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Isaiah liv. 2.—“Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch
forth the curtains of thine habitations : spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.”
DEFORMATION, RESTORATION, REVOLUTION, DIS
N RUPTION.—Such are the four key-notes (so to speak) which mark the four great epochs of our Scottish Church History downwards from the middle of the sixteenth century. And whether or no we shall have occasion to add to them a fifth-viz., DISESTABLISHMENT—will, in all probability, be seen ere long. If the Reformation had done its work wisely and effectually, there would have been no need for Rebellion first, and Restoration afterwards ; because there would have been no provocation for men to rebel, no exile out of which the sovereign would need to be restored. If the Restoration had done its work wisely and effectually, there would have been no occasion for the Revolution afterwards, to punish its backslidings, to amend its faults, and to provide against their recurrence for the time to come. If the Revolution had done fully and effectually what it undertook to do—viz., to secure for the people the accomplishment of their wishes in matters of religion ; and had provided also what certainly was not undertaken, but nevertheless was fondly hoped by some—viz., complete spiritual independence of the civil power—the fatal movement which ended in Disruption would have been unknown.
The interval of time which has now elapsed since the date of the last of these great epochs has placed even that, and still more those that preceded it, at a sufficient distance to enable us to judge (it may be hoped) dispassionately and without prejudice, of the results of the whole in their true proportions, and consequently to see in some good measure what it is that we of this generation and our successors have to do, if we would honestly endeavour to hold fast the benefits which our forefathers have bequeathed to us; and would also seek, wisely and hopefully, to acquire those, which hitherto in our collective capacity as members of Christ's Church in Scotland, we have failed to gain.
To begin then with the first epoch. Let no one of us, my brethren, entertain doubt for a moment upon this point-viz., that the Reformation of the sixteenth century, as the necessity for it was great and urgent, so was it a work inspired by noble aims; and that men of truly noble hearts and minds, though
raised for the most part from among the people, were its chief promoters. Let no one of us hesitate to adopt the words of Archbishop Spottiswood, when he bears testimony to our great reformer, as “certainly a man endued with rare gifts, and a chief instrument that God used for the work of those times.” (1) * But it was not long before coarser elements obtained an undue ascendancy in the movement; and no one complained more bitterly than Knox himself (2) of the corrupt motives which influenced many of his followers, especially of the higher class, and urged them on to acts of spoliation and sacrilege, under the shelter of a holy cause. (3) The main defect, however, lay deeper, and, in the imperfect knowledge of those days, failed for a time to attract attention. But when the heat and excitement of the first collision with the enemies of Reformation had passed away, and the upholders of the corrupt medieval system had been utterly overthrown, it was only natural that men of thoughtful and well-instructed minds should look with something like dismay at the chasm which had been made—should begin to feel uneasy at the strange position in which they found themselves, so unlike to that which the English Reformers had taken up,-a position in which they stood, broken loose, as it were, from all the traditions of fifteen centuries, and, if they were to be content to swim with the stream, without any certain guidance to direct their course. I say, without any certain guidance. They looked indeed for guidance to the great Prize which they had won—the open Bible
*This and following numerals, inserted in the text between brackets, refer to the “notes and references,” which the reader will find in the APPENDIX at the end of this Discourse.
-as good King Josiah looked to the copy of the law which had been discovered in the Temple—and they did well (see Pref. to Confession 1560, and ch. xviii.) But the Bible was not, and was never intended to be, an all-sufficient guide under such circumstances. This can be proved abundantly, were there time to do it.(4) They felt that something was wanted to bridge over the chasm—as it had been bridged over more or less successfully in England-in order to connect them with the Church of preceding centuries, and through it with the Church of our Lord and His Apostles. This is the key to movements which, in a sound and laudable sense, may be called reactionary: such as that of the Leith Convention in 1572; and again, such as that of the Perth Articles in 1618. We need not, therefore, have recourse to any extreme views of divine right and consequent necessity of Episcopal Church government to account for this; nor to any exaggerated notions of English influence; and still less to a motive—of which we hear too often at the present day—a mere superficial, foppish desire to ape the practices of the upper social class. Without these there were motives enough—and more than enough