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.



A MONGST the too few records of Dr. Begg's dealings with the members and families of his congregation, there is before me the following letter addressed by him to Mr. Moir Porteous, then one of his elders, and an earnest fellow labourer with him in connection with the Reformation Society, - now Dr. Moir Porteous, minister of Cowgatehead Church, Edinburgh:

"MANSE, GRANGE, January 15, 1862,

"MY DEAR MR. PORTEOUS, - It grieves me exceedingly to hear of your sad and heavy trial, and I trust and pray that Jesus, who is a "brother born for adversity," may be very near to comfort and sustain you. These dispensations are very dark and trying, but there is a "need be" for every trial which the Lord permits, and "what we know not now we shall know hereafter." I do trust that Mrs. Porteous may be sustained by the richest consolations of God's Word and Spirit amidst a trial which may be expected especially to wound a mother's heart. "The Lord reigneth," and it is a blessed experience to be enabled to say, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." Our dear ones are taken away from the evil to come, and a sharp lesson is taught to those that are left behind. The Lord is giving us at present many lessons. May none of them pass away unimproved, and may we seek more and more to have our conversation in heaven, and our hearts also there. I shall, God willing, be with you on Friday and meantime, with earnest sympathy, I am, ever yours truly,


[To] "Mr. J. M. Porteous."

ApparentIy suggested by the proceedings in the Missionary Conference, referred to in last chapter, was the following overture, which Dr. Begg moved in the Edinburgh Presbytery on the 29th of January 1862:-

"It is humbly overtured by the Free Presbytery of Edinburgh that the General Assembly shall seriously consider the following points in reference to a future supply of ministers and missionaries, viz. :-

"1. Whether some more special examinations ought not to be made before young men enter the Divinity Hall, but especially before they receive license, in regard to their personal professions of religion, and to the evidences which they may have given, in the places where they have resided, of zeal in the cause of Christ.

"2. Whether special efforts ought not to be made to search out young men of decided zeal, energy, and sense, and to encourage them to devote themselves to the service of God in the ministry of the gospel.

"3. Whether the Church should not foster the erection of working men's colleges in provincial towns, and, without interfering with existing arrangements, the establishment of evening and morning classes in all our Universities, so that the circumstances of young men may be met who cannot study at the usual hours.

"4. Whether a thorough knowledge of the English Bible, so as to be able to quote it accurately and fluently, ought not to form a more prominent qualifications in the training of our future ministers."

In advocating the transmission of this important overture, Dr. Begg exhibited much of his native good sense and honesty. By the form of the first recommendation, he met the obvious objection of the difficulty of ascertaining the personal piety of any one. It was not so much a certificate of the conviction of the certifiers that the student was a man of piety that was required, as evidence that he had manifested zeal in the cause of Christ. This is a matter easily ascertainable. In insisting on it he did not undervalue talents or scholarship, but maintained that :these could not be a substitute for this, nor this for these. Equally to be deprecated is the representation of the all-sufficiency of piety and zeal in the absence of other qualifications, and the non-ascertainment of the existence of piety and zeal, when there may be a fair measure of talent and scholarship. That zeal and piety were too little accounted of in other days can hardly be questioned. The danger which has now to be guarded against lies, perhaps, in the opposite direction. That these are indispensable cannot be maintained too strenuously; perhaps the tendency of the present day is, consciously or unconsciously, to regard them as sufficient. With reference to the importance of increasing the facilities for preliminary studies by the institution of provincial colleges, and of morning and evening classes in the Universities, he said:-

"At the present moment it is necessary for a man to study eight years - four years in the preliminary classes, and four years in the Theological Hall. This is a large demand upon the time of a man; and it is pretty evident that if a young man is past fourteen or fifteen years of age, it becomes almost a prohibition. In consequence of that demand, and the impossibility of devoting that time, I believe we lose many excellent ministers. Thus a man who becomes serious after he has reached eighteen or twenty would devote himself to the work if it was possible to overcome the initial difficulties. I know one or two cases which just prove the extreme earnestness that exists among certain men who want to enter the ranks of the ministry, One of them found that the only occupation which he could undertake, which would allow him to study during the day at the hours at which in our colleges the classes meet, was that of a night-watchman, and he actually became a night-watchman for the purpose of having it in his power to study during the day, and get on to the work of the ministry."

I have not language strong enough to express my respect for, and admiration of, such a man as this; and I believe that, in consequence of our long curriculum, we do "lose many excellent ministers." But it is no insignificant offset to this loss that we gain many excellent laymen. In a healthy state of a Presbyterian Church, in which it should be practically acknowledged that ministers, elders, deacons, and members have all co-ordinate and equally important duties to perform, the wisdom would be more manifest than it is apt to be of the apostolic admonition - "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called." We want pious and zealous ministers much, but not more than we want pious and zealous laymen. This was the only matter in which there was even a shade of difference of opinion in the Presbytery. This difference was well stated by Dr. Blaikie:-

"In regard to the third part of the overture, he could not help saying that there was more delicacy and difficuIty in the matter than some members seemed to think. He might be wrong, but his impression was, that such a proposal as had been made would not find favour with the University Commissioners, and that it would rather be held to be in opposition to what they had been endeavouring to do in the way of elevating University culture and education."

The whole matter was referred to a committee, with Dr. Begg as convener. He brought up a report at the meeting in March, when the first, second, and fourth particulars were unanimously agreed to, but the third - that relating to morning and evening classes in the Universities - was rejected by a majority of 6 (11-5). The list of the vote shows that the majority was made up of two classes - men well entitled to be jealous for the maintenance of the highest culture attainable, such as Dr. Blaikie and the late Dr. Hanna; and others who were simply averse to change.

