The James Begg Society

The James Begg Society

Publishers of Protestant, Reformed Christian Literature

Memoirs of Rev James Begg, D.D., by Rev. Thomas Smith, D.D.



W E have seen that the minister of the Middle Church of Paisley, during the first year of his ministry there, took no very prominent part in the proceedings of the local church courts of which he was a member, the Presbytery of Paisley and the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr. His appearance in the General Assembly of that year, and the speech which he delivered on the most important subject that came before it, excited a good deal of surprise, both in the "house" and in the galleries. The Assembly of 1832 was an epoch-making Assembly. In it began that "Ten Years' Conflict," which has exerted, is exerting, and is destined still to exert, an immense influence on the ecclesiastical and spiritual history, not of Scotland only, but of the world. Dr. Begg was, accidentally, as some would say, but providentially, as I believe, one of the representatives of his Presbytery in that memorable Assembly. Dr. Chalmers was its Moderator, and this of itself would have made it memorable, though the business transacted in it had been less important than it was.

Eleven overtures - eight from Presbyteries and three from Synods - had been sent to the Assembly on the subject of "calls." The overtures differed materially from one another, but they all agreed in setting forth the indefiniteness of the law and the unsatisfactoriness of the practice in respect of the part that the members of a congregation were entitled to take in order to the settlement of a minister among them. By the law of the land, acquiesced in by the Church courts during the "Moderate" ascendancy, the patron - who might be the Crown, an individual subject, a corporation, or a voluntary association which might have purchased the patronage - had the unquestioned right of presentation. But the same Acts of Parliament acknowledged indefinite rights of the parishioners to "concur," and these rights had always been conceded by the Church in their insistence upon a "call" addressed to the presentee by the members of the congregation. I am not aware that this call was ever dispensed with, but it came to be regarded as merely an opportunity afforded to the congregation of expressing their cordial acceptance of the presentee as their minister. If they expressed their acceptance by signing the call, it was well. If they declined to express it - at all events if half-a-dozen, or three, or even one of them expressed it - it was still well. The presentee was inducted by the Presbytery simply on the ground of the patron's nomination. Yet in the very act of induction the whole proceeding was made to rest on the call of the congregation. No reference was made to the presentation, but the question was solemnly put to the presentee whether he "closed with this call." 30

[Footnote 30: I believe it has been argued that the term call in this connection was not to be understood as referring to the call of the people which had been put into his hand, but to the whole transaction, including both the presentation by the patron and the call by the people, the two together constituting what is often designated as a "call in Providence." This explanation is utterly untenable. But at all events it has never been denied that the call by the people was an essential and indispensable element of this providential call. - T. S.]

Such a state of things was tolerated, yea, professed and vindicated, by the ecclesiastical authorities during the Moderate ascendancy; with this result, among others, that thousands of the best and most intelligent of the people had left the Church of their fathers, and, beginning with dissatisfaction with such abuses, had gradually become displeased with her very existence. It is freely admitted that the evils complained of were not constant or invariable in their atrocity. For a long time there had been no instance of a "forcible settlement," that is, an induction effected by a Presbytery acting under the protection of an armed force. But it was held even in our own day that this might still be resorted to if it should be necessary. This comparative peace was partly due to the secession of many of the representatives of those who in former days had stood up strenuously for the rights of the Christian people:

"Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. "

Many of those who remained, under the influence of Moderate preaching and worldly associations, had become indifferent to what their more pious fathers regarded as all important. Others were contented to acquiesce with silent and sullen dissatisfaction in an evil which they had no power to redress. And it ought to be stated that many of the patrons were exercising their powers in a more conciliatory spirit than that which had previously obtained. It had become no unusual thing, for a patron to intimate to a congregation that if they could agree in their choice of a man, that man should be presented. Still more frequently they gave the people "a leet" of three or four men, and engaged to present the one of them who should be most acceptable to the people. But these were concessions, made, and represented as made, as acts of special grace, while the right to refuse them was maintained as being as inviolable as the right to grant them. And of course every such concession that was made in one case went to embitter the feeling of wrong inflicted in every case where a similar concession was refused.

