Nec Tamen Consumebatur:
The Free Church of Scotland and the Crisis of 1900
- W.L. Bredenhof

Last Updated February 8, 2013

1.0 Introduction

Since 1992, the Canadian and American Reformed Churches have maintained a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the Free Church of Scotland. Each federation/Church has its own unique character defined by their own particular confessions and historical background. Much effort has been expended on comparing the Westminster Standards with the Three Forms of Unity, but little attention has been given to a closer evaluation of one anothers' history. If we are to come to a greater understanding of one another, it is important that we not only know about the history of one another, but also that we interact with and evaluate that history.

In this paper, one major event in the history of the Free Church of Scotland will be described and evaluated: the so-called Crisis of 1900. It cannot be avoided that this is done from a Canadian Reformed perspective. Besides having different confessions, certain distinctives of the Free Church of Scotland (FCS) are not found in the Canadian Reformed Churches and therefore we might evaluate them differently.(1) Terms such as "True Church" and "False Church," for instance, do not seem to function in the historiography of the FCS the way they often do in the historiography of the Canadian Reformed Churches.(2) Of course, we believe that such terminology is Scripturally justified and so we may use it in our evaluation. This is only one example of how a Canadian Reformed historian would write differently about the history of the FCS than a member of the Free Church of Scotland. Thus, there will be instances where we will have to differ from the FCS in our evaluation of her history. Were members of the FCS to investigate and evaluate the history of the Canadian Reformed Churches they may very well reach similar results. Perhaps such study from both sides could potentially serve to sharpen each others' perspectives on our histories.

2.0 Setting the Stage

2.1 A Brief Overview of the Early History of Scottish Protestantism

Scottish protestantism traces its heritage back to the sixteenth century. The name of John Knox will forever be remembered as the leader of the Reformation in Scotland. Through his untiring and fiery ministry, the great majority of Scotland became Protestant, resulting in the formation of the Church of Scotland in 1567. From the very beginning there was tension between the Church and State. According to G.N.M. Collins,

...the Reformed Church contended only for the rights and liberties that had been guaranteed to her in her contract with the State. She made no claim to be above civil law in the ordinary affairs of life. But in such matters as fell within recognised ecclesiastical jurisdiction -- the appointing of officebearers, the exercise of discipline, the formulation of the Church's constitution and Confession, the conduct of public worship and the administration of the sacraments -- in these she claimed an autonomy that was clearly deducible from the teaching of Holy Scripture. The maintenance and defence of these inalienable rights constituted a sacred trust which had been committed to her by Christ Himself.(3)

At this time already one can see the emergence of the Establishment Principle, one of the key contentions in the Crisis of 1900. The Establishment Principle has been defined by one author as follows:

The Establishment Principle or the Principle of the National Recognition of Religion maintains the scriptural view of the universal supremacy of Christ as King of Nations as well as King of saints, with the consequent duty of nations as such, and civil rulers in their official capacity, to honour and serve Him by recognising His Truth and promoting His cause.(4)

It is important also to define briefly the position which opposes the Establishment Principle. The same author writes:

Voluntaryism or the voluntary principle on the other hand denies the moral nature and obligation of civil rulers and governments to uphold, defend and advance, the Cause of Christ in the world. In the words of Dr. Begg, "it confounds 'the state' with 'the world,' forgetting that the civil government is a divine ordinance, and that the magistrate is a 'minister of God' unto the people for good."(5)

As will be seen further on, these principles play a crucial role in the history of the Free Church of Scotland.

Upon the passing to glory of Knox in 1572, Andrew Melville became the leading figure in the Church of Scotland. Melville was involved with a remonstrance to King James concerning the interference of the State in the affairs of the Church. James had forbidden the General Assembly from meeting without his permission and in other ways had placed the Church of Scotland under the jurisdiction of the Church of England. Conflict with the king continued over the years and did not cease with the death of James. When Charles I came to the throne the situation remained much the same, even worse. Collins writes, Charles I came to the throne even more obsessed with belief in the Divine Right of Kings than his father had been; and this meant that his antipathy to Presbyterianism was correspondingly greater. The sovereign must be supreme in all causes; the subject's one duty was to obey.(6)

To set the record straight and to establish their principles of Church and State, the Scottish formulated and signed the National Covenant of 1638. As Dr. Deddens writes, "This document clearly states that the Church is not a department of the State and its spiritual jurisdiction must never be usurped by the State."(7) Dr. J. King Hewison further elaborates:

