"An Impossibility" William Robertson Smith VIII
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.
Labels: Robertson Smith