This article is about the disruption of the church of Scotland (1843) and the formation of the Free Church of Scotland.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1993. 16 pages.

The Disruption

Setting the Scene⤒🔗

This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the Disruption — the event which brought the Free Church of Scotland into being. This is the first of a short series of articles in which Dr. McIntosh reminds us of the events surrounding the Disruption and their meaning.

It is often assumed that the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 is an event which can be analysed and understood merely by examining the period immediately before it, especially the so-called "Ten Years' Conflict".

In fact, it is not uncom­mon today to see the Disrup­tion in political terms as little more than another stage in the ongoing struggle to preserve Scottish national traditions, or at best as the final stage in the historic conflict in Scotland between Church and State. Such understandings, however, serve to devalue both the nature and significance of the struggle against patron­age in the Church in the 18th century and the rise of the evangelical movement which underpinned the moti­vation of the Disruption Fathers in their preparedness to divide the Church to which they were committed and to which many had devoted their lives attempt­ing to extend its influence.

The parish life of the Church of Scotland in the 18th century and in the first half of the 19th century differed from the present-day Church of Scotland and Free Church in two major ways. Both concern the role of laymen who might well not even be members of the local congregation.

The Heritors←⤒🔗

In the first place, the fabric of the church and manse buildings were not the responsibility of the Kirk Session or members but of the "heritors" who were the landholders of the parish. These men were also respon­sible for the parish school and schoolmaster's salary and, if the church door collections were inadequate, for poor relief.

Failure to honour their obligations could be taken up by the Presbytery and referred, if necessary, to the civil courts. The heritors tended to be reluctant to provide more than their legal minimum and often they had to be forced by legal action to do even that. By the early 19th century, as the population of Scotland grew and especially as the cities and towns expanded as a result of industrialisation, the reluctance of the heritors to fund new church build­ings and stipends for ministers became a serious obstacle to the mission of the Church.

The second way in which the life of the Church differed from today con­cerns the way in which ministers were appointed.

The Patrons←⤒🔗

Although nominally free from any intervention in its affairs by the State, for the 18th century and in the 19th century until the Disruption, the Church was wracked, or so it has seemed to subse­quent historians, by the problem of patronage. This was the system, restored by the Patronage Act of 1712, whereby the "patron" had the right to nominate a "presentee" to a vacant parish, who was then to be accepted or rejected by the congregation. The patron was most commonly the lar­gest landowner in the parish, but in between a quarter and a third of the cases it was the Crown in the person of its Scottish minister (nowadays the Secretary of State).

Problems were often caused by heritors and patrons who were not resi­dent in the parish or who were even members of another denomination, most commonly Episcopalians. The right of patronage was a civil possession (just like property) and it was there­fore under the jurisdiction of the civil courts. At the same time, however, the Pres­bytery had the ecclesiastical obligation to ensure that the man inducted to the parish was acceptable to the Kirk Session and to the heads of families of the congregation. (Women had no vote in the matter!)

Ecclesiastical patronage came to be regarded by many as an extension of the system of political patronage, in that politicians saw the presentation to vacant parishes of families or friends of political allies as a means of preserving or extending their own power. Governments of the day were also aware of the advantage to be derived from having a Church which refrained from criticism of their policies. (Little perhaps has changed since then!) The Government minister responsible for Scottish affairs tended to seek the advice of an influential minister of the Kirk, sympathetic to the Government, regarding who should be nominated to those vacant parishes where the right of presentation belonged to the Crown.

For and Against←⤒🔗

Throughout the 18th cen­tury, the evangelical wing of the Church had fought the patronage system on the grounds that faithful preach­ing of the gospel was being prevented in many parishes all over the land by the appointment of ministers who were unconverted or who at any rate would not preach for the urgent salva­tion of souls. Those who opposed patronage became known as the "Popular" party as they defended the rights of the people to decide who should be their minister.

The system was defended, however, by a party in the Church who became known as the "Moderates". Many of these were not evangeli­cals, but there were also many in the Church who just felt that the law of the land had to be obeyed.

Evangelical Revival←⤒🔗

From the 1760s onwards, however, there was a grow­ing awareness amongst ministers across the Church of Scotland that they were preaching to congregations which were made up of many who were little more than nominal Christians. This perception led to an upsurge of evangelical preaching which was to lead to Scotland's participation in the great evangelical revival of the early 19th century. Renewed zeal for the doc­trines of grace was typical throughout the whole of Scotland. The new century also saw increased contacts with fellow evangelicals from south of the Border and from North America, and witnessed the beginnings of missionary outreach to foreign lands.

Increased evangelical fer­vour led to an upsurge in church attendance and a growing awareness of the inadequate provision of churches to cater for the needs of the growing popu­lation of Scotland, both in the Lowlands and in the Highlands. Despite the lack of support of the heritors and the hostility of many of the Moderate party in the General Assembly who were unsympathetic to the rise of evangelicalism, the evangel­icals, through the Assem­bly's Church Extension Committee under the leader­ship of Thomas Chalmers, were able to secure Govern­ment support which led to the erection by 1841 of over 220 so-called "Parliamen­tary" churches. In 1834 the legal status of these new churches was the occasion of the intervention of the civil courts in the affairs of the Church which began the "Ten Years' Conflict".

This then is the back­ground which must be borne in mind if the events of the Disruption and the conflict which preceded it are to be properly understood. The Disruption of 1843 origi­nated in the patronage con­troversy which began in the 18th century and in the evangelical revival of the 19th.

The Conflict Commences←⤒🔗

May 1834:←↰⤒🔗

During this month the General Assembly has met. It has passed three measures which look as if they will shape Church policy for the next few years. They are the Veto Act, the Chapels Act, and the instruction to an enlarged Church Accom­modation Committee to organise a new church building campaign.

The Veto Act was introduced by Professor Thomas Chalmers of Edin­burgh University at the last General Assembly but then it was defeated by 149 votes to 137. This year, however, the Evangelical party has finally wrested control of the Assembly from the Moder­ates and the Veto Act has been passed by 180 votes to 131. By it the Church has given the right to the male heads of families in a con­gregation to veto a presenta­tion of a minister by a patron providing there is no evidence of personal animos­ity against the presentee. (See box.)