The Word of God, as the sole rule of faith and morals, was restored to its authoritative position; the Lord Jesus Christ was again enthroned as the Head of the Church; the principle of autocracy was condemned; the seat of power was asserted to be in the people, as taught by Buchanan, Goodman and other Reformers; the national will regarding religion expressed in the Covenant was unmistakably announced; Episcopacy, as a barren and unwelcome imposition was extinguished; Scottish Presbytery as a polity warranted by Scripture, was revived; the right of the laity to representation in the Church Courts was ratified; and the personal interests of individuals in their own spiritual welfare was so quickened, that, for long after 1638, the printing presses of Scotland poured out a flood of books and pamphlets, indicating the joy and satisfaction which the emancipation of the Church had conferred.(8)

The Solemn League and Covenant, a document reaffirming what had already been sworn in the National Covenant, was signed in Edinburgh in October of 1643. There was further conflict in the years following between England and Scotland, also on the relationship between Church and State. For the sake of brevity, the details are passed over. The important point is that the Scottish covenanters maintained, in the face of the most brutal opposition, the Establishment Principle.

The strife continued into the 18th century. At this time, the restoration of patronage occurred. Under the patronage system, nominees for pastoral vacancies were selected by patrons. Collins describes this system further:

The call of the people and the concurrence of the Presbytery of the bounds were still necessary to the effecting of a pastoral settlement. If therefore the patron's nominee was unacceptable to the people he could be set aside. But unscrupulous patrons could turn this arrangement to their own advantage. By presenting unacceptable men they could prolong the vacancy in the pastorate and use for their own purposes the money that ought to go to the payment of the minister's stipend.(9)

Patronage created a controversy when in 1731, the church at Kinross wanted to call Ebenezer Erskine as minister. The patron refused to acquiesce and instead appointed another man. The result of this was that a separate Presbytery was instituted in 1733, which became known as "the Secession Church." A similar secession occurred in 1761, when the General Assembly attempted to force a congregation to accept the patron's nominee. The Dunfermline Presbytery refused to cooperate and so the Assembly decided to depose Thomas Gillespie. Gillespie was joined by Thomas Boston of Oxnam and Thomas Colier and these three formed the Presbytery of Relief "for the relief of Christians oppressed in their Christian privileges." Eventually these churches would join the "Secession Church" to form the United Presbyterian Church which will reappear later in our story.

The next few decades saw the emergence of two parties in the Church of Scotland. The first was the Moderates who were influenced by rationalism. Collins describes those who willingly took this name as such:

Their teaching has been described as "a Gospel without grace, setting forth salvation by works." But if they preached "good works" there was more than a grain of truth in the remark of the cynic who said that "they left it to others to perform them." Lord Cockburn thus describes the typical Moderate; "His clay was perfectly impervious to the deep and fervid spirit which is the soul of modern religion"...Thomas Chalmers had once belonged to their number, and was thereby well qualified to assess them, and this is his comment on their preaching: "A Moderate sermon is like a winter's day, short and clear, and cold. The brevity is good, the clarity is better; the coldness is fatal. Moonlight preaching ripens no harvests."(10)

The second party was that of the Evangelicals. Influenced by the Reveil, these were beginning to eclipse the Moderates already by the end of 18th century. This party was marked by a deeper spirituality and growing sense of the need for missions among the heathen. The patronage system was still in existence at this time, but under the leadership of men such as Thomas Chalmers, it was being increasingly questioned. This would lead to the Disruption of 1843.

2.2 Synopsis of the Disruption of 1843

The Disruption of 1843 was unquestionably one of the most important events in the history of the Free Church of Scotland -- it is here that the FCS begins. The brief treatment it is given here should not be understood as being indicative of its worth. Many of the same themes which appeared earlier on, appear again at this time. The Disruption took place when the Evangelical party in the Church of Scotland, under the leadership of Chalmers, left the established Church to form the Church of Scotland, Free (later to be called the Free Church of Scotland). The cause of the disruption is best given in the Free Church Yearbook:

The immediate cause of the Disruption was the insistence by the civil courts that the Established Church had to ordain men to the parish ministry irrespective of their acceptability to the parishioners. The Evangelical Party regarded this as an intolerable interference in the spiritual liberties of the church and so they withdrew from the Established Church to form the Free Church. The Disruption was not intended to be a disruption, or division, of the Church. Rather it was to be a severing of the link that bound the Church to the State. However, since the Church was not of one mind regarding the proposed action, the Church itself was split. The Established Church remained; and the Free Church, claiming to be the same church as that which it had left, a church adhering to the same Confession of Faith, loyal to the same principles and differing only inasmuch as in the discharge of its spiritual functions it was to be subservient to no other authority than the will of God as understood by the collective mind of the Church, came into being.(11)

As in previous controversies, the major issue at stake during the Disruption was the relationship between the State and the Church. The Free Church of Scotland maintained the Establishment Principle, but also protested the intrusion of the State into the affairs of the Church when it came to matters that were not the business of the State, such as the appointment of ministers. The two were not and to this day are not seen as being opposing positions. The Establishment Principle was and is maintained against Erastian conceptions of the relationship between Church and State.

