Project Canterbury





















[The substance of this Sermon was preached in S. Mary's Church, Glasgow, in the spring of last year.]

"And he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed."--Exodus iii. 2.

ON an occasion like the present, when, after the lapse of nearly 200 years, we are again commencing the Services of the Episcopal Church in Thurso, it may not be without interest, and I would hope, not without advantage, if I recall to you some of the incidents in the history of our Church, which will account for the long interval which has elapsed since these Services were regularly conducted, not in such a building as this, in which, by courtesy, we are now met, but in the old Parish Church of Thurso. [The foundation and walls of the beautiful old Parish Church of Thurso are still in existence, but its roof having been taken off, it is now of no use to any one, and is falling into decay. Would it not be a graceful act on the part of the Heritors to make over the ruin to the members of the Episcopal Church on condition of its restoration? By such restoration they would not only provide a place of worship for themselves, but would pre serve from utter wreck and ruin an interesting architectural relic, and add another striking feature to the pretty little town of Thurso.]

I shall have to speak of some things forgotten, or perhaps not generally known, even by members of our own Church, owing either to indifference, or to their being misled as to the position of our Church in this country. And, as we certainly have not been free from misconstruction, not always indeed free from misrepresentation, it is well to take advantage of such an opportunity as this, to place before you, as one of its Bishops, the true position of our Church in Scotland since its Disestablishment, so as to enable its less-informed members to refute such misrepresentations, and to rectify such misconstructions, and, by a simple reference to historical facts, to lead others to see that we have not taken up, as some suppose, an antagonistic position towards the Established Church of Scotland, that we are not an exotic sect, but that we have, at least, as legitimate a status in Scotland as any of the religious bodies in this country.

I will therefore endeavour, as briefly as I can, and without entering into any controversy, to place before you, 1st, The actual [3/4] position in which the Episcopal Church in Scotland was left after the Revolution of 1688; 2ndly, What its consequent fortunes, or misfortunes, were; and, lastly, What, through God's blessing, is its present position.

In the midst of the political and religious convulsions which agitated the whole of Britain during the 1 7th Century, when the Church of England itself was disestablished, the Episcopal Church of Scotland was twice established, and twice disestablished in that Century. It was established in 1610, and again in 1661. On both occasions the mode of its establishment was the same. Its Bishops having died out, the succession was renewed from the Church of England. On both occasions the Church of England consecrated its Bishops, and so gave them that spiritual authority, order, and mission, which the Church only can give, and which they have possessed and exercised ever since. The Sovereign and Parliament of Scotland made it the Established Church of Scotland, and so gave it temporal endowments, and that civil sanction and support which the State only can give to the Church.

It was disestablished in 1638, and again in 1689, but there was an essential difference in the manner of its disestablishment on these two occasions. On the first occasion, in 1638, when the Solemn League and Covenant was in full force, the General Assembly of the Church declared Episcopacy to be unlawful, deposed the Bishops from all spiritual order or office, and passed against them a sentence of excommunication, which at that time carried formidable civil consequences; and all these measures were ratified and confirmed by the Sovereign and Parliament of Scotland.

But in 1689, when the Episcopal Church was for the second time disestablished, nothing of this sort was attempted. All that was then done was to withdraw from it the temporal endowments and other civil advantages which the State had conferred upon it in 1661. The Parliament of Scotland simply "abolished Prelacy, and all superiority of any office in the Church above Presbyters;" and in place of the Episcopal Church, which was thus disestablished, it established "the Presbyterian Church Government and Discipline," as "being," not (as we might have expected to find) as most agree able to the Will and Word of God, but, as "being most agreeable to the inclinations of the people;" for so run the words of the preamble [4/5] of the Act by which the present Church of Scotland was established by Parliament. But as the State had not given to the Episcopal Church its spiritual authority in 1661, so the State did not attempt to take that spiritual authority away in 1689.

Neither did the newly Established Church of Scotland seek to deprive the Episcopal Church and its Clergy of their spiritual functions, as it had done in 1638. The Bishops were neither de posed from their offices, nor excommunicated; nor was the Solemn League and Covenant, condemning the Episcopacy as unlawful, resumed as a standard of the Established Church, much less imposed upon all the people as in 1638. In a word, the Scottish Bishops, although stripped of all which the Scottish State had given them, were left in possession of all that the Church of England had given them at their Consecration at Westminster in 1661. They ceased to be Bishops of the Scottish Establishment, but continued to be Bishops of the Catholic Church of Christ. They still continued therefore to exercise their spiritual functions as Bishops, and the validity of their Ordinations and other Episcopal acts is acknowledged for all spiritual purposes, not only by the Church of England, and by all the Churches of the Anglican Communion, but by the State also. Its recognition of the validity of the spiritual powers of the present Bishops of Scotland was shown a few years ago by its appointment of Dr Trower, after his resignation of the See of Glasgow, to the Bishopric of Gibraltar.