The Veto Act

The General Assembly ... do declare that it is a fundamental law of this Church that no pastor shall be intruded upon any congregation contrary to the will of the people; and that, in order to carry this principle into full effect, the Presbyteries of the Church shall be instructed, that if at the moderating in a call to a vacant pastoral charge, the major part of the male heads of families, members of the vacant congrega­tion, and in full communion with the Church, shall disapprove of the person in whose favour the call is proposed to be moderated in, such disapproval shall be deemed sufficient ground for the Presbytery reject­ing such person, and that he shall be rejected accord­ingly, and due notice forthwith given to all concerned; but that if the major part of the said heads of families shall not disapprove of such person to be their pastor, the presbytery shall proceed with the settlement according to the rules of the Church; and further declare that no person shall be held to be entitled to disapprove, who shall refuse, if required solemnly, to declare in the presence of the presbytery, that he is actuated by no factious or malicious motive, but solely by a conscientious regard to the spiritual interests of himself or the congregation; and to resolve, that a Committee be appointed to report to a future diet of the Assembly in what manner, and by what particular measures, this declaration and instruction may best be carried into full operation.

The second measure, the Chapels Act, has a history going back to the late eight­eenth century. Between 1790 and 1834, sixty-six churches have been erected by private contributions to ease the pressure on overcrowded parish churches in the cities and towns. These churches, known as "chapels-of­-ease", were unrepresented in the church courts, that is, they had no kirk sessions and their ministers did not have seats in presbytery. The mainly Highland "parlia­mentary" churches, while they had their own kirk ses­sions, had no defined parish boundaries and no represen­tation at presbytery until last year, 1833, when a Declara­tory Act of the General Assembly disjoined the "parliamentary" churches from the parishes of which they formed a part and erected them as separate par­ishes with full representation at presbytery and synod levels. This year's Chapels Act has extended these pro­visions to the chapels-of­-ease, and was passed by 153 votes to 103.

The third measure taken by the Assembly was the enlargement of the Church Accommodation Commit­tee. It was instructed to begin a new church building campaign, and Professor Chalmers was appointed as its convener.

Before leaving the Assem­bly, we must take notice of a dissent to the passing of the Veto Act entered by Mr. John Hope, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. In the first two of his fourteen reasons for dissent, he made two profoundly important assertions. He dissented, he says:

Because I consider the attempt of the General Assembly thus to impose, practically, a restriction amounting to a veto on the right of Patronage, to be wholly incompetent, and beyond the powers of the Church.

Because I am clearly of the opinion, in point of law, that a Presentee, though rejected by a majority of heads of families, yet there being no judgment of the church courts on his qualifications, will, nevertheless, be legally, validly, and effectu­ally presented to the benefice, and will have a clear right to their stipend and all other rights pertain­ing thereto.

In other words, probably the most influential lawyer in the country has argued that the General Assembly's actions are contrary to the law of the land, and has sug­gested that any presentee, not debarred by the pres­bytery for reasons of unsound doctrine, inadequate academic proficiency, or inconsistent life, whose presentation is vetoed by the congregation, has a right to take legal action to secure the payment of the stipend, and every expectation of suc­cess should he do so. We will doubtless hear more of these arguments.

October 1834:←↰⤒🔗

The presentation to the parish of Auchterarder of a probationer, Mr. Robert Young, has been vetoed. Of the 330 heads of families in the parish, only two signed his call and 287 dissented. The presentation was made by the non-resident patron, the Earl of Kinnoull. Mr. Young is a relative of the Earl's factor. His legal agent has appealed to the Synod of Perth and Stirling about cer­tain alleged defects in the preparation of the congrega­tional roll.

April 1835:←↰⤒🔗

The Synod of Perth and Stirling has dismissed the appeal of Mr. Robert Young regarding his call to Auchterarder. He has made a further appeal to the General Assembly.

May 1835:←↰⤒🔗

The General Assembly has confirmed that Mr. Young's presentation to Auchter­arder is invalid and has instructed the Presbytery of Auchterarder to reject his presentation. Mr. Young has now replaced his first legal adviser with Mr. Hope, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, and an appeal has been lodged with the Court of Session.

At first the appeal only concerned Mr. Young's right to the stipend of Auchter­arder, but we now under­stand that it has been amended to declare that the Presbytery has acted illegally in obeying the General Assembly and must now, despite the Veto Act, con­duct trials for ordination and proceed to ordain and induct Mr. Young so that he can occupy the manse and glebe, and collect the sti­pend. For the Presbytery to reject him, the appeal alleged, was "illegal and injurious to the patrimonial rights of the pursuer, and contrary to the provisions of the statutes and laws libelled".

March 1838:←↰⤒🔗

The Court of Session, which finally heard Mr. Young's appeal in the Auchterarder Case in November, has delivered its decision. By eight votes to five, it has decided that by rejecting Mr. Young's presentation the Presbytery had infringed the civil rights of patrons and presentees. The Court has instructed the Presbytery to take Mr. Young on trials, and, if qualified in doctrine, education, and morals, to ordain and induct him to the parish of Auchterarder. In other words, the Veto Act has been declared illegal, and the Presbytery has been ordered to disobey both ecclesiastical law and the instructions of the superior Church courts, namely, the Synod and the General Assembly.

April 1838:←↰⤒🔗

The Presbytery of Auchterarder has decided to refer the whole matter to the Synod of Perth and Stirling, a decision against which Mr. Young has protested.

May 1838:←↰⤒🔗

At its meetings this month, the General Assem­bly has taken some momen­tous decisions. It has passed by 183 votes to 142 a motion on the subject of the spiritual independence of the Church. In language reminiscent of the Solemn League and Covenant of 200 years ago, it proclaimed its belief that "the Lord Jesus Christ as King and Head of the Church, hath therein appointed a government in the hands of Church officers distinct from the civil magis­trates". The Church courts "possess an exclusive juris­diction founded on the Word of God, which power ecclesiastical ... flows from God and the Mediator, Jesus Christ, and is spiritual, not having a temporal head on earth".

Then it decided to appeal to the House of Lords against the Court of Ses­sion's decision. In some ways this is a strange move for it seems to admit that the Church's spiritual indepen­dence is subject to review by the civil courts whose authority it denies in the previous measure, but the Assembly wishes to reach agreement with the State if it is at all possible.

