Monday, October 27, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - XVIII.

The Union of 1847 brought the teaching staff for the newly-formed United Presbyterian Divinity Hall up to five professors. These were Dr. John Eadie, Dr. John Brown of Broughton Place Church, Dr. Harper, Dr. Lindsay and Dr. M'Michael. Before the first session of the United Presbyterian Hall began in August 1847, the speheres of the various professors had to be assigned. As was to be expected, Dr. Brown continued to teach Exegetical Theology, the department in which he excelled. Dr. Eadie taught Apologetics and Hermeneutics, something that his legacy, his commentaries on Paul, show him to have been an expert in. Dr. Harper was restored to his proper place, teaching Pastoral theology, while Dr. M'Michael taught Historical Theology. Finally Dr. Lindsay taught Biblical Languages and Criticism. It should be noted that the Synod did not change its stance that really only four professors were necessary, but that, finding itself with five, it resolved to use all five of them.

Relief students found that there was something new and fresh about the old Secession Professors, and the former Secession students found the same thing about the Relief Professors. It seems that every church develops its own way of doing things, and when anyone departs from that, it seems radical and fresh. But then, who could not be impressed by the ability of Eadie and John Brown? They are names that still today have a halo of scholarship around them!

John Brown did not long remain after the union. His physical strength decayed, and he was laid aside in 1858. Dr. Lindsay filled his place in that session, but a few weeks afterwards Dr. Brown died, after twenty-four years as Professor of Exegetical theology. There was effort to appoint a new professor, since the Synod's desired number was still four, and Dr. Lindsay was transferred to Dr. Brown's old Chair. He taught for six years, but in 1866 he died, necessitating a fresh appointment.

It had been felt by many that the arrangement of subjects had been rather peculiar and not particularly useful. The Synod thus decided to re-arrange the curriculum, the shape of which had hitherto been formed by the subjects that had been taught by the various Professors before the Union of 1847. The field of Apologetics was detached from Systematics and given to a new Professor. In doing this the Synod recognised the challenges of the times. Scotland was passing from an era in which the Reformed Faith was secure to one in which it, and Christianity in general, would be under attack. They had then to find a man who could defend the faith from all the attacks of agnosticism, heterodoxy and atheism.

Next time, God willing, we shall see what the United Presbyterian Synod decided.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - XVII.

After the death of Dr. Thomson the Relief Church elected two professors to replace him, Rev. William Lindsay of Glasgow and Rev. Neil M'Michael of Dunfermline. It was decided that the hall would remain at Glasgow, which had been the main centre for education for the Relief since its origin. Thus the Relief Church was quicker to come to the conclusion that a single Professor simply cannot be expected to know everything that must be taught to theological students. It must be remembered, however, that the men who came to the Halls had been trained up from youth on the Westminster Confession and Catechism, and had sat under solid doctrinal and expository preaching. They came to the Hall with a grounding in the Scriptures that was far deeper than that of today's students who may have been fed a diet of popular Christian paperbacks! It must also be recalled that this was the period when ministers of the Church of England received no specialist theological training at all!

Lindsay and M'Michael began their work as Relief Professors on 16th August 1842, teaching forty-six students. They were the two foremost ministers of their denomination. M'Michael would have been the foremost of the two if he had not been possessed of a rather unclear utterance, and other bad habits of speaking. One of these was the tendency to sprinkle what he said with the word 'p'raps', even when there was no real uncertainty as to what he was saying, such as the occasion that he said "Ye ken there's but one God, p'raps," implying no doubt on his part as to the truth of monothesism. M'Michael was a good old Scotsman, and that common tough won him what his bad vocal mannerisms could not. Lindsay was a deep scholar of the Scriptures, and, like his colleague, a defender of the old Calvinistic faith. They were two affable, genial and accessible men, who modeled for their students what ministers ought to be. This is another aspect of the theological professor's role, to show the students that a theologian is not some impractical old scholar who spends his time with dusty old books, but that he is a pastor whose theology is practical. Not pragmatic, please note, accepting 'what works, but practical, that is, a theology that has, to use Luther's expression, hands and feet, that sets Christians free to work.

The separation of the Secession and Relief Churches was more of an historical accident than a theological matter. Both Churches held to the Westminster Standards, and they taught that theology. The idea that is still to be found in some older works that the Relief Church was less strict on subscription is a fallacy, based on an idea dreamed up from who-knows-where that Gillespie subscribed the Confession with scruples. No evidence exists for this. As time went on, the two bodies began to communicate with one another, and slowly the path to union was worked out. It took many years, and finally it was the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 that galvanised the two bodies to action. The two synods entered into serious talks, and in 1847 the two bodies united. With the union of the churches came the union of their seminaries. In prospect of this the United Secession Synod had not filled up the vacancy caused by the death of Professor Balmer, expecting it to be filled, and more than filled, by the Relief Professors.

So what had been the Secession Church became, by union with the Relief Church, the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. United because it had been formed by the union of Churches that had been separated, and Presbyterian in government. From henceforth its seminary would be the United Presbyterian Divinity Hall.

Of which more, God willing, next time.


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.