Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"Rainy wi'oot the Principal" III.

Robert Rainy was licenced to preach in 1849. He was called to take charge of a Free Church mission station in Renfrewshire soon after, and he served there for six months until the pious Free Church member, the Duchess of Gordon asked her to come north to Huntly in Aberdeenshire for a few weeks, partly to act as her chaplain, and partly to supply the pulpit of the Free Church of Huntly, which was currently vacant. Rainy accepted the offer, and he came to Huntly to preach.

The people and elders of the Free Church of Huntly (photo on left) were impressed by the young man's ability, and they extended a call to him to take up their pastorate. Rainy was surprised: Huntly was hardly an unimportant Church, and he was only a young man, his only experience had been as a missionary. But the Church told him that they felt he was capable, and after careful consideration, Rainy decided to accept the call. He explained in his letter accepting the call:
"I do so in fear and with some sense, though not in an adequate sense, of my unfitness for the work in Huntly. But if God grant me the prayers of the people to whom I am to minister, I will not despair. My dear sir, let us beseech God to rain down blessings upon us all, for surely we all greatly need them at his hand. Especially let us seek that He would put His spirit within us."

He was ordained on 22nd January, 1851. Rainy was in no doubt as to the importance of his position. Huntly is an important market town in the middle of Aberdeenshire, centre of a large upland district. What was more, Rainy knew that there were 'parties' among the people, one of which was a 'spiritual' party (perhaps like the 'Christ party' at Corinth) who regarded themselves as the true Church, while all others were of the world. "the opinion may be right or wrong," Rainy observed, "but it is an unsafe opinion for any one to hold in regard to his own case."
But Rainy was a wise and skilful young pastor. He set an example by his behaviour as well as from the pulpit. The people, on the whole, were considerate of the young pastor, and people and pastor grew to love each other. Rainy spent eleven hours on each sermon, and the effort was worth it, for a little girl in his congregation declared later that Rainy had a unique power of "making great things simple." His deep spiritual religion made a great impression on the critical Highland congregation, and he affected men by his prayers more than by his sermons, although he himself felt that his prayers were poor and lacking.
Huntly was the perfect place for the young man to begin his work. He would often go for long walks alone (the author can confirm that the walking around Huntly is excellent), even in deep snow.
But news of his ability and earnestness had spread, and in 1853 rumours began to be spread abroad that the Free High Church, Edinburgh, was considering extending a call to Rainy. At first Rainy felt that, even though William Cunningham was one of the main movers behind the call, it was his duty to remain longer at Huntly. Edinburgh, however, would not take no for an answer. Huntly implored him to stay, Cunningham was on the verge of practically forcing him to go to Edinburgh.
The call was placed before the presbytery on 12th April 1854, supported by William Cunningham, now Principal of New College. But Rainy declared his intention to remain in Huntly, and the call was declined. His loving congregation were relieved, but they reckoned without the Edinburgh presbytery, who carried an appeal all the way up to the General Assembly. By 170 to 36 the Assembly overturned the judgement of the presbytery, and Robert Rainy was called to the Free High Church, Edinburgh. Rainy acquiesced in the Assembly's judgement, and on 25th June 1854 he preached his farewell sermon at Huntly Free Church. He spoke powerfully, urging those who were not believers to "hear me for the last time". A few days later he left his manse to begin the journey to Edinburgh and the Free High Church.

And there we shall, God willing, meet him next time.


Monday, January 30, 2006

"Rainy wi'oot the Principal" II.

Dr. Harry Rainy was a friend and keen supporter of the Free Church Fathers, and his teenaged son Robert too a close interest in the Church. The medical profession, which he had before been content to drift into, lost its attraction for him, and he began to feel the call of God on his life. The pulpit as the Assembly were to be his sphere, not the surgery and the hospital ward. The events of 1843 decided him. "That year made me a minister," he said firmly in later life. In 1844, having graduated MA from the University of Glasgow, Robert Rainy entered the New College, Edinburgh.

From the beginning the Free Church Fathers had realised the importance of an educated ministry. As many ministerial students had left the Church of Scotland at the Disruption and thown in their lot with the Free Church, it was imperative to get the Free Church College up and running in Edinburgh. A house was rented in George Street, and classes begun. It was to this house that Robert Rainy came in 1844.
Rainy's professors were of the highest ability. Towering above them all was Thomas Chalmers, Scottish Evangelicalism incarnate, Professor of theology and principal of the College. David Welsh, professor of Church History, had led the procession from the Church of Scotland Assembly in 1843, but he was not long of this world, for he died in 1845. William Cunningham was in the second theology chair, giving lectures that fired the hearts of his students. In the chair of Old Testament and Hebrew was John 'Rabbi' Duncan, a man who was hardly an effective teacher, but who was a luminous Christian, and a man of deep learning and piety. Rainy sat at their feet and learned his theology with gratitude from these great men. Ever afterwards Robert Rainy would say that Chalmers was the greatest man he had ever met. Though Rainy's circle of acquaintance was to grow wide, to embrace political leaders who shaped empires, the model before his eyes was the Christian genius of Thomas Chalmers.
But, while Rainy admired Chalmers, his real master was William Cunningham. Cunningham had been very conspicuous in the Ten Years' Conflict, and Rainy had connected him with the struggles of those years. Coming to New College, however, he found that there was more to Cunningham than he had thought. Writing to a friend he said: " It is much more than might have been expected from one whose name has hitherto been so exclusively connected with ecclesiastical polemic."

