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 T the beginning of the year 1863 we find Dr. Begg contending with his usual energy and unwearying perseverance for the sanctity of the Sabbath. At the annual meeting of the "Sabbath Alliance of Scotland" he moved,

"That it is the duty of the people of this country to watch over every attempt to secularise the Lord's Day, whether by turning it into a day of work or a day of amusement; and, in particular, to resist the attempt which will, in all probability, be renewed to open the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh on that day."

This matter was one that was occupying much of public attention at that time. A petition had been sent to the Lords of the Treasury, signed by 14,000 persons, for the opening of the garden. This was met by a counter-petition with 36,000 signatures. Of course, as in every such case, statements were made that the signatures to the latter petition were not genuine, that some of the signatories were children, that others had signed under compulsion or under the influence of misrepresentation. Of course I know nothing of the facts relating to this particular petition. But I do know that a phenomenon almost as regular as sunrise is the making of such assertions respecting the signing of petitions. I cannot recall an instance in which attempts were not made to discredit numerously signed petitions by such assertions.

The matter was, in the course of the year, brought before Parliament, and the proposal to open the garden was negatived by a small majority; and some of those who voted for its rejection were at pains to explain that they did so, not in accordance with their own views, but in deference to Scottish prejudice. Among these, I am sorry to say, was the Prime Minister (Lord Palmerston). The conclusion of Dr. :Begg's speech on the subject is well worth quoting:-

"I heartily sympathise with the feelings of the working men on this subject, for no men worked so hard to procure signatures against the proposal to open the gardens as these men did. I hold that to turn the Lord's Day into a day of amusement, is to act in open defiance of the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. We must exert ourselves to resist any attempt to turn the Lord's Day into a day of amusement; and more especially should it be so altered by the authority of the Government of the country. I trust, therefore, that not only will the Sabbath Alliance set its face in opposition to such an innovation, but that over the entire kingdom our hands will be strengthened to resist this encroachment. The question at issue is not a mere local one between parties who wish to open the gardens and the Christian community of Edinburgh, but it is a question of the preservation of the Sabbath for the whole of Scotland; and I trust, therefore, our fellow-Christians in other parts of the country will come forward to assist us in concentrating our efforts to the accomplishment of the great object we have in view. The Sabbath is one of the greatest boons we possess, and should be jealously guarded. Well does the poet say:-

"O day most calm, most bright,
The fruit of this, the next world's bud,
Th' endorsement of supreme delight,
Writ by a Friend, and with His blood;
The couch of time; care's balm and bay;
The week were dark but for thy light;
Thy torch doth show the way.

"Sundays the pillars are
On which Heaven's palace arched lies;
The other days fill up the spare
And hollow room with vanities.
They are the fruitful beds and borders
In God's rich garden; that is bare
Which parts their ranks and orders."

He brought the same subject before the Presbytery on the 25th of February, and made a long and eloquent speech on the subject in a public meeting held in Edinburgh on the 27th of April. While many of the friends of the Sabbath acted energetically, it is not too much to say that we are indebted to no one man more than to Dr. Begg, for the immunity we still enjoy from this form of Sabbath desecration.

At the same meeting of Presbytery he moved for a petition in opposition to the Prison Ministers' Bill. This was a Government measure for the endowment of Romanism, by permitting the persons who have charge of prisons to appoint and pay ministers of any religious body for ministering to the prisoners of their own denomination, provided there were in the prison a certain number belonging to that denomination. This would have been of little benefit to any but the Romanists; and it was advocated by the Home Secretary professedly in their interests. The Presbytery, of course, agreed unanimously to his proposal. As convener of the Assembly's Committee on Popery he brought the same matter before the March Commission in a speech which must be quoted because of its permanent interest. Were it given without the date, the reader might suppose that it was spoken twenty-three years later than it was:-

