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The Non-Intrusion Controversy in Scotland, 1832–1943

  • Arvel B. Erickson (a1)


The non-intrusion controversy in the Church of Scotland grew out of a demand of the evangelical group in that Church that the intrusion of ministers on unwilling congregations be stopped. The patrons, who had been accused of intruding unsatisfactory ministers on parishes, insisted that the presentee must be accepted by the parish unless valid objections were raised to his theology, literary style, or moral character. On the other hand, the more zealous of the Scottish clergy and laity vehemently insisted that the presentee, in addition to possessing those qualifications, must be personally “acceptable” to the congregation. In fact, many insisted that when the presbytery was moderating in the call, the question of the presentee's “acceptability” outweighed all other considerations.



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1 Brown, P. H., History of Scotland (Cambridge, 1911), III.

2 Smith, Preserved, in The Age of the Reformation (New York, 1920), 364, describes this Church as a “democratic puritanical theocracy,” in which the real rulers of the Church, and through it of the State, “were the ministers and elders elected by the peop1e. The democracy of the kirk consisted in the rise of most of these men from the lower ranks of the people; its theocracy in the claim of these men … to interpret the commands of God.”

3 Laski, Harold, The Problem of Sovereignty (New Haven, 1924), 28.

4 Acts of Scott. ParL., III, 541.

5 Laski, op. cit., 31.

6 Acts of Scott. Parl., IX, 196197.

7 Hetherington, W. W., History of the Church of Scotland (hereinafter cited as Church of Scot.), (New York, 1848), 405. “Just as certainly as the Revolution Settlement placed William of Orange on the throne, did it establish the Kirk on a basis of … spiritual independence.” This was the view of the Westminster Review, XL (1843), 195196.

8 Statutes at Large, 10 Anne, C. 12.

9 Acts of the General Assembly (1712), 23. William Carstares, Robert Bailie and others sent a vigorous protest to Parliament against the Act of 1712, declaring that the Church of Scotland had always “reckoned patronage a grievance and burden.” The Act of 1680, it said, “must be understood to be a part of our Presbyterian Constitution secured to us by the Treaty of Union forever.” See State Papers and Letters Addressed to William Carstares, App., IV, 796797. In a letter to Sir James Graham, Thomas Chalmers declared that the Act of 1712, passed with undue speed while the Scottish M.P.'s were absent from Parliament, was the infidel Bolingbroke's way of “punishing the Church and people of Scotland for their adherence to the House of Hanover.” Cited in Parker, Charles S., Life and Letters of Sir James Graham (hereinafter cited as Life of Graham) (London, 1907), I, 380. But both the Quarterly Review, LXVII (18401841), 249250, and Blackwoods Magazine, XLVI (1839), 580, state that the Act of 1712 was passed bec, use the Act of 1690 had caused only “heats” and dissensions.

10 Macaulay's Speeches (New York, 1866), II, 301.

11 Hanna, W., Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Chalmers (hereinafter cited as Memoirs of Chalmers) (Edinburgh, 1852), III, 344.

12 Ibid. Allowance must be made for the evangelical bias of Hanna.

13 Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 363 et. seq.: Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, III, 347348.

14 Such as the Voluntary church Association of Edinburgh.

15 See Stanley, A. P., History of the Church of Scotland (New York, 1872).

16 Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 355.

17 Ibid., 357.

18 The patronage question was never entirely forgotten nor ignored. Men like Erskine, Hunter, and Hardy often denounced patronage as a grievous burden. The latter, in 1784, wrote a pamphlet in which he charged that patronage was “irreconcilable with the genius of Presbytery.” Cited in Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 375.

19 Annual Register (London, 1843), 240 et. seq.; Duke, of Argyll, , Autobiography and Memoirs (hereinafter cited as Memoirs), (London, 1906), I, 8889.

20 Brown, , Hist. of Scot., III, 424.

21 Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 396. The Quarterly Review, LXVII (18401841), 205, said the society accomplished nothing and that the announcement of its organization was greeted with a “mingled feeling of pity and surprise.”

