The Present and Future
of the Church of Scotland
by Arthur P. Stanley, Dean of Westminster.
From the revivals of our more modern days, out of the smoke
and sulphur of the volcano of the Disruption, two names of the departed emerge
of which the main claims consist in those qualities - not which divided them
from their brethren, but which brought them together.
Thomas Chalmers. - Every Scottish churchman, I had almost said every Scots man, claims, whether before or after 1843, the honoured name of Chalmers. To attempt to portray his noble character would be in me as impertinent as for you it would be needless. Yet there are a few words which I would fain utter - the more so, as they are in part suggested by my own humble recollections of that wise and good man- Eleven days before his death, in the city of Oxford, for the first and last time I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Chalmers. I was too young and too English at that time to be much occupied with the divisions which parted the Free from the Established Church; and there was assuredly nothing in his appearance or conversation which recalled them. But I was not too young to appreciate, nor am I yet too old to forget, the force, the liveliness, the charity with which he spoke of everything on which he touched. Three points specially have remained fixed in my memory which assuredly betokened a son not of the Covenant, but of the Church universal.
He was full of the contrast of the two biographies which he had just fihished; one was that of John Foster, the other of Thomas Arnold. Two men, he said, so good, yet with a view of life so entirely different; the one so severe and desponding, the other so joyous and hopeful. lie had completed the perusal of another book, of which it seemed equally strange that he should have through all his long life deferred reading it till that time, and that having so delayed he should then have had the wonderful energy to begin and master it. It was Gibbons Decline and Fall; and the old mans face, Evangelical, devout Scotsman as he was, kindled into enthusiasm as he spoke of the majesty, the labour, the giant grasp displayed by that greatest and most sceptical of English historians. Another spring of enthusiasm was opened when he looked round on the buildings of the old prelatic, mediaeval Oxford. You have the best machinery in the world, and you know not how to use it. Such were the words which are still written, as taken down from his mouth, on the photograph of the University Church in the High Street, which was given to him by his host at that time, which was restored to that host by Chalmerss family after his death, and by him given to me when I left Oxford, in recollection of that visit. You have the best machinery in the world, and you know not how to use it.
How true, how discriminating, and how amply justified by the prodigious efforts which, as I trust, since that time Oxford has made to use that good machinery. How unlike to the passion for destruction for destructions sake which has taken possession of many who use his venerable name in vain! How like to the active, organizing mind, which saw in establishments and institutions of all kinds not lumber to be cast away, but machinery to be cherished and used. In front of that academic church of Oxford we parted, just as he touched on the question of the interpretation of the Apocalypse. But this, he said, is too long to discuss here and now; you must come and finish our conversation when we meet at Edinburgh.
That meeting never came. He returned home; and the next tidings I had of him was that he was departed out of this world of strife. As I read his biography that brief conversation rises again before me, and seems the echo of those wider and more generous views which at times were overlaid by the controversies into which he was drawn. Such is his own account of his longing recollection of the earlier days when he lived in the great ideas which are the foundation of all religion. Oh, that He possessed me with a sense of His holiness and His love, he exclaims, after an interval of twenty-six years, as He at one time possessed me with a sense of His goodness and His power and His pervading agency. 'I remember', he continues, when a student of divinity, and long before I could relish evangelical sentiment, I spent nearly a twelvemonth in a sort of mental elysium, and the one idea which ministered to my soul all its rapture was the magnificence of the Godhead and the universal subordination of all things to the one great purpose for which He evolved and was supporting creation. I should like to be so inspired over again, but with such a view of the Deity as coalesced and was in harmony with the doctrine of the New Testament.
Such a view he doubtless gained; nor was it, if we may humbly say so, in any way incompatible (if Science and Religion both be true) with that which was the source of his earliest, and, so it would seem, his latest religious fervour.
Even late in life he was accused by suspicious zealots of being an enemy to Systematic Divinity; and his reply was certainly not calculated to allay the alarm. Long did he cling to the freer and nobler views of Theology. My Christianity, he said most wisely and truly, approaches nearer to Calvinism than to any of the isms in Church history; but broadly as Calvin announces truth, he does not bring it forward in that free and spontaneous manner which I find in the New Testament. The passage from English poetry which he quoted more frequently than any other was that pregnant passage from the Moravian Gambold, which contains within itself the germs of all the broader and higher views of faith. The man That could surround the sum of things, and spy The heart of God and secrets of His empire Would speak but love. With love the bright result Would change the hue of intermediate things, And make one thing of all theology. And even in the very ferment of the Sustentation Fund he could exclaim, Who cares about the Free Church compared with the Christian good of the people of Scotland?'
Who cares about any Church, but as an instrument of Christian good? For be assured that the moral and religious well-being of the population is of infinitely higher importance than the advancement of any sect.'
John Duncan.The other departed light of the great movement of 1843, whom I would recall for a moment, is one whom I never met, but whom the descriptions of his friends and disciples place before us in so vivid a light, that one almost seems to have seen him - in his multifarious learning, in his simpleminded eccentric detachment from all the cares of this world, almost a Scottish Neander - I mean Dr. John Duncan. In that charming volume, which gives the most casual, but also the most intimate convictions of his mind, it is remarkable that, to the peculiar doctrines which divide the Free Church from the Established, there is hardly an allusion; that even its peculiar Calvinistic theology and Presbyterian platform occupies a very secondary place. I am first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist."
(placed here in the interests of continuity!)
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