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The General Assembly of the established church of Scotland has ever been the arena of warm and sometimes of bitter controversy. When the Presbyterian government was established, from its very commencement there were individuals, both among the clergy and the laity who labored to embarrass or paralyze the proceedings of the ecclesiastical courts from views of personal aggrandizement, or from political intrigue, under the secret or avowed influence of the crown.* In 1740, the assembly pronounced a sentence of deposition on eight ministers who had seceded, and appointed their several churches to be declared vacant. This was the origin of the Independent Presbytery. The ground of complaint was the rule respecting patronage adopted in 1680, and reënacted by the assembly in 1732, which nullified the original doctrine of the church that no minister “ should be intruded upon any congregation either by the prince or by any inferior person, without lawful election, and the assent of the people over whom the person is placed.” The Independent Presbytery gradually increased till they embraced a very respectable portion of the population of Scotland. Two parties, however, still remained in the church. Those who called themselves the moderate party affirmed that the legal call to a minister was limited to heritors and elders, while the other party contended for the right of the petitioners at large, or at least of the heads of families, to be admitted as callers. The former had the support of government who perpetually interfered in the management of assemblies. Between 1765 and 1774, there occurred several examples of settlements appointed by the assembly to which great opposition was made, and wbich occasioned more obstinate and protracted litigation than any thing on the records of the church after 1680. During Dr. Robertson's time, who was the leader of the moderate party, the struggle with the people was perpetual ; and the opposition to presentees so extremely pertinacious, as in a great measure to engross the business of assemblies. A few years after Dr. Robertson retired, the people, disgusted with unsuccessful processes before the assembly, began quietly to leave the church-courts to execute their sentences, and set themselves to rear seceding meeting-houses.
In the last General Assembly (1836), the subject of patronage was the theme of long and earnest controversy.
* Brief Account of the Constitution of the Established Church of Scotland, by the late Rev. Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood, p. 12. Vol. X. No. 27.
third of the assembly, including several men of distinguished talents, were in favor of the abolition of patronage. Another proposition which was angrily contested was, – that no elder should be qualified to sit as a representative in any superior court who was not bona fide an acting elder in the session of which he was a member. After great uproar and confusion, the resolution was adopted by a majority of seven votes.
The religious affairs of England are in a still more sorrowful condition. Communities which are in perfect harmony of doctrine as to all the truths which are needful for the eternal salvation of the soul, are in arms against one another for the attainment of some political end. The spirit of popery in the Episcopal church awakens alarm in the bosoms of some of her best friends. Principles are said to be avowed which would subvert the reformation itself, and even censure is cast upon the reformers for departing too far from Rome.* Three distinguished professors at Oxford have published tracts in which the doctrine of justification is represented as nearly identical with the rite of baptism, while sins committed subsequently are to be atoned for by a painful system of penance. These doctrines are not without adherents, we believe, in the American Episcopal church. One party in England suppresses one doctrine f and another its converse. One is inclined to take liberties with the words of the liturgy, and another misinterprets their meaning. In Ireland the main safe-guard for purity of doctrine lies in the hostility to Romanism. The crying evil of the present day, in the opinion of the staunch friends of the establishment, is the want of some visible incorporation of the church itself. Provincial synods have been dropped. Convocation is an empty form. Its resumption is dreaded as a democratical measure. The bishops act as individuals, and not as a college. Appointed as they are by the ministry that happens to be in office they will naturally take sides with the appointing power, or their politics will naturally be those of their patrons. " While the friends of the establishment in England are calling on the Irish branch of the church to enter at once on the most active measures to secure the conversion of the swarms of Romanists about them, in other words,
* London Missionary Register, Jan. 1837.
+ See the London Christian Observer for several of the past months.
We use the words of an organ of high churchınanship.
to act as a domestic missionary society, the principal dignitary of the Irish church is fulminating his edicts against some of his clergy, whose zeal has led them to establish evening meetings, and engage in other home-missionary employments. We fear that a large portion of the British episcopal communion must labor at the work of self-conversion, before they will become proper instruments to turn the deluded Catholic from his follies.