3.0 The Union of 1900

3.1 The First Union Controversy

The first twenty years after the Disruption were fruitful ones for the Free Church of Scotland. Says Alexander Stewart,

They were stirring years, full of strenuous and fruitful work. Few periods of Church history furnish a more inspiring record. The hardships so patiently endured by our fathers, their unwavering loyalty to conviction, their splendid liberality, and their abounding labours in the cause of the Gospel, rank among the great things of Christian achievement.(12)

This period of great prosperity was attributed to four things: "1) the earnest spiritual tone which marked it through and through; 2) the unity of heart and soul that bound all in one; 3) the intense activity in every department; and 4) the thorough organization of the work."(13) Over these twenty years, there also grew an increasing desire to pursue unity with the United Presbyterian Church (UPC).

This was only natural since the FCS and the UPC shared a common form of Church government, the same confessions, and a common history. They seemed to agree on issues of discipline and worship and had a similar perspective on the relationship between Church and State. As Stewart says, "It would have been strange if a movement in the direction of Union did not sooner or later take shape."(14)

3.1.1 Origin of Desire for Union

But from where did this desire for union between the FCS and the UPC appear? Stewart says that the influences behind the Union movement were not of a favourable character. He notes that the general population of the FCS congregations did not have a great desire to be one with the UPC. He writes,

To no appreciable extent could the Union movement be traced to the workings of spiritual power. There was no earnest longing for it throughout the country. It was not impelled by strength of popular conviction, and it was not sustained by the prayers of the Church...The movement accordingly was less religious in its character than ecclesiastical. It was mainly due to the aspirations of certain leading ministers on both sides.(15)

Stewart also mentions that there was a political aspect to the Union movement. Certain Free Church of Scotland ministers were beginning to echo disestablishment sentiments. Stewart writes,

Thus, in addition to the benefits of Union that are more direct and apparent, the movement had in view the accession of moral strength which would accrue to the position of dissent before the country, as well as the increase of fighting power resulting from a combination of forces against an Establishment which had forfeited its claim to the national support.(16)

To be sure, the objective was the disestablishment of the Church of Scotland, but it seems to have entailed a compromise of the Establishment principle, something for which those who came through the Disruption could not live with.

Collins adds a further impetus to the Union movement. He notes that at the time the Union movement had its beginning (the 1860s), there appeared spiritual deterioration in the FCS, caused by a changing attitude to Scripture and the Westminster Confession.(17) The Union movement thus began with the pall of compromise hanging over its head.

Nevertheless, the Union movement went ahead and discussions began between the FCS and the UPC. In 1863 it was brought before the General Assemblies of the Churches. Resolutions were brought forward to the effect that union between the Churches be earnestly pursued. Until 1867, most of the discussion was limited to the General Assemblies and the committees which they had appointed. In 1867, the atmosphere became more heated and intense. The UPC became impatient with the FCS because of the slow speed at which things were going. In the FCS itself, objections began to be raised against the proposed union. At this time, as Stewart points out, "It became apparent that the Union contemplated could be effected only at the expense of disunion within the Free Church herself."(18) When the FCS General Assembly of 1867 decided that the differences between the FCS and the UPC were no barrier to union, a group of conservatives in the FCS resigned from the union committee, claiming that the Assembly had thereby abandoned and subverted a constitutional principle of the FCS.(19) By this it was meant that the UPC was not a Church which maintained the Establishment Principle. Collins elaborates on this point:

The United Presbyterian Church had assumed the Voluntary position, holding that it is not competent for the civil magistrate to give legislative sanction to any creed in the way of setting up a civil establishment of religion. The Free Church, on the other hand -- although by force of circumstances virtually a Voluntary church and no longer enjoying the benefits of Establishment -- had come out of the Establishment still holding to the Establishment Principle.(20)

As a result of this major difference of opinion (and others that follow below), James Begg, William Nixon, Julius Wood and James Gibson resigned from the Union Committee, being unable, in good conscience, to pursue unity with the UPC. After several years of intense discussion within the FCS, in 1871 it was decided to terminate efforts at union between the UPC and the FCS. There was simply too much opposition to it among the churches. Rather than pursue union, the Assembly decided to pursue greater cooperation with the UPC. After some controversy, the Assembly of 1871 decided that UPC ministers could be transferred to the FCS, but only if they would vow adherence to the distinctives of the FCS.

