Thursday, February 16, 2006

"Rainy wi'oot the Principal". XVI.

The Disestablishment campaign had failed. While others went on with Disestablishment rhetoric into the 20th Century, Rainy realised that it was only a pipe-dream so long as governments needed the Church of Scotland.
Those who were in favour of a national Establishment of religion were not, however, merely triumphalist in their victory. They realised that the Free Church and the Church of Scotlnd could not afford to be bickering endlessly. In 1878 the Church of Scotland had sent to the other Presbyterian Churches a communication on the subject of union, inquiring as to the causes that presently stood in the way of that union. The Church of Scotland declared its willingness to take any steps towards reuinon "consistent with the maintainance and support of an establishment of religion." The Free Church replied, but apparently the Church of Scotland reply was lost in the mail, and what could have proved a profitable correspondencewas abruptly terminated.
Rainy had written to Lord Polwarth, a Church of Scotland elder, explaining that the great difficulty was that of the state's behaviour towards the Church of Scotland. As should have already been made clear, Rainy was a firm believer in the independence of the Church, and he was not going to lead the Free Church of Scotland into any union that would compromise that independence. Disestablishment, he said, was the only answer.
In 1886, the year after the failure of the Disestablishment movement, the Church of Scotland approached the Free Church with a new offer. Although the people of Scotland were in favour of the Establishment of the Church of Scotland, the Church of Scotland was conscious that it had a responsibility to promote unity. The offer was the same as before: Disestablishment was not an option.
Rainy, speaking in the Free Church assembly, thought that this was unfortunate. He was glad that conference was being offered, but saddened that the greatest barrier to reunion was precisely that thing that was not up for discussion. If only those matters were put open to discussion, he saw no reason why the Churches should not enter into conference.
The Church of Scotland did not accept Rainy's offer. They refused to submit, under any circmstances, to Disestablishment. There was no conference. Rainy's mind was turned away from a fruitless discussion with the Church of Scotland to the resumption of the aborted union talks with the United Presbyterian Church. But Rainy was not going to make the first move. He was in the position of one who was willing to respond to an overture from the United Presbyterians, but he was not willing to extend the hand of friendship himself.
Part of this was no doubt due to Rainy's caution. He knew that there were those in the Free Church who thought he was a schemer, and those would be prejudiced against union by the fact that he had suggested it.

In 1887 Principal Rainy was called to the chair of the Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. For the benefit of those not familiar with the usages of Scottish Presbyterinism, the Moderator is the chairman of the Assembly. Not only this, but he has a peculiar dignity and precedence during his year of office. The Moderator also speaks to the Assembly from the chair. Rainy chose to speak of the changes in the Free Church. We should as Christians always be willing to learn, he told his fellow ministers, but we ought also to reember that there is nothing humble in uncertainty. The Christian religion is one of facts, and those facts had to be held firm.

So far we have spent a lot of time looking at Rainy the public man. Next time, God willing, I intend to say something about the Principal at home.

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