If we direct our attention to our own side of the Atlantic, we shall find occasion for the profoundest grief. There is now scarcely any missionary society at home or abroad, which is conducted on the plan of merging all non-essential or subordinate opinions. The London Missionary Society endeavored to combine good men holding different opinions on such points into one body, but it was found impracticable; that society receives contributions from christians of other denominations, and may have some of the few orthodox English Presbyterians among its directors; but the body is Independent, and its missions are conducted for the most part on that plan of discipline. The American Board of Commissioners, is the only society for foreign missions, which, in any considerable degree, combines different bodies. In that society, Congregationalists act with Presbyterians and the Dutch Reformed, yet recent occurrences give ground for the belief that this coöperation will be materially impaired.
Even the neutral ground of the Bible Society is invaded. The same course which has produced the separation of the Baptists of this country from the American Bible Society, is working in Great Britain. The ground of disunion is, the obligation which the Baptists consider themselves to be under, of adopting in all the versions of the Scriptures prepared by them a native word for baptism which shall necessarily imply immersion.* At a large meeting of delegates of Baptist associations and churches held in Philadelphia in April last, the following resolutions were adopted: “That under existing circumstances it is the indispensable duty of the Baptist denomination in the United States to organize a distinct society, for the purpose of aiding in the translation, printing, and circulation of the Scriptures;" "That this organization be known by the name of the American and Foreign Bible Society;" “ That the society confine its efforts, during the ensuing year, to the circulation of the word of God in foreign tongues; and “ That the Baptist Denomination in the
* Missionary Register, Jan. 1837.
United States, be affectionately requested to send to the society,
With the condition and the internal relations of the American Protestant Episcopal church, we do not profess to be very familiar. That there are, however, serious differences of opinion among the members of that respected communion, no intelligent observer can doubt. These differences respect doctrinal belief, the authority of bishops, modes of action, intercourse with other denominations, voluntary societies, etc. There has, doubtless, been within a few years past, a decided revival of pure Christianity in the bosom of that church-as is testified by the recent, harmonious action on the subject of foreign missions. The increase of that spirit is greatly to be desired for the benefit of the world, and for the purity and efficiency of the denomination itself. A part of the existing prosperity of that church is, however, unquestionably to be ascribed to the pressure from without, or in other words, to the disasters which have befallen sister denominations.
One of these denominations, which is now acquiring to itself an unenviable notoriety, is the venerable Presbyterian churchi,
which, a short time since was rising in its majesty—spreading its roots to the river, and its branches to the sea; but is now fallen so low that none do it reverence. The principal measures adopted by the dominant party in the late general assembly of that church will be regarded, we have no doubt, by the whole Christian world, as illegal, unconstitutional and unchristian. Four most respectable synods were voted out of the house, without citation or inquiry, or any form or process common to all civil, criminal and ecclesiastical courts in Christendom. The most flagrant criminals have the right of trial by their own peers, and are confronted with their accusers. But here are men, some of them claiming to be regarded as almost the founders of the Presbyterian church, cherishing a filial and affectionate attachment to her catechisms and standards, severed by a single blow, and declared to be outcasts from their mother's house. The case needs merely to be stated. No gloss can cover up its deformity. It needs not the bar of an impartial posterity to adjust the question. The present time, the existing generation of Christians, all over the earth, where the rumor of these proceedings shall reach, will send back a murmur of deep and indignant reprobation. No body of men can thus go counter with impunity to the general sense of mankind. We can conceive of no possible justification. The plea that this act of excommunication was the only mode by which the dominant party could acquire a permanent majority, and thus secure the final peace of the church, is a plea which in effect would annihilate every deliberative body on earth, and introduce in the place of government by law, universal anarchy.*
* The synods were excluded on the ground that the plan of union formed between the general assembly of the Presbyterian church and the general association of Connecticut was unconstitutional. Let, however, the following facts be well weighed. They are found in a protest signed by 103 members of the last general assembly, some of them among the oldest and most venerable men in the church. “The plan of union now declared to be unconstitutional was formed TwenTY YEARS before the adoption of the present constitution of the Presbyterian church. This plan, at the time of the adoption of the constitution, was in full and efficient operation, and of acknowledged authority as common law in the church. It had been recognized and respected, in numerous precedents in the doings of the general assembly from year to year. For sixtEEN YEARS since the adoption of this constitution, it has been regarded of equal authority with any