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THE PLURALITY QUESTION.
We had occasion already to notice the early movements of Dr. Macgill's mind on the subject of pluralities in the Church. It is interesting to observe, that very soon after his settlement in Glasgow, his attention was strongly called to the subject by the case of Dr. Arnot, which was decided in the General Assembly of 1801. That gentleman held the Chair of Theology in the University of St. Andrew's, when he was presented to Kingsbarns, a country parish within seven miles of the city, with the perfect understanding that he would retain both livings. A decided opposition to this was made on the part of a minority in the Presbytery and Synod, headed by the late venerable Mr. Bell of Crail; and the question, after going through the inferior courts, was settled by a considerable majority in the General Assembly in favour of the union of offices; and Dr. Arnot was inducted into the parish.*
*It is proper to notice that long before this period, (in 1782) an attempt was made by some faithful ministers in the Presbytery of St. Andrew's to prevent the union of the Greek Chair with one of the city charges, in the case of professor (afterwards principal) Hill. The case, indeed, excited little interest, and was settled by the As. sembly without a vote. But the labours of Mr. Burn of Forgan and his friends, to assert a just principle, now triumphant, ought not to pass unhonoured.
It was on this occasion the late talented and eloquent Principal Brown of Marischal College, Aberdeen, made his splendid speech in the Assembly; a speech which was afterwards published, and which by competent judges has been pronounced a masterpiece both of argument and oratory. Dr. Macgill, in common with many faithful ministers in different parts of the country, took a deep interest in the general question, and efforts were made by them to bring the subject before the following Assembly, by means of overtures from presbyteries and synods. Although these efforts were not systematically conducted on any thing like an extended scale, they had the effect of keeping the subject before the public, and of guiding the progress of opinion. It was on this occasion Dr. Macgill addressed a letter to Principal Brown, encouraging that eminent man in the career on which he had entered, and calling his attention to other abuses of a similar kind with that of Kingsbarns. It was always held by Dr. Macgill as a fixed principle, that the pastoral office was sufficient of itself for one man, and that unions of offices always had a very pernicious effect on both sides. He, therefore, went further than Principal Brown, and contended that pluralities should not be permitted, even in cases where non-residence might not be their necessary result. His wish was to discourage every attempt to combine any secular office with that of the ministry, such as the headship of an academy, or the factorship of an estate, and to secure by every
means the undivided attention of
minister to the immediate and proper duties of his vocation. These remarks will pave the way for the following very valuable letter in reply, from the distinguished head of Marischal College, who, it is proper to mention, though occupying the Chair of Theology along with the Principality, had no pastoral charge. Some passages in this letter, particularly near the close, may be viewed as almost prophetic of what has since taken place. In connexion with the attempts now in progress to reduce the venerable Church of Scotland to the rank of a mere state engine, by rivetting around her the chain of absolute irresponsible patronage, the letter of Principal Brown will be read with very deep interest by every well-wisher of our Zion.
“ Aberdeen, Dec. 9, 1801. " REV. AND DEAR SIR.-I feel myself much obliged to you for your frank and friendly letter of the 5th current. It gave me much satisfaction to find that you continued to direct your attention to a matter of such real consequence to our church, as the overtures “on pluralities of offices,” which so much
engaged the attention of the last General Assembly, as well as that of the whole country, and to the very pernicious abuse which those, who thought and spoke with us, were so desirous of remedying. I know not if you are acquainted with the temporary and partial check, which this abuse, and all its systematic chain of consequences have
lately received from Mr. Dundas, in the instance of an application being made by two neighbouring clergymen, for the succession to the Professorship of Ecclesiastical History in the University of St. Andrew's. That gentleman declared that, in the event of either of them succeeding, the pastoral charge in the country must be resigned, because, in his opinion, such a junction of offices was equally prejudicial to the universities and to the Church. The heritors of one of those clergymen, who had recommended him as a fit person to fill the vacant Chair, had expressly stipulated the resignation of his benefice in the church. Of these circumstances, I believe, there is not the smallest reason to entertain any doubt. The defeated party, now, shelter themselves under the pretext that the civil power might adopt such a measure, but that it was utterly incompetent to the Ecclesiastical Courts.* I consider this as a mere evasion totally destitute of all reasonable ground; nor do I think that the church can have any security, with respect to this important point, till an express law is passed on the subject. I regard even this temporary triumph we have obtained, merely as an opiate to lull our vigilance to rest; but an opiate which the general opinion on our side has forced them to administer. Our friends, however, in this part of the country seem to be of opinion that this check is sufficient for the present, and that we should take no further steps till another attempt be made to introduce the abuse in question. Strong exertions have also been made by Dr. Finlayson's retainers among the members of our synod during the course of last summer; and although I am persuaded they will not have a majority either in the synod or in the presbyteries, yet the minds of many have been shaken by their specious arguments. I have unquestionable proof that they are mortally afraid of the open discussion of their views and principles, and that they rely entirely on secret intrigue.
* It is curious to notice the fact, that a quarter of a century after the date of this letter, the Lord President (Hope) and Dr. George Cook coalesced in bringing forward this sort of argument in the General Assembly. In the sequel of the chapter, due notice will be taken of this, and of the admirable reply of Dr. Macgill on that occasion.
“ I mention these circumstances merely to shew the propriety of the proposed overtures originating in the present case, in some other parts of the country rather than in this. Our adversaries laboured in the last Assembly to represent the five overtures as branches only of that of Aberdeen, and the conclusion they meant to draw, and their partizans have constantly drawn, is, that the whole was to be ascribed to me, and resulted solely from my
desire to put myself at the head of a party characterised, as they maintain, by a spirit of wildness and enthusiasm. Nothing can be more false. But the falsest and most absurd things are propagated by the artful, and swallowed up by the ignorant. Now, if the new overtures arose in different parts of the Church, and then came to us,