Cunningham, for his part, declared that Rainy was " the ablest student he ever had." Chalmers wrote to Rainy's mother: " I have the utmost liking and respect for your son as one of the most intellectual and, I hope, pious and altogether among the best conditioned of my students."
His fellow students found Rainy skilled in debate, and a wonderful store of general knowledge. One of the students, a converted Parsee, wrote of Rainy: " He was a person of strong conviction and he strove to magnify the riches and glory of the grace of God." great things were expected of him.

But, although Robert Rainy was to do his most important work at New College, he had to go out into the real world of pastoral ministry. He was licenced to preach by the Free Church Presbytery of Glasgow on 7th November 1849. Rainy was launched upon the world as a minister of the Gospel.
What he made of that world we shall, God willing, start to see next time.


Saturday, January 28, 2006

"Rainy wi'oot the Principal" I.

In our last series on William Robertson Smith the figure of Robert Rainy loomed large. This is a true depiction of the Free Church of Scotland in the latter part of the 19th Century - Robert Rainy, Principal of New College, Edinburgh, DID loom large. This year of 2006 is the centenary of his death.

On 11th November 1906 a group of passemgers gathered for worship in the saloon of the steamer Geelong, en route to Australia. At the desk was a tall, striking old man of craggy visage with a Scottish accent. His text was Luke 12.35-40. "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when He cometh and knocketh, they may open unto Him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when He cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth to serve them. And if He shall come in the second watch, or in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants... Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not."
The preacher divided man's course into three 'watches', childhood, the middle period, and old age. Of the verse 37 he said:
"What does this mean? The serving of the servant by the Master. Dear friends, I cannot tell what it fully means. "He will come forth and serve them": what a pregnant description of our Lord's condescension and His servant's exaltation - the Master girded, the servant sitting - the Master serving, the servant sitting down to meat! What does it mean? Let us pray that one day we may know what it means."

It was the last sermon of Robert Rainy, a giant of a man, a man whom William Gladstone called "the greatest living Scotsman", a man who had worked tirelessly for his Church. No-one would have thought that it was his last sermon - all the way to Capetown Rainy seemed happy and healthy. But after the Geelong left the Cape, a change came over him. He became confined to his cabin, to the concern of his family members who were on board with him. Rainy seemed wrapped up in prayer. On one occasion, as his daughter read Scripture to him, he said: "And it's all true, Bartie - that's the wonderful thing; it's all quite true." On another occasion he said: "For myself, when I come to die, I think it will be this prayer in my heart, 'God be merciful to me, a sinner.'" He began to feel that he would never see Scotland again.
On 8th of December the Geelong reached Melbourne. Rainy seemed on the verge of death. He was taken to the home of Mrs. Cairns, widow of a godly Presbyterian minister. In the bedroom where he lay were hund pictures of William Cunningham and Robert Candlish, Rainy's mentors. Forty-five years before Rainy had been summoned to the death-bed of William Cunningham, and thirty-three years before he had been at the side of Robert Candlish as he passed away. And now, by a strange act of God's providence, their portraits looked down on Rainy as he lay dying.

Robert Rainy, son of Dr. Harry Rainy M.D. Professor of Forensic Medicine, Glasgow University, and his wife, Barbara Gordon, first saw the light of day in 49 Montrose Street, Glasgow, on New Year's Day 1826. Robert was the second child of his parents, and the eldest son. He was a happy, active boy, often injuring himself through recklessness. Three times young Robert broke his arm, and once he fell from the railings in front of the house onto his head. Aged ten young Robert was enjoying his favourite game of sliding down the bannisters when he toppled over, falling twenty feet. Dr. Harry Rainy came running, having heard the crash. Fearing that his son was killed, he found young Robert lying of the floor. We can only imagine his reaction of mingled anger and relief when the boy said, "I beg your pardon, sir; I'll never do it again."
Throughout his long life Robert Rainy was to retain his love of danger and adventure. As a student he was climbing the tower of Antwerp Cathedral and found a door on the stairs loked. Most men would have taken that as a hint that they should not go any further, but not Rainy. Seeing a rope hanging outside the tower, he seized hold of it and tested his weight on it. Finding it could bear him, he swung himself out of the window high above the city and ascended until he could get in through an window. Later still he was renowned as a daring yachtsman.
But Robert Rainy was also a greater reader. His devout parentstook him to hear Thomas Chalmers, the greatest Churhman of the age, and under that ministry he was quietly converted.
Rainy passed through school and university an average student. He was at first attracted to his own father's profession of medicine, but the great Ten Years' Conflict burst in upon him, and when the Church of Scotland was split in two on that great day in 1843, a spark of enthusiasm was kindled in Robert Rainy's heart, and he resolved to devote himself to the service of the Church of Christ.