It was this state of matters that gave rise to the discussion on "calls" in the Assembly of 1832. The debate was animated. It was before the days of Blue-Books, but a special report of it was published in a pamphlet. 31 The speeches are said to have been revised by their authors, but they are very briefly reported, and altogether the report represents very imperfectly the power and the interest of the debate. The first speakers were the Rev. William Clugston of Forfar, the Rev. Alexander Cameron of Edderton, and the Rev. Duncan Macfarlan of Renfrew. These three spoke from the bar, presenting the overtures to the Assembly. Then the discussion began, and the following took part in it:- The Rev. John Cook, Rev. Professor R. J. Brown, the Right Honourable the Lord Justice-Clerk (Boyle), the Rev. Alexander Maxtone, the Rev. Dr. Henry Duncan, the Rev. Principal Macfarlan, the Rev. James Begg, the Rev. Alexander Stewart, the Rev. Dr. John Brown, Robert Whigham, Esq., Advocate, and the Honourable Lord Moncreiff. The motions were (1.) by Professor Brown, "That the General Assembly, having considered and deliberated on these overtures, and finding that they relate to a subject of great importance, on which various opinions appear to be entertained, remit the said overtures to a committee, with instructions to consider the same, and report to next Assembly; " and (2.) by Principal Macfarlan, "That the Assembly judge it unnecessary and inexpedient to adopt the measures recommended in the overtures now before it."

[Footnote 31: Report of the Debate in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on the Overtures anent Calls, 24th May 1832. Edinburgh, 1832."]

It will be seen that formally Dr. Brown's motion expressed no approval of the contents of the overtures, and might have been supported even by those who were opposed to them, while Principal Macfarlan's was of the nature of "the previous question." But in point of fact the discussion and the vote were simply for approval or rejection of the overtures.

Dr. Begg's first appearance in the General Assembly was so important an event in his life as to require the transcription of his speech in its entireness, and this involves the additional necessity of transcribing that of the Lord Justice-Clerk, against which that of Dr. Begg was mainly directed, and without which it would scarcely be intelligible:-

"THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE LORD JUSTICE-CLERK, one of the Commissioners from the Presbytery of Irvine, said that this question appeared to him to be one of gigantic importance, and that for a period of thirty-eight 32 years during which he had sat as a member, no question of greater moment than that which was raised by these overtures had occupied the attention of the House; and although he was of opinion that it was one which would be much better and more ably discussed by his clerical friends, yet he considered it his duty as a lay member to take an early opportunity of declaring his most determined opposition to the motion which was laid on the table by the reverend professor. It appeared to him that before a proposition of such a nature should be entertained, a necessity for some new measure must be shown, as it was impossible to deny that the tendency of these overtures went to introduce one of the greatest innovations into the Church. Before the proposition could be entertained, it should be made out to the satisfaction of the House that there existed a great evil in the present system which called for its interference. It should have been shown that the table was groaning under the load of overtures, and of cases of disputed settlements. Had there been a series of these disputed settlements in the country, there might be some reason for the overtures on the table of the Assembly; but in place of this, with a few exceptions, there had been a long period of calm tranquillity throughout the Church, showing that not only the members but the people were fully satisfied with the system as it now existed. He had heard no evils stated as resulting from the law of patronage, and he would desire those gentlemen who called upon the House to ready an evil to point out in distinct and intelligible terms what that evil was. If the House were to accede to the proposition contained in some of these overtures, it would declare that by the law of this Church, before a Presbytery could settle any presentee, he should have a concurrence of the majority of heads of families. In this there would be an open violation of the rights of patrons. In every settlement the candidates would consider it necessary to canvass the parish, and it was well known how canvasses of that kind were carried on to secure a majority. No man could honestly say that this would not be a direct blow at the rights of all patrons, from the king down to the lowest of his subjects. Instead of going forward in a manly manner to Parliament, and praying that the law of the land should be altered, which would be the straightforward course to adopt, a few overtures were laid upon the table, whose tendency was to injure, by a sidewind, the rights of patrons, and to deprive them of that power which was vested in them by the law of the land, and he would beg to say that the speech of the reverend gentleman who had opposed these overtures (Mr. Cook of Lawrencekirk) was by no means liable to the imputations that were cast upon it by the last speaker (Prof. Brown). That speech reminded him of the best periods of this House, when they were enlightened by the eloquence and the knowledge of the distinguished ancestor of this gentleman (Principal Hill of St. Andrews), than whom no man was more conversant with or had a more thorough knowledge of the laws and constitution of this Church, and whose sentiments the reverend gentleman may be considered to have spoken. The charge made against him was that in the course of his speech he had imputed improper motives to those who supported the overtures. His lordship appealed to the judgment of the House that the reverend gentleman had uttered no such thing. His lordship would, on that gentleman's part, disclaim any such sentiments. On the contrary, admitting that the movers of the overtures had been actuated by the most fair and honourable motives, he merely contended that the adoption of the overtures had a tendency to produce the evils stated, and therefore his lordship held it to be his duty to state that the speech of the reverend gentleman did not appear to him to be liable to such imputations as had been cast upon it. Of the evils resulting from extension of the right of election, his lordship stated that he had happened to have some experience, and he trusted he would be pardoned in stating those cases that came under his observation where the right of election was in the heritors. In one of them the parish was so completely divided that the court in which he presided had to discuss a question and decide as to the right of an individual to give a casting vote. Whether the minister was duly elected depended entirely on a casting vote, and the point was litigated with an obstinacy which he had seldom witnessed, and it was carried to the House of Lords. What was the melancholy sequel? It was this, that after the decision in the House of Lords on this disputed election, there arose a most foul and abominable conspiracy against the character of the reverend gentleman who was appointed to the living, involving charges of the most flagitious nature, and the result was that a solemn trial took place before the High Court of Justiciary, when a person convicted of that conspiracy was sentenced to transportation. The other case, which had likewise come before him in his judicial capacity, was that of a parish, upon the heritors of a part of whose territory the right of patronage had been conferred by a former proprietor, and in which, a vacancy having occurred, measures were resorted to for carving out of that territory a multitude of nominal and fictitious qualifications, composed of the smallest pendicles of land, to enable the holders to vote as heritors, but which, on investigation, was pronounced to be wholly illegal, and the presentation in favour of the opposite candidate sustained. But had the matter terminated there? Certainly not, as there has arisen out of the same contest a question which actually abides the decision of this very Assembly. These were instances of the evils arising from the right of patronage being widely extended in parishes. There were no doubt many honourable exceptions to these cases, and where the people acted as one man. But he would say that if there was an evil that they wished to introduce into the church, it would be the carrying a proposition that in all cases a majority of the heads of families must agree in the settlement of a minister. It must be consistent with the knowledge of all that in all human probability such a measure would introduce an universal confusion in the land instead of that genuine harmony and peace which have hitherto so generally prevailed throughout the Church. To the proposition contained in these overtures he could not give his concurrence. Being convinced, likewise, that it would have the effect of depriving patrons of their undoubted privilege, he would give it most decided opposition."