May 1839:←↰⤒🔗

The House of Lords has upheld the decision of the Court of Session in the Auchterarder Case. Not only has the Veto Act been affirmed to be illegal by the two law lords who heard the case, the right of the "Call" has been declared to be an obsolete formality with no legal status. In other words, the Church of Scotland has been precluded from taking into account the opinion of the parish in any way what­soever. Only professional qualifications are to be ex­amined by presbyteries when deciding on a presentation to a congregation.

On the 22nd of the month, however, Dr. Chalmers moved a motion at the General Assembly which proposed that the Church should acquiesce in the loss of the church building, manse, and stipend of Auchterarder which the civil courts could dispose of as they wished; reaffirmed the Church's commitment to the principle of non-intrusion; and proposed the appoint­ment of a standing committee to consider the best means of preserving the spiritual independence of the Church, and to confer with the Government as to how best to end the conflict between civil and ecclesiasti­cal authorities. The motion presupposes that the Court of Session has intruded into the sphere of the ecclesiastical courts by reinterpreting former statutes in a com­pletely new way, and that therefore the way forward is for Parliament to intervene with legislation to restore the Church's rights.

The Battle Intensifies←⤒🔗

June 1839:←↰⤒🔗

This month the Court of Session summoned the Presbytery of Dunkeld to Edinburgh to be censured for their actions in the Case of Lethendy, a rural Perth­shire parish. As long ago as 1835, Mr. Thomas Clark, a probationer, had been presented by the Crown as the assistant and successor to the aged minister, with the provision that he would suc­ceed to the charge on the death of the minister. When the time came, however, the parishioners rejected him by a vote of 53 to 22 and the Presbytery refused to accept the presentation. An appeal was made to the Synod of Perth and Stirling and thence to the General Assembly which, in June 1836, upheld the Presbytery's decision. The Crown then withdrew the presenta­tion and, when in 1837 the old minister of Lethendy died, presented another probationer, Mr. Andrew Kesson. The heads of families supported this presenta­tion and the Presbytery approved his trials for ordination.

Mr. Clark, however, advised by the Dean of Faculty, Mr. John Hope, obtained an interdict from the Court of Session order­ing the Presbytery of Dunkeld not to proceed with the induction. The Presbytery referred the matter to the General Assembly of 1838 which, at the meeting of its Commission, decided that "admission to the pastoral charge of a parish and congregation is entirely an ecclesiastical act" and ordered the Presbytery to proceed with the ordination. This decision was carried by 52 votes to 6. In other words, both parties in the Church, the Evangelicals and the Moderates as well, were united in denying the Court of Session's authority to intervene in a presbytery's function as a spiritual court.

At the Presbytery's meet­ing to fix a date for the ordi­nation, a letter from the Dean of Faculty was read warning that "the members of Presbytery will most infallibly be committed to prison, and most justly, for an offence of the most grave nature, and the more aggra­vated in proportion to the status of the parties by whom it is committed". Nevertheless, Mr. Kesson was duly ordained and inducted on 13th September 1838.

In November, Mr. Clark initiated an action in the Court of Session against the Presbytery for breach of interdict. In response to the Court's request for an explanation of their conduct, the senior minister of the Presbytery declared:

My Lords, we appear in obedience to the citation of your Lordships, inasmuch as we hold it to be the duty of all subjects to render their personal compearance when cited by the civil courts: and being deeply impressed with the obligation of giving all honour and reverence to the judges of the land, we dis­claim any intention of dis­respect to the Court in what we have done. But, in ordaining to the office of the holy ministry, and in admitt­ing to the pastoral charge, to which, in our proceedings complained of, we strictly limited ourselves, we acted in obedience to the superior Church judicatories, to which in matters spiritual we are subordinate, and to which at ordination we vowed obedience.

By a narrow majority, the judges decided not to imprison the Presbytery but rather to censure them, impose court costs on them, and threaten that imprison­ment would await any further act of disobedience by a presbytery. In the judg­ment, the Lord President of the Court of Session, Charles Hope, the father of John Hope, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, responded to a warning of a possible disruption of the Church which Dr. Chalmers had given in his speech on the Auchterarder Case in the previous Assembly by suggesting:

As for those ministers of the Church whose con­science cannot submit to the law so long as it remains the law, I am afraid nothing remains for those ministers but to retire from the Estab­lished Church. It is imposs­ible that they should remain ministers of the Established Church, and yet reject the law by which they have become an Established Church.

July 1839:←↰⤒🔗

The Court of Session has again intervened in the ecclesiastical scene! This time it concerns the parish of Marnoch in Banffshire, in the Presbytery of Strath­bogie. In 1837 a proba­tioner, Mr. John Edwards, the schoolmaster of the neighbouring parish, was presented by the agents of the patron, the Earl of Fife. Mr. Edwards had previously been the assistant minister in Marnoch, but of the 300 heads of families only one, the local innkeeper, was prepared to sign the call and 261 vetoed it. The Presby­tery, therefore, on the instructions of the 1838 General Assembly, rejected the presentation.

The patron's agents then issued a second presentation, this time to Mr. David Henry, an evangelical who had succeeded Mr. Edwards as assistant minister in the parish. This was a popular presentation, but Mr. Edwards secured an interdict in the Court of Session forbidding the Presbytery from proceeding to an induction. The Presbytery referred the matter to this year's General Assembly which in June, desiring a truce in the struggle between the civil and ecclesiastical courts, instructed the Presbytery to obey the inter­dict and to suspend proceedings.

But now the Court of Session has issued a decision in favour of Mr. Edwards and has ordered the Presby­tery to take him on trials for ordination and, if he is found qualified, to proceed to his induction.

December 1839:←↰⤒🔗

The affair of Marnoch continues! At the beginning of the month, the majority of the Presbytery decided to obey the Court of Session and to take Mr Edwards on trials. It also refused to hear an agent commissioned by the parishioners to plead their case against him, and it ignored the fact that 18 months have elapsed since Mr Edwards was rejected as a presentee and that proceeding to trials for ordination is therefore contrary to Church law.

The minority of the Presbytery then informed the Commission of Assembly of the decision and the Commission instructed the Presbytery to appear before it. On 11th December the Commission suspended from office the seven ministers who form the majority of the Strathbogie Presbytery and appointed a committee of ministers to provide regular services for the parish of Marnoch. The seven ministers, however, seem to have sought the advice of the Dean of Faculty and the Court of Sesson has granted an interdict forbidding any minister from entering “the churches, churchyards, or even schoolhouses” of the seven parishes either to announce the suspensions or to conduct religious services. The suspensions have therefore been issued in the open air.

