Friday, January 19, 2007

The History of a denomination: X.

The Assembly of 1909 saw at last the beginning of a movement that had been preparing for some time. No longer would the advocates of Union with the Church of Scotland be content with opposing disestablishment motions that were apparently directed against the Church of Scotland itself. Now they would be the leaders. With Dr. Hutton dead it seemed the Disestablishment cause had been fatally weakened.
The Moderator of the 1909 Assembly, Dr. Archibald Henderson of Crieff, was an enthuiastic supporter of the movement towards union with the Church of Scotland. A former Free Churchman, he had been pastor of the United Free Church in Crieff since 1862 (when it was of course the Free Church of Scotland).
The Assembly was required once again to appoint a Principal for New College, and to appoint a Professor of New Testament, since Marcus Dods, who had held both these posts, had died a broken and disappointed man. There were some who looked to A.R. MacEwen, the historian and Rainy's successor in the Church History Chair, as the natural next principal. But the support for Dr. Whyte of Edinburgh was overwhelming, and it was decided to appoint, for only the second time in the history of New College, a principal from outside. The last such man had been Dr. Whyte's predecessor at Free St. George's, Dr. Robert S. Candlish. Whyte himself was unwilling to accept the office, but he was pressed and at last consented.

The great event of THIS Assembly was the answer to the Church of Scotland's invitation the previous year. The initial aim of the Church of Scotland seemed to be co-operation, with union condidered the end of a long process (as indeed it proved to be). Dr. Henderson felt that this was not going far enough! He was one of many who saw that the existing situation was untenable. Here were two churches practically identical in every way, yet they were two. The issue between them was on the matter of connection with the state. Therefore he moved that the Assembly did not regard conference or co-operation as offering the path best fitted to lead to union, but they were ready to enter into unrestricted conference with the Church of Scotland on the existing situation and bars to Union. The motion was unanimously adopted with cheers and loud applause.
The next day (21st May) saw a sign of things to come. Both Assemblies sat down together in the High Kirk of St. Giles to commemmorate the birth of John Calvin four hundred years before. It was seen as a prophecy of things to come.
Alas! Calvinism was in short supply in both Assemblies, and the poison of liberalism was already established.
Within a week the Church of Scotland had replied to the United Free Church motion, accepting the proposal.
It arrived on the night of the Church and State report. There too was another sign of the change. The House was thin, the galleries more than half empty. Time had moved on, leaving the Church and State committee (really the disestablishment committee) an irrelevance.

God willing, next time we shall see how the movement for union progressed through 1910



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