From this brief historical summary you will see the position in which our Church was left after its disestablishment. The Act of Parliament which disestablished it did not attempt to deprive its Bishops of that spiritual authority which the Church only can give. What it did do was simply to deprive the Church of all its temporal endowments, and of that civil sanction and support which the State can confer upon the Church, and to transfer them to the Presbyterian Church. The position therefore in which we stand towards the present Established Church of Scotland is not like that in which the Free Church, for instance, stands towards it. The members of that Church are Presbyterians, and were once members of the Established Church. From that Church they voluntarily seceded, and then constituted themselves into an independent Church. We were never members of the present Established Church, and therefore could never have seceded from it. Nor have we constituted ourselves into [5/6] an independent Church since, or in consequence of, our disestablishment. What our Church was when it was the Established Church of Scotland, in everything which is of the essence of the Church, that it is now--I say, in every thing which is of the essence of the Church But that which is not of the essence of the Church, viz., temporal endowments, and civil sanction and sup- port, that we possess no longer. But the man who is violently despoiled of all his worldly possessions is the same man still. his misfortunes do not destroy his identity. So our Church, despite its losses and misfortunes, is the same identical Church which, before its disestablishment, was recognised by the State as the true Church of Christ in this country. It is not the Church of England in Scotland. The Bishops of that Church have no jurisdiction on this side of the Tweed, nor do they claim any Episcopal authority or jurisdiction in Scotland, but they recognise the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in this country as Bishops of an ancient independent Church, and in the same full communion with themselves as the Bishops of the American and Colonial Churches. As such they were invited to attend the Lambeth Conferences of 1867 and 1878, and to take their seats on the same footing as the Bishops of the English, Irish, Colonial, and American Churches; and of the one hundred Bishops who met at Lambeth at the last Conference in 1878, by far the greater number were Bishops of unestablished Churches.

Such then, my brethren, is the ecclesiastical position of the Episcopal Church in Scotland--the same, yet not the same--not the same ill its outward aspects and circumstances as when it was the Established Church of Scotland--but the same in its divine organisation, in its faith and discipline, whether persecuted, proscribed, or Established. You can thus understand when and why the regular Episcopal Services in the old Parish Church of Thurso were discontinued.

But our Church was destined to pass through a much more fiery ordeal after its disestablishment, than disestablishment or disendowment. When it was disestablished in 1689-90, 14 Bishops and 1000 Clergy ministered at its Altars. In just one hundred years after, namely in the year 1792, when the penal statutes which had been passed against her were repealed, the number of her Bishops was reduced to four, and the number of her Clergy to forty-two. [6/7] Whence this rapid diminution I It arose from something more than from summary and complete disendowment. In the political and religious struggles which took place in Scotland during the last century, consequent upon the abdication of James II., and the accession of William III., many Episcopalians, whether wisely, or unwisely, undoubtedly took part. Their conduct led to the enactment of various severe penal Statutes against their Church. That Episcopalians should be tolerated at all gave great offence to many, and in many instances led to much cruel treatment. But we must remember that religious toleration was not understood in those days, and was even by some regarded as the instigation of Satan. Hence, no doubt, the severity of those penal Statutes against our Church, which culminated in severity after the battle of Culloden. Henceforth, no Episcopalian Clergyman was allowed to minister in any Church or Chapel, but only in his own house; and if, on any such occasion, more than four persons should be present beyond the Clergyman's own family, he was, for the first offence, to be imprisoned for six months, and for the second to be transported for life. This law touched the laity as well as the Clergy. If any layman attended at such prohibited service, he was debarred from holding any municipal office or for voting for any--he could not be a Member of Parliament, or vote for one; if a Peer, he could not be a representative Peer of Scotland, or vote for one. It would be difficult to frame a law which, in its operation, should more effectually stamp any society out of existence. Our Church suffered under it for nearly 50 years, and, humanly speaking, must have ceased to exist had it continued in force many years longer.

It was in reviewing this portion of the history of our Church, that, some years ago, one of our Scotch Judges, himself a Presbyterian, in giving judgment in a cause which affected our Church, ex pressed his opinion that it might well take for its motto the words of my text, "The bush burned with fire, but was not consumed." It was not until the year 1792 that this Statute was repealed, when we found our thousand Clergy reduced to forty-two, and our fourteen Bishops to four--the Clergy and Bishops ministering not in Churches, for they had none, but in upper rooms, or in their own houses. We had no parsonages, and no schools. Our flocks, few in number, were widely dispersed throughout Scotland--there was no organisation, and, consequently, but little unity of action. On looking on this [7/8] scene of utter desolation of a once flourishing and Established Church, the words descriptive of the original chaos would not seem inappropriate to it--"It was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." Could this chaos ever be reduced to order? "Not by might, not by power," for we were utterly powerless, "but by My Spirit, saith the Lord." That Spirit, has moved upon the face of our dark and troubled waters, and in accordance with the ordinary workings of God's Providence, by slow, patient, and progressive steps, that Divine Spirit has brought light out of darkness, order out of disorder. From the moment when the pressure of the penal Statutes was removed we can look back and see, with unfeigned gratitude, a steady gradual development of a healthy Church progress, accompanied with a growth of earnest, reverent, spiritual life in both clergy and laity, which can spring from no other source than that of "the Lord, and Giver of life Himself." "The bush indeed burned with fire, but was not consumed," because there was in it the same Divine Presence which was in the bush that burned on Horeb, Who "saw the affliction of His people," Who "heard their cry, and came down to deliver them."