[Footnote 32: Thus his first Assembly must have been that of 1796. Dr. Buchanan ("Ten Years' Conflict") takes notice of the fact that he took part in the famous "Rax me the Bible " debate of that year. It need not be stated on which side he spoke and voted. It is interesting to think that the same man contended against Dr. John Erskine in 1796 and against Dr. James Begg in 1832. Dr. Erskine was born in 1721 and Dr. Begg died in 1883. - T. S.]

It is obvious to remark that his lordship's instances have not even the remotest bearing upon the question at issue. They were both instances of disputes between joint patrons as between themselves, and did not touch the question as between patrons, joint or individual, and the members of congregations. Such disputes would occur, neither oftener nor seldomer, if the prayers of the overtures were granted. The only way by which they could have been prevented would have been that which many of the authors of the overtures most earnestly desired, but which neither the overtures nor the motion of Professor Brown ventured to propose, even the abolition of patronage. Of course his lordship's contention was that a multiplicity of interests in an election is an evil - in other words, that irresponsible monarchy is preferable to limited.

Ουκ αγαθον πολνκοιρανιη εις κοιρανος εστω
Εις βασιλευς.

But where then were the British Constitution? Above all, where were Presbytery? But I have introduced his lordship's speech, not with the view of answering it, but merely with the view of making Dr. Begg's answer to it intelligible.

After a speech by Mr. Maxtone of Fowlis in opposition to the overtures, and one by Dr. Duncan of Ruthwell in favour of them, Principal Macfarlan spoke, and concluded with the motion which I have already quoted. Then:-

"The REV. JAMES BEGG OF PAISLEY said: Moderator - I knew before I entered this House - and the sneering with which this debate has in certain quarters been accompanied has abundantly confirmed me in the knowledge of it - that a certain obloquy would attach, in the minds of many members of this Assembly, to those who stood up in defence of these overtures. But yet, in the face of all this, I feel it to be only justice to myself, to the Presbytery of which I am a member, and to what I believe to be cause of truth, to make a few statements in reply to the arguments to which you have just listened.

"It appears to me that there is no force in the objection which has just been urged by the rev. principal against the motion of Professor Brown, upon the ground that were that motion adopted the Assembly would sanction the measures proposed in these overtures. All that that motion asserts is merely that 'the General Assembly, having considered these overtures, regard the subject to which they refer as of great importance.' Now, its importance has, I think, been admitted by every member who has spoken. Even the right honourable judge (the Lord Justice-Clerk) who lately addressed you, although violently opposed to these overtures, declared that the subject was of great importance - nay, of 'gigantic importance,' of greater importance than any question which had been agitated in this House during all the period of his membership - a period of thirty-eight years. And all that we wish the Assembly to do is simply, under a conviction of the truth of these assertions, to transmit these overtures to a committee, that the subject may be gravely considered, and that the law of the Church may be declared, and hereafter strictly acted upon. In decreeing, therefore, in terms of the rev. professor's motion, it appears to me that the Assembly by no means pledges itself to any ultimate decision, and that this objection is unfounded.