About this time a question came into more prominence in public attention then had hitherto been accorded to it. It was the wretched proposal to legalise a man's marriage with the sister of his dead wife. As might have been anticipated Dr. Begg took up and ever maintained a decided position on this question. He was either the originator, or one of the earliest adopters, of the now trite dictum as to the two primitive ordinances - marriage and the Sabbath. He ever held that they are enemies of God and of man who seek to break down the sacred barriers of one or the other of these sacred institutions. He never hesitated to designate as incestuous such marriages as those sought to be legalised; and while he left it to others to discuss the question as one of Old Testament exegesis, he yielded to none in energetically maintaining that "the law is holy, and just, and good."

A public meeting was held in Edinburgh on this question at the beginning of March 1862. In the newspaper list of those present we find a large representation of ministers and laymen of the Established, Free, and Episcopal Churches, and a few ministers of the United Presbyterian Church. Dr. Begg gave a short but effective speech on the subject.

At the meeting of the Commission in March, besides giving in the report already referred to, Dr. Begg moved that the Commission should petition Parliament in favour of the introduction of a national system of education. "He had recently discovered a fact which proved strongly the absolute necessity of some better provision for common education in Scotland. Out of the signatures to marriages, one-third of the parties seemed to be unable to sign their own names. It had been suggested to him that the nervousness of the position in which the parties were placed who were passing through such an ordeal was the cause of this but, from his own experience, he had almost never met with any such nervousness as prevented the parties from subscribing their names." 73

[Footnote 73: My experience has been different. I have frequently had brides whom I knew to be able to write rendered incapable by nervousness. Nor can I account for the largeness of the number given as unable to write. Having been for twenty years minister of a territorial church in Edinburgh, my matrimonial practice was mainly among the poorest of the people; yet my proportion of "illiterates" fell immensely short of one-third of the whole. I presume that the astounding proportion was made up in large part of Irish Romanists. - T.S.]

At the meeting of Presbytery on the 26th March, Dr. Begg proposed an overture that the Assembly should commemorate the ejection of the 2,000 ministers in 1662.

In the month of April a most important public meeting was held in Edinburgh for the consideration of an Education Bill brought into the House of Commons by the Lord Advocate (Moncreiff). With all his desire for a national system of education, Dr. Begg strongly opposed the Lord Advocate's bill, on the ground that it was not truly national, and that on two accounts:- First, because it proposed to leave the appointment of teachers to parish schools in the hand of the heritors; and, secondly, because it proposed to give denominational grants to Romanists and Episcopalians.

While thoroughly sympathising with these objections, I must be allowed to say that I think Dr. Begg did not give the Lord Advocate the credit to which he was fairly entitled. His lordship never represented his bill as ideally perfect, but only - a very different thing - as the best that there was any reasonable hope of carrying. He was, of course, powerless unless he had the cordial support of the Governnent, and that Government was composed almost entirely of men who had no special knowledge of, or interest in, Scottish education. Then, to curtail the power of the heritors was to provoke the opposition of the prevailing class in both Houses of Parliament. Altogether I do not think that Lord Moncreiff's services in the cause of national education have ever been fairly appreciated. It was not in his power actually to carry a measure. But it was his zeal, energy, and patience that, more than aught else, contributed to the formation of that public sentiment which made it possible for his successor to carry the measure under which the education of the country is now carried on. "One man soweth, and another reapeth."

It ought to be stated, however, that Dr. Begg refused to agree to a motion which was proposed in the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale for requesting the Lord Advocate to withdraw the Bill. He wished it to be amended, and argued that, if not amended, it must be opposed; but he accepted what was good in it.

At the meeting of Presbytery on the following day he proposed an overture, "that the General Assembly shall consider the propriety of arranging, by fixing a text-book or otherwise, that all our theological students shall be made thoroughly acquainted with the history of our own Church." Small as this matter appears, it is important as indicating that at so early a period the conviction had entered into Dr. Begg's mind - a conviction which subsequently became very potent - that there we, a danger of a departure, on the part of the Free Church, from the principles of the Disruption. The Presbytery received with "laughter" his statement that "he was sorry that, as convener of the committee, 74 he was forced to discover that some of the Free Church ministers themselves were remarkably ill informed upon the subject of the history of their own Church."

[Footnote 74: On the Cardross Case. - T. S.]

What he contemplated evidently was, that Dr. Robert Buchanan should be requested to prepare an abridgment of his "Ten Years' Confiict" for the use of students.

A special meeting of Commission was held on the 1st of May to consider the Lord Advocate's Education Bill. In the discussion which ensued, the divergence came distinctly out as to the part which the Church should take in the secular education of the people. Dr. Begg's special friend and mine, Dr. Nixon of Montrose, stated, with his usual force and clearness, the responsibility of the State, the parents, and the Church. "I think," he said, "that the Church of Christ has just as solemn a right and as vital an interest in the education question as either of these parties - a right of which she annot safely divest herself; and I think it will require very strong considerations indeed to make her agree to any movement to divest ourselves of our responsibility in this matter. I say that, if the Church of Christ divests itself of the influence it exercises over the education of the young, it appears like destroying the left arm of its strength."

In answer to this, Dr. Begg said - "It is well known that I do not concur in the views which have been expressed by Mr. Nixon in regard to the necessary relation betwixt our Churches and our schools; and I am not sure that you can carry out the general view that all education is to be conducted directly in connection with the Church, and as part of the Church's machinery, without facing the alternative of providing the whole funds for the education of the country, just as the Church contributed the whole funds for the dissemination of the gospel."

