Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The history of a denomination: V.

The Assembly of 1904 met under a cloud. The Free Church case had not yet been decided by the Law Lords, as Lord Shand, one of the number who were dealing with the case, had died unexpectedly. In the events that followed Lord Shand would be unaccountably canonized by the United Free Church, but more of that anon.
There were whispers in the Assembly Hall that, for nefarious reasons of their own, the Law Lords were engineering a verdict unfavourable to the UF Church. The Lord Chancellor was openly said to be the evil genius behind this conspiracy (although we are glad to report that no-one actually suspected him of having Lord Shand bumped off). Lord Shand's favourable opinion, found in writing among his papers after his death, it was rumoured, was being supressed.
So the Assembly were apprehensive. The triumphalism of 1903 was gone, replaced by fears that they would be dispossessed by a nefarious government conspiracy (the thought that the 'Wee Frees' might be in the right never seems to have occurred to the United Free Assembly).
The Moderator of the 1903 Assembly was Rev. Robert Gordon Balfour of the New North Church, Edinburgh. Balfour was a cousin of Principal Rainy and a keen golfer who used to play golf with George Reith of Edinburgh.
The Colleges were the major issue in 1903. As well as the matter of the Natural Science Chairs (which were vacant) there was a vacancy in the Chair of Systematic Theology in New College following the resignation of Professor Laidlaw (author of 'The Bible Doctrine of Man' rept. Stoke-on-Trent, Tentmaker 2006, a book we would reccomend to all our readers). Laidlaw had held the Chair since 1881, and he was a deeply respected man with, by 1903, more involvement in para-church movements than in the Free Church. A convinced evangelical, he could not feel at home in a church that accepted liberalism, but he loved the Free Church too much to leave it. Dean Stanley once heard Laidlaw preach when Laidlaw was a pastor in Perth and the Dwan commented, "I have this day listened to the best sermon I ever heard by the ugliest man I have ever seen." We provide a picture so our readers can judge for themselves whether the Dean was just or not.
The Natural Science Chairs, originally concieved when it was feared the Universities would be closed to Free Churchmen in the years after the Disruption, were thought by some to be an anachronism. Their second use, to defend the Bible doctrine of creation, was already derided. Some thought they ought to be supressed, but then there was the matter of the classrooms and museums. Besides, the Glasgow Chair had been occupied by the famed Henry Drummond (we at Free St. George's have read most of Drummond's books, and we do not have a high view of him. For what we think of him see blog entries passim).
Eventually it was decided to appoint ONE professor for both Glasgow and Edinburgh, Dr. J. Y. Simpson. It was objected by some that he was unordained, but then it was pointed out there there are more important qualifications than Ordination for a Professor of Natural Science (and more than a class medal in natural science from school, but this is not about Henry Drummond).
There were two candidates for the Edinburgh Systematic Chair, Dr. H. R. Mackintosh of Aberdeen and Dr. John W. Oman of Alnwick. A large majority decided on Dr. Mackintosh.
There was also an attack mounted on the Aberdeen College by a small group of men. They pointed out that it was very small, had few students, and cost rather a lot of money. However only two presbyteries moved the question, and so the matter dropped there.
The Church and State report (really the Diseastablishment report) came up as usual, and Dr. George Hutton was as bellicose as ever. The result was a foregone conclusion - the UF Church once again declared its support for disestablishment. On the other side there was a spirited move to have the Disestablishment question dismissed from the Church Courts.
What was notable, however, was that no longer was the hall crowded for this debate. The disestablishment question was going off the boil! What was more, the calls for the Church of Scotland to be disendowed had died down. Even some supporters of disestablishment now opposed disendowment. The supporters of disestablishment had hoped that the union of 1900, creating a free Church almost as large as (some UF Churchmen said larger than) the Church of Scotland, would form a new base for an aggressive disestablishment campaign. It had not. Instead it had created in many UF hearts the wish of Dr. Cameron Lees, that this union should be the first step in the formation of a reunited Church of Scotland. Disestablishment was a dying cause! One symptom of this was a motion that came before the Foreign Missions Committee that the United Free and Church of Scotland missions in Calcutta should be united.
There were other debates, but our interest lies with the matters we have already mentioned.

By the time of the 1905 Assembly the Law Lords would have reached their decision. What that was we shall see, God willing, next time.



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