22 Acts of Ass., (1817), 15.

23 Ibid., (1831); (1835); Brown, , Hist. of Scot., III, 424. Campbell of Row, for instance, had been preaching the heretical doctrine of universal redemption. See Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 391.

24 While it is true that the Reform Bill of 1832, giving the franchise to thousands who bad not formerly had it, led some to reason that if they should have a voice in the selection of M. P. 's they should also have the determining voice in the selection of their spiritual guides, it had, as a matter of fact, very little effect on this non-intrusion struggle. What the Reform Bill did was to give such an impulse to the public mind, sending it into every channel of thought, that henceforth no institution, civil or sacred, “could be long in a state of safety, which could not stand the most searching scrutiny.” Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 391. Most of the Evangelical leaders were conservatives and were opposed to the Reform Bill. See Chalmers' letter to Graham in Hanna, W., Memoirs of Chalmers, III, 405. The Quart. Rev., LXVII (18401841), 205, attributed the opening of the non-intrusion controversy in 1832 to the “feverish longing for innovation,” engendered by the Reform Bill. In 1839 Chalmers wrote to Graham: “This is in no sense a political question.” Cited in Balfour, Frances, Life of George, Fourth Earl of Aberdeen (hereinafter cited as Life of Aberdeen) (London, 1922), II, 49.

25 Acts of Assembly, (1832), 4142.

26 Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 396.

27 To the popular, i. e. evangelical party, this was not a social, economic, or political question but a religious one. “There is one principle,” wrote Chalmers to C. Grant, in 1833, “Which I think the Church must firmly abide by, and that is its own ultimate power of deciding … whether … it is for the Christian good of the population of that parish that presentation shall be sustained.” Cited in Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, III, 351.

28 Acts of Ass., (1833), 4546.

29 Ibid. Henry Cockburn considered this victory of the Moderates an actual defeat because if the motion had carried, “it would have deprived the antipatronage ease of its growing strength, by satisfying the claims of the people.” Cockburn, Henry, Journal (Edinburgh, 1874), 4445.

30 Westminster Review, XL (1843), 199.

31 The difference between this Act and the one of 1833 was that it specifically stipulated that no one could vote in the call of a minister unless he first declared himself to be actuated by “no factious or malicious motives.” Acts of Ass., (1834), 31. The hostile Quart. Rev., LXVII (18401841), 213, regarded this as an “awkard” remedy because “the onus of establishing the corrupt motive of the objectors was here thrown on the patron, the presentee, or the minority.” In the debate on this Act, Cook, the leader of the Moderates, admitted, though perhaps inadvertently, that qualification for a ministerial call included learning, sound theology, moral character, and “acceptability” to the congregation. This was an important concession to the Evangelieals because since the days of Principal Robertson the Moderates had strenuously denied that the call was based on anything other than learning, moral character, and sound theology.

32 Acts of Ass., (1834), 3236.

33 Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, III, 361; Quart. Rev., LXVII (18401841), 206.

34 It was hoped that by this “constitutional limitation of patronage” the campaign against all Establishments could be checked. See Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 397. Cockburn records in his Journal (I, 58, April 4, 1834), that there was now “an alarming spirit of opposition to the Establishment.” In Glasgow, he asserted, 40,000 people had petitioned Parliament in the interest of the Voluntary Church system.

35 Acts of Ass., (1834), 2728.

36 For instance, to sit in Church courts.

37 Quart. Rev., LXVII (18401841), 211. The Veto Act reads as follows: “It is the fundamental law of this Church, that no pastor shall be intruded on any congregation contrary to the will of the people; and, … it shall be an instruction to Presbyteries, 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 favor 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 thereof 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 as aforesaid, who shall refuse, if required, solemnly to declare, in presence of the Presbytery, that he is actuated by no factious or malicious motive, but solely by a conscientious regard to the spiritual interest of himself or the congregation.” Quoted in Hetherington, , Church of Scot., App., 491.

