The Crisis in the Free Church of Scotland*

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College, and I think I should be unfaithful to an old friend bestirring himself to do battle for the Word of God, if I did not ask him such a question as this at this solemn crisis. It is my settled conviction that this generation of Free Churchmen are suffering under the hand of God because of their unfaithfulness to what God had wrought for them, and also for refusing to accept the present testimony of God to His Son Jesus Christ, and to the presence, place, action, and object of the Holy Ghost on earth.
We own the grace and blessing of God on the movement which led to the Disruption, though not as sanctioning their position-and I will never forget those times of blessing when souls drank in with earnestness the living water, and rejoiced in Christ Jesus; and when a divine enthusiasm pervaded the willing and devoted people, as it did the ministers, to have Christ exalted high above all the powers of earth, as God had given Him this place in glory at His own right hand. " God was in the midst of her." The river of God seemed to flow there; the Scriptures were to them the utterances of the living God, affording divine warrant, foundation, and authority for their action. The Spirit of God converted and established souls by means of the Gospel of Christ, preached by men of God, whose life was spent in unfolding the evangelical truths of Revelation, for the glory of Christ and the salvation and edification of their hearers. Their one aim was to exalt God's Christ, and God owned them in their purpose and deed, though not very intelligent-and gave " showers of blessing " and divine establishing. "There were giants in those days," no doubt, in the best sense of the word,-men like Chalmers, Cunningham, and Candlish, whose 'teaching inspired men with spiritual chivalry, and gave solid energy and glowing fervor, with which to go forth from their side, strong in the certainty of having the saving truth of God in an inspired and authoritative Divine Book, " every writing " of which was " God-breathed; " and to give forth the word in the fullest faith, that, under the Spirit's hand, it would be made I SEE what you are about in regard to the case on which you are writing, and am pleased to observe, from a perusal of your article, that you are endeavoring to uphold the integrity, inspiration, and authority of the Holy Scriptures, against this modern "wind of doctrine," in connection with "the higher criticism."
Did it ever occur to you that this spread of rationalism among you, and the internecine war that threatens to blight and divide the Free Church, are the permitted if not inflicted judgment of the Lord, not only for her unfaithfulness to the truth and testimony to Christ and His grace and claims, but also for her being the most active and energetic agent in the rejection of the full "testimony of our Lord " as to Christ and the Church, and also the most virulent rejector of the personal presence and present action of the Holy Ghost, in gathering out the saints of God from all the confusions of man to own the unity of the body of Christ, as a witness to the Person and Word of Christ before He comes to take His people to Himself?
It is now forty years since we first met in the same class at "mighty to the pulling down of strongholds," and the upbuilding of the saints "in their most holy faith." But it was remarkable that the great men of that day were not the only men who were largely blessed. They did their imperial service in the high places of the field, battling for Scripture truth and principle against all assailants; but whoever lisped out the great truths about the person, work, glory, and headship of the Christ of God, and gave the Spirit's testimony in the Gospel of God, was honored by the Spirit of God with more or less success in His service. The river of blessing flowed in full stream through the land. " Christ is all" was the battle-cry (for it was a time of warfare with the rulers of the darkness of this world), and onward went the conquering servants of God, in the spirit of a divine self-sacrifice, memorable in heaven, and He owned their sufferings and service with the stamp of unprecedented success. All true ministry is self-sacrifice. " They regarded not their lives " in their devotion to Christ, and their determination to preserve intact His rights and prerogatives to regulate all in His church, according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures (as they saw it); and God owned it for the glory of Christ, and their own blessing, and that of thousands. As one who lived and moved in those blessed scenes I can say that those Disruption times were signalized not only by a witness to Christ's Headship, but by a work of the Holy Ghost that ensured the deepest spiritual blessing, while it welded together the whole of the out- coming multitude in love and devotedness, and made them of one heart and of one soul for the honor of their exalted Head.
But not even divine blessing, in the power of the Spirit, lasts in its original energy beyond the lifetime of the generation on which it comes. Whether in innocence, under law or under grace, that which the goodness of God has committed to man's responsibility has been ruined in his hands not far from its beginning. The present state of the Free Church is a sad illustration of the uniformity of man's unfaithfulness when any testimony or blessing has been committed to his responsibility on the part of God. A pre-Disruption minister said to me, above twenty years ago, "Don't you think there is always something wanting about the preachers who have not heard Chalmers?" This godly evangelical man, who still lives, complained of the coldness and want of spiritual energy and love for souls that so sadly characterized the young men who were then coming forward to fill the ranks thinned by the hand of death, among the Disruption ministers. And I believe he was right. It was about this time that decline had set in, and it has gone on with steady progress until the Church is well-nigh rent in twain by internal strife, and finds itself on the verge of splitting up over the malignant and interminable case of the alleged unsoundness in his teaching of one of its professors.
