Sunday, July 23, 2006

Glasgow's School of the Prophets: The Free Church College VI

Last time we saw how a division arose in the Free Church College, Glasgow, when some of Professor Gibson’s students disagreed with him on the matter of total depravity. It seemed that the matter had swiftly blown over, but at the end of the session 1857-8 Gibson set that class an essay entitled ‘The Scripture Doctrine of Human Depravity as affecting the Understanding, Will and Affections, with a special reference to chapter six, paragraph two of the Confession of Faith’. It was hardly a title to lull the students who disagreed with him into a sense of security. They felt that it was in fact intended simply as a test of orthodoxy for the class. In this they were not wrong.

Four essays were regarded by Gibson as objectionable. The four students in question went to the rest of the College Senate, who drew up a paper declaring that they found nothing in the men’s essays opposed to Scripture or the Confession, rightly understood. Gibson was not satisfied, but he accepted the paper as a basis for dealing with the four men.

On the last day of the session the Systematic Theology class wore a strange appearance. Gibson announced that he would read the paper prepared by the other professors in the second hour of the class, and in the first hour he would prepare the class by reading extracts from the offending essays. After the extracts from the essays Gibson read his comments on them explaining why they were unsound. No responses were allowed from the students.

The following day the Senate met and three of the four students (the other was abroad at the time) appeared before it. Gibson asked them to withdraw certain statements in the essays and the men refused. The conflict was to continue. The case was brought before the College Committee.

The doctrinal charge, while important, was not the only charge against the men. They had also been the most disruptive members of the class, making their distain for Gibson obvious.

The College Committee came to six conclusions in the case, three regarding the students and three regarding Professort Gibson. Regarding the students it was concluded first that the formation of parties among the students was to be deplored, second that the students in question did not hold erroneous doctrine, and thirdly that such disagreements between students and Professort were best dealt with by friendly conversation, not by heated controversy.

Regarding Professor Gibson it was concluded that he ought to be reminded rthat his primary duty was not to protect the doctrine of the Church but to instruct students, that it was neither necessary nor wise to engage in public criticism of individual esasays before the entire class, and that he ought to destroy the extracts he had made from the essays.

But Gibson would not let the matter rest. Next time, God willing, we shall see what Gibson did.



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