"Of the four speeches which were delivered on the opposite side of the question, only three were audible in this part of the house. The first was delivered by a young reverend gentleman (Mr. Cook) who came nobly forth as a knight-errant in defence of absolute patronage, of which he seemed greatly enamoured; and who, after expending what appeared to me a very unnecessary quantity of pathos in deprecating the evils which, in his opinion, would result from departing from it in the least degree, spoke of clinging to the ruins of the present system, and gravely announced to the Assembly what I must call his heroic resolution, if it was doomed to perish, of burying himself amidst its ruins. I trust, sir, that that gentleman has seriously considered the nature of that resolution, for it is my firm conviction that if his opposition, and that of his friends, to the satisfactory settlement of this question be persisted in, his courage will soon be put to the proof. But I do trust that, if that gentleman shall ever perish, it will be in defending a nobler cause!

"Next came the arguments of the learned judge (the Lord Justice-Clerk), for whom all of us, I am sure, entertain the most profound respect; but I must say that most of his statements on this occasion seemed to be totally inapplicable to the question before us. His lordship set out by asserting, what we all admit, that it is necessary to show the existence of an evil before a remedy should be sought for; but he proceeded to assert that no evil had in this case been shown sufficient to call for our interference. Now it appears to me that the very existence of so many overtures upon your table from so many Presbyteries proves clearly that in the opinion of many ministers of this Church there does exist an evil. To prove the existence of an evil it is not necessary, as the honourable judge seemed to require, that our table should be literally 'groaning tender the weight of overtures, and of cases of disputed settlements.' The experienced opinions of so many ministers of this Church, both in this House and without, proves that dissatisfaction with the present arbitrary mode of settling ministers widely prevails; and, therefore, the propriety of immediately examining the subject. The learned judge next enlarged on the monstrous evils of popular elections, and told us of two cases which he had himself decided in his official capacity, to prove that they were fraught with danger. Now, all this may be true. I am not disposed at present to dispute it. But no man in this Assembly, so far as I have heard, has maintained the propriety of popular elections. All the supporters of these overtures have admitted that patronage should continue to exist - that at least it is not in the power of this court to put an end to it - and have only contended that this Church should prevent its becoming an instrument of evil to our population, by the exercise of her legitimate authority.

"Last of all, we had the speech of the rev. principal at your right hand, full of ingenuity, and, no doubt, of law also, but from every part of its conclusion I take the liberty firmly to dissent, and for the following reasons: First of all, we had the oft-repeated allegation that we are intending to invade the rights of patrons. At all events the rev. doctor declared that in his opinion it was impossible to concede to the people the right of expressing their approbation or disapprobation without virtually abolishing patronage. Now, instead of this, it is our opinion that were the object which we have in view secured, it would confirm patrons in the exercise of their rights; only their power would be undoubtedly limited, and they would no longer be allowed, under the name of patronage, to exercise an arbitrary authority which they ought never to have possessed. It has been demonstrated to be the law of the Church that no minister should ever be placed in any parish without the consent of at least some portion of its inhabitants. No reply has ever been attempted to the legal statement on this subject, and the reasonableness of the requirement will not, I think, be disputed. There is an express Act of this 33 Assembly 'against intrusions,' specially providing 'that no minister shall ever be settled in any parish against the decided wishes of the people;' and all that we contend for is, not that patrons should be deprived of the just exercise of their rights, but that, according to the law, they should be prevented from intruding into parishes those who, in all likelihood, will not discharge satisfactorily and with success the ministerial duties. If any man shall hereafter maintain that we contend for more, we shall expect at least to hear the statements accompanied with something like proof. No more is contended for in these overtures; no more has been contended: for by those who have spoken in support of them; no more is contended for in the motion of Professor Brown. We believe that patronage and a substantial call may subsist together, and all that we wish is simply that, leaving patrons to discharge their duties as to them may seem meet, the Church should rise and exercise her own power also, which has long been dormant, of preventing persons unfit for discharging the duties of parishes from being intruded into them.

[Footnote 33: The expression, "this Assembly" does not here mean, as it usually does, the Assembly actually sitting The Act referred to seems to be that of 1736, though the quotation is not verbally accurate. Its words are: "The General Assembly, considering that it is, and has been since the Reformation, the principle of this Church that no minister shall be intruded into any church contrary to the will of the congregation," &c. This is substantially the same. But it is quite possible that there may be another Act of Assembly containing the words given in the text. - T. S.]