I have no hesitation in saying that subsequently Dr. Begg went nearer to Dr. Nixon's views, or substantially adopted them. Yet I do not think he was chargeable with inconsistency. The truth is, that hitherto the proper tendency of certain views respecting the relations of the secular and the spiritual, the State and the Church, had not been fully developed into practical proposals. Voluntaryism had theoretically sprung into being in full maturity; but practically it had acquiesced in many inconsistencies. Dr. Begg and many others accepted these inconsistencies as modifications of the system itself. It was only after the proper tendency of the system became manifest to separate the Church as such altogether from the nation as such, that he took a decided stand with respect to the mutual responsibilities of the State and the Church, whether established or non-established. It is noticeable in this connection that when aImost all the Free Church schools were discontinued or given over to the School Boards under Lord Advocate Young's Education Act, the Newington school remained, and remains till this day, a Free Church school.

At a meeting of the Presbytery of Edinburgh on the 14th of May, Dr. Begg introduced the subject of Sabbath shop-opening. The Presbytery, on his motion, agreed unanimously to petition Parliament for the introduction into a Police Act of clauses which should make the penalties real, by substituting sterling for Scotch money, and should require, or at least authorise, the police to prosecute for breach of the law. In the Assembly, which met a week later, Dr. Begg moved the adoption of the Report of the Committee on Sabbath Observance, and dwelt upon various forms of Sabbath desecration. In presenting the Report of the Committee on Popery, he concluded as follows an eloquent speech on the aggression of Rome and the apathy of Protestants:-

"We have all heard of the inundations in England, and the disastrous results that have followed them. The salt sea had, by the efforts of our forefathers, been driven back from the fens, and the ground that was previously cursed with barrenness became, by their labours, a smiling and fertile level to the descendants of those who had accomplished the mighty result. The people inhabitating these plains, instead of being jealous of the first influx of the tide upon the reclaimed land, allowed it to gather until the sea, raging around the barricade erected to keep it out, broke through and submerged that fertile land. This should be a lesson to us. Our forefathers have possessed a land which was sown with salt and smitten with spiritual darkness, which land has become as a smiling a garden; but now there are openings being made in these embankments by which these great privileges have been secured to us, and we are looking stolidly on whilst these are widening, and whilst all the blessings which were so dearly purchased are threatened to be swept away. It seems to me to be one of the most ominous sins of the times that we have a double stream running in our land - a stream of good, blessed be God - a stream of hopeful revival, bringing men from the fearful pit and the miry clay. But we have a counter stream. Satan knows that he has but a short season, and Satan's great masterpiece is being instinct with new life; and while we look at one aspect of the question - and this is right if we do not look at it exclusively - I fear we are blind to the other. Let us humbly hope that this Church may partake in the revived spirit, and may look with alarm at the very prospect - at the very possibility - of Rome's achieving a foul triumph in Britain. We read of the groans of her victims in Spain; we read of her triumphs in some of the British-colonies; we see her murderous spirit stalking abroad in Ireland; and shall we be blind to the great lesson which God is teaching us in His providence? Shall we not in our several places, and from our pulpits, seek both to enlighten the people, and to complete and perfect that machinery to which I have alluded? It would be a nobIe thing for our Church, which God has so distinguished by privileges and gifts, whatever other Churches may do, though they may let down the testimony of Knox, and though they may wrap themselves up in indifference while the enemy is coming in like a flood, to engage in that great death-struggle which I believe is imminent, and which will swallow up all other controversies. It were a noble thing if our Church were to stand in the very van of resistance against the great adversary of the truth."

The most important act of this Assembly was the appointment of Dr. Candlish and Dr. Rainy to succeed Dr. Cunningham in his principalship and professorship respectively. Dr. Begg took no part in the discussion. Besides the part which I have already stated that he took in the proceedings of the Assembly, he raised his potent voice in defence of the "equal dividend." In the course of his speech on this subject he made some happy "hits." Speaking of the management of a certain fund, he said, "I know this, that if you are to judge of any administration by the satisfaction produced among those who are the recipients of the funds, &c." Speaking of that distinction that we of often hear made between ministers and "business men," he said, "I do not at all sympathise with the very strong views to which Mr. _______ has given utterance in reference to the part the ministers take in the administration of the financial affairs. I have always held a sort of middle view on this subject. I don't believe that because a man is a layman he necessarily understands money matters. Many laymen mismanage their money matters, and we have had some very frequent proofs of that in recent times. Many ministers know little about money matters; but, man for man, we understand the management of our own money matters, as ministers, as well as our excellent friends the elders do. I am delighted to see the elders amongst us, and I am also delighted to see the lawyers." the minister would be a very foolish man who should suppose that he knew more of legal matters than a lawyer, or more of engineering than an engineer, or more of navigation than a sailor. But I venture to say that if you put an average lawyer, and an average engineer, and an average sailor, and an average minister to the consideration of a matter outside of their several specialities, the last will not take a less intelligent view of it than the others. It is a noble characteristic of the Presbyterian system, in which it excels all others, excepting in so far as any of them, as eg. the Wesleyan, are in this respect practically identical with it, that it is able to utilise the various talents of its members "The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee, nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you."

Dr. Begg came out, as usual, in his greatest force when speaking to the report of his Committee on Houses for the Working Classes. From a noble speech I extract a single short passage:-

"John Knox asserted the noble principle that they were ministers unto the people for God, and that they were not lords over God's heritage, but members of the community, and only bound to be more forward than others in doing good. That had always been a characteristic principle of the Presbyterian Church, and it should be the practice of her ministers. They were bound to make common cause with those around them, being all things to all men in the best sense of the word. There was a loud call for greater exertions in this way, for others were endeavouring to lead the working-classes away from God by telling them that religion was worthless, because it did not grapple with those evils to which they were so sensitive. These deluders talked to them of the loveliness of the religion of flowers, and how beautiful is the ornamenting of cottages, - far better than barren sermons in the House of God. Though cleanliness was behind godliness, the two had a close affinity; and though the religion of flowers would never elevate man from the fearful pit and from the miry clay, yet an elevated man would delight himself in everything honest, lovely, and of good report, and prove to those around him that godliness is of the life profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life which now is, as well as that which is to come."

