Teaching Theology for 140 Years - IV.
Wilson, with the other Secession Fathers, was ejected from his church by the Church of Scotland. His students watched in amazement as their professor retired to the Glovers' Yard to preach, and his people followed him. The students saw then what it was to suffer for a faithful testimony. Wilson was not long spared afterwards, he died towards the end of 1741, having taught Secession students in Perth for five sessions only. He was only fifty-one, broken by his titanic efforts.
His successor was Alexander Moncrieff of Abernethy, and the Hall was thus removed to Abernethy. Laird of Culfargie, Moncrieff was popularly knows as 'Culfargie' by his congregation and students. He had studied under Markius at Leyden in addition to taking his compulsory courses at the University of St. Andrews, and he was in addition a champion of Reformed doctrine. He was thus chosen over the other possible candidates, the Erskines and Mr. Fisher. No doubt many a student was awed by the new professor's learning, and pleased to dine together with him in the mansion at Culfargie. Further information about the Moncrieffs and Abernethy is to be found here.
Moncrieff followed Wilson's method. As a student of Markius himself, he had a great regard for the Dutch divine's writings, and the system contained in the Medulla was that which he had heard from Markius himself in the university of Leyden. A man of deep piety, he was a worthy man to continue the great work that Wilson had begun in Perth. His lectures dwelt on the central points of theology, such as the deity of Christ. There was, however, one major change. The language of instruction was changed from Latin to English. Since the text-book was still in Latin, the students were required to know the language, but as they had to answer the Professor's questions in English, they were forced to translate the substance of Markius into the English tongue. This certainly forced them to understand the work better, and probably made still better theologians.
In one aspect of training the Secession Hall was in advance of the Church of Scotland, for the Seceders were very careful to train their students in exegesis and homiletics, the interpretation of the Bible and preaching. The Seceders never lost sight of the fact that students were being trained to preach the Gospel, not to teach theology in an academic setting. To preach well, students had to be able to interpret the Bible and know how best to communicate the results of that interpretation. A great deal of the time of the Hall sessions was taken up with students preaching before the Hall. Their discourses would then be criticized by their fellow-students and Professor, hopefully in a loving spirit.
Moncrieff also added a philosophy class to the Hall's instruction. He had become aware that the philosophy taught at that time in the Scottish universities was anti-Christian in spirit and tended to undermine faith in the Bible. The Laird of Culfargie thus appointed one of his students who was competent in philosophy to teach a class in which it would be shown that true philosophy is not opposed to Christianity, and in which a Christian philosophy would be taught. For the first session this class was taught by Mr. Archibald, a student in his final session, and for the next four or five years it was taught by Mr. David Wilson. Students who had already studied philosophy at one of the Universities were not compelled to take this course, but it was strongly suggested that they ought to do so.
In 1743 the 'Associate Presbytery', as the Seceders had called themselves, numbered nineteen ministers, and it was divided into two Presbyteries, forming the Associate Synod. Alas, the Synod itself would soon be divided in a far less pacific way, for a debate over whether or not Church members should be allowed to take a certain oath required of civic officials in some Scottish towns divided the young Secession Church in 1746. God willing, next time we shall deal with the impact of the split on the Hall.
[Pictured: the old Kirk at Abernethy]