"But it was next contended by the rev. principal that this could not be done without violating the law of the land. Now, sir, what does this amount to? To this, that the Church has made laws which she is unable to execute - that the Church has been acting in the face of the law of the land all along, in making the Acts to which we have already referred, in vesting in Presbyteries the power of rejecting unqualified presentees. But I have no fear of civil interference. Indeed, if such interference were attempted, it would then become a question for every honest man to determine how long he could consistently remain a member of a Church thus rendered unable to enforce its most salutary laws. 34 But how then came it to pass that this very Assembly lately rejected a presentation from the highest patron in the land to a licentiate of our Church, and that for a cause not inferring deposition, without question on the part of that patron? 35 Does that prove that the civil power is ready in such cases to interfere? But the very law of the land itself, as just quoted by the rev. principal, expressly states, that although patrons have the right of presenting, it remains with Presbyteries in every case to determine the qualifications of presentees, and that the decision of the Church courts shall in every case be final. And all that we wish is simply that this element shall hereafter be reckoned necessary to constitute a full qualification - the satisfaction of those among whom the minister is to labour. There is in this no interference with the law of the land; there is in it a perfect conformity with the oft-repeated requirements of the law of the Church; in addition to which, you have just been assured by the rev. principal himself, 'that one reason why so much peace and tranquillity prevail in the midst of us is, that patrons have lately in their appointments consulted very much the feelings of the people'; in other words, they have done that in many instances with salutary effect, which we are anxious that this Assembly should require to be done throughout every part of the Church.

[Footnote 34: I have italicised this sentence, on account of its vital bearing on subsequent events. So far as I know, it is the first foreboding of the action of the patrons and the civil courts - then regarded only as a possibility - and the first indication of what would be the duty of the Church if that action were taken. - T. S.]

[Footnote 35: King; case of Dunkeld.]

"We were next told that these overtures called upon this Assembly to legislate anew upon this subject; nay, we were defied from another quarter to prove that we did not aim at innovation. Now, in opposition to this, I have only again firmly to assert, that we only wish this Assembly to declare that the laws to which we have referred on the subject of calls do exist, are still in force, and ought in every case to be observed. We wish no new law, and if the committee which we are desirous to have appointed shall find that no such laws exist at all, our arguing shall cease. Our simple desire is to return to the original constitution and practice of the Church, and we wish the committee simply to make evident what that constitution requires, and what that practice ought always to have been.

"The rev. principal next contended, with considerable indignation, that it was absurd to call the mode in which 'calls' are now conducted 'a solemn mockery.' Now, sir, notwithstanding all that has been said on the subject, I fearlessly give it as my opinion that that ceremony often at present deserves no better name. On such occasions mockeries have been practised - are practised - and unless this Assembly shall interfere, will no doubt continue to be practised. Let us only conceive a frequent case. A parish becomes vacant, The patron looks round - not for the person best qualified for discharging the duties of the situation - he does not, as his name implies, exercise the office of a father towards the parishioners - but he presents simply one of his own friends, some one for whom he is bound to provide, and many of whom he may have in reserve, without at all considering what the feelings of the people towards him may be. A day is appointed for moderating in his call, and although it is not subscribed by six of the inhabitants of the parish, he is forthwith ordained. Nay, instances are on record of calls subscribed by only one inhabitant of the parish, and Presbyteries have connived at all this, and they now turn round and say to the people who remonstrate, 'We have been exceedingly generous to you; we have given you, by moderating in a call, an opportunity of welcoming your future minister,' - a minister whom no one wished to welcome, whom all the inhabitants of the parish despised. What is this but mockery? What is it but adding insult to injury? I would much rather that calls were altogether and for ever abolished, than that such farces as these should any longer be tolerated.

"Then came that part of the rev. principal's speech which related to the peace and contentment which now prevail in our great towns in the settlement of ministers. Now, so far is this from proving anything in favour of his argument, that it proves a great deal in favour of our motion. This peace has, by his own admission, arisen from consulting the feelings of congregations in the appointment of their ministers. And what is the conclusion? Is it, as seemed to be inferred if the argument was good, that the feelings of the people should no longer be consulted? Undoubtedly not; but that we should do all over the Church what has been done in these cases with such admirable effect. And this is all that we contend for.