Both in this Assembly, and a month later at the opening of the new premises of the Free Normal School (Moray House), Dr. Begg confessed he was disappointed in his expectation that we should soon have a national system of education, and strenuously maintained the duty of the Free Church to support energetically her own Education Scheme. At the close of his speech on the latter occasion he paid the following graceful compliment to Dr. Candlish: "He congratulated Dr. Candlish on all he had done for the promotion of education in Scotland, and on this day's proceedings; Along with all the great names Dr. Candlish had mentioned as promoting education, he was quite sure Dr. Candlish's own name would go down to the latest posterity as one of the greatest. He had not rightly got his tongue about Principal Candlish yet, but he did rejoice in his appointment to promote the interests of the Free Church's greatest educational institution. But he hoped that would not prevent his continuing his interest in this institution, and that they would have established in his person for many years to come a connection between all the kinds of education in which the Free Church is engaged."

A small matter, which yet kindled no small fire, originated at this time. A bill was introduced into the House of Lords, by a most respectable nobleman, Lord Belhaven, to give the Courts of the Established Church power to compel the attendance of witnesses, whether members of their own communion or not. On various occasions Dr. Begg spoke strongly in opposition to such a measure. The bill was ultimately withdrawn.

At the meeting of the Presbytery on the 30th of July, and again at the meeting of the Commission in August, Dr. Begg called attention to the disclosures respecting the House Accommodation of the people made by the census of the preceding year. It was mainly through his means that a column was introduced into the census schedule requiring a statement of the number of apartments in each house. The state of matters thus disclosed was horrible. In Edinburgh there were 121 families living in single rooms without windows, and 13,209 families - say 50,000 persons - living in houses of one apartment with a window. "Of these, 825 had six persons in a room, 437 had seven, 173 had eight, 55 had nine, 26 had ten, 8 had eleven, 3 had twelve, 1 had thirteen, 1 had fourteen, and 1 had fifteen!" Surely this was amply sufficient to justify the agitation which Dr. Begg had so persistently kept up on the subject. That things are considerably better now we owe mainly to this agitation; and I am sure that no philanthropist in our day of philanthropy has better earned the blessing of those who were ready to perish. It is for us who are left behind him to lay to heart that the work which he began is still far from complete accomplishment; and moreover, that it must be a continuous work. The improvement of our cities necessitates the destruction of many streets and blocks of houses. If others are not erected in succession to these, the increase of population will ere long lead to even greater crowding, if that be possible, than that which subsisted twenty years ago.

It is not often that we are able to get a sight of Dr. Begg outside of church courts and public meetings. It is, therefore, particularly gratifying when we are able to catch an occasional glimpse of him with his armour off. In August 1862 he was able so far to unite business with needed rest and relaxation, as to pay a visit to the Highlands. He afterwards published an account of it in the Bulwark. I had marked it for transference to these pages. The reader, I am sure, would have been glad to have it as a specimen of the descriptive powers of the author. Although Dr. Begg had a good eye to see what was set before him, and a facile tongue and pen to describe what he saw, it must be acknowledged that of mere scenery, as such, he did not make much account. The earth he regarded as a dwelling-place for man, and in his estimate of the beauty of its several regions, utility was a large element. The perfection of beauty in his eye was a well-cultivated farm, where ripe grain alternated with "green crops," according to a wise rotation, and all cultivated by a stalwart peasantry, and studded with comfortable farmhouses and cottages - and no bothies. Yet he was not indifferent to the stern grandeur of the Highland hills, or the beauty of Highland lakes, while he had an intense admiration of, and affection for, the Highland character.

At the meeting of Presbytery in September, Dr. Begg made an important speech on Sabbath observance, in connection with an attempt that was being made to get the Royal Botanic Gardens opened on the Lord's Day. The attempt was happily frustrated then, and also on several subsequent occasions when it was renewed. It is often said that public opinion is more and more running in this direction. If it be so - and I fear that it is - I can only say: The worse for public opinion, and the worse for the public. He made a similar speech in a great public meeting on the subject - one of the most crowded and most influential that had been held for a long time. He also spoke on the same subject in the meeting of Presbytery on the 29th of October.

At the meeting of the Commission in November a proposal was made by Dr. Robert Buchanan, seconded by Dr. Begg, to recommend that a collection should be made for the alleviation of the great distress in Lancashire, occasioned by what was called the "Cotton Famine," one of the effects of the civil war in America. In advocating this Dr. Begg stated strongly his views as to divine retribution for national sins. The occasion of the war was slavery. Slavery had been maintained in the interests of Lancashire; and now retribution was coming at once on America and on Lancashire.

At the meeting of the Association for the Religious Improvement of the Highlands, Dr. Begg moved the adoption of the report, and again referred to the delight which his Highland tour had afforded him. The following statement he repeated again and again, and with ever-increasing emphasis, to the end of his life:-

"He had always taken a deep interest in the Highlanders. He had occasion to see them in very trying circumstances, worshipping below the tide-mark; and he had occasion to see them in another land, maintaining that noble character for religious consistency for which most of them had been distinguished. He had always reckoned the inhabitants of the south to be their debtors, for the firmness with which they had maintained the great principles of Divine truth."