March 1840:←↰⤒🔗

The services provided in the Strathbogie congregations by the committee of ministers have been so well attended that in February the Court of Session issued an “extended” interdict which forbids any minster from entering the parishes of the “Strathbogie Seven” to conduct services without their consent. The Commission of Assembly, however, has instructed all the ministers appointed to fulfil their engagements, and all of them are continuing to do so. They include some of the best known of the evangelical ministers of the Church.

May 1840:←↰⤒🔗

The General Assembly has suspended the seven ministers of the Presbytery of Strathbogie for taking Mr Edwards on trials for ordination in defiance of its instructions. It has been argued that this action was decided on so as to prevent them taking the even more serious step of ordaining Mr Edwards, which would surely lead to their deposition from the ministry.

January 1841:←↰⤒🔗

Since the meeting of the General Assembly last May, the Court of Session has declared the suspension of the “Strathbogie Seven” to be invalid, and has instructed the Presbytery to ordain Mr Edwards to the parish of Marnoch. On the 21st of this month, the seven ministers met at Marnoch and ordained Mr Edwards according to the Court of Session’s instructions. Immediately before the ordination, the congregation rose and left the church through the snow. Dr Chalmers’ biographer later wrote:

“It was an ordination altogether unparalleled in the history of the Church, performed by a Presbytery of suspended clergymen, on a ‘Call’ by a single communicant, against the desire of the Patron, in face of the strenuous opposition of a united Christian congregation, in opposition to the express injunction of the General Assembly, at the sole bidding, and under the sole authority, of the Court of Session.”

May 1841:←↰⤒🔗

On the motion of Dr Chalmers, the General Assembly has deposed the “Strathbogie Seven” by a vote of 222 to 125. In his speech Dr Chalmers argued that if the Assembly did not respond to the open contempt for its authority, “the Church would be left without a government, both doctrine and discipline would be given to the winds, and our National Church … bereft of all her virtue to uphold the Christianity of the nation”.

“The Church of Scotland,” he declared, “can never give way, and will sooner give up her existence as a national establishment, than give up her power as a self-acting and self-regulation body, to do what in her judgment is best for the honour of the Redeemer and the interest of His Kingdom on earth.” The seven ministers argued that “we cannot consent … to assist in violating the law, or to abandon the duty we owe to the State, merely because the majority of office-bearers in the Church have arbitrarily resolved to require it”.

After the vote, the Moderate leader, Professor George Cook of St Andrews, read a protest but withdrew it in the interests of unity after the majority refused to accept it. Two days later, an attempt was made to serve an interdict from the Court of Session ordering the Assembly not to proceed with the depositions, but it was not received and the depositions stand. The Assembly also agreed without a vote that since Mr Edwards was not, and never had been, the minister of Marnoch, that Mr Henry is the only presentee and that the Presbytery of Strathbogie should proceed to his ordination.

June 1841:←↰⤒🔗

Lord Aberdeen has presented a petition to the House of Lords from the seven Strathbogie ministers, and has demanded that the Government take punitive action against the General Assembly. The Whig Government, however, has declined to act.

August 1841:←↰⤒🔗

Several Moderate leaders have assisted the deposed Strathbogie ministers at the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The Assembly’s Commission has instructed presbyteries to initiate libel proceedings against them. In a speech at the Commission, Professor Cook suggested that if the anti-intrusionists continued in their punitive action against those who dissented from the deposition decision, the Moderates would ask the civil courts to decide who “are to be held by the legislature as constituting the Established Church”. This month, too, has seen a general election, and the Tories under Sir Robert Peel, who is well-known for his opposition to the anti-intrusion cause, have formed the new Government. In June, Peel made it clear that his party would not support any attempt to legalize the Veto Act unless the Church repealed the deposition of the “Strathbogie Seven”.

December 1841:←↰⤒🔗

During the last two months, church defence organizations have been formed throughout the country, pledged to the support of non-intrusion.

March 1842:←↰⤒🔗

There has been another decision of the Court of Session relating to the Church, this time in the Case of Culsalmond, in the Presbytery of Garioch, within the Synod of Aberdeen. In October 1841, the minister of Culsalmond had requested an assistant and successor. The presbytery followed the Veto Act and was surprised to find the majority of the heads of families opposed to the presentee, Mr William Middleton, who was the interim assistant.

Now, the General Assembly had ordered that all disputed settlements arising out of the Veto Act were to be referred to the next Assembly. Nevertheless, the Presbytery went ahead despite an appeal to the Synod and fixed a day for the induction. When the day came, there was such an uproar, despite the presence of the sheriff and a force of constables, that the induction had to take place in the manse behind closed doors.

The November meeting of the Commission of Assembly, by 54 votes to 3, decided that while Mr Middleton should be left in undisturbed possession of his manse and stipend, he should be prohibited from conducting services until the General Assembly had ruled on the matter. Mr Middleton appealed to the Court of Session to have the prohibition set aside. In its initial hearing, the Court refused to act, declaring that “No civil interest, either of the patron or presentee, is thereby affected”. Mr Middleton appealed to the full Court which this month has ruled in his favour. The Lord President of the Court of Session, Charles Hope, declared that by his suspension, “a gross stigma had been fixed on Mr Middleton and his sacred character as a minister of the gospel”. The Church has appealed to the House of Lords against the decision because, if the decision is allowed to stand, any ecclesiastical sentence involving reduces personal status in the eyes of the community will become a matter for the civil courts to decide upon. The Church would be unable to take any disciplinary action against any of its ministers, office-bearers, or members. This would be an impossible situation.

The Crisis Approaches←⤒🔗

May 1842:←↰⤒🔗

The General Assembly met this month. At the start of its meetings, by 215 votes to 25, the Assembly refused to accept representatives of the deposed "Strathbogie Seven" as the legitimate commissioners of the Pres­bytery of Strathbogie. The Court of Session then issued an edict forbidding represen­tatives of the officially recognised Presbytery from attending the Assembly. This interdict was immedi­ately broken by the Assem­bly on the motion of Dr. Candlish. The Assembly then passed, by 216 votes to 147, a motion proposed by Mr. William Cunningham, calling for the total abolition of patronage. (This was to be the largest vote on any motion taken during the Ten Years' Conflict, though not the largest majority.) The actual motion stated

That the General Assem­bly, having considered the overtures anent Patronage, resolve and declare, that Patronage is a grievance, has been attended with much injury to the cause of religion in this Church and kingdom, is the main cause of the difficulties in which the Church is at present involved, and that it ought to be abolished.