"Last of all, the rev. principal reminded us that all over Europe the present is a period of great political excitement; that a very universal feeling of hostility prevails against established churches, and that a question of that nature would be better settled in times of calmness and peace. Now, sir, it is an unquestionable fact, and it is not to be forgotten, because it accounts for much of the contentment of which our opponents have boasted, that when there was no excitement in the country - no feeling against established churches - this court did discard with contempt this important question. In the midst of tranquillity the subject was neglected; and now, when there is a storm and confusion without, it is proposed to neglect it still. When, sir, I ask, shall the time arrive for settling this question, if it is neither a time of peace nor a time of agitation? The subject cannot be avoided; sooner or later you must give it due consideration. I say more. Let no member of this House suppose that by endeavouring to hush up the question and to silence discussion, his object will be secured. That will only cause it the more to be sifted to the bottom. And as to the feeling said to exist against established churches, my firm conviction is that the only way to strengthen the Church, and to make it stand secure amidst all the efforts of its enemies, is to base it firmly on the affections of the people. If all the inhabitants of this country were members of the Church of Scotland, no Government that ever existed, or that ever will exist, could overturn it, and we might laugh at all our enemies! Though all the other Churches in the world should fall, ours would stand secure. But, on the other hand, if the people shall abandon it and leave it to stand alone, how can it remain? And they have undoubtedly in many instances adopted the natural remedy for the evil of which we have complained. As soon as a minister has been thrust into a parish contrary to their wishes, they have at once abandoned the Church, and procured a minister for themselves; and the result has been that Dissenters have gradually increased, are now exceedingly numerous, and in general very hostile to the Church. It is evident, however, that a very limited declaration of this court would restore at once the confidence of the people, and arrest the progress of Dissenterism. But if the present system is recklessly persevered in, for aught I know, the result may be that the governors of this country, without consulting us, may reckon it sound policy, as they formerly transferred the funds which supported Popery to the support of the Protestant Church, to transfer the property of our establishment, because inefficient, to the support of those who really are spiritual instructors to the inhabitants of the country. 36

[Footnote 36: It is difficult to assign a precise meaning to this sentence. To whom did he refer as possibly being the real spiritual instructors of the people? One thing is obvious, that he did not then contemplate the possibility of its ever being proposed that the property of the establishment should be applied to other than spiritual purposes. - T. S.]

"But all this is away from the question before you, although necessary in reply to the statements which you have just heard. The motion on your table is, that a committee be appointed to examine into this important subject, that so the laws of the Church respecting 'calls' may be distinctly declared, and hereafter firmly acted upon; and there is, I think, abundant reason to induce us to adopt such a measure. We have all heard from an authority which none of us are disposed to question, that this subject is of 'gigantic importance.' All of us believe that it is; and I can see no reason why some of the able and learned men of the Church should not be appointed to examine it, that the members of every Presbytery may in all time coming know in every case how they ought to act. I would ask what reason any man can give why this subject should not be examined. The cause of truth and justice can never thus be injured. Are those who have opposed us afraid of the results of inquiry? Are they afraid that the laws of the Church and of the land shall be found beyond all doubt to be exactly what we have stated them to be? This indeed seemed to be the case. But does any one suppose that one adverse decision of this court can arrest the progress of investigation and set the question at rest? The evil cannot be smothered up. And I trust that those members who think as I do, that the very existence of the Church depends upon the satisfactory settlement of this question, if they are left in a minority, will not suffer themselves to be baffled. They may meet and form a committee of their own, fully and fairly to investigate the subject. And be assured, that it will in many ways force itself upon the consideration of this House, whether it will or not, and that it is infinitely better to proceed at once to the examination of it, than after long delay to have justice reluctantly wrested from our hands. I do therefore sincerely trust that the Assembly will adopt the motion of Professor Brown."

This is manifestly a pretty full report of a "maiden speech." But incidentally I have evidence that it must be materially abbreviated. A newspaper of the day, commenting editorially on the proceedings of the Assembly, adverts to the failure of Dr. Chalmers in every case to merge the man in the Moderator. In this leader occurs the following passage:-

"He has acquired a reputation as solid as it is brilliant, and by the force of his genius, the soundness of his opinions, and the moral elevation of his character, he has placed himself in the proudest position in Scotland - a position which he could never have occupied in this country, had he been nothing more than an orator, had not the most comprehensive and enlightened views of any man of his age been the foundation of his oratory; and had he not crowned all with a consistent life, a spotless integrity of character, and that Christian meekness with which he bears his honours. It is not to be denied, however, that in the little things of form and order, Dr. Chalmers, as Moderator, sometimes appeared ridiculous enough. His want of taste and ready perception of what ought to be done, might have presented him to a stranger under great disadvantage, and were it not that he blunders with so much good-humour and naiveté, they might wonder if this were the man who did great things so well. Yet there was interest in his very blunders, and during the sitting of the Assembly, nothing occurred half so delightful as the manner in which the Moderator, in listening to a successful stroke in the speech of the Rev. Mr. Begg, actually fell from his dignity into a hearty laugh, and for an instant clapped his hands with delight."

