Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The history of a denomination: XXIX.

The Assembly of 1929 had a festival air to it. It was to be the last General Assembly of the United Free Church of Scotland as constituted by the Union of 1900.
The Lord High Commissioner, representing the crown, was H.R.H. Prince Albert, Duke of York, a sign of the deep interest the King felt in the events taking place in Scotland between the two great Churches. Principal Martin was installed as United Free Church Moderator, and he wore the traditional robes. As his great predecessor Robert Rainy had led the Free Church majority in 1900, so Alexander Martin would lead the United Free majority now. In his opening address he naturally spoke of the great historical processes now coming to a climax. The address was broadcast on the BBC throughout Scotland.
The United Free Church Assembly wanted to enter the Union without a debt. For one thing, to enter in debt might make it appear that they had discovered the voluntary system of supporting the Church did not actually work, and so they were running to where the money - in the form of endowments - was. The main source of debt was, as ever, foreign missions. As a debate went on about setting up an enquiry, Dr. J. Robertson Cameron of Kintyre rose and said boldly, "My suggestion is that we, here and now, every man and woman of us, rise up and wipe off this deficit, and I shall begin with THAT!"
He put down a cheque for fifty pounds on the table. During the debate alone, nearly three thousand pounds was given. Although Assembly rules forbade a collection being taken up, an open suitcase was left on the table, watched over by two clerks. By the end of the Assembly it was bulging with cash and cheques amounting to well over six thousand pounds.
How many matters would be better dealt with by prompt action, rather than giving them to committees to be sat upon?
The day of the Union report was like a fete, the appearance increased by the presentation of a huge bouquet of pink roses and ferns by the Church of Scotland Union committee.
It was reported that of the 63 home presbyteries, 61 had approved of the Unite Free Church Declaration that her principles remained intact and only one had not. Of the overseas presbyteries, 10 approved, and 5 had not sent in any return. Every Presbytery had approved the plan of Union and the basis of Union, with the exception of Manchuria, which had not sent a return. Under the Barrier Act the plan was passed. Union had been declared for! A few kirk sessions and congregations had disapproved, but not enough to damage or derail the plan. The Declaraction was adopted without even an official opposition amendment.
When the Union Committee's report was called for, a protest was tabled by Dr. Forrester, signed by himself and fifteen others. Dr. Drummond, giving the report, presented it with all the force and winsomeness he was capable of. As for Barr and Forrester, they merely paraded the old arguments, heard by all and convincing to very few. It was too long, and not really relevant. Barr found problems where few others could see them, and finally only 39 supported his anti-union amendment. It was James Barr's last speech in the Assembly. Many regretted the departure of the dissenters, but the Union would not be wrecked on so small a rock, and Barr and his brethren went forth. Those who had argued that the minority of 1900 should give up all its rights to its property were now in the position of that minority, and hoping for better treatment.
The Church of Scotland also voted for Union. Although Union might have taken place at once, it was deferrd until 2nd October while final preparations were made for a great public Union such as that of 1900.

And so, amid brilliant sunshine, the last General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland (which is what our illustration shows) broke up. When next they met, it would be to form a part of what had been the dream of Principal Rainy's biographer, a Church in Scotland 'United, National and Free'.

That union, God willing, shall be our subject next time.



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