38 He was later to reverse his opinion.

39 The objection was to neither his character nor his conduct but to the “feebleness” of his preaching as well as to some physical deformities. See Brown, , Hist. of Scot., III, 427; Balfour, , Life of Aberdeen, II, 47.

40 Acts of Ass., (1835), 6869.

41 The Assembly of 1836 voted the necessary funds for defraying the costs of the defense of the Auchterarder presbytery. Ibid., 64–65.

42 Cited in Woodward, E. L., The Age of Reform (Oxford, 1938), 508.

43 Hansard, , Parliamentary Debates (hereinafter cited as Hansard), new ser., XXXV, 581.

44 Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, IV, 45.

45 Acts of Ass., (1838), 29.

46 The Evangelicals held that one who had received a call had no right to act until after his ordination.

47 Balfour, , Life of Aberdeen. II, 48.

48 Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 404.

49 Westminster Review, XL, (1843), 199200. The article further stated that many people now left the Church because the decision of the Lords “forbade them to obey in their spiritual procedure the Lord Jesus Christ—and commanded them to obey the Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst.”

50 Cockburn, , Journal, I, 226.

51 Ibid., 167.

52 Some Moderates were disappointed because all they had gotten was an affirmation of their principle.

53 Cockburn was worried over the future of the Church. It appeared to him that “Its buttresses are falling every hour.” See his Journal, I, 169.

54 Acts of Ass., (1839), 39. The vote was 204–155.

55 For a detailed account of this case see Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, IV, 140 et. seq.

56 This was a strongly “moderate” parish.

57 Acts of Ass., (1839), 58.

58 Buchanan, Robert, The Ten Years Conflict (Glasgow, 1859), II, 33. The edict of suspension was carried by a vote of 121 to 14.

59 Acts of Ass., (1840), 27.

60 Buchanan, , Ten Years Conflict, II, 50.

61 Acts of Ass., (1840), 69. The fact that the Moderates could muster only nine votes against these resolutions is partly due to the fact that since they came for the most part front the rural areas not so many could attend the Assembly meetings. In addition, however, they were not very zealous in their own cause. While something like 180,000 males over sixteen years of age had petitioned Parliament in the non-intrusion cause, oniy 1200 Moderates had done so. See Buchanan, , Ten Years Conflict, II, 53. It must be remembered, of course, that petitioning Parliament was much more difficult for the Moderates because they lived in rural regions where it is always difficult to obtain concerted action.

62 ArgylI, , Memoirs, I, 166.

63 The deputation was headed by Chalmers, Bruce, Gordon, Candlish, Muir, and Smythe, the leaders of the Church. Although they suspected that their errand would be unfruitful, they clung to the slender hope that some concessions would be gained from either the Whigs or the Conservatives because an election was not far off and both parties would no doubt like to have the clerical influence on their side. See Cockburn, , Journal, I, 235.

64 Cited in Parker, , Life of Graham, I, 373374.

65 Cited in Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, IV, 120.

66 Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, IV, 120; 121.

67 Balfour, , Life of Aberdeen, II, S49.

68 Cited in Lord Melbourne's Papers, Lloyd, Sanders, ed. (London, 1889), 416.

70 Hansard, 3d. ser., LIV, 362.

71 Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, IV, 120.

72 Commenting on the Lords' decision, Brougham declared he “had never seen a clearer case. It seemed to be all one way.” Hansard, 3d. ser., L, 374.