"Dr. BEGG, on the part of the Committee on Popery, said he had to lay on the table of the Commission a bill entitled the Prison Ministers' Bill; and he would briefly state the reasons why it was the opinion of the Committee that the Commission should petition against the measure. It was the first measure of the kind that had come before the Parliament and the country. Previous and subsequent to the admission of Romanists into Parliament, there was an impression in certain quarters that Romanists were in favour of what is called the voluntary system of supporting ministers, and would refuse to receive grants from Government in support of their priesthood. Of course, those who were aware of the true nature of the Romish system never participated in that belief, but were always persuaded that it was part of the peculiarities of Romanism that she desired to interweave herself with every Government, and to use every Government for the purpose of advancing her interests. Accordingly it was alleged that, at the time of the passing of the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act, when some one asked, 'What can thirty, forty, or fifty members in the House of Commons do, when there are 650 members of that House altogether?' an Irishman replied, 'Thirty or forty foxes are more than equal to 600 geese any day.' And although he would not speak so irreverently of the House of Commons, their experience unfortunately proved that those Roman Catholic members who had found admission into the House of Commons had exercised a most wonderful influence in the direction of securing support for their own church. He needed not to refer to the many grants already passed; but, in reference to prisons, a movement was originated in 1853; while last year a bill was laid on the table of the House of Commons whose object was to compel all those who managed prisons, wherein a certain number of Romish prisoners were found, to support a Romish priest in connection with such prisons. That bill was thrown out after a very considerable struggle; and the reason why he referred to it at all was, that Sir George Grey, in introducing the measure now before the House, stated that that measure was introduced to redeem the pledge which had been given them when the previous bill was withdrawn; and further that, although that bill took cognisance of all non-established denominations, it would operate chiefly in the direction of supporting priests of the Church of Rome, for this reason, that the adherents of the Church of Rome formed a very large quota of the inmates of prisons. At the present moment the proportion of Romish prisoners in Great Britain was very great. In the convict prisons it amounted to 18 per cent. of the whole; in the borough and county jails of England to 17 per cent. of the whole; in Scotland, to 23 per cent. of the whole; while 86 per cent. of the whole criminals of Ireland were Roman Catholics. Now, if it was a good argument for providing Roman Catholic chaplains at the public expense, that a large proportion of the prisoners were Roman Catholics, it would also be made use of for the purpose of establishing priests in the workhouses of the country, because the proportion of Romanists there was also very great.... To his thinking, however, the argument told precisely in the opposite way; because it seemed to him that the fact that Romanists were found to be criminals in a very large proportion was a reason why no encouragement should be given to that system. It was very like what used to take place in Glasgow at the illuminations in connection with the king's birthday. He remembered that whenever an illumination took place in Glasgow, the glaziers mustered in great strength, and proceeded to break windows in every direction, and then they came next morning and offered to mend the windows for a certain amount. That seemed very like the argument that, because many Romanists were criminals, Romish priests should be paid to take charge of them, - the difference being that the glaziers did really mend the windows, whereas the result of this movement would not in the least be to mend the matter in regard to criminals.... Of course, they could not shut their eyes to the fact that the thirty-two Irish members in the House of Commons exerted a most powerful influence both on the Government and the Opposition. These thirty-two members counted sixty-four in every division of the House of Commons. Having thrown themselves into different scales alternatively, 81
�they were prepared to support any Government that would support them, and to oppose any Government that would oppose them."

[Footnote 81: 'alternately'. - TS]

On the same subject he proposed an overture to the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, which was unanimously transmitted.

The controversy about the distribution of the Sustentation Fund had become less violent, but was threatening to become chronic. On the 2nd of April Dr. Begg addressed to the Witness a letter, the gist of which is contained in the following paragraph:-

"By means of the equal dividend, the Free Church has accomplished two objects, which, so far as I know, have been, and can be, accomplished in no other way. She has, by means of voluntary contributions, planted what is to all intents and purposes a national church; and she has secured to her ministers the highest minimum stipend of any church in the world. If she is now contented - as I am sure she is not - to see the mass of her rural and Highland congregations swept away, and to sink into a mere ordinary denomination but with vastly diminished influence, in large towns and populous places, and with every minister depending entirely on his own congregation, she will tamper with this equal dividend."

A week later, Dr. Begg introduced into the Presbytery of Edinburgh an overture on innovations in public worship in these terms,

"That the General Assembly shall adopt some effectual plan to prevent the introduction into any of our congregations of unauthorised innovations in the public worship of God."

As this is a subject which henceforth occupied a great amount of his thought, and as he incurred a good deal of ridicule in connection with it, it will be right to say that he, in his speech on this occasion, laid down principles which seem to be incontrovertible. He divided questions with respect to worship into two classes: first, those which are put by Divine authority beyond the reach of the Assembly itself; secondly, matters of order and arrangement that were simple and proper in themselves, and conduced greatly to the peace, comfort, and good order of worship, which might be regarded as matters of human arrangement; and he thought he would state, before he was done, not only possible cases of this kind, but matters in which he, for one, should be quite prepared, and should even like, "to see some little change."

