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It was on the 15th January, 1840, that the first number of the Witness newspaper appeared. At the call of duty, not the mere whim of either taste or temperament, its editor flung himself into the stormy ecclesiastical controversy then raging in Scotland. It had been his ambition to leave the world a something it would not willingly let lie. He knew well how much of newspaper-writing must necessarily be of comparatively temporary interest, and above all, he knew how ephemeral and short-lived papers on ecclesiastical controversy, however well written, invariably prove. Such work was felt by Hugh Miller, as John Milton felt the controversies of the evil times on which he had fallen, to be a kind of writing to which he brought, as the poet expresses it, “at best only his left hand.” And yet such had been his peculiar training, and his peculiar reading, that it may be questioned, even laying the matter of genius out of consideration, and looking at Hugh Miller merely as an accomplished litterateur, if
another man could have been found in all Scotland so
well fitted for the task for which he had now girt himself.
The moderate section of the Scottish Church had somehow, up to a very recent period, embraced within its pale all-at least almost all the literary talent of the Church. The representatives of evangelical truth, though unspeakably more powerful as preachers than any men the moderate party could show, were utterly unable to cope in the field of general literature with the Robertsons, the Blairs, the Homes, and the Logans on the Erastian side of the Scottish Establishment. Not until Thomson and Chalmers rose, did that reputation for comparative illiteracy, which had become inseparably associated with the idea of an evangelical Scottish minister, begin to break up and pass away. As the mists, of morning are lost in the rays of the rising sun, so this unfortunate misconception, to which accident had given a colouring of probability, disappeared in the blaze of the blended literary and scientific glory which the Astronomical Discourses of Chalmers shed over evangelical truth. Henceforth it was felt that not alone the genuine piety, but the genuine ability and genius of the Church, would gravitate rather to the doctrines of the modern “Marrow-men” than to the clay-clad creed of men who had transformed the Scottish Church from a genuine Christian institute into a mere State machine. Still, notwithstanding this conviction, shared by all the earnest men of the Establishment-a conviction which the events of the Disruption proved to be well-grounded—the representatives of that old party mustered strong in the Church; some of them possessing genuine ability, of a peculiar order it is true, but yet not to be despised or under-estimated. The literary man on the evangelical side, who should combat this party successfully, must needs be a man who understood it thoroughly, possessing an intimate acquaintance with its history, its traditions, and its literature. In all these respects Hugh Miller was amply endowed for the work he was called to perform. Perfectly acquainted with not the acts alone, but also the aims of the founders of the Scottish Church-having a most accurate conception of the ground-plan, so to speak, of the Scottish Reformation-able to put his finger at once upon all those points which indicated how widely the moderates had deflected from the ecclesiastical polity of Knox and Melville—at home in their favourite literature—knowing its excellencies no less than its defects-he entered upon his duties, a workman needing not to be ashamed, and descended into the arena of ecclesiastical conflict, armed at all points, so far as the discussion of principles
Without being justly chargeable with any undue proneness to moralizing, we cannot contemplate Hugh Miller in the position he was now called to occupy, without feeling how peculiar are the leadings of Providence. He who in early life felt no call to become a minister of the church, in the maturity of his powers voluntarily assumes the onerous position of defender of that church's most sacred spiritual privileges. And, though certain histories of the Ten Years' Conflict are strangely oblivious of the advent of the Witness, thousands will peruse with interest those words of greeting with which its editor addressed his readers on the threshold of his mighty toils :
"We enter upon our labours at a period emphatically momentousat the commencement, it is probable, of one of those important eras never forgotten by a country, which influences for ages the condition and character of the people, and from which the events of their future history take colour and form. We enter, too, upon them at a time when, with few exceptions, our Scottish contemporaries in the same field-unable, it would seen, to lead, and unwilling to follow-neither
aide the opinions of the great bulk of their countrymen, nor yet echo their sentiments. Strange as it may seem, it is a certain fact, which in the nature of things must every day be coming more and more obvious, that on one of the most important questions ever agitated in Scotland, the public and the newspapers have taken different sides.
“ A few simple remarks on the point at issue may show more conclusively than any direct avowal, the part which we ourselves deem it our duty to take. There are parties which continue to wear their first names long after they have abandoned their original principles; and the historian, in tracing their progress, has to regulate his definitions by his dates. There are parties, on the contrary, which remain unchanged for years. The followers of Werter are in every respect, in the present day, what they were when their extraordinary leader first organized their society. There is, on the other hand, a section of our Scotch Seceders who see pothing to fear from the co'insels or the in
crease of Popery, and who can compliment the Gowdies and the Simp. sons of the time on the policy which drove the Fishers and the Erskines out of the Church. But the remark is exemplified at least equally well by two antagonistic bodies which, for the last century and a half, have composed the same corporation. The differences of the contending parties within the Church of Scotland arise solely from the circumstance, that the one retains its original principles, and that the other has given them up: nor is it at all improbable, that it shall be decided by the issue of the present conflict, whether the Church shall continue to unite its old character to its old name, or whether for the future it shall retain the name only.
“The cause of the unchanged party in the Church is that of the Church itself; it is that of the people of Scotland, and the people know it; it was the cause of their fathers, and the fathers of the Reformation;—it is the cause of a pure, efficient, unmodified Christianity. And the cause opposed to it is exactly the reverse of all this. We appeal to even our opponents. We urge them to say whether, in the expressive language of Dr. M'Crie, the cry which now echoes throughout the country be not the identical 'cry which has not ceased to be heard in Scotland for nearly three hundred years ?' We request them sincerely to consider their present position, as illustrated and determined by the history of the Church. Among what party (in the pages of Calderwood and Wodrow, for instance) do they recognize their types and representatives of the body to which they are opposed ? History is more than usually clear and definite on the point-it is one of those, regarding which the testimony of the present age regarding the past, anticipates that of the future regarding the present. It would be no overbnld matter to class the John Frosts of our times with the Jack Cades of the times of Henry VI., or to compare the part taken by the mayor of Newport in the late riots, to that taken by the mayor of London in the disturbances of Wat Tyler. There are general similarities of conduct and circumstances which occur to every one, and which constitute the simpler parallelisms of history. But there are also cases that are more than parallel, and circumstances that are more than similar. It was identically the same, not a similar Cliristianity, which was denounced by the Sanhedrim, and which suffered in the Ten Persecutions. It was identically the same Pro