To the Rev. Dr. M'Crie.
Thurso Castle, March 10, 1824.
You may perhaps deem it extraordinary that a stranger should use the freedom to address you. But your character, talents and usefulness, are known and admired by many who do not enjoy the advantage of your personal acquaintance and your triumphant vindication of our great national Reformer's character will endear your name to succeeding generations of your countrymen, as well as to those of the present day.
Having imbibed from my father (the author of the Statistical Account of Scotland) a sincere and cordial attachment to our national church, I have often contemplated with deep regret the lamentable schisms by which her peace and unity have been rent; and it is a subject to me of surprise, as well as of sorrow, that no endeavors have (as far as I know) been lately made, to heal the breaches in our Zion and cause us to be 'of one accord, and of one mind' (cf. Phil. 2:2). I cannot but think that the present would be a favorable moment for trying the experiment. So many years have now elapsed, since the original Secession from the Established Church; and so many of the controverted points have, in some degree been, or might now more easily be, set at rest; and the pure doctrines of the gospel are so much more generally preached than when the unfortunate division took place; that a door seems now to be opened for the auspicious restoration of harmony and peace.
Now, my dear Sir (you will pardon the familiarity of the phrase), it appears to me that you, who are a 'burning and shining light' (John 5:35) in the Presbyterian community, might very beneficially use your influence, and lend your aid, for effecting this important purpose. As some difficulty would probably arise in endeavoring to determine from what quarter the first overture should proceed, I would humbly and diffidently suggest, that meetings should be held, or correspondence take place, for considering this subject, between yourself, assisted by one of your brethren, with the same number of ministers of the Established Church, and also of other denominations into which the Secession has, perhaps unnecessarily as well as unfortunately, been subdivided. Should the unauthorized 'labor of love' (1 Thess. 1:3) undertaken by such a committee, lead to no favorable result, the public attention need never be called to its details, or even of its existence. But if such a basis could, through the blessing of God, and the direction of his Spirit, be devised, as might lead to all parties being spiritually of one heart and of one soul, and none saying that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, 'but they had all things common' (Acts 4:32) one faith, and one baptism, one creed and one discipline (cf. Eph. 4:5) the whole proceedings might be laid before the different Synods and General Assemblies, for their modification and approval. In this case, the Secession places of worship, wherever they now exist, might become connected with the Established Church. We should then see laborers in the Lord's vineyard, who now view each other with jealousy and estrangement, cooperating with heart and hand in winning souls to Christ.
Alas! is it not painful to reflect that many who 'love the Lord Jesus in sincerity' (cf. Eph. 6:24) feel no kindly fellowship and love towards each other? that not a few would rather debar themselves for months, or even years, from the privilege of public worship, than hear the gospel preached in simplicity and faithfulness by a minister of a different denomination from their own? although I believe that a stranger might for twelve succeeding Sabbaths, hear yourself every morning, Dr. A. Thomson every afternoon, and Mr. Paxton at night, without being able to discover any difference in your doctrine or form of worship. If the labors of such a committee as I have ventured to recommend were to commence by the adoption of a preliminary synopsis of the principles on which all are agreed, I would fain hope that the points of difference which are of far inferior moment and magnitude might, by a Christian spirit of forbearance and charity, be adjusted.
I need not, I am persuaded, offer any apology for addressing you on this subject. I have, and indeed can have but one motive, which, I trust, will plead my excuse, if my suggestion be ill-timed or ill-advised. I remain, with much esteem, and every good wish, Reverend Sir, your faithful humble servant,
To George Sinclair, Esquire of Ulbster.
Edinburgh, May 19, 1824
Your letter of the 10th March reached me only a few days ago. I thank you heartily for the free manner in which you have imparted your views and feelings on a subject which evidently interests you deeply, and the intrinsic importance of which you cannot easily overrate.
No one can be more sensibly affected than I am at the lamentable schisms by which the Christian body is rent, and the numerous parties into which the friends of evanglical truth and Presbyterian discipline are divided. Though we might differ in opinion as to the causes of the evil, yet I fully sympathize with you in deploring its existence. I deplore it as productive of effects hurtful to the temper of individuals, hardening to the minds of the enemies of religion, and tending in many ways to prevent or to paralyze efforts in behalf of the common cause of Christianity.