With respect to the latter class of matters, he seemed to hold that the General Assembly ought authoritatively to regulate them, and that neither individuals nor kirk sessions were entitled to alter the status quo without the sanction of the Assembly. It may, I think, be a subject for consideration whether there be not a third class of matters in respect of which kirk sessions may introduce variations by their own authority - subject, of course, to complaint or appeal to the higher courts - and even a fourth class, in regard to, which individual worshippers may be left to their own discretion and sense of propriety.

It was upon such matters that the discussion in the Presbytery chiefly turned. The Assembly had not yet interposed to authorise innovations on matters which Dr. Begg and many others regarded - rightly, I think as lying without and beyond their province. There was, therefore, as yet no controversy as to the limits of the Assembly's power; the only question was as to the restriction by the Assembly of the power of congregations. The transmission of the overture was carried by a majority of twenty-one (28-7).

The question of union between the non-established Presbyterian Churches of Scotland, which had been long discussed in private, was brought before the Synod on the 28th, and before the Presbytery on the 29th of April. As this question occupied a very large proportion of Dr. Begg's thoughts, and called forth an immense amount of his energy, for the next ten years, I think it will be well to give a continuous narrative of the movement in a separate chapter.

In the House of Commons, on the 7th of May, an attack was made on Dr. Begg which caused considerable annoyance to his friends. In the debate in committee on the Prison Ministers' Bill, Lord Elcho said:-

"There was undoubtedly a strong feeling in Scotland on this subject. The Scotch Reformation Society had published an analysis of the division which took place on the second reading of the bill, and they divided the Scotch members of that House into three categories - first, those who had voted for the bill; secondly, those who had stayed away, of whom it was said that their absence on such a vital question ought to be held by the electors as equivalent to voting in favour of the bill, unless some satisfactory explanation was given; and, thirdly, those excellent gentlemen who voted against the bill. But another paper accompanied that analysis, and in it some very strong language was used, to the effect that if the bill passed, the Roman Catholic prisoners would be left to be taught in a manner contrary to the Word of God. And on the other side of that paper were certain resolutions passed by the Scotch Reformation Society. The first expressed regret at the second reading of the bill. The second expressed regret that the leading persons in the state should have supported so obnoxious a measure; the third - which almost amounted to a breach of the privileges of that House - called attention to the fact that 'no gentleman from Scotland rose to give utterance to the strong indignation felt against this new system of Popish endowment;' and expressed a hope that 'this unsatisfactory state of matters will engage the serious attention of the constituencies of Scotland when a new Parliament is to be elected."

If that was not dictation to the Scotch members as to the course they were to pursue, he did not know what was; for if any honourable gentleman from Scotland should act as he thought it his duty to do by his country and all classes of his countrymen, he was to be held up and denounced to his constituents.

�I am confident that no reasonable man will deem that his lordship's views of parliamentary privilege merit any other comment than simple ridicule. But it is not with him or his views that we have to do, but with a subsequent speaker, whose speech must be given in full:-

"Mr. BAXTER said that in the jails in Scotland there was nothing to prevent the clergy of any denomination having access to the prisoners belonging to their own communion. The bill was therefore unnecessary. The Roman Catholic priest most zealously visited the Roman Catholic prisoners in the jail of Dundee. He objected to the alteration of the law in regard to Scotland. It would prevent the visits of missionaries, whose assiduities had often been found most useful. He was glad that the noble lord (Elcho) had drawn attention to the extremely improper circular from the Scottish Reformation Society, and he deserved thanks for drawing attention to the circular. In his humble opinion that Society was doing a great deal of harm to Protestantism, not only in Scotland, but in this country. That Society seemed to be kept up for the special benefit of one particular clergyman, who, instead of attending to his own duties, went about lecturing on his favourite topic throughout the country. He must deprecate in the strongest terms that spiritual terrorism which had been brought to bear in Scotland by certain clerical agitators in opposition to the bill. He should support the amendment of the hon. and learned member for Bute, but without being influenced in the slightest degree by any fear for the Protestant institutions of the country."

Dr. Begg could afford to let this unmannerly attack pass unnoticed. But the members and office-bearers of Newington were naturally indignant. The elders held a meeting, and requested Mr. John Dick, as their chairman, to write to Mr. Baxter on the subject. Mr. Dick asserted in the strongest terms

"that the whole pastoral duties of this congregation are discharged by Dr. Begg with the utmost regularity and efficiency, and that, whilst as opportunity offers in the Church courts of which he is a member, and elsewhere, Dr. Begg never shrinks from expressing his views on the moral and religious questions of the day, it is a mistake to suppose that he goes about Scotland in the way you have described."

