صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

been brought forward at that meeting of the Assembly, proves and establishes what I have just now asserted, that it never was contemplated by Dr Chalmers, or by the Assembly of 1843, that the two funds should be amalgamated. Had there been any infringement upon the law at the meeting in Glasgow, it could not fail to have been taken notice of by some of the members. Instead of this, there was not the slightest notice taken of it, and it was never regarded that any infringement had been made. Dr Chalmers never did regard it; and if strong words have been spoken by him on the subject, his strongest expressions have been made in the way of deprecating the idea of congregations not giving a supplement to their ministers, over and above the small sum they receive from the Central Fund. I think it right to take notice of these assertions of the honourable gentlemen, because I conceive that such assertions may tend to mislead many who are in the Free Church in considering this subject. We have mooted, in the Report, that we consider there are two great principles which ought to guide and direct us in this matter, and I beg leave to direct attention to these. In the first place, the Report says:-" Before proceeding to state the result of our deliberations on this head, we think it necessary, not without reference to the subject discussed in the preceding chapter, to lay down one or two general principles so incontrovertible, and at the same time so obvious, that it is matter of astonishment that they have escaped the notice of some of the intelligent friends of the Church, in the plans and suggestions which they have offered for the regulation of its pecuniary affairs. The first of these is, that the Church has no control over the funds of congregations beyond what is willingly conceded to her. The rules and regulations of the General Assembly with reference to matters secular, have not the force of acts of Parliament. The Church has no power of enforcing them; and nothing can be more unwise than to pretend to exercise a power which she does not really possess. If this consideration had been attended to, not a few of the plans which have been suggested to the Committee, or laid before the public, would have been withheld. Their authors seem to imagine that the Church has nothing more to do than to stretch forth her hand and lay hold of the funds of all the Deacons' Courts, and apply them at her pleasure. This is a delusion. The power does not exist, and, we venture to say, never will be conceded." Now, I put it to the gentlemen from the Synod of Merse and Teviotdale, who have asserted in such strong terms,-for I am not aware that it has been asserted anywhere else, I put it to these gentlemen, who maintain that we have a right to legislate on this subject, how they would enforce that right. The Church has a right to legislate in matters spiritual,-in such matters they have power, and can enforce that power; but it cannot enforce the right of legislating in matters secular because of its spiritual prerogative. Supposing that certain congregations were refusing to obey the General Assembly in this matter, and that we heard distinct notes of rebellion sounded, supposing that to be the case, by what power could the General Assembly endeavour to enforce the adoption of the views which have been suggested? No such power exists. And therefore I say, it stands to common sense that we should not pretend to exercise a power which we cannot enforce. (Hear, hear.) We would only be holding ourselves up to the ridicule and contempt of the world, if we pretended to enforce regulations we have no power whatever of enforcing. In these circumstances, I hold that it is not a matter of doubt, but that it is a fixed and certain matter, that we have no power to legislate in this matter. Then the question next comes to be,-What is the position in which you stand with regard to the Sustentation Fund, and with regard to the distribution which should be made out of it? Now, I feel as strongly as the honourable gentlemen who have addressed us on the subject, as to the extravagant supplements which are given in some instances. It is perfectly evident that the two funds, the funds contributed by associations, and the funds arising out of Church door collections, are, to a certain extent, connected with each other, and in these circumstances it is essentially necessary that the Church should watch over the operations of the whole system, in order to a right and equitable adjustinent of this matter. And accordingly the General Assembly, seeing the necessity of this, has from one Assembly to another appointed returns to be made of the sources of income, whether from collections or supplement, or any other source; and this has been done expressly with the view of showing and demonstrating what are the congregations that are doing their duty, or otherwise, in behalf of the CenDd