In his speech on the motion, Dr. Chalmers finally threw his full weight behind moves to abolish patronage. Prior to this, he has been aiming to reform the patronage system in order to make it compatible with the spiritual independence of the Church. In his speech, he declared:

...the ultimate issue has been, that Patronage will not allow of any deference being given to the element of the popular will. In the utter impossibility of amalgamat­ing them, we have therefore been shut up to this, that there is no conclusive and comfortable settlement, but in the utter extinction of Patronage.

Then, on Dr. Chalmers' motion, and by a vote of 241 to 110, the Assembly passed the now famous Claim of Right. The full title of this document, which gives a clear idea of its nature and purpose, is the "Claim, Declaration, and Protest against the Encroachments of the Court of Session". The document will certainly become one of the most important documents in the history of the Scottish Church. It is a legal state­ment, of about 5,000 words, which asserts the Church's claim to spiritual inde­pendence.

In his speech moving its adoption, Dr. Chalmers asserted that it was the Church's final appeal. If Parliament rejected the Church's claim to its historic privileges, the Evangelical majority would be forced to give up the benefits of the connection with the State.

The Claim of Right has three parts: first of all, legal statutes and decisions are quoted to establish that until 1834, the State had recog­nised the Church's authority on matters of internal spiritual discipline; second, the recent decisions by the civil courts are held to be revolutionary and unconstitutional assertions of State authority over the Church; and third, the Church pledges to resist the illegal encroachments of the courts. The four concluding para­graphs are intended to appeal to the Christian Church at large by identify­ing the fundamental Chris­tian principles for which the Church of Scotland is fighting. They are so important that we quote from them extensively below (see box).

Extract from the Claim of Right

THEREFORE, the General Assembly, while they fully recognise the absolute jurisdiction of the Civil Courts in relation to all matters whatsoever of a civil nature, and especially in relation to all the tem­poralities conferred by the State upon the Church, — DO, in name and on behalf of this Church, and of the nation and people of Scotland, CLAIM, as of RIGHT, That she shall freely possess and enjoy her liber­ties, government, discipline, rights, and privileges, according to law, especially for the defence of the spiritual liberties of her people, and that she shall be protected therein from the foresaid unconstitutional and illegal encroachments of the said Court of Session, and her people secured in their Christian and constitutional rights and liberties.

AND they DECLARE, that they cannot, in accordance with the Word of God, the authorised and ratified standards of this Church, and the dictates of their con­sciences, intrude ministers on reclaiming congregations, or carry on the government of Christ's Church, subject to the coercion attempted by the Court of Session as above set forth; and that, at the risk and hazard of suffering the loss of the secular benefits conferred by the State, and the public advantages of an Establishment, they must, as by God's grace they will, refuse so to do; for highly as they estimate these, they cannot put them in competition with the inalienable liberties of a Church of Christ, which they are bound to maintain, notwith­standing of whatsoever trouble or persecu­tion may arise.

AND they PROTEST, that all Acts of the Parliament of Great Britain, passed without the consent of this Church and nation, in alteration of, or derogation to the aforesaid government, discipline, right and privileges of this Church, as also all sentences of courts in contravention of the same government, discipline, right, and privileges, are, and shall be, in themselves, void and null, and of no legal force or effect; and that, while they will accord full submission to all such acts and sentences, in so far — though only in so far — as these may regard civil rights and privileges, whatever may be their opinion of the justice or legality of the same, their said submission shall not be deemed an acquiescence therein.

The most important of the other matters dealt with at this Assembly were the finalising of the Culsalmond and Strathbogie cases. It rescinded Mr. Middleton's settlement in the former case on the grounds that he had disqualified himself by his conduct, and it decided that the eleven ministers who had associated with the seven deposed Strathbogie ministers would be sus­pended until the following March which meant that they would be eligible to represent their Presbyteries at the 1843 General Assembly.

The Assembly also resolved to uphold the ecclesiastical rights of chapel-of-ease ministers, irrespective of what might be the decision of the Court of Session in the Case of Stewarton which is at present before it. In this case, the patron and heritors of Stewarton in Ayrshire are attempting to prevent the Presbytery of Irvine from dividing the parish so as to give territorial boundaries to a former chapel-of-ease. They are also hoping to deny the minister of the former chapel the right to a seat on the presbytery.

The Assembly closed with general agreement that, although continued opposi­tion from the aristocracy and gentry is to be expected over patronage, and from the Court of Session over the Claim of Right, Parliament would respond to the Church's arguments and relieve the Church with posi­tive legislation.

June 1842:←↰⤒🔗

The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, has announced in the House of Commons that the Government has no intention of bringing for­ward any legislation to remedy the grievances complained of in the Claim of Right!

August 1842:←↰⤒🔗

The House of Lords has given its decision in the second Auchterarder Case. The patron, the Earl of Kin­noull, and the presentee, Mr. Robert Young, who had been successful in securing the stipend of the parish in the first Auchterarder Case, had subsequently sued the Presbytery of Auchterarder for £16,000 damages because of Mr. Young's initial rejection. The Court of Session decided in their favour and the House of Lords has now rejected the appeal against the Court of Session's deci­sion. This means that the individual members of a presbytery are now subject to civil penalties, even imprisonment, if they reject a presentee whom they are obliged to reject according to ecclesiastical law.

It is reported that Dr. Chalmers has made a speech in Ireland which again sug­gests the possibility that the Church of Scotland might have to leave the Establish­ment if its spiritual indepen­dence is not respected.

November 1842:←↰⤒🔗

On the 17th of this month, a special Convocation began in Edinburgh attended by 465 ministers who are believed to support the prin­ciple of spiritual indepen­dence. It has been called by Dr. Chalmers and other lead­ing Edinburgh evangelical ministers. Although the public were not admitted, information has leaked out about what was discussed and decided.

