Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The History of a denomination: VIII.

On 22nd December 1906 (see this blog passim) Dr. Robert Rainy had died in Australia. He was buried in Edinburgh on 7th March 1907. He had been a towering presence over the Free Church Assembly and latterly the United Free Assembly for decades, and what his absence meant cannot easily be explained. But on the other hand, without Rainy the disestablishment party in the United Free Church was further weakened.
The Moderator of the 1907 Assembly was Dr. Charles George M'Crie of Ayr, the grandson of Thomas M'Crie the biographer of Knox, and the third in a line of historians. As such it was hardly surprising he did not follow Dr. Hutton's example in dress. M'Crie was not as orthodox as his grandfather, but he had a long ministry in Ayr, where he had been for thirty years when he was elected United Free Church Moderator.
The Assembly Hall was now officially theirs, as was New College, although some rare books had vanished from the New College Library. This was blamed on the 'Wee Frees', but the books later turned up concealed in a ventilator, having apparently been hidden there by a worried librarian before the Free Church took possession and then forgotten about, but we digress.
The greatest question before the Assembly was the question of who ought to be the new Principal at New College. Although Rainy had been a great leader, there was a feeling that the Principal of New College should not be the unofficial archbishop of the United Free Church the way Rainy had been. The names that finally came up were Alexander Whyte, not a Professor in New College but the minister of Free St. George's, one of the leading Edinburgh churches, and Marcus Dods, the liberal professor of New Testament in New College (see this Blog passim). The choice of the Assembly fell on Professor Dods, who was declared from the floor to be quite orthodox, although his published works say something different. Apparently the United Free Church orthodoxy was something rather different from the old Free Church version.
The question of the Aberdeen College came up yet again, as the retirement of Robert Johnstone, Professor of New Testament at Aberdeen, created a reason to question the need of the college. There was a huge debate, but at last it came down on the side of keeping the Aberdeen College open.
1907 saw another great milestone in the co-operation of the United Free Church and the Church of Scotland, as their Calcutta missions were effectively merged. Yet the Church and State Committee continued to push for disestalishment, sending a memorial to the Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, reminding him of his 'duties and opportunities' in regard to disestablishment. This was done without consulting the Church, and it was objected to in a way it never would have been in the United Presbyterian Church. Dr. Hutton and his associates could not see that times had changed, and their fervour for disestablishment was no longer the mood of the Church, but it was a liability. When the mood was towards union, they were seen as promoting dissention and strife. As a Free Church minister who preferred English exile to the Scottish disestablishment strife wrote in the late 19th century: "In the proposal to disestablish the Church of Scotland I see nothing but an ignoble sectarian temper" (Donald Fraser, D.D). More and more in the United Free Church were coming to the same conclusion. In his closing address Dr. M'Crie dwelt on Presbyterian unions in the colonies, and his hope for reunion in Scotland. Reuinion, he said, was coming, although there might have to be quite a wait for it.

He, not Hutton, represented the future. How that hope of reunion grew will be our subject, God willing, next time.



Post a Comment

<< Home