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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 155 him to show towards the father. Be this as it may, the fact is undoubted that the Presbytery of Auchterarder actually postponed consideration of Mr. Lawson’s claim to be admitted to the ministry, without assigning any ground for so doing, for the period of six years ! This occurred in 1771 ; and although, three years afterwards, the Assembly interfered, by an order to the Presbytery to take his case into consideration, it was not until 1777 that Mr. Lawson became actively resolute in forwarding his claim to be licensed. In the General Assembly of that year we find him in the character of “ a petitioner for justice,” when his (‘ appeal against a sentence of the Presbytery of Auchterarder, refusing to take him on licentiate trials, with reasons of dissent, and a complaint by some members of Presbytery, were taken into consideration.” In the petition it is stated, “that, as soon as the appellant had made his requisition to be taken on trials, the ministers withdrew from the Presbytery house without closing the sederunt, to the house in which they were to dine ; and after dinner they sent their officer for the appellant, and witheut calling for a single elder upstairs, or assigning any reason at all for their refusal, they (6th May 1777) did, by a majority, refuse to grant the petitioner’s request.” In the “reasons of dissent” by certain members of the Presbytery, it is stated- “ lst, That Mr. Lawson’s moral character was irreproachable ;-that nothing is alleged against him except some improprieties of behaviour ;-that his recluse and studious life may have kept him a stranger to the fashion of this world, which passeth away ; but the want of these superficial accomplishments is. amply compensated for by a considerable proficiency in human literature and in theologyby a simplicity, sincerity, and humility of deportment-and, above all, by a rational and unfeigned devotion ; and that the Presbytery, on the principles on which they rejected Mr. Lawson, would have rejected John the Baptist, who was bred a hermit, unfashioned to this world.-2d, that three years have elapsed since the Assembly ordered the Presbytery to show all charity to Mr. Lawson, and, though not to be rash in taking him on trials, yet to treat him with all tenderness and candour ; and that an interval of three years will vindicate the Presbytery from any charge of rashness ; but it was also their duty to treat him with tenderness and candour.-And 3d, That the Presbytery refused, simpliciter, to take him on trials, without assigning any reason for their refusal.” Parties being fully heard, after long reasoning, the General Assembly reversed the sentence complained of, and ordered the Presbytery to take Mr. Lawson on trials, with all convenient speed, and according to the rules of the Church. The Presbytery, in accordance with the mandate of a higher court, began the business of the “ trials.” The result may be anticipated when we mention that, in the General Assembly of the following year (17’78), Mr. Lawson again appeared in the character of a petitioner, complaining of a sentence of the Presbytery of Auchterarder, “ rejecting a discourse he had delivered before them as part of his trials, and remitting him to his studies.” The Honourable Henry Erskine appeared as his counsel, and Messrs. Scott, Dunbar, and W-right, for the Presbytery, After both parties were heard, the Assembly agreed to read Mr.
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. Lawson’s prayer and homily-a proceeding which was prevented by Mr. Erskine withdrawing the appeal.’ Mr. Lawson again appeared in the Assembly in 1779, as appellant from a sentence of the Presbytery of the 4th of May of that year, when the Assembly “ remitted the cause to the Presbytery, and appointed them to take Mr. Lawson on trials before the meeting of next Assembly ; and in case any objections are offered to his discourses, or to his conduct, they shall give him an opportunity of being heard on these objections before passing any judgment upon them.” This remit did not benefit Mr. Lawson ; and in the next Assembly he again appeared as a ‘‘ persevering petitioner” against the Presbytery of Auchterarder. In this new petition he complains that on ad of February 1780 the Presbytery prescribed to him a homily on a passage in Matthew, which the petitioner delivered on the 4th of April, and upon which the Presbytery did not give judgment, but prescribed to him another portion of Scripture for a lecture. The lecture he also delivered on the 25th of April, when the Presbytery again, without giving judgment, prescribed another portion of Scripture for an exercise and addition ; but being thus (‘ exercised” out of all patience, the student once more claimed the protection of the Supreme Court. On hearing the petition the Assembly appointed a committee to meet with the parties, with the view of an amicable adjustment, and afterwards ‘‘ remitted to the hesbytery to proceed to the remainder of Mr. Lawson’s trials, to finish the same, and pronounce their final judgment thereon, between and the first Wednesday of May next.” The Presbytery, thus pushed to extremities, had no resource but to pronounce a final opinion, which was done within the period assigned ; and we need scarcely add, after what had passed, that it was condemnatory of the petitioner. On the meeting of the Assembly in 1781, the committee which had been appointed to consider Mr. Lawson’s discourses gave in a report (to which the Assembly agreed) of the following tenor :-“ Edinburgh, May 31, 1781.-The committee report that having heard three of Mr. Lawson’s discoumes, and a letter of his to the Presbytery of Auchterarder, in answer to a question of the Presbytery put to him respecting his communicating, they found in the discourses such proofs of incapacity, and, in the letter such a spirit, as in their unanimous opinion fully justified the sentence of the Presbytery refusing to grant him a license.” The Rev. Mr. Cowan of Glndsmuir dissented from this judgment of the Assembly. The final result certainly exonerates the Presbytery from all other blame, excepting that of having unnecessarily delayed a decision for so long a period. This proceeding on the part of his counsel certainly creates a strong presuniption that, although the Presbytery might originally have erred in postponing consideration of the claim, the latter remit of Mr. Lawson to his trials was a very proper one. If the prayer and homily were unexceptionable, why not have submitted them to the consideration of the Assenibly ! In that case, after considering these productions, had the members of that venerable court been satisfied of his fitness for the ministry, the sentence complained of would have been reversed.
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