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Our Scottish Clergy
Fifty-Six Sketches, Biographical, Theological, & Critical , including Clergymen of all Denominations by John Smith LL.D., A.M. (1853) (pdf)


A very generally-expressed desire to have Portraits of the Clergymen, delineated in the series of Sketches, has led to great efforts to meet it. In making these the publishers met with the cordial co-operation of the Clergymen whose portraits now appear. Some of them kindly sat to painters of eminence, well known in Glasgow, and others of them cheerfully allowed the use of family portraits. It were folly to expect that, in every case, successful portraits have been secured. A number of them are unquestionable likenesses; and, of all of them, it may be said that they, at least, suggest the originals. No expense has been spared to render them, as far as possible, truthful, and in many cases parties interested have been pleased to express their entire approbation.

Considerable change will be found in the literature of this edition. Some sketches have been omitted and others introduced, and important changes have been made upon others. The volume, as it now appears, will be rendered more valuable by the lapse of time. The fidelity of the sketches is now a matter of history, and as the originals disappear from this transitory scene, the mental, moral, and physical portraiture of them will become more and more interesting and valuable. We retain the originals of many of the portraits, and these are exceedingly creditable to the artists. The difficulty was to copy with fidelity so large an impression—extending to several thousands; and, despite the greatest attention, it must be admitted that not a few beautiful originals were considerably marred. If the volume is only as popular tuith the portraits as it has been without them, the publishers will have no reason to regret the cost and care bestowed on the present edition.


The respect in which the clergy, of a nation, are held may generally be considered as an index of its true civilisation. Not the mere civilisation of scientific improvement—not civilisation by the kindred arts of painting, sculpture, music, and poetry—not the civilisation of secular literature however enriched by exaltation of mind or brilliancy of fancy, but all these superstructed on the enduring basis of Christian morality and of Christian piety. For long years preceding the French revolution the writings of Voltaire and the Encyclo-prediaists, and the conduct of the Roman Catholic clergy themselves, had turned the mummeries and superstitions of the church, and the profession of the priesthood, into ridicule, and, what is worse, had brought Christianity itself into contemptuous question and disrepute. Yet France was reckoned the centre of the civilisation of the world. The fist of her celebrated men contained all that was great in science or illustrious in literature. The abilities of her generals were great by scientific rule, and the valour of her armies terrible from scientific power. Her language was the language of civilisation, and her literature the delight of the refined. Her ancient aristocracy dwelt in noble palaces exquisitely adorned with the all but breathing marble, and the canvass that seemed as if it would every moment burst into life. France was the grand nation of the Grand Monarque. She had secular civilisation enough, but her priesthood were disrespected, her people the most degraded in Europe, and from the monarch, and the peer, to the artist, and the peasant, the nation was one vast mass of moral corruption. The gorgeous ritual, the imposing but hollow ceremonies of her church were, perhaps, rated at tliefr true value, but salvation was the theme of jest, the work of Christ matter for a sneer, and the Divine glory a fertile subject for the disproving abilities of infidel philosophers. Yes, France was a civilised nation, scientific and immoral, polite and corrupt, learned and atheistical.

Then came the terrible revolution, the natural and necessary consequences of an irreligious civilisation, of a human religion and abhorred clergy. A long enslaved people robbed of their highest hopes, forgetful of the regeneration to which they were called, trampled under foot alike all that was good or bad in the national institutions. For a time the inferior clergy became popular, not from their cloth but from their acquiescence in the early progress of the revolution; but as the revolutionary car rolled on they were left behind, and perished with a heroism worthy of the first martyrs. The reign of terror, and atheism, was established. In La Vendee alone, where the philosophy of infidelity had not penetrated, where the ministers of a religion, superstitious as it was, commanded respect, the people remained faithful to humanity and morality, and horrified at the excesses of their free and enlightened brethren rallied around the royal standard, and ceased not their exertions till their homes were a desert and the bones of a million human beings lay bleaching on the fertile fields of the Bocage.

But let us not be mistaken. Superstitious respect of ministers is no criterion either of civilisation or religion, else were Spain a paragon of enlightened piety and moral excellence, and Italy, as of old, the vanguard nation of all that is great, and noble, and godlike in man. A blind, bigotted, uninquiring regard for spiritual teachers is not characteristic of a religious and enlightened people. An unquestioning reliance on the teachings of ministers, and a determination never to see aught wrong in the pastoral character, are the grossest superstitions, subversive alike of man’s reason, of the right of private judgment and of the authority of the Scriptures. It is only when we are satisfied, by the closest examination, of the truth of the doctrines taught, and of the undeviating harmony of their lives with their exalted office, that we can accord them our willing respect as the rational expounders and enforcers of God’s revealed will.

In our own country civilisation and Christianity are terms of synonymous import. The arts and sciences are the handmaids of religion. The recognition of il faith, hope, and charity,” is not speculation but a fact. Civilisation is not the patron and endorser of the truths of Christianity, but Christianity is the supporter and propagator of civilisation. The Bible is the corner stone of the social edifice, and the illuminator of scientific discovery for the instruction of man.