3.1.2 Further Objections to Union

Besides the objection to the proposed union on the basis of the different view of the relationship between Church and State, there were other objections as well. When it comes down it, these objections grew out of a different approach to the Westminster Standards. The UPC had a much looser view of the Confessions than the FCS traditionally had. The fact that the FCS and UPC were discussing union illustrated that the FCS was moving in the same direction. But there were still many in the FCS who were serious about the Westminster Standards and believed the system of doctrine that they contained. Worship

Westminster Confession 21.1 contains the most basic and essential principle of Reformed worship: the Regulative Principle. Chapter 21.5 of the same confession says that the singing of Psalms is a necessary element of Christian worship.(21) The conclusion to be drawn from this is that uninspired compositions have no place in the public worship of the Church.(22) Presbyterian churches maintaining the Westminster Standards in their entirety have thus excluded human compositions from their worship. The Free Church of Scotland from her beginning did likewise. The same may be said of the United Presbyterian Church. However, the latter Church, in deviating from the Westminster Standards, also deviated from the principles of worship contained therein. By 1866, the UPC had introduced 500 uninspired hymns into its worship. By that same time, voices were also being heard in the FCS advocating a similar move. Says Stewart, "Against these innovations the minority in the Free Church maintained an attitude of consistent opposition."(23) The opposition was not first of all based on tradition or the witness of history, but rather the principles of worship which are determined by Scripture and summarized in the Westminster Standards. Laxity with respect to the confessions led to the movement promoting hymns in the FCS.

In 1872, the UPC had also sanctioned the use of instrumental music in public worship. Though there is no explicit statement concerning this in the Westminster Standards, the FCS conservatives likewise believed that this development signified a departure from the principles of Reformed worship.(24) Though it took longer, eventually many FCS congregations outside of the Highlands also adopted this position after it was sanctioned in 1883. Thus before the Union of 1900, many FCS congregations were not holding to exclusive psalmody or the non-use of instruments in worship. Again, this signified a laxity in their regard for the Westminster Standards. The Atonement

A third major area where the minority in the FCS was concerned was that of the doctrine of the atonement. There were two camps in the UPC with regards to this doctrine. The one was Calvinist, the other fell along Arminian lines. Two professors of the UPC, Drs. Brown and Balmer, made a statement in 1843 to the UPC Synod. They both professed belief in Particular Atonement, but they added another side to the doctrine. In their statement, Dr. Balmer said:

...the death of Christ has opened the door of mercy to all men, and it follows as an obvious and necessary consequence that the death of Christ is a satisfaction or atonement for all -- that is, a universal atonement, ransom, or expiation.(25)

The Synod of the UPC had no difficulty accepting this statement. Many appeals were made the following year, but the UPC remained steadfast in allowing Arminian tendencies. This "double-reference" theory, by which Christ's death also has a general reference to all of humanity, was diligently opposed by the conservatives in the FCS. Dr. Hugh Martin and Prof. Macgregor exerted themselves in showing the unscriptural nature of this theory. Stewart concludes:

It was contended, with a considerable body of evidence to support the belief, that these views were tolerated within the U.P. Church. They were not tolerated within the Free Church. Was there not here a difference of sufficient important to form a barrier in the way of incorporating Union?(26)

Indeed, there was. The difference lay in the approach of each of the Churches to their confessions. The Westminster Standards plainly condemn the "double-reference" theory.(27) As time wore on, the FCS began to exhibit greater laxity in her commitment to the Westminster Standards. As this happened, she moved closer and closer to the UPC who had already forged the trail in that area.