tral Fund. It is essentially necessary to the right working of the whole system that each congregation should contribute according to their ability; and therefore it is that the Committee have come to the resolution which immediately follows that which I have just read to you, namely," But the Church has the power indirectly of controlling to a certain extent the administration of the funds of congregations. This is the second principle to which the Committee crave the attention of the Assembly. Leaving supplements out of view, the sanctioned congregations of the Free Church may be regarded as constituting a great Scottish association, having for its object the maintenance of a gospel ministry in every corner of the land. To the funds of this association each congregation is expected to contribute according to its ability, the deficiencies of the poorer congregations being supplemented by the abundance of the rich; and on that supposition, the stronger term condition may be employed, it was agreed, at the first General Assembly after the Disruption, that the dividend should be equal." The Report goes on to say,-"If there be congregations which do not fulfil their part of the contract, it is unreasonable to expect that it should be fulfilled on the part of the Church. The Central Fund Scheme partakes at once of the character of a religious benevolent institution and a mutual assurance society; and in order to its right and successful working, the feelings of the one and the principles of the other must be brought into exercise. It seems to the Committee indispensable to the right and harmonious working of the whole Scheme, that congregations should not be tied down to any rigid and precise rules in the supplementing of their ministers' stipends. To interfere with their liberty in this particular, by any positive regulations applicable to all cases, would give rise to wellfounded murmuring and discontent. But, on the other hand, some stringent rule must be applied in the case of congregations which have been paying to their ministers, in the shape of supplement, an amount altogether disproportioned to the sums they have contributed to the Sustentation Fund." I conceive that this is the only way in which this mattercan be regulated, and I am perfectly certain that the conclusion to which the Committee have come is a just conclusion in reference to this part of this subject. It is" That the General Sustentation Committee be enjoined to take notice of every such case as is here referred to, and to bring it under the eye of the Presbytery where it exists, whose duty it shall be to inquire into the circumstances as early as possible, and to report the result of their investigation to the Committee, who shall have the power of calling the attention of the Assembly or its Commission to such cases, if they shall see cause." I am very happy to say that the mere publication of our papers from year to year, the mere publication of the Statement drawn up by the treasurer,-showing the disproportion which exists in some instances between the sum contributed to the Central Fund and the sum allowed by way of supplement to the minister, the publication of these things is already diminishing the evil—(hear, hear)—and therefore I am perfectly satisfied that it will be diminishing from year to year. The congregations will feel, and feel deeply, that they ought to do nothing calculated to excite murmurings and discontent amongst the brethren; and they will also feel the indispensable necessity of acting in such a manner as to secure the approbation of the Church at large. Therefore it is that we have not proposed any stringent regulation. I am perfectly satisfied, that if the views expressed by the honourable gentlemen from the south were gone into,-if we were to limit the power of the congregations to give to their ministers what they may be disposed to give in the shape of supplement,-I am perfectly satisfied that the effect of this would be the utter destruction of the Fund. I am satisfied the consequence would be that the Sustentation Fund would soon be looked upon precisely in the light of one of the Schemes of the Church, and the people would think they had contributed abundantly when they had contributed to a certain amount, perhaps to a larger amount, in some cases, than before, but wanting altogether the life, and zeal, and animation, which now exists in the congregations to do what they can for the support of the minister, and the advancement of his temporal interests. The Committee do feel the hardships under which some of our friends in the former districts of the country labour, in consequence of the smallness of their supplements; and I am perfectly satisfied, that if there were any thing we could do or suggest to the General Assembly, and through it to the Church, in order to have their incomes augmented, we would do it-and we would even do it willingly by the sacrifice

of something which we ourselves enjoy. I trust that we are willing, and that we have shown ourselves willing, to do so. (Hear, hear.) And certainly those congregations in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the large towns who have subscribed so munificently to the Fund, demonstrate that they are seeking, not their own welfare, but the welfare of others,-that they have been looking, not on their own things, but on the things of others,-and are far raised above the insinuations which have been thrown out by the two honourable gentlemen from the south. (Hear, hear.) They deserve their gratitude, and they deserve the gratitude of the whole Church for what they have done, and for what they are doing, and for what they have promised they will continue to do. Instead of being taunted with seeking their own interests, they deserve the thanks of the Church for having endeavoured, by their liberal contributions, to bring up the income of all the ministers. (Hear, hear.) I do not despair of the eleven members of the Synod of Merse and Teviotdale, represented by the two respectable elders to-day. I must give them credit for entertaining their views deliberately and conscientiously,-for being convinced in their own minds of the necessity for making a change; but I do trust that they will listen to the arguments which they have heard this morning in conference, and that they will ponder seriously this Report and the arguments adduced in its favour, and come round to different views, so as to enable them to acquiesce in the alterations proposed by the Committee. (Hear, hear.) It is only in this way that we can expect to accomplish the great object of the General Sustentation Fund Committee; it is only by a united and cordial support of one great system that we can expect to get up the amonnt which the General Assembly has declared to be necessary, in order to give to each minister from the Central Fund the sum of £150 a-year. I therefore hope that, after reflection, particular congregations, and particular individuals, will be disposed, in these circumstances, to give the Central Fund their hearty support. (Hear, hear.) I have just another remark to make with regard to a subject adverted to in the Report, namely, that of retiring allowances to aged and infirm ministers :-"The Committee are of opinion that an effort should be made to relieve both the Central Fund and congregations from this burden, by inviting the friends of the Free Church to contribute, by donation or bequest, to a fund to be accumulated for that purpose, to be called The Fund for Aged and Infirm Ministers of the Free Church of Scotland, and that the form of a bequest should be prepared and circulated, preceded by an explanation of the plan proposed, and an earnest recommendation of its object by the General Assembly. Meanwhile, and until the interest on the proposed Fund shall be sufficient for the payment of all the retiring allowances, the Committee are of opinion that, except in cases where adequate provision is made by congregations, ministers disqualified by age or infirmity for the discharge of pastoral duties should receive their wonted stipend from the Central Fund, their proportion of supplement, if any, being left to a mutual arrangement between the minister retiring and his congregation." I take notice of this, not so much for the sake of the brethren in the Assembly, except in so far as they may be instrumental in communicating it, but that it may reach the community at large, that we think it is most desirable that this Fund should be kept in view by individuals making bequests for the advancement of the interests of religion. I am happy to say that we have a prospect,-although I am not at liberty to mention names,-that we have a prospect of a very excellent beginning to the Fund to which I have just adverted; and I trust that it will go abroad that such a Fund has been proposed, and that those who are contributing part of their property by way of bequest, will keep this Fund in view. (Hear, hear.) It is a Fund which will considerably relieve the Central Fund, and be the the means, under God, of promoting the comfort of those ministers who, through age and infirmity, may be under the necessity of retiring from the labours of the ministry. I shall take no notice of the remaining portions of the Report, but leave them to be taken up by other members of the Assembly who may address the house. I trust that the present system of distributing the Fund, under the regulations suggested, will be continued. With regard to the one-and-half system, I know that a diversity of opinion exists upon the subject; but I believe that the proposal in the Report of the Committee with regard to it is most judicious, and ought to be adopted. I sit down with expressing my earnest wish that the General Assembly will be disposed to approve of the Report, and to enter into the resolutions founded upon it, which will be submitted.

