Sunday, July 23, 2006

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

The early professors of the Free Church College, Glasgow, were orthodox to a man, and in that they were representative of the Free Church of the Disruption. But among the younger men of the Free Church of Scotland new ideas were creeping in, mostly from Germany. These ideas caused concern among some of the professors, not least to Professor Gibson.
Due to the illness of Professor Hetherington, Gibson taught Systematic theology in addition to his Church History classes, and it was in connection with his second year Systematic Theology class that the trouble arose. It began early in the 1857-8 session with a debate in class over the nature and extent of the injury inflicted upon the intellectual powers of man by the fall. Gibson and the majority of the class agreed with the Westminster Confession but a small minority disagreed, not on Biblical grounds but upon philosophical.
The division in the class demonstrated by this became obvious when Gibson set them an essay on ‘The Unity of God’. It was Gibson’s custom to read students’ essays in class and to criticise them, individually, there. Usually the essays were given in simultaneously but in this base they were not. Gibson took the first essay and tore it apart, castigating the author for his unsound and dangerous views.
The man’s friends were stung into action and the class took sides, the minority writing against their professor and the majority writing in defence of his views.
The issue was how far the unaided reason of fallen men could comprehend the nature of God. While both sides admitted that creation and providence revealed the existence, power and goodness of God, Gibson and his supporters contended that the natural man could not recieve this truth due to the depravity of his heart, while his opponents contended that he was capable of recieving it. Gibson told them in no uncertain terms that this was to, in effect at least, deny the doctrine of human depravity.
The division grew as Gibson made very clear that he regarded the minority as being in dangerous error, preferring human philosophy to the Bible. The students appealed to Fairbairn, who brought the matter to be investigated by the Senate. It seemed the matter was at an end.
However it was not. What happened next deserves to be told and will, God willing, be told next time.



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