3.2 The Declaratory Act

Though after 1871 the official efforts at union ceased, there were further informal attempts in the following years at drawing the FCS and the UPC closer. One of the key elements in these further attempts was the Declaratory Act of 1892. This Act was approved by the FCS General Assembly in 1891 and was intended to clarify the position of the FCS on a number of points. "Declaratory acts" had appeared in the FCS prior to this time. Collins explains what the purpose of a Declaratory act is:

The main purpose of such an Act is, as indeed its name suggests, to declare, where ambiguity or dubiety exists, or is alleged to exist, what the General Assembly understands to be the true meaning of the passage, or passages, cited from its Standards as being of uncertain import...To put it quite simply, a Declaratory Act is merely an explanatory Act.(28)

In 1891 such an Act was passed with the intention of making doctrinal changes, quite contrary to purpose for which the concept was originally created. The UPC had preceded in the FCS in this as well, having passed their own Declaratory Act in 1879. Collins quotes Dr. J.R. Fleming who commended the UPC Declaratory Act as "the first formulation of the points on which liberal Scottish Presbyterianism was prepared to modify the traditional Calvinism."(29) Within ten years, the FCS was going in the same direction. As regards the motivations for this Act, Stewart says that the Confession of Faith was no longer seen as being an adequate expression of the faith of the FCS. But there was also another factor motivating the FCS, and especially Dr. Robert Rainy. That factor was the fact that the question of union was again being raised.(30) Rainy was the major leader in this new movement towards union with the UPC, as he had been with the first Union controversy. Rainy realized that union would be impossible unless there was some modification of the Westminster Standards. The Declaratory Act was introduced, therefore, with a view to union with the UPC.

What did the Declaratory Act entail? There was first of all an expression of God's love for all sinners. This was followed by a repudiation of reprobation: "...this Church does not teach, and does not regard the Confession as teaching, the foreordination of men to death irrespective of their own sin."(31) The next section stated the gospel is the ordinary means for salvation, but also affirmed that it does not follow that children who die in infancy are lost or that "God may not extend his mercy, for Christ's sake, and by His Holy Spirit, to those who are beyond the reach of these means, as it may seem good to Him, according to the riches of His grace."(32) There was a section which affirmed that man's nature as fallen, but which also claimed that man "is yet capable of affections and actions which in themselves are virtuous and praiseworthy."(33) Section III declared that "this Church disclaims intolerant or persecuting principles, and does not consider her officebearers, in subscribing the Confession, committed to any principles inconsistent with liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment."(34) The final section made a vague statement allowing for diversity of opinion as long the opinions do not fall outside of the "Reformed faith," a judgment which the Church is to make.

Many objections were brought forward against the Declaratory Act. The first section, regarding God's unqualified love for all men was criticized as having been "designed to give coverage to the party in the Church who were moving away from the doctrine of particular redemption to a modified Calvinism, if not out and out Arminianism."(35) The section rejecting reprobation was clearly in conflict with Westminster Confession 3.7. Similar conflicts with the Westminster Standards are found in the other sections. The section on "intolerant or persecuting principles" was meant as an allowance for Voluntaryism, even though a similar expression can be found from an Establishment perspective in an earlier Declaratory Act.(36) However, the most offensive part of the Declaratory act was the last paragraph allowing for a diversity of opinions. Collins writes on this section and the objections raised against it:

Allowance is made for "diversity of opinion" on such points in the Confession as do not enter into "the substance of the Reformed faith"; but no guidance is given as to which doctrines fall into this category, or into the alternative category. The Church arrogates to herself the right to determine from time to time "what points fall within this description," and leaves herself without fundamentals, without essentials and without discipline. What was regarded in the past generation as entering into the substance of the Reformed Faith may in the next generation be classified differently.(37)

There were also objections raised against the deliberate ambiguity of the Act. According to Stewart, its opponents held "that a document intended to set forth the living faith of the Church with respect to the truths of the Divine Word, should be expressed in language so clear and definite as to leave no reasonable excuse for misunderstanding."(38) All in all, it is clear that the Act was a deliberate move away from the historical basis of the FCS in the Westminster Standards.

The General Assembly of 1893 received many overtures requesting the rescission of the Declaratory Act on the basis of the objections just mentioned. Rainy and his followers, forming the majority at the Assembly, moved that the overtures be ignored. The motion carried and the Declaratory Act remained in force in the FCS.

3.3 Free Presbyterian Secession

The result of the refusal to rescind the Declaratory Act was a secession. Rev. Donald Macfarlane from Raasay and Rev. Donald MacDonald from Shieldaig left, along with a number of theological students and a considerable number of members in the Highlands. They together formed the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. They withdrew primarily because of the Declaratory Act, but they had other reasons as well. First of all, the FCS had departed from her original position with respect to the inspiration, infallibility and absolute inerrancy of Scripture. She had maintained all of those in 1843. But, now, in 1893, it became very evident that the Free Church had ceased to hold that the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments were inspired, infallible and free from any errors, the very Word of God. As regards the Confession of Faith, the Free Church held now, according to Dr. Rainy, that they were quite entitled to modernise the Creed of the Church so as to make it fit in with the views of Scripture which prevailed among them.(39)