73 See speech of SirClerk, G. in the House of Commons. Hansard, 3d. ser., XXXV, 574576.

74 Graham, to Chalmers, , in Parker, Life of Graham, I, 378379.

75 Balfour, , Life of Aberdeen, II, 5758.

76 Hansard, 3d. ser., LVI, 137–138.

77 Ibid., LIII, 1209–1229.

78 Hansard, 3d. ser., LIII, 1218.

79 Acts of Ass., (1841), 4142. The vote was 230 to 105. Aberdeen knew, or at least should have known, that his Bill would be repudiated by the Assembly for the Non-Intrusion committee had written to him on May 2, 1840, that a law founded on his scheme would merely substitute the will of the presbytery for the will of the people. When he replied that the people might reject a presentee merely because he had red hair, the committee answered that if the congregation considered the presentee “unacceptable” for that reason, the objection was valid. Not one of the Non-Intrusionists would accept the requirement that congregations assign reasons for their dissent. See Buchanan, , Ten Years Conflict, II, 76 et. seq. The Quart. Rev., LXVII (18401841), 233, asserted that the Assembly rejected the Bill because it would have quashed the agitation for total abolition of patronage. John Tron of Edinburgh, defending the Bill in the Assembly, stated that he had no objections to a congregation rejecting a presentee because he had an offensive accent or wrong-colored hair, but what if they rejected him because he was too godly, too upright, too zealous in the Master's cause? Hadn't the Apostle Paul declared that a time would come when man would reject sound doctrines? It was just such unsound doctrine, answered the Evangelicals, that intruded ministers had been preaching to unwilling congregations.

80 The Quart. Rev., LXVII (18401841), 233, praised the Bill highly and suggested that the patrons, not the Assembly, should have opposed it because it provided that the objections of even a single communicant were to receive effect. It thought the Bill left too much power to the presbyteries. “We feel no surprise,” it said, “that Govermnent should not have supported Lord Aberdeen's Bill… They opposed it because it went too far rather than not far enough.”

81 Hansard, 3d. ser., LVI, 1207–1210. By July 10 about 265,000 had petitioned Parliament against the Bill, and only 4000 in favor of it. See Buchanan, , Ten Years Conflict, II, 121.

82 Hansard, 3d. ser., LVII, 1478.

83 This was the view of Fox Maule. See Hansard, 3d. ser., LV, 1060 et. seq.

84 The Duke of Argyll blames Aberdeen for the Government's rejection of the Bill. He asserts that Aberdeen was greatly influenced by John Hope, Dean of Faculty, one of the leaders of the Moderates in the Assembly and a bitter opponent of non-intrusion. His pamphlet denouncing the Non-Intrusionists claim of coordinate jurisdiction was very widely read. Argyll, , Memoirs, I, 178.

85 Hansard, 3d. ser., LV, 10581060. The same stand was taken by the Quart. Rev., LXVII (18401841), 226.

86 This difficulty was clearly pointed out in Blackwoods, XLVI, (1839) 587 et. seq.

87 Acts of Ass., (1842), 25; 62.

88 Ibid., 35–48.

89 Brown, , Hist. of Scot., 430.

90 Cockburn states that the Moderates had told the Government that if it remained firm there would be no secession because the Scottish clergy would not willingly surrender their benefices. That the Government could actually believe that the Evangelicals would not do as they had threatened was almost incomprehensible to Coekburn. He also declared that the 357 ministers, (out of the 427 at the meeting), who had pledged themselves to secede, “contain the whole chivalry of the Church.” Journal, I, 337.

91 The letter was first published in the London Times, Jan. 14, 1843. It is given in full in the Annual Register (1843), App. P., 463470.

92 Cockburn insists that Aberdeen was the author of the letter. But, while the ideas may have been Aberdeen's, the language and phraseology are probably Graham's.

93 Hetherington, , Church of Scot., 454.

94 Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, IV, 321. If this charge be sound, it would tend to prove that Graham was the author because in that type of composition Graham was a master with few equals and no superiors—save possibly Gladstone.

95 The West. Req., had turned against Graham in 1834 when he, together with Richmond, Ripon, and Stanley, left the Whig party.

96 West. Rev., XL, 205 et. seq.

97 Hansard, 3d. ser., LXVII, 357.

98 Frazers, XXVII (1843), 366367.

99 Morning Chronicle (London), 02. 24, 1843.

100 See Cockburn, , Journal, I, 338339; Parker, , Life of Graham, I, 389390.

101 The Court of Session had decided that these ministers were not entitled to full ministerial privileges. In keeping with that decision Cook, the leader of the Moderates in the Assembly, moved that their names be stricken from the roll of the commission. But this motion was defeated by a vote of 115 to 23. See Buchanan, , Ten Years Conflict. II, 414415.