Of Mr. Baxter's reply I leave to every reader to form his own judgment. It was as follows:-


" SIR, - I have received your favour of yesterday's date. The report of the debate on Thursday week was a mere abridgment, as is often the case when the House is in Committee, and more particularly when a Scotch matter is under discussion. The words quoted in your letter are not the very words I used; and I certainly did not say, or mean to imply, that any one neglected his ministerial duties for the sake of a society which is rendering the cause of Protestantism ridiculous, and offending its best friends.

- I am, &c., " W. E. BAXTER."

"John Dick, Esq.,
"12 Arniston Place, Edinburgh."

In one respect this letter is creditable to its writer. It is so clumsily and feebly done that it is evidently the production of a novice in evasion.

It will be remembered that on the last day of 1862 Dr. Begg carried the transmission of an overture by the Presbytery on the subject of the reading of sermons. The overture came up in the General Assembly in connection with the report of the College Committee, and Dr. Begg made a long and effective speech in support of the overture. He was answered in one still longer, and, as I think, more effective, by his friend Dr. Nixon of Montrose. Others also contributed materially to the interest of the discussion. Still, it seems to me that the arguments on the two sides ran in opposite but parallel directions, and did not in reality meet each other. Dr. Begg showed the evils of the one method, and Mr. Nixon showed the evils of the other. Each might have agreed with all that the other said, for no one would deny that evils and imperfections attach to everything that is human. I stated, in a previous chapter, that I am now more favourable than I was twenty years ago to not reading. But yet I should greatly deplore the prohibition of reading either by statute or by public opinion. I believe that by the reading of some a higher standard of preaching is maintained than would be if there were none who read, and that the maintenance of this acts baneficially on those who do not read as well as on those who do. It seems manifest that there are really two questions involved.

First, if we postulate an identity of the sermon, the question is whether that sermon might be expected to be more effective if well read or if well delivered. I should think few would hesitate to answer this question in accordance with the latter alternative. But then,

Secondly, there is the question whether throughout the bounds of a large church, and throughout the Sabbaths of a year or of many years, we are likely to get so high an average of thought and of good composition in the sermons if the preachers were virtually prohibited from reading, as we might reasonably expect did some read, and many, probably the great majority, did not. I repeat what I have said in substance already, - I should be sorry if we had no readers; I should be sorry if we had very many.

A very important debate took place in this Assembly on the subject of the Sustentation Fund. A proposal was made by the Connmittee, which may be briefly stated thus:

That the equal dividend should be £137 (the dividend of the preceding year), and that every congregation which contributed more than they had contributed in the preceding year should get back their increase (over and above the £137) up to £13. It does not clearly appear what was to be made of increased contributions of congregations which amounted to more than £13.

This proposal was evidently faulty in many particulars. It gave, for example, the same advantage to congregations which in the previous year had contributed far less than they ought as to those which in that year had fairly done their duty. Suppose, for instance, two congregations had each in the previous year contributed £100, and that in the one case that sum was all that the congregation could afford, and that in the other it was much less than they could afford. Suppose that the former did not increase their contribution because they could not, and that the latter increased theirs by £13, as they could well do. The minister of the former congregation would get £137, and the minister of the latter would get £150, the additional £13 being a premium to the minister, awarded not because his congregation were doing their duty now, but because they had failed to do their duty before. Then there is another anomaly. One congregation might in the preceding year, have contributed £500 and another £50. For some good reason - the death or removal, for example, of the largest contributor - the former does not increase its contribution, but the latter contributes £63. The minister of the latter gets £1 so, and that of the former gets £137. Of course, it may be said that the minister of the former would certainly be getting a supplement from his people, and the minister of the latter would probably be getting none from his. This is true; and it certainly goes some way to correct the anomaly, but it does not remove it.

This proposal was very strenuously resisted by Dr. Begg, who moved a resolution for the maintenance of the equal dividend, pure and simple. Amongst his innumerable speeches, I do not think there is one that furnishes a more favourable specimen of his powers as a debater than that in which he introduced this motion.

His main argument was, that it would paralyse the ministers in pleading for the fund. A minister urging his people to increase their givings would be pleading for himself instead of pleading - as under the equal dividend system - for the whole Church.