We have seen how that which was once a stately tree became a lowly bush, yea, was cut down to the ground. But we now find that its roots were left in the earth, and needed only care, and culture, and the dews of God's grace, to spring up again and bear fruit; and when we compare its present position with its desolate chaotic condition nearly 100 years ago, we see that it has sprung up again and grown, and gives fair promise of yet bearing abundant fruit. For whenever the Church, which is Christ's Body, is healthy in its life and vigorous in its work, there will assuredly be growth and progress, and every generation adds something to the increase of the Body of Christ. This is its true development.

What then is now our condition in the year of grace 1881 contrasted with that of 1792? Our Church's organization nearly complete, seven Diocesan Bishops presiding over the ancient Dioceses of Scotland, and our Diocesan and Episcopal Synods meeting annually. We have now more than 200 Churches and Missions with their officiating Clergy, about 130 Parsonages, and nearly 100 Day and Sunday Schools, with about 10,000 children under Church education. Within the last 50 years four new Cathedrals have been built and consecrated, while official [8/9] residences have been provided in their several Dioceses for nearly all our Bishops. Their incomes, which thirty years ago averaged £150 a-year, have been considerably augmented. We have consecrated and sent forth a Missionary Bishop for South Africa, who is labouring with great success in Kaffraria, and have undertaken Foreign Mission work in Central India. A Theological College and a Public School have been founded at Glenalmond, and another Theological College in the island of Cumbrae in the Diocese of the Isles; and within the last five years we have brought into activity the corporate life of the Church, by constituting a Representative Church Council, consisting of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity, to be the organ of the Church in all matters of financial administration, and for collecting and distributing money for all Church purposes of a general or corporate character; and we are endeavouriug, as to-day, to provide the ministrations of the Church wherever two or three members of our Church are gathered together and desire them. The demand for these ministrations is far beyond our power to meet, from our inability to provide the means for supporting additional Clergy.

Such then being the history, and such the fortunes of our Church, you will, I think, be ready to admit that we have as legitimate a status in Scotland as any of the other religious bodies in the country, and, moreover, that the Episcopal Church of Scotland was not set up in antagonism to the present Established Church of Scotland. That Church now occupies the place which ours once held; but so far from our entertaining any feeling of antagonism to that Church, should dark days come upon it, and which seem to threaten it, it will find amongst its friends and supporters the Bishops of the Episcopal Church. It may be a fair question where no established Church exists, to consider whether in the interests of Church and State, it is desirable to establish any Church at all. But it is another question, and a very different one, looking at the attendant consequences, and the disruption of all old associations, to unestablish one which has been long established. Whatever evils some may consider as incident to an Established Church, whether from its supposed tendency to secularize the minds of the Clergy, or to induce indolence or carelessness on their part, which cannot be justly charged against the great body of the present Clergy of the Establishment, there are unquestionably great and [9/10] counterbalancing benefits; and I should shrink from the responsibility of joining in any attempt to root up the tares, lest in doing so the wheat be rooted up also. For ourselves, unestablished and disendowed, we are content to be tolerated, and to be permitted to exercise our spiritual functions without let or hindrance. Thankful for the many blessings which we have received, we shall endeavour to maintain our position in Scotland, as an independent Branch of the Catholic Church of Christ, and to hand down to our children and to our children's children that Evangelic Truth and Apostolic Order which our fathers preserved to us through many a dreary day of trial and tribulation; and, while upholding, in quietness and confidence, those great principles of doctrine and discipline to which our Church has been called to bear witness in Scotland, we must at the same time remember that we are living in the midst of those who from their childhood have been trained to look at religious Truth in other lights and colours than those which have always rested upon our paths; and although, unhappily, we cannot worship together in the same House of Prayer, yet let it be our aim that the light of our views of Truth may so shine before our brethren as to win them, if it so please God, by its purity and brilliancy. And, at all events, may we. ever be found ready to co-operate with them, as fellow Christians and fellow citizens, in promoting and forwarding all such good works of charity, love, and usefulness, as may glorify our common Father in Heaven, and such as may tend to the promotion of happiness, peace, and good-will in our respective neighbourhoods. Then, I believe, the Lord will do yet greater things for us, "whereof our children and our children's children may be glad."

Project Canterbury