And it is to his training for that ministry that, God willing, we shall turn next time.


Friday, January 27, 2006

"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith IX

William Robertson Smith had done the impossible. The devotee of the Higher Criticism had gone up against the combined might of Principal Rainy and James Begg, and got off with a slap on the wrist and a 'don't do it again.' It seemed that he was home and dry. For twenty-one days he was the hero of the hour. But on 8th of June 1880, the eleventh volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published. As it had been the Encyclopaedia that had started the controversy, so the Encyclopaedia would bring an end to it.
For the eleventh volume contained an article by Robertson Smith on Hebrew Language and Literature. As any Buible college student ought to know, the only significant Hebrew Literature before the 2nd century AD is the Old Testament, and so Robertson Smith discussed the origins of the books of the Old Testament in the article.

His views had changed. But, far from becoming more moderate, he had become far more extreme, embracing even more of the German higher critical position! "It may fairly be made a question whether Moses left in writing any other laws than the commandments on the tables of stone," Robertson Smith had written. What was worse, the article had been in the press even as Robertson Smith had been speaking his apparently heartfelt words of repentance before the Assembly. Many who had given him the benefit of the doubt in the Assembly now recoiled in horror at this apparent hypocrisy. Robertson Smith could not be trusted after all. In fact it is probably more likely that Robertson Smith had just not thought about the impact that the article would have. His faith had not been affected by the new views of the Bible, why should that of anyone else?

The appearance of the article proved to Rainy what he had always suspected - Robertson Smith was his own worst enemy, learned though he was. Even if he should weather this storm, he would eventually make a bluder that the Assembly would not forgive, and academic freedom in the Free Church Colleges would be stifled. Robertson Smith had promised to be discreet in his speech to the Assembly, he had souded contrite, and all the while this article had been in the press. What other articles were in the press? What further bluders might the professor commit. Rainy concluded that he had been right to take the stance that he had taken, and he set his face to the task of removing Robertson Smith from the Free Church of Scotland, for the sake of the peace of his beloeved Free Church. The historian of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland says: "Professor Smith's ill-concealed contempt for many of his opponents, simply because they were not so familiar with the niceties of Hebrew scholarship and were not spell-bound by the erratic theorising of the German school, explains to a certain extent his inability to see matters from their standpoint." (History of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland [Glasgow, 1970] P. 39). Robertson Smith had never been a pastor, and had therefore the mind of an academic, not a pastor. Unable to sympathise with the concerns of his elders and betters in the Assembly, he had to pay the price for his thoughtlessness.

The Assembly of 1881 was in no mood to be as lenient to Robertson Smith as that of the previous year, and when Rainy stood up to propose a motion against Robertson Smith, it was once again as the leader of the Church. "Both the tone of the article in itself, and the fact that such an article was prepared and published in the circumstances, and after all the previous proceedings in his case, evidence on the part of Professor Smith a singular insensibility to his responsibilities as a theological professor, and a singular and culpable lack of sympathy with the reasonable anxieties of the Church as to the bearing of critical speculations on the integrity and authority of Scripture," Rainy read out. The motion concluded that, "Professor Smith, whatever his gifts and attainments, which the Assembly have no disposition to undervalue, ought no longer to be entrusted with the training of students for the ministry." (Black and Chrystal, William Robertson Smith P. 425. The motion passed by 423 votes to 245, a clear majority. Robert Rainy had won at last. He had saved the Free Church, so he felt, from obscurantists and from the extremes of critical scholars.

William Robertson Smith was removed from his chair. He went south of the border, to Cambridge, where he lived out the rest of his days in the rarefied atmosphere of the university, dying in 1894. He never forgave Rainy, telling one student of his who declared his intention of going to New College to study, "Don't trust Rainy - he's a Jesuit."

Or maybe Rainy was just a canny politician. For the Higher Criticism, once it had entered the Free Church, was not going to be removed with one man. It spread like a cancer, taught by wiser men that Robertson Smith. And Robertson Smith lived and died a Calvinist, while many Free Churchmen abandoned the Reformed Faith. But that is, as another writer says, another story, but a story which, God willing, Free St. George's may return to.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith IX

William Robertson Smith had, by his reckless behaviour, put himself in serious danger. Robert Rainy, the most important man of the Free Church wrote to James S. Candlish, one of Robertson Smith's closest friends, saying:

"[Smith] must show in some pretty distinct and emphatic way a disposition to be considerate, to weigh well the ground he is to occupy as an instructor, and to pay regard, though of course it cannot be an unlimited regard, to the impressions of his Brethren as to the tendency of his views and the dangers that may attract them." (Quoted by P. Carnegie Simpson, Vol. 1. P. 323)