"I wish you to see that it is a selfish element that you are attempting to introduce into the fund when you say that, beyond a certain point reached last year, all the money, up to £150, should go to the ministers. 82 With what decency can those ministers stand up before their congregations and plead for the General Sustentation Fund in that case, when every one of them knows that he is pleading for himself - that that £13, if raised, will go into his own pocket? 83 Therefore, I say, you introduce on the very threshold of the proposal the selfish element, coupled with the grand broad principle of united co-operation on the part of ministers. But you also introduce an organic change in connection with the feelings of the congregation. Agreeing, as I do, with most of what Dr. Buchanan stated, I never did agree with the broad statement that ver.y few of the congregations were unable to add £13 to the sum contributed to the Sustentation Fund. If that be true, we have a great many most guilty congregations. If they can do it easily, if there are very few who cannot do it, - that argues a very sad state of things. I am prepared to admit that some who could do it don't; but I, for one, believe there are hundreds of congregations that would find it difficuIt, if not impossible, to add that £13. I can imagine this even in congregations that are at present more than seIf-sustaining. They have screwed up their contributions to the uttermost, and they may, by the loss of rich individual members, or otherwise, be unable to add £13."

[Footnote 82: That is, the minister of each particular congregation which increased its giving over those of 1861-62. - T.S.]

[Footnote 83: I venture, with considerable reluctance, to bear personal testimony in confirmation of this view. I was for twenty years minister of a Free Church congregation which was not on the equal dividend, but whose minister received back from the Sustentation Fund what the congregation paid into it. During all that time I never once, in the pulpit, or in the Deacons' Court, or in congregational meetings, made the slightest allusion to the givings of the congregation to the Sustentation Fund, because these givings were simply givings to me. Had the congregation been on the "platform," I should have had no difficulty in inducing a most loving people to give a much larger sum (proportionally) to the Sustentation Fund than they actually gave to it. - T.S.]

The conclusion of the speech was in the speaker's best style:-

"I beIieve, throughout the worId at present, men are casting in their mind this question, - How the Christian Church, divorced from and disowned by the State, may maintain herseIf not only in a feeble existence, stooping to base acts on the part of ministers for a poor living, but maintaining an independent way, and, to use the image of a respected ex-Moderator, maintaining ourselves in such substantial comfort that the lifeboat is better than the ship. We must hold out to the timid men in various districts of England and the worId, when they ask, What must we do now that Romanism and infidelity are setting in Iike a flood? Are we to remain in this ark with the clean and the unclean beasts? We must telI these men to go forth and take God for their support, and His providence for their garners, and point to our own noble Sustentation Fund as a proof that their trust will not be mispIaced. I say, let us maintain the system, at Ieast in the meantime, until we find some good reason, which I don't know of at present, for changing it. Let us say to all these men, We may not have been able to secure affluence by Ieaving an Established Church, but at all events we have no beggars among our ministers; all our ministers have a competency at Ieast, and are above actuaI want. Their heads are kept above water by means of this equaI dividend; and if you choose to cast yourseIves on the providence of God, most undoubtedly you may expect to be simiIarly treated in His gracious mercy.... At the time when you were trying another revoIutionary plan, £127 was the point you proposed to fix. If the ministers had agreed to that - and some were too apt, for my taste, to agree to it - you would not onIy have destroyed the fund, but, on your own showing, you would not have reached the point now attained. We are presentIy at £137 to each minister. It is not riches, but it is at least above starvation. It is a thing not lightly to be thrown away. I have no doubt in my own mind, if you destroy the existing arrangement all your unions will not compensate for the� mischief you will do to an influential Church, stretching from sea to sea, with respectable ministers in rural districts labouring successfully and happily, in defiance of the frowns of wealth and the mere popular feeling. Still, it is our duty to ply every moral argument for the purpose of increasing the fund. As to those ministers who will not hear appeaIs on moral grounds, although mere printed letters are of no use, the story of the grandfather of our respected Clerk may appIy. When a young advocate in the General Assembly said, 'I do not know,' the answer was, 'You do not know? I'll make you for to know.' 84 I would make them know how much is at stake, and instead of stirring up this ferment of irritation, and circulating mere printed letters, I would get kindly, large-hearted men, who can speak to the people, to go down to our congregations and explain what mighty issues are involved. And in the meantime I would not alter a single financial principle of this Free Church, but would stand as we are."

[Footnote 84: Half the point of this traditional anecdote is lost when it is put in print. The fine old baronet not only stuck by the archaism of "for to," but he pronounced strongly the initial letter of the word know. When he was interrupted in a speeeh by the exclamation, "I don't know that," he immediately replied, "The young gentleman does not know! I will make him for to kenow."]

