HUTCHESON AND FERGUSSON
The names of these two eminent expositors have been before
us already as two who collaborated with Dickson in his project to furnish the
religious public with so many handy expositions of books of the Bible. These
volumes were to be based on a competent acquaintance . with the work of the
learned, but they were to be pitched on such a key as would make an appeal to
the unlearned. Let the enterprise but succeed and the unlearned would be
unlearned no more, but would be well grounded in the truth of the Gospel as it
is set forth in the sacred books themselves.
George Hutcheson and James Fergusson were both of them ministers in Ayrshire. They were of the class for whom Spurgeon, as we have seen, had so high an esteem. Hutcheson in the early days of his ministry was settled at Colmonell. In those days he was one of the strictest for applying the rule for worship which was accepted in the Reformed Church. He scrupled at the singing of doxologies that were in common use which were sung at the close of the singing of the Psalms. This was a usage that passed with the adoption of the Westminster Directory, so it was not the Directory that raised questions about it. The question had been keenly discussed before the Directory was drawn up. All that the Directory did was to make no uniformity of use that it aimed at, for this old Scottish custom. There was no obvious connection between Brownism and the position taken up by Hutcheson and his friends. Baillie was to begin with strongly in favour of continuing use and wont, yet when the Directory was adopted he honourably accepted its guidance and ruling.
Now Baillie was not a Protester, much less a Brownist. And no more was Hutcheson. When the strife between Resolutioners and Protesters was on foot he was not only not a Protester he was militant on the other side. Indeed he was one of the pamphleteers in the controversy on the side of the Resolutioners.
He became one of the ministers of Edinburgh, and it was during his Edinburgh days that he wrote his admirable commentaries. It was he who, when the great persecution began, accompanied to the scaffold the Marquess of Argyll, who was the first of the Covenanting martyrs. Now Baillie and Hutcheson saw very much eye to eye in their Church politics. They both alike were loyal to the ideal accepted in the Westminster documents, and though Baillie. could charge his opponents with undue compliance with the Sectaries, yet he and they were at one in loyalty to the uniformity of Faith and Worship at which the Covenant aimed. The use made of Baillies name in giving colour to the charge that the Protesters were tainted with Brownism and that they were responsible for the plainness of the type of worship that from Covenanting days was the common Scottish pattern is one of the disreputable things that belong to an innovating propaganda that is not marked by the high standard of honour shown in advancing its cause. It is convenient for this school of innovators to forget that the type of worship which abjured the lax principle of Anglicanism was undeniably the type for which both sides in the schism over the Public Resolutions stood.
They were honest men who might differ on the questions that were at issue between them, but who were of one mind in holding the Reformed principle of worship and in accepting the Directory as part of the Covenanted uniformity of the British Churches. In his later years Hutcheson as an outed minister accepted the position of the Indulged minister at Irvine and by so doing was criticised for yielding so far to the Erastianism of the day. It was during his years of service there that he produced his valuable exposition of the 130th Psalm. He thus ended his ministry in the same county in which it had begun. Fergusson, too, as we have seen, was a minister in Ayrshire. He was one of Baillies successors in Kilwinning just as Hutcheson in a way was one of Dicksons in Itvine, where also Alexander Nisbet was settled. Apart from his Commentaries on the Epistles from Galatians to II. Thessalonians, Fergusson was the author of a controversial work which is severely critical of Toleration. In this respect he was of the conservative Opposition to a miscellaneous Toleration that found room for all the extravagances illustrated in Edwards Gamgraena.
The Covenanting fathers had no relish for the Radicalism in Church matters for which the Independents stood. They stood out strongly for the maintenance of the unity of the Visible Church and looked upon the system of insulated unrelated gathered Churches as essentially out of keeping with that unity. At the same time as they were against a general and unbounded toleration they were distinctly in favour of showing every consideration to the scruples of godly ministers of a tender conscience. They were opposed to the organising of separate and rival denominations. They favoured comprehension in one national Church with adequate provision for kindly dealing with scrupulous brethren.
They did not envisage such a condition of things as we have in the present day. Even in the days of Cromwell the Independents themselves began to circumscribe the limits of the wide toleration for which they had come to plead.
When we name Fergusson of Kilwinning in connection with Toleration, it is natural to associate with his opposition to the ideal of the Independents and the Cromwellian Sectaries, as they were spoken of in Scotland, the name and the work of James Wood of St Andrews, who was a very definite Resolutioner. His reply to an English champions plea for Independency is one of the recognised Scots classics in the realm of Presbyterian Church government of his age.
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