The cause of the ruin is seen in its bane, blight, and punishment. The Church made a fatal mistake in endeavoring to conserve and promote by natural means that which it had acquired of position, usefulness, and influence, as the fruit of God's Spirit working in men's consciences and hearts. They also showed great failure by trumpeting their own success over Christendom, and congratulating themselves as having achieved something notable from having their praises sounded in both hemispheres. They have stood before the world in the consciousness of a grand reputation for devotedness, and now they must endeavor by all means to keep it up and increase it more and more. In order to accomplish this object, the best talent of the Church must be sought out, and men of the highest acquirements must be placed in her professors' chairs; and the thought being now the maintenance of a great reputation, gifts were more in request than grace, and so men of reputation for great ability, irrespective of true piety, were placed in her colleges, and the teaching of her students went on. The men now chosen were, generally, young as well as talented, that they might give the best portion of their life to their professional work, and be all the more likely to act upon young men, and succeed in forming a ministry that would develop greater power
of learning in giving the Church a higher place in the world. This now appears to the more spiritual to have been a serious mistake.
Meantime, the union proposal between the Free Church and another was discussed and fought over for ten years, which served as a satanic diversion and cover, while the seed of the new teaching was sprouting and getting into leaf. A time of spent power ensued, and things grew worse and worse. A spirit of blindness to consequences seized even some of the aged and godly leaders, so as to make them instrumental in continuing to furnish the colleges with young professors who had given no particular proof either of their piety or ministry, and now those very men are moving heaven and earth to get rid of them, and undo, as far as possible, the disastrous consequences of this fatal mistake. It is the solemn conviction of nearly one-half of your body that those men have poisoned the meal at the mill and the water in the well, and the whole Free Church is suffering in consequence. The whole tendency of the teaching given has been they believe rationalistic not Christian, but it has no doubt been in perfect accord with the skeptical spirit of the age. But if it has brought the church into harmony with the spirit of the age, by so doing it has taken it out of harmony with the Bible and the Spirit of God. The literature of the day is essentially infidel, and the rising race read it, and under its baneful influence will not care to listen to the preaching of a minister who is not, himself, abreast of it, and in full sympathy with it. The literature of the period has now more influence for evil than all the gospel that is now preached has for good. Literature and not the Bible, produces and rules the thought of the day; and that thought, of whatever sort, is intensely skeptical. Men trained by professors of rationalistic proclivities will aim at preaching so as to catch the ear and ensure the good opinion of the thoughtful, and in order to arrest and retain them they must largely keep the gospel in the background (even when they know it). I venture to say, from knowledge acquired from the most reliable source, without seeking it, that there is scarcely a student who leaves the colleges of the church to become a settled minister over a congregation, who will not naturally preach in an attempted literary style, and with a bias towards a modified rationalism, and will not give prominence to Christ crucified, as bearing our sins and delivering us from the world.
