Friday, February 03, 2006

"Rainy wi'oot the Principal" VI.

Left: The Courtyard of New College. Former Free High Church on right)

Although the Second Ten Years' Conflict made Rainy a leader within the Free Church, his primary employment was that of teaching Church History at New College, Edinburgh. His introductory lecture in the Chair was delivered on 7th November 1862, and he spoke on the study of history and the history of the Church.

"That the study of the history of the Church should occupy an important place in the training of those who are to be the teachers of Christian religion flows in the most natural and direct manner from the nature of the case. This religion was delivered and revealed to man as one adapted for man by Him who made him. But man himself was made for history... As it was assigned to man to have history for the manner in which he should manifest himself, so also history... has been the method of God in His manifestation of Himself among men. The true religion, being the religion for man, could not but be historical... Revealed religion and historical fact are indivisible."
Rainy cautioned his students about approaching history with a pre-determined idea of what that history would teach, of using their system to interpret history. History had a meaning, he contended, but to see that meaning we had to look at history only with the profound realisation that God is th director of history, and that Christ will build His Church. But human responsibility had to be reckoned with too. Calvinism is not fatalism, and history is driven, not only by social forces, but by individuals. Social forces are the constant, but man is the variable.
As a student of Augustine, Rainy was influenced by the Latin Father's The City of God, in which Augustine set out the only sensible philosophy of history. History is a tale of two cities, the city of this world, which is founded upon the love of sels, and the City of God, which is founded upon the love of God.

Rainy electrified his students, foring them with a passion for Church History. It was not his style, for that was "involved and cumbersome", apparently the result of a diet of John Owen in his own student days. But Rainy was a brilliant man, "it was the power of intellect that showed a masterly comprehension of the truth or principle under discussion. It was the power of an historic consciousness by which the past was made to clothe its dead with life, and the questions and controversies which agitated bygone centuries became luminous as we were made to recognise the same principles, the same motives, at work, and the same tendencies in operation in the Church at the present day. It was his power also of imaginitive sympathy with which he could present both sides of an argument with equal impartiality, showing how the differences arose and developed, till his hearers were at a loss to which side the balance of their judgement should incline, till he began to sum up and struck the line of cleavage, and the solution took shape in our minds." one of his students explained. "He was a personality," said another.

Professor Rainy was also always willing to help students who were having doubts and difficulties. His explanation of the orthodox doctrine of the Atonement was so brilliant that some students thought he should write a book about it! He never did. His favourite answer to a difficulty was, "did you ever take it to God in prayer?" Prayer, he felt, was the best answer for such difficulties. Share it with friends, with him, by all means, but first and foremost share it with our Heavenly Father.

Rainy's favourite subjects were Origen and Augustine. Those lectures were always packed, although his lectures were never sparsely attended. His lectures on the Church up to Augustine were later turned into a book and published under the title of The Ancient Catholic Church. I will say of it what Alexander Whyte said: "I do not know where there is anything else like it." It is a masterly book, combining a good historical sense with a deep personal religion. Just type 'Robert Rainy' in ABE Books if you are interested in buying a copy.

The principal of New College when Rainy began his labours there was Robert Smith Candlish, minister of Free St. George's Church. Candlish was getting old, and as he became more infirm, more and more of his responsibilities devolved upon Rainy .

Rainy was a Church historian, and a Scots Presbyterian. In 1872 he was to be called upon in both those capacities to 'rectify' a visitor from across the border. And that shall, God willing, be our subject next time.



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