Wednesday, February 27, 2008

'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - XXVII

The Voluntary controversy we hold to have been in general a bad thing. It divided Scottish evangelicalism at the very time when unity was most important, it led to the overflowing of what one Free Church minister would call an "ignoble sectarian temper", and it weakened the witness of the free churches by diverting men into a political battle that was ultimately vain.
Despite protestations that the Voluntaries were not enemies of the Church of Scotland, their behaviour convinced many inside that denomination that they were. Voluntaries held up the division within the Church of Scotland between the 'Moderate' and 'Evangelical' parties. Only late in the Ten Years' Conflict did the Voluntaries cease their aggressive exertions to spread their views, too late to help the Evangelicals. The government, persuaded that support for Chalmers was low by the opposition to the creation of new parishes and other matters in which the Voluntaries had been deeply involved, split the Church of Scotland. The Voluntaries, ignoring the very real part they had played in bringing the crisis to just such a conclusion.
The Voluntaries had deliberately refused any assistance to the Evangelical party led by Dr. Chalmers, just as their descendants would, a generation later, oppose the abolition of lay-patronage in the Church of Scotland.
Therein lay part of the problem. In the name of religious freedom the Voluntaries at least seemed to desire to restrict the freedom of the Church of Scotland. This could be interpreted as a desire to make conditions in the Established Church so unbearable that its members would seek disestablishment. Chalmers and his party were trying to reform the Church of Scotland, whilst the dissenters seemed to be putting every barrier in their way.
The Ten Years' Conflict ended in 1843 in the Disruption, when nearly half of the ministers of the Church of Scotland seceded in protest over government interference in the settlement of ministers. And John Brown paid his respects to those who left all to follow Christ, glad that so many of his old friends had followed conscience, not money.
Yet we must be careful. Many of those who stayed in the Church of Scotland did so because they thought she was worth saving. They were not all 'Moderates', fox-hunting parsons with a love for the things of this world. Some were true successors of Knox who genuinely believed that the Church of Scotland could secure freedom still.

Unhappily the calls for disestablishment and endowment rumbled on. If the Church of Scotland was bound to the state by law, all too often it seemed that the Free and United Presbyterian Churches were bound to the Liberal party. That John Brown opposed. Separation of Church and state should mean exactly that, he felt. As a citizen it was his right and duty to take a full and active part in the nation's political life. But the Synods and Assemblies were ecclesiastic gatherings for ecclesiastical business, and they ought not to seek to meddle in the affairs of the state.

The next controversy in which Brown was involved was the atonement controversy, and there he was to play a more prominent but no less controversial part, of which more, God willing, next time.



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