There was, no doubt, a great outward and ecclesiastical movement at the time of the Disruption, which drew in many who had no spiritual life, but who were under the providential power of the force that was leading on those who had life for the glory of Christ; and when the energy that led them out died down, the " mixed multitude " that were among the true people of God, like the "mixed multitude" that came out of Egypt with the Israelites, led on the lusting for the things that they had left, and this class has caused much of the evil that has overtaken the Free Church in its wilderness-march these thirty- eight years, the time the Israelites were caused to wander in the desert because of want of faith to go up and possess the land of promise. Now, as the time wore on, there came over Scotland, contemporaneously with the commencement of the period of their decline, a wave of blessing from the Lord, such as had not been known since the times of the Disruption, even if then,-but with fresh features, and a peculiar direction and outcome. The action of it was evidently most felt within the borders of the Free Church, and the voice of God in it was "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen (a heavy fall is the fall from `first love '), and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent." It seemed as if the church were a little aroused by this revival call, and individual ministers and people received fresh blessing, and were used mightily in the blessing of others over a wide range, and they carried a public testimony forward in the majesty of the Spirit, and tens of thousands assembled to listen, and a work of grace was accomplished of a deep and lasting kind. But it was a work of the Spirit independent of churches, and its whole tendency was to go outside of
them, and assert for itself an independent place as a free work of the Holy Ghost. The church at first seemed inclined to favor the work, and anxious to get the lead of it; they tried to get all the agents under its power, and even owned one of its workers though belonging to another communion. But when
it refused to be ecclesiastically controlled, this great open work was at first feared and at length opposed, and those who were in the forefront of the movement carried on their work for a time in the face of the most virulent opposition; and at length it died away, and the workers went with it, some to be with their Lord, and others to the obscurity out of which God had called them. The church saw that this free work had an outward tendency; and when at length it came to their ears that, as the fruit of it, God was gathering saints outside of all the sects on the ground of the one body of Christ, and with the distinct aim to maintain the unity of the Spirit, that ignored all the existing ecclesiastical institutions of men as in Scripture times, even the most evangelical joined with the merely ecclesiastical in order to resist the Holy Ghost's work, and stamp out the movement as earnestly and carefully as men do an epidemic. " Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye." When they saw that the movement did not stop short of gathering souls to Christ outside the churches, and exactly as they were gathered when the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit baptized the saints into one body in Christ, then they resisted it, for they would not allow it to subvert their system, but used every means to put it down by preaching and printing, and by stopping the circulation of the literature which the Spirit was using for the building up of the saints and their deliverance from their sins, and also from the ecclesiastical bondage of the day, into the liberty for worship, walk, and service, with which Christ makes His people free. God presented His testimony to the grace and glory of Christ in the power of the Holy Ghost, and the answer to it was very much a repetition of what happened when Stephen, " full of the Holy Ghost and of faith," presented the testimony to God's goodness in Israel, winding up with the exceeding grace of sending Jesus to bless them, as had been witnessed by the Holy Ghost,-when he charged them with resisting the Holy Ghost, and told of heaven opened and the rejected Jesus seen by him in the glory of God- center of a new system of things, that necessitated the abolition of the old,-they stopped their ears, ran upon him, cast him out of the city, and stoned him. And what happened? God's new thing went on, and the old vanished away, and wrath came upon them to the uttermost, as those who were guilty dispensation- ally of the sin against the Holy Ghost.
It is a similar resisting of the Holy Ghost in His testimony to Christ and the Church that has so grieved the Spirit that He has left them to their own delusions, to reap the fruit of their own ways, and to know the misery of being delivered over to be filled with the thoughts of men, and be threatened with having their candlestick removed out of its place. At the beginning, " the wise," " the scribe," " the disputer of this world," had been all made foolish by God (in the form in which they presented themselves), and vanquished by the power of God, by which the people of the Disruption period were made to sacrifice themselves, and all they possessed, to the honor of Christ their Head and Lord; but now " the wise, the scribe, and the disputer of this world," not only assert a place of prominence, wisdom, and power, but they threaten to employ the old vessel of testimony, once so full of the power of God, as the very instrument of the malignant power of Satan to destroy the souls of the present generation, by sowing in them the seeds of infidelity by the agency of the very men who have been set for teaching and upholding intact the Spirit's testimony in the Written Word. They refused the Spirit's truth; and God may permit them to believe the devil's lie (2 Thess. 2); and if there is not swift repentance when their cup is full, the judgment of God must come upon the unfaithful vessel of testimony, for He can-not permit a people He has so graciously condescended to use in upholding the name of Christ (as they knew Him) to continue before men as if still owned of Him, if it should become the chief instrument of His dishonor in the land. When the vessel of testimony to Christ has become the instrument of Christ's dishonor and the corrupter of God's Word, we do not need any prophet to be sent to tell us that the end must be the judgment of God upon the vessel itself, breaking it in pieces. When the Jews crucified an incarnate Christ, there was still a reserve of grace for them in connection with a glorified Christ; but after the Spirit had come, and they had sinned against the Holy Ghost in His witness to an exalted Prince and Savior, wrath came upon them to the uttermost. God is my witness that I do not desire to see the woeful day; but, judging from the very character of God, and by the testimonies of His Word, and by His uniform practice in such cases, the coming of judgment upon an incorrigible corruption that has established itself in the place of God's testimony though long-delayed is inevitable.