102 Hansard, 3d. ser., LXVII, 394 et. seq. Buchanan is very critical of the House in this instance, caustically commenting that only half the House was present while a debate on a mere railroad bill would have a full house. Ten Years Conflict, II, 419.

103 Acts of Ass., (1843), 1929.

104 Morning Chronicle, 06 15, 1843, p. 4. The Moderates, on the other hand, claimed that Aberdeen's Bill was a farce since it modified the Act of 1712, and in so doing, “virtually revokes the decision of the House of Lords in the Auchterarder case.” Blackwoods, LIV (1843), 547, did not agree and said that Aberdeen's Bill only limited, but did not destroy, patronage, The Edin. Rev., LXXVIII (1843), 535, was very critical: “A legislative declaration of the law is made, contrary to the law as decided by the House of Lords on appeal; and thus the legislature has been called upon to stigmatize by statute, a judgement of the highest court of the land.”

105 Annval Register (1843), 240.

106 Ibid.

107 Hansard, 3d. ser., LVI, 1208; Morning Chronicle, 08. 11, 1843, p. 4.

108 Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, III, 347348; Brown, , History of Scot., 430 et. seq.

109 Buchanan, , Ten Years Conflict, II, 122.

110 In a pamphlet, “What Ought the Church and People of Scotland to do Now?” Chalmers declared that the difference between Whigs and Tories was in “having no principle, or in having a principle that is wrong. In either way they are equally useless.” Cited in Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, IV, 174.

111 Balfour, , Life of Aberdeen, II, 74.

112 Argyll, , Memoirs, I, 174.

113 Cockburn, , Journal, II, 37.

114 See his letter to Graham, , in Parker, , Life of Graham, I, 374375.

115 In 1839 the Earl of Galloway predicted that popular selection of clergymen would result in a kind of “preaching match” which would be won by those who could best reproduce the sermons of the eminent London preachers. See Hansard, 3d. ser., L, 376. The Quart. Rev., LXVII (18401841), 217, declared that popular selection of ministers would result in “scenes of riot, profligacy, and fraud which characterize a Westminster election.” Such ignorance and prejudice was equalled only by the stupidity of Collett, who declared in the House of Commons, that he was for “free trade in corn;…free trade in machinery;… and … free trade in parsons.” Hansard, 3d. ser., LXXI, 530.

116 Aberdeen notes in his Journal on Jan. 4, 1841, that everyone was interested in the ministerial crisis and that “beyond a passing joke it [Scot. Church] is scarcely ever mentioned.” Cited in Balfour, , Life of Aberdeen, II, 90.

117 Morning Chronicle, 11. 16, 1843, p. 2; Hansard, 3d. ser., LIV, 362.

118 Most of the Evangelical leaders were conservatives and had opposed the Reform Bill of 1832. See Hanna, , Memoirs of Chalmers, III, 405; Buchanan, , Ten Years Conflict, II, 181.

119 Quart. Rev., LXVII, (18401841), 203 et. seq.; Parker, , Life of Graham, I, 381 et. seq.

120 West. Rev., XL (1843), 208.

121 Such journals as the Quart. Rev., West. Rev., and Blackwoods considered this a legal question in which the chief issue was not the Church but whether or not the law of the land was to be enforced. See also Hansard, 3d. ser., LI, 356; LXVII, 394; Parker, Charles S., Sir Robert Peel from his Private Papers (London, 1899), II, 470.

122 Argyll, , Memoirs, I, 175. Blackwoods (XLVI, 579), asserts that, as an institution established by law, the Church of Scotland was nothing but an incorporation whose powers and privileges “rest exclusively on statute law; and the Court of Session is the proper and legally constituted interpreter of a statute.”

123 See Figgis, John N., The Divine Right of Kings, Preface viiviii.

124 Buchanan, , Ten Years Conflict, II, 286. According to Blackwoods, XLVI (1839), 575, the Church Courts had no power of execution, could not ordain payment, provide a remedy, or give redress of wrongs. Only the civil courts could do so and they were therefore superior courts.

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