On the last day of 1862 Dr. Begg introduced an overture into the Presbytery, "That the General Assembly shall adopt some effectual plan in connection with all our colleges, whereby all our theological students shall be trained in the art of delivering their sermons without reading." This was, of course, a subject which gave much room for his peculiar style of argument; and his speech in support of his overture is a very characteristic one. I can only extract a few sentences - bricks as a specimen of the building. "I once heard a statement made by an individual in connection with the remembering of a sermon, which story was to the following effect:- The person was asked whether he remembered what the minister had been preaching about, when he replied, 'It is not to be thought that I could mind the sermon, when the minister could not mind it himself.' Now I think there is philosophy as well as wit in this answer." "No doubt there are plausible objections to the whole of this. Some people may say, for example, that preaching without reading implies a worse style of addressing a congregation, and to that they object. I sometimes hear people saying, 'We wish our minister would read; for if he read, we would be sure that he had something to say.' Well, I of course am no advocate for loose talk in the pulpit. I think if there is any place where a man ought to brace himself up to speaking with his full strength, it is when he speaks in the name of Jesus to perishing and immortal souls. But I must say that I believe there is an extemporaneousness of writing as well as an extemporaneousness of speaking." "Then, again, I hear it constantly said by men who advocate reading, 'Our great men read,' and, therefore, it follows, I suppose, that 'Our little men should read.'.... For a young man to go down and afflict the country people by reading a dry, dull sermon, and to turn round and say, 'I do so because Dr. Chalmers read his sermons,' seems to me to be about as gross a misrepresentation and perversion of argument as a man could use." "When I was lately in the North of Scotland, I heard of an incident that occurred not long ago, in connection with a vacancy near Aberdeen. A number of young men came to the church to preach as candidates, and almost all of them read their sermons. A friend of mine had a talk with one of the shrewd hearers after the first youth had officiated. 'How did you like the preacher?' said he. ' 'Deed, sir,' was the reply, 'no very weel; he will never be able to say, like the Apostle Paul, he has forgotten the parchments.'"

From the newspaper report I see that I took a somewhat prominent part in opposition to Dr. Begg. I made some statements then which I would not make now without considerable modification. But I held then, and hold now, that in a matter of this kind every man should do his own best. I should be disposed to say now that if any man finds that he has no special difficulty respecting either of the methods, he should prefer that advocated by Dr. Begg.

Just before this one of Dr. Begg's sons left his father's house to go to New Zealand. After parting with him on the 24th of December, his father wrote him the following letter on Christmas Day:-

"EDINBURGH, Dec. 25th, 1862.

"MY DEAREST FERDIE, - It was with a sore heart that I and your dear mother parted with you yesterday at Glasgow. But I do trust that by the blessing of a gracious God all may turn out well. Do take care of yourself, and live near to God. Don't forget your Bible or your prayers. We are a little anxious about the wine which your dear mother thinks is part of the supplies. Don't have anything to do with it except you are unwell. A taste for drink is soon acquired, and is the ruin of thousands. Be sure also to avoid gambling, even for a farthing, another ruin to young men. I send a letter to the Rev. Mr. Stewart in case you need it, and also one to Dr. Burns. Mr. Crawford is also to give you one to Mr. Adam, his agent. I am writing to Alic by the overland mail this day, so that I hope he will know of your arrival and be prepared to receive you. I hope you will get into some good situation where you are likely to get on, but if after making a full trial you fail - if you behave well I shall be as glad to pay for your passage home, and to do everything in my power to help you, as I have been to send you out. Indeed, as long as I live you can count upon my help if you do well. Now, dearest Ferdie, let us hear good accounts of you. I send a parcel of things that were left by mistake, and I hope you have everything necessary for your comfort. Give our kindest love to Alic, and say what pleasure it would give us all to see you both back in this country.

"May the Lord be with you to guard you from all danger, to make your way plain before you, and to keep you to His everlasting kingdom, is the earnest prayer of your loving father,


Reference has been frequently made to the "Cardross Case." It had so important bearings on the relations of the Free Church - and indeed of all Churches - to the civil powers, that it ought to be noticed in the Life of every Free Church minister who lived at the time of its occurrence. But Dr. Begg, as well may be supposed, had much to do with it, directly and indirectly, as a prominent man in the councils of the Church, and as, for some time, convener of the Assembly's Committee with regard to it. I have therefore thought it right to give a short account of it in a continuous form.

There came up to the Assembly of 1858 a case against Mr. MacMillan of Cardross. Mr. MacMillan had been charged by the Presbytery of Dunbarton with two instances of drunkenness, and one which, in a criminal charge, would have been described as "assault with intent." The Presbytery found the first charge not proven, the second proven, and the third proven so far as the assault was concerned, but only partially so as regarded the intent. The Synod of Glasgow and Ayr confirmed the judgment of the Presbytery on the first count, reversed it on the second, and confirmed it on the third in so far as it was in Mr. MacMillan's favour, and reversed it in so far as it was adverse to him; - in other words, found all the other counts not proven. 75 In this judgment of the Synod, Mr. MacMillan of course acquiesced, but a minority of the Synod dissented and complained 76 to the General Assembly, while the Presbytery also protested and appealed. After pleadings at the bar the Assembly, by a majority of 111 (152-41), found the first charge not proven, the second proven, and the third proven, not merely as the Presbytery had found it, but as originally libelled. It was then agreed to unanimously that Mr. MacMillan be suspended sine die, and loosed from his charge.

[Footnote 75: It should be stated that in Scottish Ecclesiastical procedure the only issue is Proven or Not Proven. This is substantially identical with the English criminal issue, in which the term Guilty and Not Guilty mean, and must mean, respectively Proven and Not Proven, since no man is in the eyes of the law held to be guilty unless he is proved to be so. The strangely illogical Scottish issue is discarded in ecclesiastical courts. - T. S.]