Mr M. M. CRICHTON said,-Moderator, Important as is the principle involved in this discussion, I shall not detain the house by much argument; for I perceive, from the conversation that took place this forenoon in conference, that we shall be nearly unanimous in rejecting the motion which has been tabled by Mr Hay. That motion, Sir, is like its supporters, not a little singular. (Oh, oh.) Sir, I think I am not discourteous in terming the views of my brother elders who brought forward this motion singular, and in like manner would I designate the motion itself. It seeks to bind the house not only to its own terms, but to the whole contents of a tract published by a certain Selkirk Elder. It is singular, too, in its discovery, that the supplementing of ministers by their congregation is inconsistent with the original plan of the Sustentation Fund. Not so thought its venerated founder; for I have heard him warmly commend the plan of supplements as in perfect harmony with the plan of the Sustentation Fund. I have heard him beautifully explain the two separate, though harmonious influences which lead to the contribution to the Central Fund, and to the separate and local fund for supplementing the income of the individual pastor. (Hear, hear.) I object to the motion,-first, because it is not within the power or province of the Church to legislate as it proposes; and secondly, because, were it competent, such a course would be highly inexpedient and improper. (Hear, hear.) I do grieve to think that this strange motion should be the offspring of two elders of the Church, who are therefore bound to resist all such encroachments upon the rights and liberties of the Christian people. I fear, Sir, that there is in the air of Selkirk something insalubrious and inimical to the growth of true blue Presbyterianism. I must also take leave to say, that Mr Mitchell, from the very state of matters in the Selkirk parish, has placed himself in a somewhat questionable position. I observe, Sir, that Selkirk is not only far below self-supporting, but that there the fund has been annually declining,-growing "small by degrees, and beautifully less." Had Mr Mitchell been exerting himself at home, as I have been, to raise the amount of contribution to the Central Fund, his motion would have placed him in a less equivocal position. I desire to avoid personalities, but I desire to be faithful, and to call things by their right names. I therefore cannot congratulate Mr Mitchell upon his suffering the Selkirk portion of the Fund to fall towards decay, and then coming here with a proposal to seize upon the funds which more liberal congregations contribute (over and above their contributions to the Central Fund) for the support of their several pastors. Anxious as I am for the increase of the Central Fund in all its departments, I am especially anxious for its growth in the large body of non-self-sustaining congregations, that thereby we may broaden the base upon which the Church stands for outward support, and increase the guarantee for its permanence. (Hear, hear) It is also but justice to remark, that no Lowland Synod, more than that of Merse and Teviotdale, is obliged to the noble liberality of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the wealthier districts. The congregation to which I belong is nearly self-supporting; yet do I think that it would be ungrateful and improper, if, in return for the sum which our minister receives from the wealthier congregations, I were to attempt to seize upon the separate funds which they allocate to their individual pastors. (Hear, hear.) Sir, there is no fund for supplements such as that referred to in the motion. Many of our congregations have each and for themselves a local fund which they apply to this object. The people have never delegated to the Church Courts a power to regulate and apply such moneys. The Church Courts have no power, except by delegation from the Christian people, over these secular matters. I deny that the Church has any right to invade my liberty in this matter. I have no fear of our National Church stepping so beyond her province and jurisdiction as to adopt the despotic and tyrannical resolution which has been laid upon your table. This, however, I may say, that if the Church were to adopt so unconstitutional a course, I would refuse obedience. Deep as is my reverence for the Church of my fathers, I must recollect that I am a free-born Briton; and just as I refused all obedience to the Court of Session in matters spiritual, so would I refuse obedience to the Church, were she to exercise a Popish tyranny over my civil rights. (Hear, hear.) I am as earnest as any man to increase the income of our country brethren; and it is because I think that the proposition under consideration has the very opposite tendency, that I am the more anxious to repudiate it. Were the motion carried, it would not only fail to secure the sup

