Monday, October 13, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - XVI.

Instead of replacing Dr. Balmer immediately, the United Secession Synod transferred Dr. Harper to the Chair of Systematic Theology. This was seen by many as a strange step, since Dr. Harper so excelled in the Chair that he had held. The historian of the Hall compared this to asking a Greek Professor to teach Hebrew - the two roles may sound similar, but the actual work in question is quite different. This left three professors in the Hall, rather than the four the plan called for. But there was a good reason for this - the United Secession Church was about to unite with another denomination, the Relief Church, which had its own Hall, and the enlarged denomination would also see an enlargement of the Divinity Hall. As they looked forward to the Union, the Synod decided on yet another complete overhaul of the way theology would be taught in the Church, which from the union would be known as the United Presbyterian Church.

The United Presbyterian Church, formed by the union of the Relief Church and the United Secession Church, would be the third largest denomination in Scotland, after the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland. The union was the latest in a number that were re-uniting the splinters of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Relief Church, like the Secession, had originated in the ecclesiastical struggles of the eighteenth century. Rev. Thomas Gillespie of Carnock, a correspondent of Jonathan Edwards and a devoted evangelical, had opposed the unconstitutional intrusion of a minister upon the parish of Inverkeithing (located across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh) in 1752, and had refused to take part in the ordination. Since he was a member of the local Presbytery, he had been ordered to take part in the intrusion by the Moderate-dominated General Assembly, and he had been deposed as an example. A beloved pastor, he had been followed from the Church of Scotland by his congregation, and when he was joined by Rev. Thomas Boston of Jedburgh, son of the famous Thomas Boston of Etterick, in 1757, they formed the 'Relief Presbytery'. It relieved those who had unpopular and non-evangelical ministers forced on them by the General Assembly. This denomination slowly grew, and in time it came to be the fourth largest Presbyterian church in Scotland, after the United Secession.

For the first seventy years of its history the Relief Church had no Divinity Hall. Instead it sent its future ministers to the Divinity Halls of the Scottish universities, where they trained alongside the future pastors of the Church of Scotland. Slowly it came to be felt that this was undesirable. Firstly several men sent to train by the Relief Church, and thus supported by the Relief financially, decided to join the Church of Scotland instead, and secondly the teaching in the University Halls, where it was not actually erroneous, was dry and uninteresting, unlikely to fire the hearts and imaginations of men with a zeal for and love of the Truth. Most Relief students attended Glasgow University, and at first all went fairly well. But when a sectarian bias against the Relief students was added to the two issues mentioned above, it was resolved that the Relief should have its own Hall. Thus, in 1823, the Relief Hall was opened, with Rev. James Thomson of Paisley (later awarded the degree of D.D. by Glasgow University) as the first Professor. He used the Westminster Confession as his text-book, and lectured on it with admirable ability. His methods also improved the preaching style of his students, so that the Relief Church for a time had more eloquent preachers than any of the other Churches in Scotland. His death in 1841 was a great blow to many.

God willing, next time we shall continue with our remarks on the history of the Relief Hall, and shall have something to say about the Union of the Relief and the United Secession.



Blogger Jonathan Hunt said...

I can't find an email address for you. Can you drop me an email to jdhunt[at]timeintheword[dot]org?


11:16 pm  
Blogger Highland Host said...


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