Dr. Chalmers introduced a plan for financing a pro­posed Free Church. Money collected from local congre­gations would be distributed for stipends by a central committee, new churches and manses would be erected for all ministers who left the Established Church, and there would be new Free Church schools and univer­sities. Church extension would be a priority and would reach into both urban slums and remote rural areas.

At the end of the six day meeting two resolutions were passed. The first, approved by 423 ministers, stated the Church's grievances against the civil courts concentrating on the principle involved in the recent judgement in the second Auchterarder Case, namely, "the supremacy of the Civil Courts over those of the Established Church in the exercise of their spiritual functions". The second resolution was a pledge, signed by 354 ministers, that if Parliament refused to redress the grievances and to recognise the Claim of Right, those who signed would resign their office and stipend and enter the Free Church, and, as they said, "tender the resignation of their civil advantages which they can no longer hold in consistency with the full and free exercise of their spiritual functions, and to cast them­selves on such providence as God, in His providence, may afford". The resolutions were transmitted to Parlia­ment and embodied in an address to the Scottish people.

January 1843:←↰⤒🔗

In a "Queen's Letter" to the Church, the Government has announced that it will not consider the Claim of Right. Two weeks later, the Court of Session gave its final decision in the Case of Stewarton in Ayrshire. By a majority of eight to five it has in effect declared the General Assembly's Chapels Act of 1834 to be illegal. The Church has no right, the Court of Session declares, to set up new parishes by divid­ing existing ones without the permission of 75 per cent of the heritors and the relevant civil court. This means that all the ministers and kirk ses­sions of the churches erected as a result of the Church Extension campaign are to be denied representation in the church courts. This in turn implies that the majority of presbyteries are wrongly constituted. It is not likely, therefore, that there will be a non-intrusionist majority at this year's General Assembly in May, since the overwhelming majority of chapels-of-ease and "church extension" charges have evangelical ministers.

February 1843:←↰⤒🔗

The House of Commons has debated an appeal from the Commission of Assem­bly against the Court of Session's decision in the Stewarton Case. By a majority of three to one the Church's petition has been rejected. It is worthy of note, however, that 25 of the Scottish members voted for the Church's petition and only 12 against. It seems likely that the failure of the House of Commons to inter­vene has made inevitable an early disruption of the Church.

18th May 1843: Disruption Day←⤒🔗

April 1843:←↰⤒🔗

It is reported that over 400 local associations have been formed to raise money for the support of the future ministry of a Free Church and to erect new churches. Dr. Chalmers has announced that "the money has come in upon us like a set rain at the rate of ÂŁ1,000 a day".

17 May 1843:←↰⤒🔗

A large meeting of ministers and elders who adhere to the Convocation resolutions has been held in St Luke's Church in Edinburgh to finalise plans for separation from the Estab­lished Church. Although the meetings, which lasted from Monday 15th until today, were private, it is known that a spirit of great harmony and unity prevailed. Dr. Buchanan of Glasgow has commented:

The meeting last night was like all that preceded it — full of har­mony and mutual love; while there was much solem­nity, there was at the same time the greatest cheerful­ness. Men seemed to be enjoying the calm conscious­ness of discharging a high and sacred duty.

Two courses of action apparently were decided on: in the first place, the Protest already prepared and agreed on earlier by a Provisional Committee, was finally adjusted after repeated read­ings; and, secondly, signa­tures were gradually added as the sessions continued. The original document was signed only by those who had been appointed as com­missioners to the General Assembly, but there were copies to be signed by others who supported it. It is reported that over 400 ministers have signed. The exact procedure to be fol­lowed has also been decided upon. It is intended that only the Moderator of the last Assembly, Dr. Welsh, will speak before the petition is presented, and then those commissioners who have signed it will leave. It is reported, too, that the origi­nal plan for the Protesting General Assembly to meet in Dr. Candlish's new church in Lothian Road has been abandoned since its 1,000 seats will be inadequate. The first meeting of the new Assembly will now be held in the Tanfield Hall, which can seat three times that number.

18 May 1843:←↰⤒🔗

The long awaited event has occurred! By five o'clock this morning the public galleries of St Andrew's Church, George Street, were filled, even though the Assembly was not due to commence until 2.30 in the afternoon. The crowd outside steadily increased until thousands were present when the Royal Commissioner appeared at the appointed time. Earlier, the retiring Moderator, Dr. Welsh, preached from Romans 14:5: "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind". Most of his hearers found his dignified sermon moving and heart-searching, although few of the Moderate party even attended and were already taking up their seats at St Andrew's Church.

After walking from St Giles' where the opening service had been held, Dr. Welsh took the Moderator's chair, and after prayer, instead of reading the roll of commissioners, "amid the breathless stillness", he made the following statement:

Fathers and brethren, according to the usual form of procedure, this is the time for making up the roll; but in consequence of certain proceedings affecting our rights and privileges, proceedings which have been sanctioned by Her Majesty's Government, and by the Legislature of the country, and, more especially, in respect that there has been an infringement on the liber­ties of our constitution, so that we could not now con­stitute this court without a violation of the terms of the union between Church and State in this land, as now authoritatively declared, I must protest against our proceeding further. The reasons that have led me to come to this conclusion are fully set forth in the docu­ment which I hold in my hand, and which, with the permission of the House, I shall now proceed to read.

He then read the Protest which had been adopted two days previously. The first part of the Protest lists the grievances covered in the Claim of Right and related to the subsequent Stewarton and Second Auchterarder cases. The second part pro­tests against a General Assembly being constituted at all in terms of the deci­sions of the Court of Session and House of Lords, and announces the withdrawal of those who signed it to form a new Assembly separate from the Establishment. (See box on "The Protest", for the final paragraph of this historic document.)

The Protest

(The document which expressed the Church's grievances)
And, finally … WE PROTEST, that in the circumstances in which we are placed, it is and shall be lawful for us, and such other commissioners … as may concur with us, to withdraw to a separate place of meeting, for the purpose of taking steps for ourselves and all who adhere to us – maintaining with us the Confession of Faith and Standards of the Church of Scotland, as heretofore understood – for separating in an orderly way from the Establishment; and thereupon adopting such measures as may be competent to us, in humble dependence on God's grace and the aid of the Holy Spirit, for the advancement of his glory, the extension of the Gospel of our Lord an Saviour, and the administration of the affairs of Christs house, according to His Holy word; and we do now for the purpose foresaid, withdraw accordingly, humbly and solemnly acknowledging the hand of the Lord in the things which have come upon us, because of our manifold sins, and the sins of this Church and nation; but, at the same time, with an assured conviction that we are not responsible for any consequences which may follow from this our enforced separation from an Establishment which we loved an prized – through interference with conscience, the dishonour done to Christs crown, and the rejection for his sole and supreme authority as King in his Church.