In no country are the clergy, as a body, more esteemed than in our own. It is because we recognise religion—not the faith of erring sects “wide as the poles asunder" in non-essentials, but as the religion of God, that we respect the ministers of our faith. We see in them men called to a high office to strew with the flowers of immortality the dreary paths of mortal existence, to smooth the pillow of sickness and death, by pointing to the portals of glory, which introduce the just to a brighter and a better world. We study the book of life for ourselves, and behold in them teachers of its hallowed truths, and naturally and justly associate them with a mission so divine. Nor do we unreflectingly bestow upon them our confidence. Nowhere are their lives more strictly watched, and their shortcomings more duly noted. It is because on the whole, considering the nature of humanity, that we find their professions and practice in reasonable agreement, that we esteem our ministers as members of the noblest profession the world knows, and as the communicators of means of happiness infinite as the boundaries of the universe of God.

Such being the views entertained by the writers of the “ Sketches,” the design of the publication is to enable ministers and people to form a correct estimate of the present state of the Scottish pulpit. The position of clergymen is unfavourable to acquiring a comprehensive and impartial view of ministerial talent and success. Occupied, as they generally are, every Sabbath-day, they have but rare opportunities of hearing others preach, and when at any time they may happen to hear a discourse, the preacher is too much in juxtaposition or competition with themselves to permit that candour which leads to truth. Of the publishing portion of ministers, data is supplied to determine the literary standing, but from special discourses very little can be learned of ordinary ministrations. In opposition to these specially-prepared discourses, the Sketches have been taken, without the knowledge of the clergymen, while they were doing their ordinary work, and though one has had less and another more than average preparation, a general average is faithfully secured. They who have been taken when their appearance was less favourable than they would have wished, will have an additional argument for being, as seldom as possible, obliged to preach with hasty preparation. As ministers have but little opportunity of judging of the matter and manner of their contemporaries, they are still more unfavourably situated for judging righteously regarding their own ministrations. Generally speaking, every congregation consider their own minister superior, taking him all in all, to others. Indeed, they chose him for that reason. Facts, however, prove that this supposed excellence cannot be absolute, though it may often be relative. Clergymen, though not possessed of superior talent or general accomplishments, may be the most acceptable and profitable for the congregations to which they minister. It is far from the intention of the writers to lower any one clergyman in the estimation of his people— that estimation being the key to their heart and conscience. But though there is no wish to weaken that feeling of admiration and affection, which is the bond of successful teaching, it is desirable that a clergyman should have other standards to try himself by than the judgment of his hearers. It is to him a small matter to be judged of any man, but in as far as opinion may stimulate him to effort or encourage him in difficulty— that opinion being viewed as the exponent of His mind whose judgments are unerring and whose decisions are ultimate. These Sketches, then, may tend to lead ministers to encourage a nobler ambition than the applause of those who, in virtue of their relationship, can scarcely do other than respect and esteem them even above their comparative excellence. On the one hand, they may encourage humble talent, and, on the other, rebuke flippant mediocrity.

Besides correcting erroneous judgments on the part of individual clergymen and individual congregations, it is hoped the work may tend to destroy sectional bigotry. While each sect ought to be fully persuaded as to its peculiarities, it is desirable that it, at the same time, should give others credit for equal sincerity. It is believed that the faithful delineation of the clergymen of different sects, when that delineation refers exclusively to their non-sectarian aspects, may tend to create or strengthen catholicity of sentiment among all denominations. Though the writers cannot pretend to be free of all sectarian bias, the fact that they are mixed up with all the sects included, goes far to destroy that partiality which concludes one clergyman, in virtue of his connexion, superior to another.

But there are still higher aims which the writers intend this work to serve. It is not merely meant to draw Christians closer together, but to show that they are already one. The doctrines and the duties taught by the different clergymen are the same. The clergyman of the National Church preaches the same gospel as the clergyman who disowns all secular control. Sectional peculiarity has been driven from the pulpit. Preachers “ teach the same thing in all the churches.” The sneer of the infidel at divisions among Christians is unmerited. Christians are one in faith, in hope, and in love.

In this volume, ministers of all the chief denominations in the country were reported as they prosecuted their usual work; and, among all the fifty-two Sketches, we challenge infidelity to point out one discrepancy—one contradiction, as regards the truths taught. Christians are ranked under different banners; but they are in the service of one King, and their different banners interfere not with their loyalty or their love. The volume will serve to prove the unity of the Church of God, and, as such, is calculated, at once, to rebuke infidelity, to dissipate doubt, and to encourage faith.

The volume is now offered to the world in the hope that' it may be of some use both to believers and unbelievers—to believers, by showing them that they hold the faith of all evangelical denominations, however much these may differ in mere forms—to unbelievers, by convincing them that Christianity is not the mere sectional thing they supposed, but, on the contrary, that unity dwells where external uniformity is absent, and that the office of the pulpit is not to gratify sectarian ambition, but to expound Christian duty and enforce Christian practice.

Glasgow, May 12, 1848.

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