Moderator of its National Synod in 1571, and approved of its discipline "in all its heads and articles, and promised and protested to keep and observe it"—would have settled a clergymen contrary to the will of the people. He whose election," it is said "shall be declared unto the Church, shall preach publicly the Word of God on three several Sabbaths, he the audience of the whole congregation, that so they may know his manner of teaching; and the said audience shall be expressly charged, that, if any one of them do know any impediment, for which his ordination, who shall be then mentioned by name, may not be completed, or why he may not be accepted, that they do then come, and give notice of it unto the Consistory, which shall patiently hear the reasons of both parties, that so they may proceed to judgment. The people's silence shall be taken for a full consent. Bui in case contention would arise, and the above-named elect be pleasing to the Consistory (the Church Court), but not unto the people, or to the major part of them, his reception shall be deferred, and the whole shall be remitted unto the Colloquy, or Provincial Synod, who shall take cognizance both of the justification of the before-named elect minister, and of his reception. And though the said elect should be then and there justified, yet shall he not be given as pastor unto that people against their will, nor to the discontentment of the greatest part of them. The bill upon this subject which the noble Earl (Aberdeen) had introduced, had only added fresh strength to the de-desire for the abolition of patronage. That bill appeared to give the people every opportunity of preventing a settlement, by laying before the Presbytery even the most ludicrous and absurd objection; but still its real effect would be to place the Church of Scotland under the chariot wheels of the civil power. In matters of a spiritual nature, the Church held that the State had no right to interfere. In spiritual concerns, the Church was all-dominant and all-powerful. On that point he would refer their Lordships to the exposition of its principles in the second Book of Polity. The policy of the Kirk," it is said, "flowing from this power (the power of the Lord Jesus Christ), is an order or form of spiritual government, which is exercised by the members appointed thereto by the word of God, end therefore is given immediately to the office-bearers, by whom it is exercised to the weal of the whole body. This power and policy ecclesiastical is different and distinct in its own nature from that power and policy which is called the civil power, and pertains to the civil government of the Commonwealth. The power ecclesiastical flows immediately from God and the Mediator Jesus Christ, and is spiritual, not having a temporal head on earth, but only Christ, the only spiritual Governor and Head of his Kirk. The independence, accordingly, of the Ecclesiastical Courts, in the exercise of their spiritual functions, was acknowledged formerly by the Court of Session, which restricted its own powers as to the settlement of parishes to the civil emoluments connected with the living. Thus, in the case of a parish in 1785, where a Presbytery had disregarded a presentation, and settled a minister on the call of the people, the Court of Session, when applied to determine who had a right to the stipend, found, That the right to it is a civil right, and therefore, that they had power to cognosce and determine upon the legality of the admission of ministers, ad hunc effectum (and only to that extent), whether the person admitted shall have right to the stipend or not. In another case, in 1749, reported by Lord Monboddo, in which the Court was asked to prohibit and interdict a Presbytery from settling a man on the call of the people, while a presentation to another party was still undisposed of, they refused unanimously to comply with the application, Because," says his Lordship "that was interfering with the power of ordination, or the internal policy of the Church, with which the Lords thought they had nothing to do. And, says Lord Kames, one of the most eminent Judges who ever sat on the Bench, Ecclesiastical Courts have an important jurisdiction in providing parishes with proper ministers or pastors; and they exercise this jurisdiction by naming for the minister of the vacant church that person duly qualified who is presented by the patron. Their sentence is ultimate even where their proceedings are illegal (i. e. illegal according to civil law). The person authorised by their sentence, even in opposition to the presentee, is, de facto, minister of the parish, and as such is entitled to perform every ministerial function, but he has no claim to the stipend. And at the same time he adds, It would be a great defect in the Constitution of a Government that Ecclesiastical Courts should have an arbitrary power in providing parishes with ministers. To prevent such arbitrary power, the check provided by law is, that a minister settled illegally shall not be entitled to the stipend. This happily reconciles two things commonly opposite. The check is extremely mild, and yet is fully efficient to prevent the abuse. These important privileges had been conferred upon the Church in various acts of Parliament, and had been guaranteed to her at the Union of the kingdoms, and could not now be interfered with without a violation of the great national compact. A cry had been raised, that a great number of the ministers of the Church had opposed themselves to the civil power, and were concerned in an act of rebellion. Now, he would say that they could not blame these minister of the Church when they adhered to what had heretofore been considered right—when they endeavoured only to do that which they had sworn to perform, and to which, if they did not adhere, they would feel that they were not doing justice to themselves, to their feelings, and their principles. With respect to temporalities they were ready to bow to the civil power; but with reference to the spiritual part of the subject, they wished still to adhere to their own law. He called on their Lordships to consider immediately and most seriously this grave and urgent question. The Legislature had lately given to the people of Scotland additional political privileges, but they little knew the minds and character of Scotsmen if they supposed that these privileges would satisfy them. The existing system they had ever regarded as one of the abuses, by the agency of which 600 Dissenting chapels had sprung up in Scotland; and now, he believed, that they were more inclined to value that great measure of reform which had lately passed, because they looked to it for the attainment of their Christian privileges, and the spiritual independence of their Church, to which they were greatly attached, than on account of its importance in a political point of view. The noble Marquess concluded by presenting the petitions.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, the noble Marquess had, in presenting his view of this subject, been guilty of an omission, which, if the noble Marquess would forgive him, he would take leave to request the noble Marquess to supply. The noble Marquess had not stated whether, on laying those petitions on the Table, he supported their prayer or not. He had made a long speech on non-intrusion; and it would seem as if the petitioners prayed for that which the noble Marquess himself was willing to approve of. But did not the noble Marquess know, that it was not non-intrusion, but the abolition of patronage, that the petitioners called for? Now, he wished to know from the noble Marquess whether his support went so far as the abolition of patronage? The noble Marquess had mentioned with praise, the Veto Act. But, last year, the noble Marquess said, that he did not approve, of it. He had, on that point, quoted the opinion of a noble and learned Lord, given in 1834. But the conduct of that noble and learned Lord in that House with reference to the church question, at a more recent period, was well known to their Lordships, who could not be misled as to what the opinion of the noble and learned Lord really was.

The Marquess of Breadalbane

said, that with respect to the question of Church patronage, although a very strong feeling prevailed in Scotland, still, he believed that the people of that country would be satisfied with a much less stringent measure than the total abolition of such patronage; they would probably be satisfied with a modified veto, or with such a measure as would sufficiently secure the principle of non-intrusion. With respect to the veto, he would not wish to trouble their Lordships with his own opinion on the subject, and therefore he had stated the opinion of a noble and learned Lord. He was not wholly opposed to the veto law. With some modifications, he believed that the law would work well.

Petitions laid on the Table.

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