Nor does my mind find proper relief in the consideration by which many console themselves that the several parties both check and stimulate one another, that the spirit of asperity which formerly prevailed has abated and worn down, and that Christians of all denominations now cooperate in associations (such as the Bible Society) for promoting general purposes connected with Christianity. I do not expect that "things will go well" in our land (cf. Deut. 5:33; 6:3, 18, etc.), or that there will be a general revival of religion, or even a reformation of manners; and it is my apprehension that, notwithstanding any favorable symptoms, and all exertions made by separate churches and voluntary societies, irreligion and infidelity and crime will continue to advance among us until an effective and uncrippled cooperation be established among the genuine friends of religion in the way of their becoming, like the primitive Christians, one body and one soul, and until there be, to use your expression, "one faith, one baptism, one creed and one discipline" (cf. Eph. 4:5).
After expressing such views, you may think yourself entitled to expect that I should be ready to accede to your request; and certainly I would be self-condemned, or at least inconsistent with myself, if I refused to lend my aid to farther any scheme of a scriptural and practicable kind, for uniting Presbyterians in Scotland. That I am strongly attached to the Church of Scotland, I believe I need scarcely assure you; and I might add that circumstances have occurred to me in adorable Providence, which have long ago relieved and emancipated my mind from any bigoted attachment to any party which I might have once felt, though I by no means lay claim to exemption from the influence of prejudice in favor of the opinions which I have formed. I stand in no connection which hinders me from joining any union which has for its object and tendency the maintenance of the genuine principles of the Church of Scotland; nor do I think that all who join in such a union should be perfectly agreed on all points, and that they need not forbear with one another in certain things which they cannot view in the same light.
Notwithstanding this, I am obliged to add, that I have not been able to discover any plan by which, in the present state of things and of men's minds, the union of the Established Church of Scotland and Seceders could be effected on sound principles, or attempted with the least reasonable probability of success. As to the quarter from which the proposals should first come that is a point of no difficulty with me. If other things were clear, the person or party which should make the first advances would, in my opinion, secure the post of honor, instead of incurring disgrace. Nor does it strike me that there would be required any "synopsis of principles," while the Confession of Faith and other Standards of the Church of Scotland remain. The great desideratum is not a declared or authorized system of principles, but a real and practical adherence to it, and an administration which would promise to secure this.
What you state by way of supposition, with respect to those preachers mentioned in your letter, may be perfectly true. But, my dear Sir, permit me to say that my friend Dr. A. Thomson is in ecclesiastical connection and fellowship with brethren who preach very different doctrine from what he preaches; and there it is that the difficulty pinches. I rejoice that, of late, the number of evangelical and pious ministers in the Church of Scotland has increased, though I am not prepared to say that "the pure doctrines of the gospel are more generally preached than when the unfortunate division took place;" but I suppose it will be admitted that those who are understood not to preach the gospel with the greatest purity, have uniformly or at least generally the sway in the church courts; and I need not state to you that it is the general impression, both within and without the church, that it is now almost a hopeless task to procure the conviction in the General Assembly of a minister who may be chargeable with error in doctrine, or various pieces of immorality in practice.
You know, too, that the question of patronage is intimately connected with the origin and grounds of the Secession. It is true, I believe, as stated by your venerable father, in a pamphlet which he has done the honor to send me, that no party in the church is disposed to revive a controversy which seems to have been set at rest in her. But I know of no alteration which has taken place in the sentiments of the Seceders on that head; and I apprehend that the better part of them in numbers, or at least in seriousness, would not, even though the freedom of election was granted to their own congregations, enter into fellowship with a church whose judicatories would force presentees upon reluctant and reclaiming congregations.
I beg you to excuse the prolixity of this letter; but I deemed it more respectful as well as honest to state to you my sentiments, rather than politely to evade your request. I am, my dear Sir, with much respect and esteem, your faithful humble servant,
Footnote for Appendix
1. [The following correspondence illustrates further the
author's views on the unity of the Church. The
first letter was sent to Dr. M'Crie, urging him to take an active role in
promoting a church union between
various Presbyterian denominations in Scotland. M'Crie's response provides
a succinct statement of eccle
siastical principles which must govern any consideration of ecclesiastical
mergers. This extract is taken from
the Life of Thomas M'Crie, D.D., by his son, Thomas M'Crie
(Philadelphia: William S. Young,
1842), pp. 254-59.]
Return to Table of Contents.
Go to next chapter.
Return to Table of Contents.
Go to next chapter.