The prevalence of higher criticism in the FCS was a major scruple among the Seceders. In close connection with this they also voiced their concerns about the teaching at the Colleges of the Free Church. Starting with A.B. Davidson, the Wellhausen perspective on the Old Testament(40) began to take firm hold in the FCS. One professor (Robertson Smith) was even forced out of teaching, not so much for his views, as for the unwise way in which he propounded them and to keep peace in the Church. Finally, the Free Presbyterian seceders were frustrated at the lack of discipline in the FCS. The official Free Presbyterian History elaborates:

Discipline was completely a thing of the past, especially in her General Assemblies. Libel after libel was brought to the Assembly against several of her Professors, but all in vain. The great mental powers of Dr. Rainy were used to shield these Professors from the discipline which the circumstances required; but nothing could be done to purge heresy out of her Colleges and pulpits.(41)

The seceders felt that they had no other choice than to leave and start again on the foundations of 1843.

3.4 The Second Attempt at Union

The Free Presbyterian secession had little impact on the direction that the FCS was going. Once the Declaratory Act was passed and firmly in place, the stage was set for the second and final attempt at union with the UPC. The years between the first attempt and the second were years in which the FCS and the UPC had grown steadily towards one another. Dr. Rainy and his followers recognized that the time was right for another attempt at their goal.

3.4.1 The Negotiations

The 1894 General Assembly of the FCS received a number of overtures asking for new negotiations with the UPC and a renewed effort towards union. Dr. Rainy successfully proposed that no definite action be taken but rather that the matter be commended to the prayers of the Church. Rainy saw that the time was not yet right. There was still too much opposition. The following year saw more overtures for negotiations, but again Rainy stalled. Says Stewart, "It was manifest that the earnestness of conviction which ought to lie behind any serious attempt to secure incorporating Union between the two Churches was as yet lacking on both sides."(42) The 1896 General Assembly saw more of the same. Those in favour of union with the UPC were biding their time. The UPC themselves all along expressed their readiness to enter into union with the FCS whenever the FCS was ready.

1897 was the year in which the plans for union started gathering momentum. A committee which had previously been appointed presented a report in which they laid out some of the necessary data for a union. The committee recommended that a joint-committee of 12 members from each church, 24 in all, be appointed for the pursuit of union. Dr. Rainy took action:

He proposed a resolution which gave effect to the committee's recommendation, expressed the hope that there might be found to be "no bar" to the Union of Churches already so closely related, and reappointed the committee, with instructions to confer with the committee of the United Presbyterian Church regarding the practical questions bearing on Union.(43)

In 1898 the joint-committee presented their report which addressed the practical questions of union. Among other things, it proposed a new set of questions for ordination, and a provision for the training of ministers. Especially the former point became a bone of contention among those who already opposed the union on other grounds.

Despite the objections being raised, the plans for union continued to move forward. In 1899, the General Assembly could be informed that the largest part of the FCS was now in favour of union with the UPC. Only four Presbyteries had not given their approval to the plans. The General Assembly of 1899 also continued discussing the questions for ordination, the minority continuing to raise objections which were inevitably drowned out and ignored by the majority. The Assembly again reappointed the committee and instructed them to make plans for the actual union, including arrangements for presbyteries and synods in the new united Church and the finalization of the terms of the Uniting Act.

In May of 1900, the committee presented their final report with the arrangements for the forthcoming union. The minority continued to voice their objections, but once again the juggernaut of union with the UPC was unstoppable. The proposal was made and carried that the Union would take place on October 30 of that year. The name of the new church would be the United Free Church of Scotland.

3.4.2 The Objections

Many of the objections raised to the Union were already mentioned previously in this paper. The same concerns raised by those who seceded in 1893 were shared by the concerned minority who stayed in the FCS at that time. Other objections were also brought forward. The most vociferous objections were once again raised on the basis of the Establishment Principle. By joining with the UPC, the FCS would have to deny the principles upon which she was founded in 1843 -- something the minority did not want even to consider. Twenty ministers and four elders made a resolution in which they stated:

We, ministers and elders of the Free Church of Scotland, in conference assembled, this the 12th day of April at Auchnasheen, hereby declare a resolute determination, by the grace of God and under the guidance of His Holy Spirit, to maintain inviolate the Free Church of Scotland and its testimony, as contained in the Claim, Declaration, and Protest of 1842, and Protest of 1843, wherein the headship of Christ over the Nation, as well as over His own Church, is fully set forth, and the duty of the National recognition and support of religion. Further, we declare it to be our duty to endeavour to preserve the property of the Free Church for the purposes for which it was contributed, and for this purpose, to prevent by all lawful means which may be open to us the alienation of its funds and property for the propagation of principles contrary to those embodied in the Standards and Constitution of the Church of Scotland -- Free.(44)

Here we find embodied what the main objection to the Union was: an abandonment of the testimony of the Free Church of Scotland and especially an abandonment of the Establishment Principle. To be sure, the objectors had their concerns with regards to the worship and doctrine of the FCS, and even more so with the UPC, but the biggest concern was the one which brought about the FCS in the first place: the relationship between Church and State.