plements for common distribution, but it would so revolt and disgust the most munificent benefactors to the Central Fund, as to narrow the channel through which it flows. (Hear, hear.) I trust that the high-minded men in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and other places, who give of their wealth to support the weaker congregations, will magnanimously forgive this paltry and ungenerous out-break from Selkirk, and will continue their liberal contributions, unrepelled by this singular instance of ingratitude. (Hear, hear.) I venture to predict that the two elders who have brought forward this motion will stand alone, and that no other elder in this house will be found to support a measure so full of ecclesiastical tyranny. (Hear, hear.) The Selkirk elder, Mr Mitchell, read a running commentary upon our Synods, proving that, in the way of supplements, the Metroplitan Synod is the most guilty, and the Shetland Synod alone clear of the plague. The honest elder has failed to perceive a fact that most satisfactorily accounts for the whole phenomenon; the Metroplitan Synod is the most munificent to the Central Fund, and is also the most liberal in supplements to the ministers. The Synod of Shetland gives a mere trifle to the Central Fund, and therefore does not feel either entitled or enabled to give supplements. (Hear, hear.) I shall be glad to become acquainted with our well-meaning but mistaken friend Mr Mitchell. I hope our intercourse will leaven him with my Presbyterianism, and not me with his Popery-(laughter)-otherwise I should fear the poisonous effect of the intercourse. (Hear, hear.) Anxious as I am for the increase and maturity of the Sustentation Fund, I shall resist to the uttermost the stupid ecclesiastical despotism that is here recommended.

Mr CARMENT of Rosskeen was desirous that the condition of those ministers who are living in the country without any supplement, should be taken into special consideration.

Mr BURNS of Kilsyth was of opinion that it would be very unsafe to depart from the present system; and in regard to the statement of the gentlemen from the south, that it was originally contemplated that the collections and contributions to the Sustentation Fund should be united, begged to say that such was a misapprehension of the idea of Dr Chalmers upon the subject, as well as of the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1843.

Dr ROBERT BUCHANAN.—I rise for the purpose of laying a motion on the table of the house, and before doing so I should wish to be permitted to make a few observations on this most important subject. I would begin, Sir, by saying, that I am confident we are all here with one and the same object in view; and I earnestly hope that nothing in the remainder of this discussion will be said that will seem to imply anything to the contrary. (Hear, hear.) I regret that in the outset of this discussion some things were said of a contrary character. I will not further refer to them than to say, that I think they are not worthy of this house, not worthy of this subject. (Hear.) Sir, if I have come to the conclusion which the Report of the Special Committee embodies, in regard to the best mode of making up this Fund, it has been solely on the ground that it is in this way we shall most effectually provide something like a decent maintenance for the ministers of the Free Church of Scotland. If it could have been shown to me that in some way other than the one in use,-other ways have been spoken of,—we could secure a better and more competent provision for our ministers, I should have adopted it. But it appears to me that the vice, the fatal and condemning fault, of all the other methods proposed, is, that although they seem at the first view to be gaining the object, they are only laying the foundation of its utter destruction. I will further say, in the outset, that this is manifestly a question in which it is not desirable to have more legislation than is absolutely necessary. This Fund depends, under God, on the free-will offering of our people; and the less of legislation that is brought to bear upon that matter, the better, the safer for the interests of the Fund. (Hear, hear.) It is this that makes me dislike much legislation, and especially makes me dislike any amount of legislation, however little of it that might be, that would seem to be substituting the mere compulsion of authority for that spontaneous forthgoing of Christian affection that should be the spring and fountain of our great Fund. (Hear, hear.) The Report recommends, not the plan of the motion of Mr Hay of Whiterigg, not the plan of having a combined Fund made up of the pro

« السابقةمتابعة »