This was a thinly veiled threat. In the 1877 Assembly Rainy had said: "We want to be proud of Professor Smith and to trust him." What was implied was that Rainy did neither. In fact, as the case wore on and Robertson Smith became more and more of an embarrassment, Robert Rainy decided that the only way to preserve critical liberty in the Free Church of Scotland was to remove Robertson Smith from his post for reasons other than heresy. "If we sacrifice the man they must sacrifice the libel," he observed. No libel meant no heresy case, and without a heresy case the conservatives could not get the Higher Criticism condemned by the Assembly. So Rainy arranged a deal with Sir Henry Moncrieff, a leading member of the conservative wing of the Assembly. A motion would be put before the Assembly that would remove Robertson Smith without condemning his views. To Rainy's dismay, when the motion was put before the Assembly of 1880 it lost by just seven votes because not all of the conservative ministers had voted! Instead a motion was passed that would give Robertson Smith little more than a slap on the wrist, retaining him in his chair and merely admonishing him for 'unwise conduct'. It seemed Rainy had miscalculated.

Robertson Smith came calmly to the moderator's chair to recieve his admonition. Speaking to the House afterwards, the professor said:

I have never been more sensible than on the present occasion of the blame that rests upon me for statements which have proved so incomplete that, even at the end of three years, the opinion of the house has been so divided upon them. I feel that, in the providence of God, this is a very weighty lesson to one so placed, as I am, in the position of a teacher, and I hope that by His grace I shall not fail to learn from it."
(Quoted In Black and Chrystal, William Robertson Smith P. 360)

There were cheers of approval, and even a victory party thrown for Robertson Smith. He had been right and Rainy had been wrong! It seemed that the power of Robert Rainy had been broken. The Free Church was on the side of the Higher Critics, and Rainy's caution had only hurt him.
But, if Robert Rainy could not destroy William Robertson Smith's career in the Free Church, Robertson Smith was his own worst enemy. His victory lasted exactly twenty-one days, for on the 8th of June the eleventh volume of the fateful Encyclopaedia Britannica appeared.

Why this was to spell the end for Robertson Smith we shall see, God willing, next time.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith VIII

The Free Church Assembly in session

William Robertson Smith was on trial before the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, charged with teaching on the book of Deuteronomy tending to subvert the teaching of the Westminster Confession. What was at stake was not only his post as Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at the Free Church College, Aberdeen, but the whole question of the Higher Criticism in the Free Church of Scotland.

The General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland was and still is a democratic representative body. A good speaker could sway the house. But it was expected that young men who were being investigated for heresy should speak respectfully to their elders and betters. But Robertson Smith was impatient with the Assembly, constantly engaging in personalities and accusing those who disagreed with him of stupidity, on one occasion telling the learned Dr. Moody Stuart to "Consult a Commentary," and in one notorious Assembly speech making pointed reference to the family troubles of James Begg, an act seen as so unseemly that the gibe was excised from the official report of the Assembly's proceedings (Note: This fact is reported in Drummond and Bulloch, The Church in Late Victorian Scotland [Edinburgh, St. Andrews Press, 1978] P. 63. All previous accounts of the case are based on the official record).

In the face of such unseemly remarks, Principal Rainy found himself feeling more and more that Robertson Smith really had only himself to blame. At first Rainy had felt that it was James Begg and his 'Highland Host' who were to blame for disturbing the peace of the Church, but now he decided that the blame lay at Robertson Smith's door. A few verbal concessions on the part of the young professor, joined with a more tractable and teachable attitude towards his elders, would have brought the case to an end with no loss to Robertson Smith, but the young man was actually showing himself to be rude and very opinionated.

He was getting on the wrong side of Principal Rainy, and that could be a very dangerous thing to do. God willing we shall see next time the steps Rainy took to deal with the Robertson Smith problem.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Housekeeping and notices. Also: Forthcoming.

The Blogroll at Free St. George's is a little chaotic, and it will not be being cleaned up any time soon. The order of blogs is purely random. There was an order once, but that was a long time ago. Essentially it's a list of blogs I read. I would not say that I AGREE with all of them (I don't), but then, if you only read things you agree with, you miss out on so much.

Now I am about to do what Free St. George's has never done before (and may never do again). I am going to announce three upcoming features here.

1. Starting next week on Free St. George's, God willing, Principal Rainy, in honour of the centenary of his death (22nd December, 1906), a biographical series on Robert Rainy.
2. Remembering Morisonianism, a series on the founding of the Evangelical Union Church will be posted, God willing, some time afterwards.
3. God willing, at some time after that I shall write something about Robert Smith Candlish, who was born on 22nd March 1806, and so whose centenary falls this year.

There is just a remote possibility that the 150th anniversary of the birth of James Denney (5th February, 1856) might draw forth an article, and I may also pause to note the 450th anniversary of the birth of Andrew Melville (26th July, 1556), but these are both under God, and only remote possibilities.
There may well be something (God willing) to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of George Matheson (28th August, 1906), author of 'O love that wilt not let me go', but don't expect too much. I have to preach AND work on my course.

A word on pictures: We are having some scanner trouble here. Normal service will be resumed (God willing) as soon as possible.