This is also reflected in the manifesto published by the Defence Association on October 26, 1900, just several days before the Union. Mention was made repeatedly of the Constitution of the FCS which, it was claimed, is indelible. The manifesto reads: "It is established beyond all serious controversy that the Church cannot by a majority of votes, however large, change its Constitution."(45) The Constitution of the FCS includes the Westminster Standards, and thereby also the Establishment Principle. The argument of the Defence Association was that the Constitution cannot be changed, if it is, then that church is no longer the Free Church of Scotland. By saying this, the minority was preparing for what appeared to be inevitable. The Union would go forward, but the Free Church of Scotland would remain in existence and in a form which would remain true to her Constitution.

In line with what has already been mentioned, Stewart mentions four reasons why the minority opposed the Union:

(1) First of all they held that Union on the basis which had found acceptance with their brethren involved the abandonment of a distinctive principle of the Disruption testimony.(46)

This is the objection on the basis of the Establishment Principle, already mentioned.

(2) They further objected to the Union because it meant a departure from the doctrinal Standards to which they had vowed adherence.(47)

Here we see the doctrinal/confessional objection raised. After the Union, the Westminster Standards would no longer be "standards" for doctrine. The new questions for ordination permitted a wide range of beliefs, rather than the narrow range regulated by the Westminster Standards.

(3) A third objection to the Union had reference to the power which the Constitution of the United Church, in so far as it may be regarded as having a Constitution, places in the hands of the General Assembly.(48)

The United Church would define its doctrine, not by its "doctrinal standards," but by the decisions of its General Assembly.

(4) Last of all, the minority objected to the Union because in all the negotiations connected with the movement, the people were almost entirely ignored. They were never given an opportunity of expressing their mind on the question.(49)

Despite all these objections, it is a foregone conclusion that the Union went ahead.

3.4.3 The Union an Accomplished Fact

As proposed, the Union was consummated on October 31, 1900. The Act of Union was carried the previous day in the FCS General Assembly by a majority of 616. Only 27 ministers and elders voted against. The 27 decided that the FCS General Assembly would continue meeting the next day, which is exactly what happened. They had intended to continue meeting in the same building (the Assembly Hall) in Edinburgh, but were locked out by the janitor. Instead, the now greatly diminished Free Church of Scotland met in the Queen Street Hall. The majority joined together with the UPC for the first time, and the minority carried on the affairs of the Free Church of Scotland. They were convinced that they were the legitimate continuation of the FCS.

3.4.4 The Free Church of Scotland Continued

The first year after the Crisis of 1900 (as it came to be known) was not easy for the FCS. More than 90 congregations, spread all over Scotland, desired to maintain their status as FCS congregations. For these congregations there were only 25 ordained ministers. There were other difficulties as well. Many congregations were left without a church building or manse if the minister had decided to join in the Union. It being the middle of winter when the break occurred, many congregations were forced to use uncomfortable facilities (many without heating) for their worship. The United Church used whatever means at her disposal to make life miserable for the FCS. Church buildings and properties were claimed for the United Church even when the entire congregation had remained FCS. The civil authorities were usually persuaded by the UFCS to maintain the claims of the majority. Yet, as in years before, the people of the FCS remained steadfast in their convictions.

4.0 The Aftershocks

What happened in the years following the Union may be described in a brief paragraph. Those who continued the FCS were left with very little after the Union. As already mentioned, the United Church claimed all the property for its own. The FCS disputed this claim and took it to the courts. The FCS claimed that it was the true continuation of the FCS and thus was entitled to the pre-1900 FCS properties and funds, at least of the congregations which had remained FCS. The United Church had forsaken the Constitution of the FCS and had no legitimate claim to the properties or funds. There was first of all a law case in which the judge decided against the FCS. They were entitled to nothing. Then there was an appeal which was likewise declined. Finally, the case was taken to the House of Lords and there, at last, the FCS was vindicated. They were awarded the properties and funds which were legitimately theirs. A Commission was appointed to distribute the properties and funds between the United Church and the FCS. This was required since the United Church was uncooperative in the process. Eventually however, justice was done and the FCS received her due.