Having read the docu­ment, Dr. Welsh then laid it on the table, turned and bowed respectfully to the Royal Commissioner, left the Moderator's chair, and proceeded along the aisle to the door of the church. Dr. Chalmers, who had appeared "vacant and abstracted" while Dr. Welsh read the Protest, came to life and hurried after him. Several leading Evangelicals standing near the platform followed. A burst of cheer­ing broke out in the galler­ies but was instantly suppressed as inappropriate. Then, row after row of ministers and elders from the left or evangelical side of the church started to file out until over 200 commissioners had departed.

When they reached the Tanfield Hall, Dr. Welsh opened proceedings with prayer and then nominated Dr. Chalmers as Moderator. This was unanimously approved, and after a few remarks on the significance and solemnity of the occa­sion, Dr. Chalmers went on to declare the Free Church's commitment to the Estab­lishment Principle in a state­ment which has since become famous. (For an excellent definition of this principle, which the Free Church holds today, see box "The Establishment Principle".) After this, the roll of the new Assembly was made up of all the ministers adhering to it, and one elder from each adhering Kirk Session.

The Establishment Principle

The Voluntaries mistake us, if they conceive us to be voluntaries. We hold by the duty of Government to give of their resources and their means for the maintenance of a gospel ministry in the land; and we pray that their eyes may be opened, so that they may learn how to acquit themselves as the protectors of the Church, and not as its corruptors or its tyrants … We hold that every part and every function of a commonwealth should be leavened with Christianity, and that every functionary, from the highest to the lowest, should, in their respective spheres, do all that in them lies to countenance and uphold it. That is to say, though we quit the Establishment, we go out on the Establishment principle; we quit a vitiated Establishment, but we would rejoice in returning to a pure one. To express it otherwise – we are the advocates for a national recognition and national support of religion – and we are not Voluntaries.

20 May 1843:←↰⤒🔗

Today Dr. Chalmers sub­mitted his Sustentation Fund scheme to the General Assembly. First, each con­gregation is to collect all it can for the general support of all Free Church ministers. This is to be sent to Edin­burgh in quarterly installments and at the end of the year an equal dividend will be paid to each minister irrespective of the size of or amount given by his congre­gation whether it was a large city congregation or a scattered Highland one. Secondly, a part of the Sus­tentation Fund will be retained for use in Church Extension which will involve the use of "territorial mis­sionaries" to organise congregations in areas without a local Free Church. Thirdly, once a congregation has con­tributed its fair share to the central fund, it can then add to the equal dividend stipend of its minister by additional local collections.

Dr. Chalmers went on to draw the Assembly's atten­tion to the large number of teachers who have been dis­missed because of their approval of Free Church principles. He said: "Such cases, I think, fairly come within our cognisance, and it is our duty to provide for them. We can get teaching for schoolmasters".

As a result of this, it is universally expected that as soon as possible the Church will produce plans for building schools as well as churches. The Assembly also appointed a committee under Dr. Welsh to plan a divinity college. It is reported that large numbers of divinity students are join­ing the Free Church.

Even more dramatic was the report of the Building Committee which had been set up as long ago as August 1841. It had been decided then that it would be impos­sible for a Free Church to erect conventional church buildings across the land. The advice of leading architects was sought and it was found that to erect churches partly of wood and partly of brick, roofed with felt, and properly ventilated and heated, would be poss­ible at moderate cost. Accordingly, plans had been distributed throughout the country to local associations. It had also been decided that, on the one hand, there should be a general building fund, operated on the same basic principles as Dr. Chalmers has since announced for the Sustenta­tion Fund, namely, that all congregations should receive equal shares according to their needs from the general fund; and that also there should be local funds in every parish to which each congregation would contrib­ute what they could. The Assembly has been informed that contributions to the two branches of the fund, general and local, now amount to £104,776. It now seems that the main difficulty will not be the financing of church build­ings but rather the obtaining of sites, for many land­owners are making it known that they will not make avail­able any sites for the erection of Free Churches. It has been decided that the usual amount of grant from the general building fund will be about 20 per cent but that more will be made available if the need of poorer congre­gations is greater.

23 May 1843:←↰⤒🔗

Today the first General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland devoted its forenoon session to the signing of the Act of Sepa­ration and Deed of Demis­sion. This legal document was signed by 474 ministers (and later by 192 proba­tioners) and makes decisive the act of renouncing State benefits and re-emphasizes the grounds of separation. (See box entitled "The Deed of Demission.)

The Deed of Demission

The central part of this Act asserts that those who signed hereby do ... separate from and abandon the present subsisting Establishment in Scotland, and ... abdicate and renounce the status and privileges ... as parochial ministers and elders, from the said Establishment, through its connection with the State, and all rights and emoluments pertaining to them...: Declaring, that they in new degree abandon or impair the rights belonging to them as ministers of Christ's gospel, and pastors and elders of particular con­gregations, to perform freely and fully the functions of their offices towards their respective congregations, or such portions thereof as may adhere to them; and that they are and shall be free to exercise government and discipline in their several judicatories, separate from the Establishment, according to God's word, and the constitution and standards of the Church of Scotland, as heretofore understood.

The remainder of today's meeting of the Assembly dealt with the report of the new Jewish Mission. The Assembly committed itself to pursuing this work even more vigorously than before. As some com­mented, it was entirely appropriate that the new Free Church should be found proceeding in accor­dance with the Scriptural principle, "To the Jew first".

It is expected also that all the foreign missionaries of the Church before the Dis­ruption will adhere to the Free Church and missionary work has been provided for on that basis.