Finally, this post is NOT in lieu of the next post in the Robertson Smith series, which will, God willing, appear to-morrow.


"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith VII

Principal Rainy of Edinburgh, the uncrowned archbishop of the Free Church was the one man Robertson Smith could not afford to antagonise. But in 1878, in a series of Lectures on The Bible and Criticism at the English Presbyterian College, Rainy let it be known that his support could not be relied upon. He let it be known that, if Robertson Smith and his friends thought that the mere name of 'Critic' confered upon its bearer an authority of almost Papal quality, Robert Rainy did not.

The words of critics, Rainy warned his audience, were to be weighed with caution. "It is very safe to wait," he told them; but it is very dangerous "to open our mouths very wide for the purpose of swallowing critical theories that happen to have been plausibly proposed and to be floating about in the air" (P. 87). Was Rainy implying that he thought Robertson Smith and his friends had very wide mouths indeed, and very uncritical appetites. "It seems not to ask too much to ask that such an opinion [as puts a strain on the faith of ordinary Christians] shall be propounded, not dogmatically, but problematically," Rainy pleaded (P. 185). To counter the objection that criticism had to be free and unfettered, Rainy replied:
"I do not think that the interests of truth will be prejudiced, nor yet the candour and frankness of our own minds, by recognising a certain responsibility towards that great mass of Christian view and feeling, which certainly is not all equally enlightened, but still, has in it elements of truth and goodness, not so adequately represented in any individual mind, however pious or however able." (P. 186)
The danger was in fact that critics, isolated from the general mass of believers, would suffer by this isolation. They would benefit enormously from taking into account the common folk, whom Rainy had dealt with in his years in the pastorate: "I think criticism, even as carried on by believing men, needs an influence arising from the point of view of those who represent simply the interests of the common faith." (P. 28). That this is a direct reference to Robertson Smith is suggested by a letter that Rainy had written earlier to Dr. Laidlaw, a member of the Aberdeen Free Presbytery, concerning the Robertson Smith case:

"The root of the whole mischief appears to me to be an absence of regard for the conditions under which believing men who have not much scholarship, including ministers, maintain their faith in the Word of God... the disregard of this appears to me... to amount to contempt. Where this is so, scholarship wants a steadying influence. Personal faith is not enough as a steadying influence." (Quoted in P. Carnegie Simpson, The Life of Principal Rainy, [London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1909, 2 Volumes] Vol. i. P. 329).

Rainy, as was his wont, did not commit himself to either side in the Robertson Smith case. If he stated his belief in the unity of Isaiah, he also criticized the harsh and censorious spirit in which many conservatives spoke of Biblical Criticism. But Rainy made it quite clear that he was not prepared to shelter Robertson Smith if he made himself troublesome.

And Robertson Smith DID make himself troublesome, as we shall see next time.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith VI

Principal Robert Rainy of New College Edinburgh was the single most powerful man in the Free Church of Scotland in the later 19th Century. Based in Edinburgh as he was, Rainy was at the centre of a web of committees that had been evolved by the Disruption era leaders to deal in particular with the financial matters of the Church. Only Rainy fully understood this network, and his position in the Capital made it only natural that he should run the committees. A.L. Drummond and James Bulloch wrote of Rainy, "all he lacked was the triple crown" (The Church in Late Victorian Scotland [Edinburgh, St. Andrew's Press, 1978] P. 308). Presbyterianism's democratic element is supposed to preclude such a personal rule in the Church (no archbishops allowed!), but Rainy was an archbishop in fact, if not in title. The backing of Rainy could ensure that a motion passed the Assembly, and the absence of Rainy's backing could sink a promising motion.

At first Rainy had cautiously defended Robertson Smith, but Rainy's defence of the accused professor was not founded on any agreement between the two, rather it was based on Rainy's belief that Free Church scholars should be allowed academic freedom, not tightly controlled by the word of the Assembly. A Free Church professor had a perfect right to hold German Higher Critical views of Deutronomy, he held, even though he personally disagreed with those views. But, as the case went on, Rainy began to feel that Robertson Smith was teaching as facts critical views which had in fact a very slender basis indeed. So when Robert Rainy was asked to lecture at the English Presbyterian College (then located in London) in 1878, and chose as his subject The Bible and Criticism, all eyes were turned to London.

In his opening lecture Rainy explained (no doubt to the disappointment of his audience), "I am not to be understood as deciding questions which are at present awaiting decision before the courts of my own Church" (Robert Rainy, The Bible and Criticism [London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1878] P. 5. All subsequent quotations of Rainy are from this book unless otherwise stated). Yet Rainy was really far too canny to leave the questions entirely untouched, in fact dropping some pretty broad hints for Robertson Smith and his supporters.