[Footnote 76: Here also an explanation is necessary for the uninitiated. A party in a case may protest and appeal against a judgment adverse to him. A member of the court which pronounces a judgment of which he disapproves may dissent and complain to the Superlor Court. In this case the Presbytery of Dunbarton on the one side, and Mr. MacMillan on the other, were parties before the Synod, The Presbytery appealed against the Synod's reversal of their finding, so that the case came before the Assembly on the dissent and complaint of a minority of the Synod, and on a protest and appeal of the Presbytery. - T. S.]

Let me now fix the attention of the reader for a moment on the action of the Assembly in reference to the third count. That count, as it stood in the libel originally, was as follows:-

"That in this state 77 you did enter the cottage of John Mannors, and remain with the door shut for a protracted period with the wife of the said John Mannors, she being alone, and there not only made proposals to kiss her, but did also lay hold of her violently and immodestly, and dragged her towards the bed to accomplish your criminal object, so that she cried out, and fled from your grasp, and took refuge in a neighbouring house, where she complained of your conduct."

[Footnote 77: A state of being "the worse for drink." - T. S.]

The words which I have italicised the Presbytery did not find proven. The Synod found the whole count not proven, and the Assembly found the whole proven. Now it was argued in subsequent proceedings that the Assembly acted ultra vires as a court of review, in finding that proven which neither of the inferior courts had found proven. This was pleaded on the one side and controverted on the other. Although not quite on the ground on which it was controverted, I am persuaded that the Assembly was quite within its competency in finding as it did. The appeal of Mr. MacMillan from the finding of the Presbytery brought up the whole case, including the libel itself, to the Synod; and the libel, not merely as a document necessary to make the finding of the Presbytery intelligible, but one on which they were to judge, In fact the Synod were put in the place which the Presbytery had occupied. And the complaint of the minority of the Synod and the appeal of the Presbytery put the Assembly in their place.

It is not an unimportant confirmation of this view of the matter that both the Synod and the Assembly gave judgment on the first count of the libel, confirming the Presbytery's verdict of not proven, although that count was not brought before the one or the other court either by complaint or appeal. If they had power to affirm, then they had power to reverse or to alter. And as with the first count, so with the third. The analogy of the prerogative of the sovereign to remit or mitigate, but not to increase the punishment awarded by a court, has no application. The sovereign that is the Home Secretary - is not a court of review. The sentence is final as passed by the criminal court. Only the prerogative of mercy is conferred upon the sovereign by special statute. It cannot touch the sentence. To such an extent is this carried, that in the event of a sentence being afterwards demonstrated to have been erroneous, the sentence still stands, and a full pardon is granted. But in our Presbyterian church courts neither the verdict nor the sentence of the inferior church court is valid without confirmation by the supreme court, provided either the one or the other is brought under its review by complaint or appeal, and when either verdict or sentence is so brought, the function of the higher court is to judge for itself according to the record presented to it. I believe it would not be incompetent for it even to amend that record by taking additional evidence for itself; although I am not aware that this has ever been done. I have dwelt at some length upon this matter, because of its bearing upon the great constitutional questions which emerged in connection with the Cardross case.

The deliverance of the Assembly on this case was pronounced on the 24th of May 1858, The Presbytery of Dunbarton, was ordered to meet, 78 and to take steps for preaching the church vacant.

[Footnote 78: An inferior court cannot meet while the supreme court is sitting, without special permission of the Assembly. It is of constant occurrence that Presbyteries meet in Edinburgh by permission of the Assembly, and not very rarely by its order. - T. S.]

Two days later the following "note of suspension and interdict" was presented to the Court of Session on behalf of Mr. MacMillan:-

"Unto the Right Honourable the Lords of Council and Session.

"Note of Suspension and Interdict for the Rev. John MacMillan, minister of the Free Church, Cardross, complainer against the General Assembly of the Free Church, and the Rev. Alexander Beith, their Moderator; and the Rev. Patrick Clason, D.D., and the Rev. Sir Henry Wellwood Moncreiff, Bart., their principal clerks, respondents.

"That the complainer is under the necessity of applying to your Lordships for suspension and interdict against the said respondents, as will appear to your Lordships from the annexed statement of facts and note of pleas in Law."

[Then follows a paragraph expressing Mr. MacMillan's willingness, if necessary, to find caution for expenses.]

"May it therefore please your Lordships to sustain 79 the proceedings complained of, and to interdict, prohibit, and discharge the said respondents, and the Free Church Presbytery of Dunbarton, and the Rev. Colin Mackenzie of Arrochar, or any other party or parties the said respondents may appoint, or have appointed, from proceeding to the complainer's church at Cardross, and declaring or preaching the charge vacant, on Sabbath first, the 30th instant, or on any subsequent day; or to do otherwise in the premises as to your Lordships may seem proper, according to justice, &c.

(Signed) "JAS. M. STACEY, S.S.C."

[Footnote 79: Apparently a misprint. - T. S.]

This "note" was presented to Lord Kinloch as Lord Ordinary, and he pronounced the following judgment:-

"EDINBURGH, 28th May 1858.

"The Lord Ordinary, having considered the foregoing note of suspension and interdict, refuses the same as incompetent.


In our days it is happily unnecessary to vindicate the decisions of our Judges against the supposition that they are the result of conscious partiality on the part of those who pronounce them. But Judges, as well as other men, have unconscious partialities, and like other men, see things only with the eyes which they bring to the seeing of them. It may therefore not be improper to state that Lord Kinloch was not a Free Churchman, but an attached member of the Established Church. While at the bar, as Mr. Penney, he was regarded as one of the highest authorities on ecclesiastical law; and at the Disruption it was matter of regret, on account of his high Christian character, that he was not found along side of the Murray Dunlops, and the Hamiltons, and the Graham Spiers and the Earle Monteiths; but he was never charged with inconsistency. He was throughout, before and after the Disruption, a consistent and decided anti-Free Churchman. It was therefore an absolutely unbiassed judgment that he gave in so summarily dismissing Mr. MacMillan's application.