A motion was made by Dr. Candlish that the proposal should be remitted to a committee to report to a future diet of the same Assembly, and an animated discussion ensued. Dr. Begg repIied in a humorous speech, and on the vote being taken, his motion was carried by a majority of 104 (259-155). It was well that this resolution was come to. It had indeed become evident, and gradually became more so, that the equal dividend system required some modification. But the proposal of 1863 was altogether a bad one. The system afterwards adopted, as wilI be seen in the sequel, if not altogether unexceptionable, was at all events very much better.

The Church owes not a little to Dr. Begg for his strenuous and successfuI opposition to this proposal, albeit he opposed it on grounds not altogether tenable.

Reserving for future notice, according to the intention already stated, Dr. Begg's action in this AssembIy with respect to the proposal for union with other Churches, I have to notice a somewhat painful matter in connection with the discussion on the subject of Romanism. Dr. Begg gave in the report of the Committee on Popery, and supported it in a characteristic speech, from which I give a short extract:-

"Rome is wise enough to know that she can carry none of her measures except by a process of importunity. The Prison Ministers Bill is the fruit of a ten years' struggle on the part of Rome. It was in the year 1853 that the matter was first moved in the House of Commons, and she has kept her object steadily in view since then. The manner in which she proceeds when she has any purpose to gain reminds me of a story that I once heard. An old minister told me that his invariable policy in dealing with his heritors was to this effect. Said he,

'When I wish to get a new stable, or a byre, or garden wall, I always mention it a twelvemonth beforehand, and allow the proposal to seep 85 through the heads of the heritors for a year. By adopting these means I always find that at the end of the twelvemonth they are better prepared to make the concession than if I had pressed my claim when it was made."

[Footnote 85: That is, "soak " or " filtrate." - T. S.]

There was profound wisdom in this policy, and I have no doubt that Rome is quite up to that kind of wisdom. Moreover, you will find that she is quite up to a similar kind of wisdom, viz., that of making a great demand, and then pretending that she has made a great concession when she takes much less than she asked. Dr. Keith once told me a story of an Aberdeenshire tenant, who went to his landlord and said, "I must have a new steading." "That is impossible," was the reply. "I need a new byre and stable at any rate," was the rejoinder of the importunate tenant. "I cannot give you that," said his landlord. "Then surely ye'll gi'e me a new yett," said the tenant. "Certainly," replied the landlord. "That was all I wanted,"said the tenant, "and mair than I expeckit.'"That is absolutely the kind of policy that Rome is pursuing, and pursuing with great success."

Dr. Keith's story is a good one, and illustrates one phase of Rome's policy, and the manner in which she occasionally acts. But her more usual mode of procedure would have been better illustrated had the farmer, his mind being set on the new steading, first asked the "yett," then the stable, and then the steading in its entirety, first toleration, then equality, whether in the form of levelling up or levelling down, then establishment, and then the papal domination in all matters civil and sacred.

In the course of the discussion of this report Mr. Murray Dunlop took exception to the action of "Dr. Begg and his friends" in supporting the annual motion of Mr. Whalley in the House of Commons for the withdrawal of the Maynooth grant. He was himself sincerely opposed to the continuance of the grant, but considered the continuous agitation for its withdrawal impolitic. But with regard to the action of the Reformation Society in the matter of the Prison Ministers Bill, he took quite the same ground that Mr. Baxter had taken in the House of Commons. His language was, of course, milder than that of Lord Elcho and Mr. Baxter; but the mild censure of such a man as the member for Greenock was more galling to Dr. Begg than the bitter attacks of the members for East Lothiau and Montrose. However, notwithstanding the deservedly potent influence of Mr. Dunlop, the Assembly unanimously agreed to petition Parliament for the withdrawal of the Maynooth grant, and to petition the House of Lords to reject the Prison Ministers Bill, which had already passed the House of Commons.

It may be stated in passing, that it was in the course of this discussion that Dr. Candlish strongly reprobated the inscription on a monument to the late Prince Consort of a verse from the Apocrypha. By this reprobation he brought on himself abundant obloquy - most unmerited, as I deem. When the overtures anent innovations in worship were taken up, Mr. Rhenius of Tongland proposed a strong motion in condemnation of them, which, however, was not seconded. Mr. Murray Dunlop moved, and the Earl of Kintore seconded, a motion to the effect that there was no call on the Assembly to take any action in the matter. Dr. Begg moved, and Sir Henry Moncreiff seconded, that a committee be appointed to consider the subject of the overtures, and also the Act of Assembly 1707, and to report to next Assembly. Principal Fairbairn suggested an addition to Mr. Dunlop's motion. This addition having been accepted by Mr. Dunlop, Dr. Begg withdrew his motion, and that of Mr. Dunlop, as amended by Dr. Fairbairn, was unanimously adopted.

