Page images
[ocr errors]

character of statutory enactments—with overtures which never became laws, and with a sort of running index materiarum interspersed, as well as with large and endless quotations, under different heads, from the Form of Process, which formed in itself only one act of the General Assembly, and which, by this awkward arrangement, was merely split down, and often repeated very unnecessarily. This original defect was also continued by Mr Gillan, who, after thus giving a great portion in his abridgment, annexed the whole of it to his continuation of Dundas.

Mr Dundas' Abridgment embraced only the acts of the Assemblies from the restoration of Presbytery in 1638 to 1720. But one of the first acts of the celebrated Assembly of Glasgow (28th November 1638) was to ascertain and declare the authenticity of the registers of the Church from the year 1560 to 1602; and of the various acts of the Church during that early period of its history, no trace is to be found in the abridgments now referred to, although these embrace the earliest of our ecclesiastical statutes.

Soon after the abolition of Episcopacy, in 1638, the fathers of the Church saw the necessity of guarding against innovations on the laws of the Church ; and, in 1639 and 1641, acts were passed which required the consultation of synods and presbyteries in the framing of new laws. Notwithstanding these impediments, however, a further check became necessary on rash legislation ; and, on the 25th December 1695, an overture was brought in on the subject, for the consideration of the Church in its subordinate judicatories. On the 8th January 1697, in consequence of that

overture, an act was passed, which is termed The Barrier Act, and which fixed permanently the mode of legislating in the General Assemblies of the Church. By that statute, it is fixed that no act of the General Assembly shall have the force of a law, except such overtures as are previously transmitted to presbyteries, and are approved of by a majority, whose concurrence shall be reported to some subsequent Assembly. Since the passing of the Barrier Act, therefore, no interim acts or overtures are to be regarded as binding laws of the Church ; and, in compiling an abridgment of these, it is proper to exclude entirely all such temporary and now inoperative arrangements ; while, with respect to the earlier resolutions and acts of the Church prior to that time, it is equally proper to preserve a summary and practical record of those proceedings, which indicate the early practices and the genius of our branch of the reformed Church. Upon these principles, therefore, the following Abridgment is digested ; and, so far as the materials are accessible, it is hoped that it will be found more luminous and useful than any of the Abridgments which have heretofore been given to the public.

In attempting a work of this kind there are many difficulties to be encountered. The original records of the Church, from its first establishment in 1560, which were declared authentic by the Assembly 1638, have been purloined from the repositories of the Church, and are now kept as a sealed book in Sion College, from that church whose undoubted property they are ; and the only

traces of their substance are to be gathered from (certain MS. abstracts made of them, and from

the Histories of Calderwood, Keith, and Spottiswood : And although there are various printed editions of selected acts from 1638 to 1649, there are many unprinted acts, some of them evidently important to our ecclesiastical history and institutions, of which only an index has been published. And finally, the existing original records of the Church, in the custody of the clerks of Assembly, are substantially shut up from useful consultation, by the total want of any suitable accommodation for their deposit and inspection by the members of the Church who may wish to examine these Registers. Under such disadvantages, a perfect abridgment is at present quite unattainable.

The Editor of the present compilation, in the course of his researches, naturally applied to the Reverend Dr Lee, the principal clerk of the General Assembly, for information touching some of these matters. No one is so well qualified as Dr Lee to furnish the very best information on the subject ; and he takes the liberty of subjoining an extract from Dr Lee's polite answer to his inquiries. That gentleman has devoted much time, and labour, and expense, in his endeavours to recover and arrange the records of the Church ; and his exertions have been alike distinguished by zeal, perseverance, and intelligence, in the pursuit of his object. That his exertions have not yet been crowned with the degree of success which they merited is to be regretted ; but it is to be hoped that, ere long, his praiseworthy endeavours to restore to the Church the interesting monuments of her early history will result in the full accomplishment of his laborious and honourable undertaking

mot It may be proper here to introduce a note from ed Bishop Keith's History, illustrative of the fate of ere the earlier records above alluded to.* " When ely the restoration of the royal family, in the year cu 1660, had restored likewise the episcopal governi ment of the church, the fore-mentioned books of he register were carefully preserved by some of the Es presbyterian form, until one day, a search having • been appointed within the city of Edinburgh for - apprehending of suspected persons, these records, ke together with many other papers pertaining to the a kirk, chanced to be seized in a private corner. The

Bishop of Edinburgh (John Paterson) had allowÉ. ance of the privy council (of which himself was a It member) to convey these books of register, &c., to 1: his dwelling-house, and they continued in his cusetody even till after the Revolution in 1688. Some

time afterward, that prelate put these registers ); into the hands of the Honourable Master Archi

bald Campbell, cousin of the family of Argile, now 1. residing in London. And to this gentleman those w of the present establishment have lately made pro: posals for recovering them ; but hitherto they are, as I am informed, come to no agreement in the matter. By this account the reader will easily discern that the registers in the possession of Mr Campbell do contain all the original minutes, overtures, &c., according as they have occurred in the course of business. And from these books it is that the present register of Assemblies (abusively so stiled) has been extracted, which contains nothing else but an abbreviate of such acts, overtures, minutes, &c., as have been deemed pro

Edit. 1736.


per for the public view, digested into form and method. Several MS. copies of this extract (made most probably after the year 1638) are to be found in our publick repositories and elsewhere, and which, I suppose, will be found likewise to agree pretty uniformly, as having been all copied from

But then, besides this register, (I call it so still for conformity of speech only,) there is another more large than the former, which Mr Calderwood, who lived in the time, and inspected, no doubt, the original books, presented to the Assembly in 1638, has, for the embellishment of his large Church History, copied out and inserted into the same."

Since the time thus referred to by Bishop Keith, when the registers fell into Mr Campbell's hands, the history of their obscuration is brief. He bequeathed them to the trustees of Sion College, under absolute and rigorous conditions that they were never to be restored to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, although he had not, and could not possibly have, the most slender shadow of a legal title either to possess or to bequeath them. Hitherto all the means which have been adopted for defeating this unlawful abstraction of the public records of our national church, effected by the morbid and bigoted antipathy to our establishment of a devotee to episcopalian polity, have proved abortive. But, at the General Assembly - 1829, measures were taken, by an application to the legislature, for restitution to the church of its undoubted property; and we trust the resolutions then adopted will be vigorously followed up, not by the church only, but by the people of Scotland, petitioning earnestly for the restoration of a

« PreviousContinue »