That Dr. Chalmers showed a deficiency of "taste," or that he made himself "ridiculous," I do not believe; but I can easily imagine the things - to the "blundering" with "much good-humour" I do not very strongly object - which gave the occasion to a somewhat pedantic editor to make these statements. But I have to do at present only with the sentence which I have italicised, and with it only as showing that the report of Dr. Begg's speech must be but meagre; for there is nothing in the speech as reported which could possibly have moved any hearer to hearty laughter.

It must be extremely difficult, if not simply impossible, for any one unacquainted with the oligarchical habitudes of the Assemblies of those days to estimate the "pluck" of the young man who, in the first Assembly of which he was a member, and before he had completed his twenty-fourth year, took up the gauntlets of two such champions as the Lord Justice-Clerk and Principal Macfarlan, According to the result, it must have been attributed to the insolence of youthful self-conceit, or to the consciousness of innate power. In the present case the result necessitates the latter ascription.

The "intrusion" of the youthful combatant into the inner ring of debate could not fail to take the Assembly by surprise. That it did so I have the testimony of my venerable friend, as I must now call him, the Rev. Donald Ferguson of Leven, who in the Assembly of 1832 occupied a position similar to that which Dr. Begg himself had occupied three years earlier. Mr. Ferguson writes thus:-

"After the lapse of more than fifty years, they are but broken reminiscences that remain to me of the scene of Dr. Begg's appearance in the General Assembly of 1832. I think that it must have been his first Assembly speech, but I am not sure. I know that I witnessed Dr. Cunningham's first Assembly appearance in West St. Giles', which was certainly not less striking and successful.

"The Assembly of 1832 met in the Tron Church. I had not witnessed an Assembly field-day before, and I had got a seat in the front gallery, along with some of my fellow students, being deeply interested in the debate that was to take place upon the 'Overtures on Calls.'

"After the bar had spoken, Mr. John Cook of Lawrencekirk, one of the rising hopes of his party, opened the debate upon the Moderate side of the House. I think that he also was making his first Assembly appearance. He spoke with considerable ability and great fluency. Among those who followed on the same side was Lord Justice-Clerk Boyle, who addressed the House in his usual pompous style, his speech being distinguished more by its pretentiousness than by its argument. Shortly after, a young man, seated far back under the gallery opposite to where I was sitting, caught the eye of the Moderator. He began to speak with a slightly nasal twang, which in after life almost left him. After two or three sharp hits at the previous speakers, curiosity was aroused. 'Who is he - who is he?' was whispered right and left, and it was some time before I heard a person say, 'It is Mr. Begg of Paisley.' His good-humoured but pungent sarcasms were immensely relished by us youngsters; and when he turned upon the Lord Justice-Clerk, dealing with him and his speech in a style in which the House was little accustomed to hear the speeches of the judges handled in those days, the Assembly became considerably excited and amused. The unfortunate dignitary, who winced under every fresh infliction of the lash, was, however, far from amused. His face, flamed with passion and indignation at the plain truths that he was hearing about the oration which he had so recently delivered, is at this moment before me, for though I have but little recollection of the argument, what was present to the eye is well remembered.

"After having disposed, in a few effective sentences, of his opponents who had preceded him in the debate, he directed his attention to the overtures under discussion, which he supported warmly. He had the good sense not to detain the House. The speech was short; but he sat down, having established his reputation as a fearless and formidable and withal a prompt debater."

I am confident that the speech, even as thus imperfectly reported, will be regarded as a remarkable phenomenon. It is manifest, from the fact that it is entirely occupied with answering the preceding speakers, that it was perfectly extemporaneous. There is not a point in the speeches of the Lord Justice-Clerk and Principal Macfarlan which is not met and satisfactorily answered. Moreover, there is no appearance of juvenility in the speech, no straining after effect, no rhetorical flourishes, no carrying of the argument to extremes; but a calm exposition of principle, and an earnest insistence on truth and righteousness in opposition to lifeless form and virtual injustice.

A question of much importance is suggested by this speech. The speaker repeatedly intimates that he does not seek to interfere with the rights of patrons, and argues that what was proposed was not inconsistent with these rights. lt is well known that among those who advocated the requirement of a real call, and among those who afterwards advocated the veto, there were some who held that patronage should be abolished, and others who desired only that it should be restricted. I had always understood that Dr. Begg belonged to the former class from the outset of his career, as he�certainly did from an early stage of it. But there are some passages in the speech that are scarcely consistent with this belief. It is true that he might have meant no more than this, that in supporting the motion of Professor Brown he was not asking the abolition of patronage, or aught that was incompatible with its continued subsistence. But I confess to a suspicion that he had not then that intense horror of "the Act of 1712," which afterwards he felt so strongly and expressed so frequently.