The finding of the Assembly was therefore the following, the portion which I have put in brackets being Dr. Fairbairn's addition to the deliverance originally proposed:-

"The Assembly, deprecating the undue importance apparently attached in many quarters beyond the bounds of this Church to outward postures and forms in the public worship of God, and unwilling to countenance the idea of any such importance by taking any steps which existing circumstances do not imperatively call for, see no occasion for issuing any deliverance on the overtures before them, but take this opportunity of urging on the ministers of this Church the duty of pressing on their people the far superior and paramount importance of their seeking, by the help of the Holy Ghost, to preserve peace and unity in their congregations, and to worship God, who is a Spirit, in spirit and in truth, with reverent, fervent, adoring trust and love, through Jesus Christ our Lord [and appoint a Committee to consider generally the legislation of the Church on the subject of the overtures, and report to next Assembly]."

This, it will be seen, was merely making Mr. Dunlop's motion to do nothing a preamble to a motion which was substantially the opposite motion of Dr. Begg!

At the meeting of Presbytery at the end of July Dr. Begg brought under the notice of the Presbytery the Sabbath desecration which was likely to ensue in connection with an expected visit of the Channel Fleet to the Firth of Forth. It does not seem that the intervention of the Presbytery was effectual on this occasion, as I find in theWitness the following paragraph:-

"The Channel Fleet has been visited by a large number of the public during the last two days. It is to remain in Leith Roads till Wednesday next, when it will sail for the North. We deeply regret to learn that the Admiral has resolved to allow the vessels to be open to the inspection of the public on Sabbath, after divine service in the fleet, which terminates at half-past eleven o'clock in the forenoon. This is a deliberate insult to the feelings of the respectable portion of the Scottish public; and no time should be lost in remonstrating, by means of the telegraph, with the authorities in London, and endeavouring, if possible, to get this resolution of the Admiral changed. When the Fleet was formerly here, scenes of the most reprehensible character were carried on on the Lord's Day; and these, there is too much reason to fear, will be increased on the present occasion."

So much for the anticipation by the Witness. Here is the account of the fulfilment, as given by the Scotsman:-

"Notwithstanding the fulminations of the Free Church Presbytery, the crowd of visitors to the fleet was very large yesterday, and a good deal of what has been designated as 'Sabbath desecration' took place. People flocked to Leith in thousands; and the appearance which the two piers presented throughout the whole of the day was tenfold more animated than on any of the previous days. Steamers, many of them crammed to the top of the paddle-boxes, plied between the harbour and the fleet, the vessels of which were open to the inspection of the public after eleven o'clock, the close of divine service. The number of people that promenaded on the pier, viewing the vessels from a distance, was greater than has been seen in Leith for years; and at some periods of the day locomotion was considerably impeded by the crowds that swarmed down to the steamers."

Dr. Begg brought the matter before the Commission in August, reading a correspondence that had taken place between the "Sabbath Alliance" on the one side, and the Admiral and the Lords of the Admiralty on the other. Admiral Dacres stated that he was acting according to the regulations laid down by their Lordships, and their Lordships saw no reason for modifying these regulations. Whether it was due to a change in the composition of the Board of Admiralty, or to the fleet having come under the command of an admiral with sounder views than those of Admiral Dacres, I do not know, but I think I am safe in stating that the offence has not been repeated on occasions of subsequent visits of the fleet to our Firth. 86

[Footnote 86: While this proof is in my hands (14th October 1887), I regret to say that the offence was repeated last Sabbath. - T. S.]

