Thursday, February 09, 2006

"Rainy wi'oot the Principal" XI.

While the Free Church of Scotland had gone out of the Establishment in 1843, it had carried the Establishment Principle, that a state ought to support the Church, with it. But the years in enforced disestablishment led to a change in the Free Church. Younger men began to wonder why a principle that had frustrated the union between the Free and United Presbyterian Churches should be retained. They became dissenters, and a desire to disestablish the Church of Scotland began to rise in the Free Church.

In 1869 the Church of Scotland lobbied Parliament to abolish patronage, so that pastorates in the Church of Scotland should no longer be presented by landowners, but decided by the Christian people. The government passed the bill, and there were fears that some of the Free Church would now re-unite with the Establishment.
Rainy protested in the 1872 Assembly that, while the Free Church was glad to see the Establishment freed from patronage, "our controversy is with the constitution of their Church, not as fixed by them, but fixed for them." So long as parliament had granted the Church of Scotland its freedom, parliament was over the General Assembly, and so long as that was the case, union was out of the question.

But parliament was in no mood, it seemed, to grant such a freedom. The only answer, Rainy was starting to think, was Disestablishment.
Rainy contacted the Prime Minister, Mr. Gladstone. He objected, on behalf of the Free Church, to the government 'recognising' the Church of Scotland without taking into account the claims of the Free Church. Gladstone replied in a non-commital fashion. Rainy remained clear, even if patronage had been abolished, it did not follow that Spiritual independence had been restored to the Church of Scotland.

The Church of Scotland, on the passing of the bill, were overjoyed. They immediately began industriously expounding the merits of their church. Rainy and other Free Church leaders suspected that the intention was to woo Free Church people back into the 'Auld Kirk'. A pamphlet war broke out, Rainy and the Free Church leadership explaining in print to their people just why the questions of the Disruption were still open. There was no mass exodus from the Free Church, nor was the Church of Scotland moved to make any sort of apology. A few Free Church ministers moved to the Auld Kirk, and the Free Church declared there were well rid of them and went on as before.

But Disestablishment, as an issue, seemed to have come to stay. Since the government would not even look at the Free Church claim to at least a part of the national endowment of religion, it followed that the establishment of religion was unjust and unfair. What was more, from the perspective of the Disruption (and three decades as dissenters), the national establishment as it stood was sinful. Since the chances of a future government choosing to disestablish the Church of Scotland and establish the Free Church were in fact non-existent, younger Free Churchmen in particular were attracted to Disestablismentarianism.
For Rainy the attractions of disestablishment were different. The union negotiations between the Free and United Presbyterian Churches had foundered on the rock of Establishment. Once the question of establishment was removed, there would be no bar to a union that would put the Free Church on a par with the Church of Scotland at least in terms of membership.

For, despite the attempts at the Disruption to give the Free Church a truly national character, it only held such a character in certain parts of the Highlands and Islands. Elsewhere it was broadly speaking a middle-class Church that saw its first responsibilities as being towards its own members. The Free Church did not have the mentality of a national Church. Only disestablishment could ever put the ree Church in a position to eclipse the Church of Scotland.

In December 1874 Rainy made his first public speech in favour of Disestablishment. He would never change his mind on the issue.
But 1874 had seen another significant change in Rainy's life, and it is to that we shall turn, God willing, in our next post.



Post a Comment

<< Home