30 May 1843:←↰⤒🔗

Today the first General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland con­cluded. All who took part or who attended the meetings are commenting on the spirit of harmony and unanimity which characterised the meetings. Indeed, in his clos­ing address as Moderator, Dr. Chalmers declared:

The deliberations, for I cannot call them the debates, of the Assembly are now terminated. We have reason to bless God for a harmony that has been quite marvel­lous. Let us rejoice in it as a token for good: and may He who turneth the spirits of men whithersoever He will, turn this common enthusi­asm on behalf of great and high objects into an instru­ment for the growth of charity and cordial affection among all Christians — that they may at length rally around one and the same standard, and go forth with one heart and one hand on the mighty enterprise of spreading the Gospel every­where, and achieving, both at home and abroad, the further triumphs of our faith.

Re-building a Church←⤒🔗

17 October 1843:←↰⤒🔗

Today the second General. Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland met in Glasgow. In his opening sermon as retiring Modera­tor, Dr. Chalmers preached on Nehemiah 11:16: "And Shabbethai and Jozabad, of the chief of the Levites, had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God". In the course of it, he delineated what was to be the main feature of the meetings of this Assembly:

It was an inward and a right spirit, we hope, which animated the devotions and the doings of the first General Assembly ... But the inward principle should not prevent, nay, the very strength of it will prompt us onward to the outward bus­iness of the House of God.

During his application of his text to the existing situa­tion, he advocated the revival of the office of Deacon:

It is well known that the cessation of deacons in our Church, by the transference of their duties to office­bearers of a higher degree, has secularised the work of the eldership. And, let us not undervalue even the spiritual importance of outward things, seeing that the restoration of this ancient order, and the re-assumption by them of their proper and original duties, might eman­cipate the higher function­aries for their higher labours, so that elders might become what they were in purer and better days — fellow-workers with their pastors in the cure of souls, and important helps in the ministry of the Gospel.

The Assembly has since taken the steps necessary to restore the office as Dr. Chalmers proposed.

20 October 1843:←↰⤒🔗

The Assembly has approved an Education Scheme to raise ÂŁ50,000 in one year for building 500 schools. It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 children in Scotland, who ought to be at school, but who are growing up without a proper education. The convener of the Education Committee, Mr. MacDonald, the minister of Blairgowrie, has undertaken to raise the money himself. It has also been reported that numerous churches are well on the way to completion throughout the country.

The Committee appointed in May to plan a divinity col­lege have also made their report. Dr. Chalmers and Dr. Welsh, who are to be Profes­sors of Divinity are to be joined by Dr. John "Rabbi" Duncan as Professor of Hebrew and Dr. William Cunningham as Professor of Church History. Dr. Chalmers is to be Principal. Classes are starting in hired rooms in George Street, Edinburgh.

Just before the Assembly closed, Dr. Candlish made an appeal for young men to devote themselves to the work of the ministry:

We are to expect no miracle, no baring of the Lord's arm in any unusual manner — that is, without the use of means. Let us, then, see what are the sources of the supply of labourers on which we may depend ... The first and chief of these ... is the piety of Christian parents and the early devotion of Christian youth to the cause of the Lord. On this point I think the parents in our congrega­tions, and the young, need to be reminded of their obliga­tions, and it were well if ministers more habitually pressed on the attention of their congregations the duty of parents to devote their children to the work of the ministry, even in their early infancy, and the duty of the pious among the youth of the land to devote them­selves early to this sacred work. In this way we would have coming into our col­leges, with a view to the ministry, the godly youth of the land, from all parts of the country ... We hail every new instance of a parent, stirred up by a sense of the loud call the Lord is addressing to him, to devote and consecrate a child to His service — every new instance of a young man turning away from the secular pur­suits of an earthly ambition, and consecrating himself to the ministry of the Word, in the service of a Church which has no higher prize to offer now than the prize of winning souls unto God.

It is now possible to give the definite numbers of the ministers who have left the Establishment. Of the 1,195 ministers of the Church of Scotland in May 1843, 454 of them have entered the Free Church. Amongst those who have been most recently ordained, the proportion is highest.

There are some notable regional variations in ministerial allegiance in the southern counties less than 20 per cent have come out; the proportion is highest in Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness where over two-thirds have adhered to the Free Church. It is notable that in the presbyteries of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen over half the ministers left the Establishment. In addition to the ministers, 192 proba­tioners have also joined the Free Church, as have 93 divinity students in Edin­burgh together with a con­siderable number in the other universities. It is reported that 76 men are to enter the New College in Edinburgh this year as stu­dents for the ministry, including about 30 mature men who have left their professions to enter the ministry.

4 June 1847:←↰⤒🔗

Today Dr. Chalmers, who died during the night of 30 May, was buried. The funeral was held in the presence of the Free Church General Assembly, and the procession consisted of over 2,000 mourners headed by the Magistrates and Town Council of Edinburgh. An estimated 100,000 people lined the streets. The Wit­ness, which under its editor, Hugh Miller, has supported the non-intrusion and Free Church causes, observed:

Never before, in at least the memory of man, did Scotland witness such a funeral ... It was the dust of a Presbyterian clergyman that the coffin contained; and yet they were burying him amid the tears of a nation, and with more than kingly honours.

It is appropriate, today, to reflect briefly on the achieve­ments of the Free Church since the Disruption. Since then, 730 churches have been built and supplied with ministers. Each minister receives an adequate stipend irrespective of the wealth of the parish in which he serves. Over 500 new elementary schools have been opened with almost 650 teachers, 513 of whom are paid by the Education Fund. Two teacher-training establishments have been opened as well as a college. More has been spent on foreign mis­sions than the Church of Scotland spent before the Disruption. The voluntary contributions to the work of the Church have been massive: in 1843-44 they were £363,872; this year £317,593 has been raised. The founda­tion stone of the New Col­lege building was laid by Dr. Chalmers on 3 June 1846 and full courses in divinity are being held as well as in the full Arts curriculum. The work of the Church is progressing in all the spheres of its endeavour.

It is, of course, inadequate and improper to suggest that the achievements of the Free Church are to be assessed only in terms of buildings, numbers of ministers, or financial contributions. Countless numbers of the people of Scotland have reason to give thanks to God for their free access to the preaching of the Gospel which before 1843 had been restricted by governments, law courts, tight-fisted heritors, or unsympathetic patrons. Thousands have been inspired by the challenge of the Disruption to a zeal and ardour for the Kingdom of Christ which perhaps would have lain dormant without it. The final assessment of such things, however, will doubt­less have to await the Day of Judgment itself.

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