For one thing, the lectures revealed that Robert Rainy was a decided conservative on the matter of Biblical criticism. If he was tolerant of Robertson Smith, he was not an ally whom Robertson Smith could rely upon. Rainy firmly believed that there was only one Isaiah (Pp. 115-6), while it was one of the 'assured results of Biblical Criticism' that the book of Isaiah was a composite work by at least two different authors many centuries apart. Secondly, Rainy's great aim in the lectures was to inculcate "a calm, self-restraining spirit, which compares results and does justice to other men's points of view" (P. 77). The words were a warning to Robertson Smith and his supporters. Rainy also thought that Robertson Smith's most deadly enemies were lacking in charity, but he reserved his harshest words for the more extravagant of the modern Biblical critics.
"There is an eagerness in the critic's nature; he would always be seeing something, especially something that common people cannot see, or at any rate have not seen. Therefore, unless he is exceptionally self-restraining, he may persuade himself that he is seeing something remarkable, when all the time he is deluding himself with mere arbitrary combinations." (P. 98).

Rainy was not impressed with Robertson Smith, and as he went on with his lectures the depth of that displeasure could almost be felt - it can still be felt across the centuries. What Rainy had to say to the young professor in particular we shall see, God willing, next time.


Friday, January 20, 2006

"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith. V

Last time we saw that the College Committee did not come to a decision on the case of William Robertson Smith , but referred the matter to Robertson Smith's presbytery, the Free Presbytey of Aberdeen. Smith, annoyed at the thought of a long and drawn-out discussion, the case and his reputation being kicked, as a football, around the Free Church for years, demanded a formal indictment, known as a 'libel'.

The libel was a long and comlicated document, couched in legal language. It charged Smith with eight specific offences, in summany that:
1. The Levitical laws did not date from the time of Moses, but from a later date.
2. Deuteronomy was not a historical document, but the claim to be one is a literary device.
3. The sacred writers took freedoms and committed errors like any other authors.
4. Certain books of the Bible are works of fiction.
5. The Song of Songs has no spiritual significance.
6. The New Testament citations of Old Testament books by titles then current cannot be regarded as proof of their actual authorship.
7. The predictions of the prophets were due to spiritual insight, not immediate divine revelation.
8. The reality of angels in the Bible is a matter of assumption rather than direct teaching.

The Presbytery deliberated on the libel and finally voted. When the results of the vote were announced it was found that Robertson Smith had been cleared by a very slender minority. Any thoughts of victory on the part of Smith and his friends were soon disappointed, however, as the members of the presbytery who dissented from the final verdict decided to appeal to the General Assembly of the Free Church.
At the Assembly of 1877 the members voted as to whether or not Professor William Robertson Smith should be tried for heresy and, if he was, whether or not he sould be suspended pending trial. The vote was in the affirmative in both cases. Robertson Smith was to be tried for heresy before the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, and until the trial was complete he was to be suspended from his teaching function as a precaution.

Scotland eagerly awaited the results of the trial, the more so when it was announced that Principal Rainy, the one man who could sway the Assembly, was to give a course of lectures in London on The Bible and Criticism in 1878.
Which lectures, in their bearings on the fate of William Robertson Smith, we shall, if the Lord will, consider next time.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith. IV.

William Robertson Smith's case was to be considered by the College committee. On the committee were men who were neutral in the case, who were cautious as to what to do with the young professor. There were also some decided supporters of Robertson Smith, men who believed that if Smith was condemned, academic freedom in the Free Church would suffer. And there were men who were decidedly hostile to Robertson Smith and his views of the Bible.

All recognised that Smith was neither a sceptic nor a rationalist, but Dr. Smeaton astutely warned Robertson Smith: "The pupils go further than the teacher... would you like to hear one of your own pupils saying from the pulpit that Mattew was 'non-apostolic' and subsequently of no authority because not an eye-witness?" (Quoted In John Sutherland Black and George Chrystal, Life of William Robertson Smith [London, Adam and Charles Black, 1912] P. 201). Principal Brown of Aberdeen liked Robertson Smith as a person, and he initially supported him. Reading through Smith's article, however, he was appalled. Robertson Smith was reporting as fact unfounded speculations! What was worse, he was representing these speculations as 'assured results of scientific criticism' to the general public in the most irresponsible manner. From that moment, Brown became convinced that, for the good of the Church, he had to oppose his own professor. Although Robertson Smith felt no such conflict between his views and a full confidence in the Bible, the views tended to shake the confidence of others in the Scripture.

After much deliberation the College Committee referred the case to the Presbytery of Aberdeen, to wich Smith belonged. Robertson Smith could see, in his mind's eye, the case being kicked around as a football for years, all the wile leaving vague rumours of heresy hanging over his head. If Principal Rainy thought that the peace of the Free Church could best be served in such a manner, so be it. Robertson Smith would not have it. He demanded that his accusers 'put up or shut up', that they serve a 'libel' on him, a formal indictment on which a heresy trial would be founded.

We shall look briefly at the 'libel' and its progress in the Presbytery next time, God willing.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith. III.

Last time we saw how it was that William Robertson Smith came to be the Free Church of Scotland's youngest professor and how, despite his teaching on Biblical criticism, he was regarded as an ornament to the Church. All that changed with the appearance of the Encyclopaedia Britannica article 'Bible'.