This matter was brought before the Assembly on the 28th May by Dr. Candlish, who moved that, "the Assembly, having heard the said note read, and finding that it putports to be, on the part of Mr. MacMillan, an application to the civil court to suspend and interdict the sentence pronounced in his case on the morning of the 25th May, and to interdict the execution of the same, resolve to cite Mr. MacMillan to appear at their bar on Tuesday, 1st June, at 12 o'clock, to answer for his conduct thereanent, with certification, and grant warrant accordingly." This motion was unanimously agreed to.

On the 1st of June, however, just before 12 o'clock, it was announced to the Assembly that a messenger at arms was at the door, waiting to serve a document on thc Assembly, with a legal warrant to do so. He was immediately admitted, handed a paper to the Moderator, and withdrew. This was a summons at the instance of Mr. MacMiIlan, of like purport with his note of suspension and interdict quoted above. This had barely been read when, it being 1 o'clock, Mr. MacMillan was called and took his place at the bar, when the following scene ensued:-

"Dr. CANDLISH. - I move that the Moderator be requested to put to Mr. MacMillan the following question: Was this step viz., applying to the Lord Ordinary for a decree of suspension and interdict against carrying into effect the sentence pronounced by this General Assembly in your case - taken at your instance and by your authority? Yea or nay?"

This being approved of, the Moderator put the question.

"Mr. MACMILLAN - I understand my agent.... "

"The MODERATOR - Yea or nay? I want a categorical answer,."

"Mr. MACMILLAN - Yes. "

"Dr. CANDLISH - I move that the party be removed from the bar, (Cries of 'Agreed')"

Mr. MacMillan was then removed; 80 and

[Footnote 80: Not physically, of course. The expression is a technical one, intimating that the party has no longer the right to plead his cause. - T. S.]

"Dr. CANDLISH said - Moderator, I have now to discharge a very solemn duty, and to move this General Assembly that Mr. John MacMillan be deposed from the office of the holy ministry."

This motion was seconded by Dr. Bannerman, and unanimously agreed to. The sentence of deposition was then solemnly pronounced. A special committee was then appointed to watch over the case, with authority to take such steps as might seem to them necessary or expedient, and to report to the Commission at any of its stated diets, and to next Assembly.

Without disputing the competency of this proceeding, I must be allowed to say that I regret the abruptness of it. I cannot see how any Presbyterian can doubt that an application by a minister to the civil court to suspend and annul a sentence of the General AssembIy was an offence meriting deposition. In other words, had a libel been framed, there could have been no question of its relevancy. Neither was there any doubt that Mr. MacMillan had been guilty of this offence. Therefore I hold that the procedure was competent. But I wish that he had been dealt with by the Assembly, or by his Presbytery on remit by the Assembly, with a view of convincing him of the heinousness of his offence and leading him to repentance. It will be noted that the reception accorded to Mr. MacMillan when he appeared at the bar of the Assembly was not strictly in accordance with the terms of the citation calling him to appear. That bore that he was to "answer his conduct anent" the application to the civil court. Now, I submit that that meant something more than his merely answering the question whether or not he had made such application. It cannot be argued that the action of Mr. MacMillan subsequent to the citation justified, the severity of the procedure, which had reference only to the note of suspension and interdict, and not at all to the issue or service of the summons. Be all this as it may, a process that might prove to be of immense importance, not to the Free Church only, but to all Churches of the land, had been actuaIly instituted by Mr. MacMillan.

Mr. MacMillan lost no time in raising a second action. As in the former he pleaded that he had suffered injury in respect of income, character, and feelings through wrongful action of the General Assembly in suspending him from the ministry, so in the latter he maintained that he had suffered in like manner through equally wrongful action of the same Assembly in deposing him. The second action differed from the first in that it was directed not only against the General Assembly, its Moderator and Clerks; but also against Dr. Beith, Dr. Candlish, and Dr. Bannerman as individuals, and that it claimed damages from them. These parties are summoned to appear on a certain day before the Court, "and to bring with them and produce the said sentence, resolution, or proceedings, and whole grounds and warrants upon which the same proceeded, all to be seen and considered by our said Lords, and to hear and see the same, with all that has followed or may follow thereon, reduced, restricted, rescinded, cassed, annulled, decerned and declared to have been from the beginning, to be now, and in all time coming null and void, and of no avail, force, strength, or effect, and to have no faith in judgment; or outwith the same, the pursuer, the Rev. John MacMillan, reported and restored against the same integram."

This is manifestly a declaration of war to the knife. The Court of Session is represented simply as a court of appeal, standing in the same relation to the General Assembly of the Free Church in which that Assembly stands to its Synods, or these to the Presbyteries. The actions were, with consent of parties, combined, and came before Lord Benholm as Lord Ordinary, who dismissed them on the ground of the incompetency of the civil court to review ecclesiastical decisions. Against this finding Mr. MacMillan appealed to the First Division of the Court. As I said of Lord Kinloch, so I may say of Lord Benholm, that he was not a member of the Free Church, and that he was of high repute as a lawyer, and was held in universal esteem as a Christian man. Mr. MacMillan's counsel were Mr. Patton (afterwards Lord Manor), Mr. Dundas Grant, and Mr. Macfarlane (afterwards Lord Ormidale). Those of the defendants were Mr. Moncreiff, Mr. Young, and Mr. Rutherford Clark, all of whom are now on the Bench. Mr. Patton having withdrawn from the case on account of ill health, his place was taken by Mr. Fraser (now Lord Fraser). It is an indication of the vast importance that was attached to the case that, of the seven men employed in it, six were on their way to the Bench.