It is in this speech that I find the first use of the argument which afterwards became a commonplace in the discussions. It was argued that the law gave to the patron the right of presentation, and to the Presbytery - with the right of appeal to the Synod and General Assembly - the right of judging of the qualifications of the presentee; but that there was no recognition of any right of the people to express either concurrence or dissent. The main answer to this argument was that it is an essential principle in the constitution of the Church that a minister be not intruded on an unwilling congregation. But a subsidiary argument, and a perfectly tenable one, was, that acceptability to the people was an essential "qualification" of which the Presbytery must judge. I have not noticed that this argument was used by any one before it was used by Dr. Begg in the speech before us.

As it was in the Assembly of 1832 that Dr. Begg began his career as an Assembly speaker, so I believe that it was with reference to that Assembly that he first came out as a contributor to the press. In theScottish Guardian of June 8, 1832, there is an article entitled "List of the Division of Ministers and Elders in the Recent General Assembly on the subject of the Overtures regarding Calls. (From a Correspondent.)" That correspondent I happen to know to have been Dr. Begg; and I have not been able to identify him as the author of any earlier production. Assuming, therefore, that this is the first-fruit of his authorship, I give itextenso, as I have already given his earliest speech. It is as follows:-

"We subjoin a list of the division in the General Assembly on the question of Calls, from which the people of this country may learn how their ministers and elders defend their undoubted rights in that venerable court. To every impartial person the result must appear very strange, especially when it is remembered that the motion carried was not a counter motion. It was declared to be 'unnecessary and inexpedient to adopt the measures proposed in the overtures on the Assembly's table.' But no one had asked them to adopt these measures. Indeed, they were so various that to adopt them all was impossible. All that was asked was simply that the Assembly should appoint a committee to examine the whole subject, that so the laws of the Church and of the land, in regard to calls, might be fully declared, and that question, about which so much has been said, might be calmly and satisfactorily set to rest. No demand could have been more reasonable, and none, we should have supposed, but those who feared the result of such an examination, would have shrunk from it, and yet a majority of the members of the Assembly did shrink from it, and by an evasive motion set aside the question.

"It is instructive to observe that the majority of ministers against Professor Brown's motion is only ten, whilst that of elders is twenty-nine. How comes it to pass that these worthies are so afraid of examination? Do they fear that it would hasten on the time when many of them will be ejected from that court as altogether unfit to represent an order of men so sacred? How comes it to pass that amongst them are found the names of the former and present Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who have all along, in their official capacities, been 'adopting the measures proposed in these overtures' ? Indeed, if they did not, how long would the Church in Edinburgh remain? Why do we see the name of a cotemporary of our own (Peterkin), who has all along been forward to defend the rights of the people, and whose blundering apology, since published, only convinces us the more that his conscience was accusing him of inconsistency? Why is Dr. William Muir of Edinburgh's name to be found among the majority? Or why did he not at least condescend to tell the Assembly the particular reasons on account of which he objected to the investigation of this subject? Above all, why were so many ministers, who would undoubtedly have voted for the appointment of a committee, absent at the vote? It is thus that many a great question is lost. Ministers should remember that they represent the feelings of others as well as their own, and that it is shameful to prefer their enjoyment to the cause of justice. But let not those who are the friends of the Church of Scotland, and of the inhabitants of the country, for a moment imagine that this question is lost on account of the Assembly's decision. Most of those who supported the overtures expected even a greater majority against them, and are more firmly convinced than ever that their success is certain at no distant day. They observed with much pleasure that most of the patrons voted with them, as Sir James Colquhoun of Luss, one of the magistrates of Edinburgh, and both those from Glasgow. The question will come before the next Assembly with a force and an urgency which the dominant party in the Church will be unable to withstand. And before many years it will be the declared law of the Church, that no minister shall in any case, by whomsoever presented, be intruded into a parish. Nay, men will wonder that any other law should ever have been recognised. In despite of the efforts of those who should be the warmest friends of the Church to bring her into disgrace, she will yet shake off her abuses, and extend herself over the length and breadth of the land; including again in her wide embrace those who, because of forced settlements, 'went out from her,' and then, defended on every side by her thousands of devoted sons, she shall, in defiance of all her enemies, remain the glory of the land."

This is followed by a full list of the vote, the numbers being:-

For Professor Brown's motion 85
For Principal Macfarlan's 127
Majority for the latter 42