Robertson Smith expounded his critical views with the freedom that was natural to him. If he was a flawed man (as he undoubtedly was), he was not a dishonest man. He stated as facts opinions about the dates and compositions of Biblical books which were quite shocking in the Scotland of 1875. Isaiah and some of the other prophetic books were, in fact, composite works written by a number of people over a long period of time, he said, Deuteronomy was not written by Moses at all, but by a later writer who used Moses' name as a literary device. The newspapers had a field day. Many of them had supported the Church of Scotland in the Disruption, and such a glaring case of 'apostasy' in the Free Church was wonderful copy to them. Something, the Free Church leaders felt, had to be done about Robertson Smith.

The first man to make a move was Rev. James Begg, redoubtable leader of the 'Constitutionalist' or conservative wing of the Free Church. Begg was 'very jealous for the LORD God of hosts' (I Kings 19.10), and for the Free Church of Scotland and the Westminster Confession. The thought of a man teaching what Robertson Smith taught about the Bible with impunity in the Free Church was anathema to Begg. He made it known that, unless the General Assembly of the Church did something about Robertson Smith, he would personally charge Smith with heresy before the Assembly.
The matter was immedately passed to the proper authorities, the College Committee, who had responsibility for the Free Church colleges. Among the twenty members of the committee were some of the most distinguished and learned Free Churchmen. The three principals, Rainy of Edinburgh, the uncrowned leader of the Free Church, Douglas of Glasgow, and David Brown of Aberdeen, one of the authors of the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Bible commentary, led the committee. Other members included George Smeaton, author of standard works on the Holy Spirit and on the Atonement, Dr. Goold, the editor of the Works of John Owen, Professor James S. Candlish, and Mr. (later Dr.) Alexander Whyte.
Yet Robertson Smith's biographers would later complain that Robertson Smith's judges were intellectually incompetent to try him. Robertson Smith, they say effectively, was so brilliant that no-one could understand his thought. The result is a biography that actually does Robertson Smith no favours. He comes across as an arrogant young man who deserved far worse than he got.

But what did he get? We shall see, God willing, in the next few posts.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith. II.

As we saw in our last post, William Robertson Smith, like many New College students of the late 19th Century, was taken by A.B. Davidson's approach to Old Testament studies. The Victorians liked what was 'new', 'advanced' and 'up-to-date' (not to mention what was German), and Robertson Smith's intellect embraced the new critical theories. He supplemented his studies at New College with visits to Germany, where he could drink in the new teaching from its source.

Robertson Smith graduated from New College in 1870. Instead of going to a pstoral charge, as would have been wise and usual, the brilliant young man was appointed to the chair of Hebrew and Old Testament in the Free Church College, Aberdeen, the chsir having just been rendered vacant by the death of the previouas professor. Some in the Free Church had doubts as to the wisdom of appointing such a young man to such a post, but their fears were calmed by glowing letters of reccommendation from Professor Davidson, and from Robert Rainy, the sagacious and statesmanlike Principal of New College. Rainy was to bitterly regret that letter.

A.B. Davidson was a cautious man by nature, perhaps too cautious (he never married because he was never able to pluck up enough courage to propose to any of the young ladies to whom he was attracted. One was actually expecting a proposal from him, but she got tired of waiting). William Robertson Smith, on the other hand, was a dashing, courageous young man, full of fervour, a man who never did anything by halves. He embraced the Higher Criticism with gusto. Robertson Smith became convinced that the old Scottish Calvinist orthodoxy was not incompatible with the new Criticism. While he did not go far beyond Davidson's views in 1870, he was willing to broadcast them to the world with all the evangelistic zeal he could muster. His friends, who held the same views, were delighted. At last their views were being heard in Aberdeen, the tiny, ultra-conservative Free Church college. The day could not be far distant when the Free Church was wholly Higher Critical.

Despite radical and surprising statements made by Robertson Smith in his inaugural lecture, his appointment failed to cause much of a stir in the Free Church. Looking back, we can see that the cause was not so much that most Free Church ministers agreed with him, or were willing to be silent, but that the energy of the conservative party in the Free Church was at that time consumed in fighting a proposed union between the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church (the Union that would finally be consumated in 1900). Smith's undoubted intellectual brilliance and his scholarship also gave something of a lustre to the Free Church when the young professor was appointed to the Old Testament Company of the body that was engaged in producing the Revised Version of the Bible. There he joined two other Free Church professors, his mentor Davidson, and the staunchly conservative George C. M. Douglas.

Smith was considered, in fact, one of the chief ornaments of the Free Church in many quarters. Right up until, on December 7th, 1875, the third volume of the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica appeared. One of the articles in the volume was entitled 'Bible', and Robertson Smith was the author of it. The article touched off a veritable fire storm in the Free Church.

Of which more next time, God willing)


Monday, January 16, 2006

"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith. I.