In the time of a great religious stir, occasioned by the preaching of a transatlantic evangelist, seven years ago, when souls were quickened through the life-giving Word and Spirit, the greatest care was taken to exclude the anxious from coming in contact with the ministry of those who had the gospel in its fullness to communicate, and who could have given them the delivering truth of redemption, so that they might have rejoiced in Christ Jesus; and, in consequence, they were left to flounder in the mud of their own misery, and at length settle down into the worldly Christian profession of the period, the evil air of which effectually represses all spiritual growth. The chief actors to hinder the gospel from having free course were the clergy, who, in this, went against the expressed wish of the evangelist, who had to submit to his clerical superiors as the price paid for their co-operation and the free run of their churches; and the Free Church was the principal in this opposition to the gospel. Thus, that which began as a free work of God's grace, when its results were seized upon and the movement got into the hands of the
clergy and was forced into their molds, became cramped, crushed, and very soon extinguished. Contemporaneous with this terrible and destructive action in ruining the evangelical work, and finally guiding it to gaol and private execution, came the reaction towards infidelity, which a light, forced, and sensational work, carried on at the level of current religious profession, uniformly produces. A " carnal" evangelism produces a scoffing worldliness, which refuses henceforth to listen to the solid gospel of the grace of God. To popularize the gospel is to take away from it every element of divine power which it possesses. Allow of human methods or ingredients, and immediately the flesh breathes freely and listens pleasantly; but bring in Christ crucified as doing away with man in the flesh altogether; and going on with the second Man, who is risen and gone into heaven, and the flesh is choked by the heaviness of the atmosphere, and makes its escape. This modern popularizing of the gospel has given even evangelical society its itching ears, and has turned away the thoughtful from listening to the Word as a divine thing. Thus the evangelical conspired with the rationalistic to ruin the whole crop and reduce the field to barrenness. "The land was as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness." A rationalized college and a popularized gospel have made the name of Christ odious, and the Holy Scriptures a suspected and distrusted book. And is not God permitting your present troubles as a chastisement for rejecting the Spirit's work and the gospel of the glory of Christ leading on to the full knowledge of Him, and a going forth at the Spirit's call, " Behold, the Bridegroom! Go ye out to meet Him? "
A few of the saints of God, who have been treated " as the offscouring of all things unto this day," have sought and found God's grace to stand by the full testimony of God as to the present truth, and also by the new work of God's Spirit in recalling the saints from their confusion and disorder to Christ
and the unity of the Spirit. And though you have resisted all this (no doubt most of the rank and file in ignorance-not the leaders), who have come forward most distinctly in this work of standing up for the perfection and authority of God's Word as written, but those very people whom you have banded yourselves together to slay? This should speak with the very voice of God to your consciences and lay you down before His footstool in confession of your great sin in resisting the Holy Ghost in their testimony, and lead you to reconsider your duty towards this divine testimony and work of God for these closing days. One single pamphlet of this despised and persecuted people, entitled, "Have we a revelation from God?" despatched to the ministers of the church before the first great public trial of Professor Robertson-Smith's case, warned, instructed, and delivered the church for that year, when the subject of the contention was comparatively unknown; and ever since, the same witnesses for Christ and the scriptures have, by a variety of writings shown themselves to be allies of those who are standing up for the truth against increasing and terrible opposition. They are the parties which the most evangelical among you have persecuted; and still they are forced, by holding on their way with God in personal fidelity, to be in the very path, so far as testimony to the Written Word is concerned, in which by force of circumstances you now meet them and find them-not your enemies-not taking advantage of your evil case to reproach you for the past, but, by the grace of God, "helpers in the war." They are one with you in resisting this fearful form of this " higher criticism " infidelity, that wrecks the Word as a revelation from God.
But this is not all. They believe that though God blesses a community, in however great a state of ignorance as to the full truth of Church unity when they are true to the Spirit-given desire to uphold the name of Christ according to their light, yet, seeing that the full truth of God has now been recovered and published openly, and the place of the saints in Christ before God, and the place here in the Spirit where God would have all His children to be, God gathering out His saints to Christ in the unity of the Spirit as in the days of old, there is nothing short of this that God owns and will maintain in fullness of the blessing of the Christ, guide by the Spirit, and preserve from the destructive effects of the poisoned atmosphere of infidelty, and Laodiceanism, with which we are surrounded; so that it is labor lost for God's people to remain in connection with human institutions now going on to divine judgment and doomed to perish, though in providence used of God, when the Spirit's word by His holy Apostle is sounding in the hearing of every one that happens to hear, " Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach."