Early Days at St.
from "Life of Alexander Whyte" by G.F.Barbour.
During this summer of 1870, then, the future minister of
Free St. Georges was preparing in mind and heart to enter on the sphere
of work to which he gave his strength, ceaselessly and unreservedly, for
forty-seven years. For part of the time he was also preparing in body, by long
walks round Braemar, where one of his chief companions was a brilliant scholar
who had been appointed at the unusually early age of twenty-four to a chair in
the Free Church College at Aberdeen. But of William Robertson Smith we shall
hear more in the sequel.
At this point it is not unfitting to take a backward glance over the history of the congregation to which Whyte had now been called to minister. Two generations before, during the later years of the Napoleonic Wars, the need had been felt for fuller religious provision for the dwellers in the New Town of Edinburgh, then fast extending to the north and west of the Old Town. Parliamentary sanction was obtained for the formation of a new parish; and in June 1814 St Georges Church, whose classical façade and noble dome were designed by Robert Reid, was dedicated for divine service. Dr. Andrew Thomson was inducted as its first minister - a man of dignity and eloquence and a whole-hearted supporter of the evangelical party which was then becoming strong in the Church of Scotland. In a controversial age, he was known for his unsparing use of great polemical gifts; but a more attractive feature of his character was his talent as a musician, to which the tune "St. Georges Edinburgh, remains as a witness.
Under Dr Thomson, and still more under the Rev. Robert Smith Candlish, who became its minister as a young man of twenty-eight in 1834, the congregation steadily grew in numbers and influence. In 1843 St. Georges was rent in twain by the Disruption, and seven elders and a large number members followed their minister into the Free Church. For some months the congregation of Free St. George's worshipped in a temporary building, the Brick Church in Castle Terrace, and in January 1845 they found a home, which lasted for nearly a quarter of century, in a newly erected church in Lothian Row It was here that Whyte and many other New College students of his time used to worship, and here the chief part of Dr. Candlishs work as a preacher was done. But the Lothian Road church was only one degree more permanent than the Brick Church had been, and ultimately its site was required for an extension of the Caledonian Railway. Thus the congregation found its final abode in the Free St. Georges in Shandwick Place, which was opened for worship by Dr. Candlish on 24th October 1869, just a year before Dr. Whytes induction.
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