The Free Church of Scotland was founded in 1843 by the secession from the Church of Scotland by hundreds of Reformed, Evangelical ministers. By 1900 it was a 'mixed denomination', containing a number of ministers who were basically modernist in their theology (note: the present Free Church of Scotland is the result of a number of conservative evangelicals refusing to enter a Church union scheme with the majority of Free Church ministers).

Modernism (or liberalism) entered the Free Church through the Free Church colleges, at first in the form of Higher Criticism of the Bible. The most notorious of the men by whom it entered was William Robertson Smith.

Smith was the son of an Aberdeenshire Free Church minister, a man who had suffered a great deal in the Disruption, when the Free Church Fathers had seceded from the Church of Scotland. William Pirie Smith was a great lover of books, and he was delighted when all three of his children showed signs of extraordinary precocity of intellect. While two of the children died young, the third, William Robertson, went up to Aberdeen University in 1861 as the youngest undergraduate in his year and graduated in 1866. In the autumn of the same year, William Robertson Smith began his theological studies at New College, Edinburgh, then the Free Church college. While there was a Free Church College in Aberdeen, William Pirie Smith felt that his son would be better served by the better-equipped Edinburgh college.

An excellent student, William Robertson Smith found himself particularly attracted to the lectures of Andrew Bruce Davidson, the Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at New College. Davidson was seen as fresh and exciting by many of the young students (who also saw the older professors as old-fashioned and out of touch). Davidson was another Aberdeenshire man, and in 1866 he was a relatively new face among the professors of New College. While his predecessor in the Chair, Dr. John 'Rabbi' Duncan, had been a thorough believer in the inerrancy of the Bible, and on the subject of the world being millions of years old once said: "I dinna believe 't at a'. I am sure the Pentateuch was written by Moses, and I don't believe a word o' that. With Paul, I believe all things which are written in the Law and the Prophets" (quoted in David Brown, The Life of Rabbi Duncan [Glasgow, Free Presbyterian Publications, 1986] P. 421), Davidson, on the other hand, felt that the views of the German higher critics were, if not unassailable, at least entitled to some respect. After all, some of the most brilliant academic minds in Europe were teaching these views, radically re-dating portions of the Old Testament, particularly the Pentateuch.

Davidson was a rather shy, reserved person, and he did not teach these views openly except with the greatest caution. The more advanced German views he shared only with an inner circle of students who appreciated them. Chief among these students was William Robertson Smith. Davidson's own fervent personal faith helped to disarm those who were suspicious of the 'Higher Criticism', and his caution ensured that he did not get into trouble. What Robertson Smith did we shall, God willing, see in the next post.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

Preaching the Word

This Lord's Day I shall (if the Lord will) be out preaching again.

James Denney on 'Intolerance'

Having just got back, I am first of all very tired, and secondly very busy (preaching last night, to-morrow, term begins on Tuesday). So, before I begin any original writing here (that is a loose term, some of my 'original writing' is re-hashed material from my College Summer Project), here is James Denney.

"The doctrine of the death of Christ and its significance was not St. Paul's theology, it was his gospel. It was all he had to preach. It is with it in his mind - immediately after the mention of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present world with all its evils - that he says to the Galatians: 'Though we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you contravening the gospel which we preached, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man is preaching a gospel to you contravening what you recieved, let him be anathema' (Gal. i.4,8 f.). I cannot agree with those who disparage this, or affect to forgive it, as the unhappy beginning of religious intolerance. Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament has any conception of a religion without this intolerance. The first commendment is, 'Thou shalt have none other gods beside Me,' and that is the foundation of the true religion. As there is only one God, so there can be only one gospel. If God has really done something in Christ on which the salvation of the world depends, and if he has made it known, then it is a Christian duty to be intolerant of everything which ignores, denies, or explains it away. The man who perverts it is the worst enemy of God and men; and it is not bad temper or narrowmindedness in St. Paul which explains this vehement language, it is the jealousy of God which has kindled in a soul redeemed by the death of Christ in a corresponding jealousy for the Saviour. It is intolerent only as Peter is intolerent when he says, 'Neither is there salvation in any other' (Acts iv. 12), or John, when he says, 'He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life' (I John v. 12); or Jesus Himself when He says, 'No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him' (Matt. xi. 27). Intolerance like this is an essential element in the true religion; it is the instinct of self-presevation in it; the unforced and uncompromising defence of that on which the golory of God and the salvation of the world depends. If the evangelist has not something to preach of which he can say, if any man makes it his business to subvert this, let him be anathema, he has no gospel at all. Intolerance in this sense has its counterpart in comprehension; it is when we have the only gospel, and not till then, that we have the gospel for all. It is a great argument, therefore, for the essential as opposed to the casual or accidental character of St. Paul's teaching on Christ's death - for it is with this that the epistle to the Galatians is concerned - that he displays his intolerance in connection with it. To touch his teaching here is not to do something which leaves his gospel unaffected; as he understands it, it is to wound his gospel mortally."

James Denney, The Death of Christ (Fifth edition, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1905) Pp. 110-111


Friday, January 13, 2006

Happy New Year from Free St. George's