For a long time I have had nothing to say about working men's houses; but the subject was never long out of Dr. Begg's mind. On the 23rd of September a meeting was held in Edinburgh "for the purpose of hearing an address by the Rev. Dr. Begg on the subject." The address was long and earnest, and was distinguished by strong common sense as well as earnestness. He stated that the great difficulty was to get land on which to build houses, and appealed to the Governors of George Heriot's Hospital, as proprietors of a great breadth of land in and around the city, to feu it at reasonable rates for the purpose. He referred especially to a plot of thirty acres on the north-east side of the town, which was then let at an annual rent of £10 or £12 per acre, for nursery grounds. He proposed that it should be feued at £20 per acre, and so the Heriot funds would profit to the extent of £300 a year, while at least a small step would be made in the way of lessening a terrible evil. Of course the difficulty was, that the Hospital Trustees thought it more for the interest of the trust to go on receiving the £10 for a few years more, in the hope of getting eventually £30 or £40, than to accept of £20 forthwith. This year the Social Science Congress was held in Edinburgh, and Dr. Begg took a lively interest in its proceedings. He read three papers; one in the "Social Economy" section, on the necessity of appointing "Public Inspectors for Rural Cottages," and another on "Co-operation as a means of securing Houses for Working Men," and one in a sub-section of the same department, on "The Early Closing Movement." All the papers were remarkably well received, and numerous well-earned compliments were paid to their author. I select a single sentence from the paper on early closing:-

"What is wanted above all to give great strength to the movement is some effectual mode of profitably employing the hours of leisure thus abstracted from the drudgery of prolonged toil on the part of our young men. A natural, though a somewhat unreasonable, objection to the whole movement has been, that in proportion to the hours of leisure secured will be the temptations to mischief, on the part of the young men especially, and that you must continue them slaves in order to prevent them from becoming sinners."

He brought the same subject of early closing before the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale at its meeting in October, and advocated in connection with it the institution of evening classes in the universities.

The 12th of November 1863 was a red-letter day in Dr. Begg's calendar. On that day the buildings of the Protestant Institute, on the George IV. Bridge, Edinburgh, were opened. Dr. Begg, on the occasion, presided over a large meeting, and delivered a long and earnest address. It may be stated that on the opening day the building was free of debt with the exception of £843. A few weeks before the debt was £2,000. It was reduced to the amount just stated by one donation of £200, three of £100, three of £50, four of £25, three of £20, one of £15, fourteen of £10, thirty-four of £5, and small sums amounting in all to £22. Within a very short time the deficit of £843 was made up, and a small balance left "to the good."

It has been stated before that the conception of the Institute was Dr. Begg's. Although he had many zealous fellow-workers in bringing it to a consummation, yet he bore the heavy end of the tree. The Institute has been, in God's hand, the means of doing no little good, and preventing great evil. It still enjoys the services of its first lecturer, Dr. Wylie, while he enjoys enlarged experience and scarcely diminished energy. If matters in the country are not in a better state than they were when he entered on his professorial work - yea, if they be even a little worse - the assertion may be safely made that but for that work they would have been much worse than they are. All over our land there are ministers of several denominations who owe it to the instructions and the impulse given by Dr. Wylie, that they can estimate the character of Romanism in its political and social as well as its theological and ecclesiastical aspects, and that they are able to deal intelligently with its pretensions and its claims. In the Institute buildings accommodation was provided for the Scottish Reformation Society, in whose origination also Dr. Begg had a chief hand; and very deep was the interest that he took in the affairs of both institutions. It was his constant habit while in Edinburgh to pay almost daily visits to George IV. Bridge. Innumerable times, when I wished to see him, and found that he had gone out - for his hours were earlier than mine - I called at the Reformation Society's office, and either found him in earnest conference with the secretary, Dr. Badenoch in earlier years, and Mr. Divorty latterly, or else learned that he had been there a short time before.

At the meeting of the Presbytery of Edinburgh in November, Dr. Begg proposed an overture to the effect

"that the General Assembly shall adopt some effectual means by which to instruct our people in regard to the Scriptural authority of Presbyterian Church government."

This had special reference to certain movements which were on foot for effecting a union between the Established Churches of England and Scotland. There was undoubtedly a party in the latter Church prepared to consent to the humiliation of reordination in order to effect such a union. The matter on their part was all the worse, because no one of them, so far as I know, ever intimated that he considered his own Presbyterian ordination invalid or insufficient; and yet it appears that there were some - I hope not many - who would have accepted Episcopal reordination if their acceptance should be deemed by the English bishops indispensable in order to union. Dr. Begg supported his motion in a long and argumentative speech, which was thus characterised by Dr. Ramsay Davidson:-

"Mr. G. R. DAVIDSON expressed the admiration with which he had listened to the way in which Dr. Begg had brought forward and sustained this overture. He never had admired so much before the temper, and at the same time the earnest manner, in which he had so calmly and suitably set it before them."

The motion was seconded by Dr. Thorburn, and supported by Dr. Candlish and Sir Henry Moncreiff, and was agreed to unanimously.