DANGERS for the Post-Disruption Church
There was some reason to fear that the spirit of
controversy in the Free Church might prove hostile to her spiritual life. For
ten years, controversy of a very serious kind had been unavoidable, and men had
become inured to it. But the training which makes a good soldier is not that
which makes a good agriculturist, and practised skill in the conflicts of
serious debate might seem to be but an indifferent preparation for the work of
ministering to the wants of human souls, and spreading among the people the
blessings of the Gospel of peace. Apart, indeed, from the question of personal
fitness, it might well have been doubted how far Gods blessing could be
expected on her efforts. In Bible history, King David was not allowed to build
the Temple, because he had been a man of war. The battles he fought were the
battles of The Lord ; but the mere fact that he had been a warrior was enough
to set him aside, and no stone of the sacred building could be laid by his
hand. And so, when it came to the great work of spreading spiritual religion
among the people, might not the Free Church have been passed over? It had been
a good fight for great Scriptural principles which she had fought, but the very
consciousness of this had given a certain sternness to the conflict ; and might
not a Church which had been thrown into such an attitude have been made to
stand aside, and leave to other hands the reat practical work of spreading the
blessings of salvation among the people ?
But the greatest risk of all was the danger of a boastful spirit showing itself in the Free Church. The way in which she had risen from the ruins of the Disruption had filled both friends and foes with wonder. The deed of self-sacrifice at the outset, the energy of her subsequent proceedings, and the unheard-of liberality of her contributions, were everywhere spoken of. Congratulations came pouring in from so many of the Churches of Britain, America, and the Continent, that she found herself the observed of all observers. Most perilous of all, her ministers and members were looked up to as conspicuous examples of high-toned spirituality and religious earnestness. All this might have proved a fatal snare if the Free Church had given way to the spirit of boastfulness and pride, tarnishing the lustre of the sacrifice she had made, and bringing a fatal blight over all her prospects of spiritual usefulness.
It is interesting to observe how the men who were prominent in Disruption times were alive to the dangers of the position. "It seems to have fallen in the providence of God to the Free Church," said Dr. Candlish, "to attract on various accounts the attention of other bodies, and we cannot but feel that this, among other circumstances, puts this Church in a situation of peculiar responsibility. If we are as a city set on an hill, and if we have been so moved and directed in the adoption of our measures as to call forth the regards and attract the sympathies of other bodies of evangelical Christians,-and, above all, if we have any reason to believe, as others are ready to believe, and some of us are constrained to feel that, as a Church, we have, in some measure, experienced the presence and power of the Spirit of God,- I say, all these considerations are fitted, not to fill us with exalted feelings of complacency, but rather to make us sensible of our deep unworthiness and heavy responsibility."*
Dr. Henry Grey, Moderator of the Assembly of 1844, brought the whole subject before the Presbytery of Edinburgh in an elaborate paper; and Mr. Andrew Gray, of Perth, in a still more powerful address, gave an emphatic warning in the Assembly of 1848 : while incidental statements in the same strain will be found scattered, from time to time, through the speeches of the more prominent leaders of the Church. That the Free Church was able, in all respects, to keep clear of these dangers no one will allege. It was inevitable that among so many ministers and members exposed to the temptations incident to their new position, there would be errors in judgment, and shortcomings and failures in duty. And yet, amidst all such results of human imperfection, the Free Church was enabled steadfastly to hold on her course and do much earnest work for the cause of Christ.
It may safely be left: for future years to determine how far the Disruption of 1843 is, destined to form a marking epoch in the religious history of.Scotland. In the meantime, it will be our object in the following pages to show in what spirit the Free Church addressed herself to the work which God had given her to do, alad what efforts she was prepared to make in carrying it forward.
*Commission of General Assembly, August, 1844 - Witness newspaper.
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