The question which came before the Court of Session was twofold; first, as to the right of jurisdiction, and secondly, as to the merits of the case. In the estimation of the Church the former was all in all. They felt that if it were conceded that the Court of Session might review a sentence of the Supreme Court of the Church, spiritual independence was at an end. Mr. MacMillan in his summons had claimed that the defendants should "bring with them and produce the sentence, resolution or proceedings, and whole grounds or warrants upon which the same proceeded." It was substatially on the incompetence of the Court to order this that the favourable decisions of the two Lords Ordinary (Kinloch and Benholm) were based. But the First Division took the opposite new. They gave an order for what is technically called the "satisfying of production." The meaning of this was precisely what was stated in Mr. MacMillan's document already quoted, viz., that the Court should have before them (1) the constitution of the Free Church and the rules of procedure of her Courts, and (2) the action of the General Assembly in Mr. MacMillan's case, in order that the Court might judge whether that action had been in accordance with that constitution and those rules. In this was necessarily implied that if .they should find a want of accordance they should "reduce, restrict, rescind, cass, and annul" the whole procedure, and "restore and repone" Mr. MacMillan as minister of the Free Church of Cardross.

I may say here that the judges stated that it might be found that they had not the power to do all that was asked of them; indeed, they admitted that they could not annul the deposition and repone Mr. MacMillan in Cardross; but they held that they were entitled to have the documents judicially before them, that they might judge of Mr. MacMillan's claim to any remedy, such, for example, as damages, which it might be competent for them to award him. They therefore ordered that production should be satisfied.

Let it be distinctly understood what this meant. Of course, the documents which were ordered to be produced were patent to all the world. The constitution of the Free Church was notorious. The whole proceedings in the Cardross Case had been published in all the Scottish newspapers, and the judges were perfectly acquainted with them, and the Church was not asked to produce a single scrap over and above what had been so published. Why, then, did she refuse to produce them? Not merely on the Dogberrian principle that though reasons were as plenty as blackberries, she would not give one on compulsion; but on the ground that the producing them for the end for which they were demanded would have been to acknowledge the right of the civil court to constitute itself a court of appeal over her supreme court. That acknowledgment she could not make without abandoning her proper position, and sacrificing that principle which she regarded herself as specially called of God to defend. She believed, and was prepared to maintain, that the Assembly had done Mr. MacMillan no wrong. But she was bound to maintain that even if wrong had been done him, the Court of Session had no competency to redress that wrong. Her one plea was, I am a Church of Christ, in which "the Lord Jesus Christ, as King and Head of the Church, has appointed a government in the hands of church-officers, distinct from, and not subordinate to, civil government, and that the civil magistrate does not in its own province possess jurisdiction or authoritative control over the regulation of the affairs of Christ's Church." She admitted, of course, that her Assemblies might err; but she maintained that the Court of Session had no more right to rectify their errors than her Assemblies had to rectify errors into which the Court of Session might fall.

Here a distinction was made by the judges. What you say, they sometimes argued, might be a good argument in the mouth of the Established Church, for her courts have a legislative recognition, and it may be pleaded that their jurisdiction is co-ordinate with the jurisdiction of the civil courts. But you have no courts or jurisdiction in the proper sense. You are simply an association, like a temperance society, or an agricultural society, or a jockey club, or whatever other body of men associated for a not illegal purpose; and what you call your courts are as much amenable to the courts of the country as are the committees of such associations.

In answer to this argument I would say, first of all, that I am sure that all right-minded and intelligent members of the Established Church would scornfully repudiate the distinction laid down, which means that the courts of the Established Church have no judicial power except in so far as it is given them by the Legislature. Then I would say, secondly, that there is no kind or degree of persecution which this principle would not cover. It is involved in the very idea of toleration that every branch of the Church, established or non-established, shall be free to exercise her own discipline, in respect of matters spiritual and ecclesiastical, over her own members.

The plea of the Free Church throughout was, that she had a right to do what she had done, and that even if in any case she did wrong the Court of Session had no power or authority to review or reverse her proceedings. The case was a very protracted one. The Assembly eventually consented to "satisfy production" under protest; in order that the case might go on, and that the decision of the House of Lords might be got on the points at issue. Unhappily this object was not attained; for the Court eventually non-suited Mr. MacMillan, on merely technical grounds. The Assembly, of course, could not appeal a case which had, on whatever grounds, been decided in their favour; and Mr. MacMillan did not carry the case to the House of Lords. The principle, therefore, is still undecided; and however desirable it may be that it were decided, one cannot wish that another case might give occasion for its decision.

Let it be noted what it was that constituted Mr MacMillan's offence. It was not the making an application to the Court of Session, but his making the application which he did make. Had he asked the Court of Session to find that he was entitled to his stipend and his manse and his salary as Synod-Clerk, notwithstanding his suspension from the ministry, the Assembly would have been bound to admit the competence of his action. But when he asked the Court to annul the sentence itself, he clearly put himself in an attitude of rebellion against his Church, and so flagrantly violated his ordination vows as to necessitate his deposition. The Free Church has always acknowledged that all questions respecting property, which may arise between her and either her own members or outside parties, may be adjudicated by the civil courts. She claims for herself no immunity whatever from the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts respecting such matters. But if the civil court shall ever claim the right to "reduce, restrict, rescind, cass, annul, and declare to have been and to be in the past, the present, and the future, null and void " a sentence solemnly pronounced by her Supreme Court, then the Church must, of course, "take the wrong;" but she will submit to it no otherwise than as to persecution.

Dr. Begg was for some time Convener of the Assembly's Committee on this momentous case; and proved himself at once a vigorous and a judicious champion of the cause of Christian liberty.