LORD ABERDEEN & SCOTTISH DISESTABLISHMENT. T 4 OED ABERDEEN probably knows the
true state of opinion and feeling in the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland at least as well as any statesman of the day, and any suggestion, therefore, which originates from him, may be accepted by politicians as carrying with it a certain authority, and commanding the respect which large knowledge and a sympathy quite as large with the bodies chiefly interested, has a right to command. Hence the article which he has contributed to the new number of the Fortnightly Review will be read with interest, not only by all the influential Presbyterians of the Scotch Churches, but by all the partisans of what is called the Disestablishment movement in the United Kingdom. For it suggests as at least possible and worthy of due consideration, an end to the Scottish movement which would be welcomed with relief by a great many of the friends of religion, while it would be received, we believe, without disfavour by a very considerable number of those who call themselves the advocates of religious equality. Lord Aberdeen's suggestion is this,—that instead of adopting the Disestablishment of the National Church in the form which the Bill now before Parliament proposes, it might, perhaps, be possible to get the sanction of Parliament for the transfer of all Church property in Scotland to a body representing the three Presbyterian Churches in combination ;—indeed, we do not see that it would be absolutely necessary for the Churches to combine for all purposes, though that, of course, would be much better, since it would bring about a much more satisfactory result than any mere combination to divide property. Nevertheless, a combination merely for the purpose of accepting and administering a common trust might be achieved, without involving the complete reunion for which Lord Aberdeen is evidently chiefly interested, and which, as we quite agree with him, would be a matter for far greater and nobler congratulation than any mere willingness to co-operate in the distribution of endowments. The question is how far it would be possible, if the consent of the great majority of the members of the present Established Church of Scotland could be obtained far a transfer of the property and revenues of that Church to a body representing all the three Churches, that such a step should satisfy the requirements of the party which now asks for Disestablishment and Disendowment and the devotion of the funds realised to the purposes of education, or any similar national purpose.
We cannot profess, of course, to interpret what the friends of Disestablishment in Scotland really aim at, or on what grounds they advocate that end ; but this at least seems obvious, that unless there be in Scotland a considerable number of persons who think religious endowments, as such, mischievous,—and that is certainly not the general view of the non-Established Presbyterian Churches either in Scot land or England, some of them possessing very considerable Trust Endowments of their own,—there seems no reason why a fair division of the endowments of the Established Church among all the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland should.not meet with general approval. The main complaint, as we understand it, against the present Establishment in Scotland, is that a single Church which does not object to the interference of the State in its administration, has absorbed the whole national inheritance of other Churches which did, and do, feel a conscientious objection to the Erastian principle that the State shall interfere in the administration of Church property. We can quite understand the sense of injustice which weighs on the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church when they see the Established Church en joying the inheritance which they resigned only because they felt a serious religious scruple in admitting the intervention of the State in a question of spiritual concern. But we can not well believe that if that grievance were righted, and the three Churches could combine once more to administer for themselves the whole ecclesiastical property of the nation, there would be very many who would feel scandalised at the reserva tion of property notoriously intended for religious uses, for the very uses for which it was so intended, it may, perhaps, be said that a section of .the Scotch people, like a section of the English people, is no longer disposed to favour the inculcation, at the expense of the nation, of any religious creed at all. Yet not only are such persons very few in Scotland. but even of the few who hold these views, a very small minority, we think, would maintain that they are entitled to claim for secular purposes what was originally devoted solely to religious purposes. There is certainly very much less injustice in the devotion of property left to promote the religion of the nation to the religion of the nation, in spite of those who disapprove of a national religion altogether, than there is in the annual vote for the purposes of the Army and Navy of funds contributed, amongst others, by all those citizens who think both Army and Navy institutions of the devil. The State becomes impossible, if the crotchets and principles of a small minority are to override the earnest wishes of a large majority ; and we can hardly believe that amongst any considerable class of Scottish citizens it is held unjust that ecclesiastical property transmitted for the benefit of Presbyterian Churches should still be applied with perfect equality to all the Churches which now unite in trying to satisfy those popular needs for which the existing endowments were in the first instance raised.
As we understand the common desire for Disestablishment. what Lord Aberdeen suggests would completely satisfy that demand. As we understand the desire for Disendowment, on the other hand, that desire exists only because at the present moment in Scotland endowments are absorbed by one Church which are equitably claimed by other Churches, and because disendowment, and the transfer of these endowments to some great national purpose like education, seem the only feasible means to the end desired, namely, the devotion of strictly national property to strictly national uses. But if it were possible to find strictly national uses which were also religious, rather than secular uses, would not the moral object of the demand be fully met by applying the endowments fairly to those religious uses ?
Moreover, supposing Lord Aberdeen's hopes to be wellfounded, supposing that there really is any chance of the reunion of the three Presbyterian Churches in one Church based on a broad foundation, and recognising the necessity of adapting the religions foundations of the present day to the deepest religious convictions of the present day, would there not be something of grandeur as well as wisdom in using the cry for Disestablishment and Disendowment as an oppor tunity for promoting both religious union and religious reform ?
The sectarian disintegration of which Lord Aberdeen gives us so amusing an illustration has now gone on up to a point at which it has become ridiculous, and men have begun to feel that it is not essential for them to agree absolutely on every small point of doctrine with those with whom they may still worship in the fulness of a common love for their Saviour and their God. All the Presbyterian Churches have been growing broader in their willingness to admit various shades of doctrine, as well as deeper in that devotional feeling which is the only security against an intellectual comprehensiveness verging towards the pallor of pure indifference. It would be a very great gain, not only for the cause of religion in Scotland, but for the cause of religion all over the world, if we could see three separated Churches, which are not now really severed by any true division of principle, reunite on broad evangelical principles of peace, and share amongst them the ecclesiastical inheritance of the Scottish people without small jealousies, or any object but the religious benefit of Scotland. We hardly dare to hope for any result so great. But this, at least, is clear ;—if there can be no readjustment of the national property amongst the Presbyterian Churches, Disendowment, in some form more or less clumsy and injurious to the religious prospects and unity of Scotland, is absolutely inevitable. Therefore, we cannot but hope that the religious leaders of all the Churches may unite to consider whether Lord Aberdeen's suggestion has not in it the germs of practicability as well as the promise of peace.