5.0 Analysis and Evaluation

In order to evaluate the Crisis of 1900, it may be helpful to propose a hypothetical situation. Today the Canadian Reformed Churches, as mentioned at the beginning of this paper, have a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the Free Church of Scotland. But what if the Canadian Reformed Churches existed in the 19th century?(50) And what if they had developed a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the Free Church of Scotland shortly after the Disruption? If a Canadian Reformed delegation had been observing what happened in the events leading up to the Union, what would their reaction be? How would the Canadian Reformed Churches have reacted? These are all hypothetical questions, but by posing them we may have a better idea of how to analyze and evaluate this momentous time in the history of what is today our sister Church.(51)

In the first place, if the Canadian Reformed Churches had been in existence in the 19th century, it is extremely questionable whether they would have maintained a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the FCS until 1900. It seems likely that far before then, likely around the time of the Declaratory Act, the Canadian Reformed Churches would have had to conclude that the Free Church of Scotland no longer manifested the marks of the true church. The preaching of the Word was being perverted by Arminian influences. Higher criticism was rampant and God's Word was not being taken seriously. Discipline was not being used against those who promoted heresies. The Canadian Reformed would have had to conclude that the faithful in the FCS should leave and continue the FCS apart from the majority. It seems therefore likely that the Free Presbyterian Secession would have been regarded as legitimate and necessary by our hypothetical forefathers.

When it comes to particular issues such as the Establishment Principle, our speculations become more uncertain. One wonders whether the Canadian Reformed Churches would support the Establishment Principle as a necessary element for the Constitution of a Church. There are many things to commend it, and much Scriptural support for this position, but it would seem that the Establishment Principle is not only unknown in our circles, but also were it to be known it would be disowned as being fundamental to the Reformed faith. The same can likewise be said for the distinctive FCS worship practices. We know that the FCS does worship differently, however few of us know why and the arguments used to support their practices. At the same time it is likely that no one would maintain that an abandonment of exclusive psalmody or the introduction of musical instruments would thereby justify a secession or objections to a prospective union.(52) If anything, many in our churches would welcome such renovations in FCS practice as bringing them closer to our own practices, even if such renovations contradict the confessional standards of the FCS. Nevertheless, it can be said assuredly that our hypothetical forefathers would have expressed deep concern about the direction of the FCS before 1900. The doctrinal questions, especially the "double-reference" theory and other Arminian elements (not to mention the influence of Wellhausen and higher criticism) would have been reason enough for the Canadian Reformed to break off the relationship of fellowship.

Perhaps the hypothetical pre-1900 Canadian Reformed Churches would have continued relations with the Free Presbyterian Church as the legitimate continuation of the FCS. The Free Presbyterians were justified in leaving when they did. They did not phrase it in terms of the FCS having become a false church,(53) but from our perspective the FCS had degenerated into a false church. The faithful were obligated to separate from her. But what about those who did not? What about the minority who held on until 1900? Our hypothetical forefathers would have encouraged them to separate and join the Free Presbyterian Church. But history tells a different story. The Union took place and the minority continued the FCS. Was this legitimate? It may not have been right for the minority to remain in the FCS after the passing of the Declaratory Act, but their actions were accomplished facts. When it came to the Union, they were correct in asserting themselves to be the true continuation of the FCS. In one sense, the Union forced a reformation of the Free Church of Scotland. After 1900 the FCS returned to her foundations. She now maintained the pure preaching of the Word, the faithful administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. The FCS was once again a true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hypothetical forefathers could have recognized this and rejoiced in it. At the same time, they would have encouraged the pursuit of reunion with the Free Presbyterian seceders. Those brothers should have realized that the FCS had now reformed and was once again a true Church with whom unity should be sought. But the Free Presbyterian secession did not follow the example of the Act of Secession or Return of the Afscheiding of 1834 in the Netherlands. There was no desire to return to the FCS if she reformed. They were content to be on their own.

A Canadian Reformed analysis of the history of the Free Church of Scotland shows remarkable differences between our churches. The most striking of these is in the area of how we speak about the Church. We speak quite freely about true and false church. Nowhere in the Presbyterian literature consulted could a statement be found which declared any church, UPC or FCS, to be false. From our perspective, both the FCS and the UPC were false churches, just as the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk beginning in the era of the Afscheiding and continuing on past the Doleantie. We can together rejoice with the Free Church of Scotland that the Lord preserved her through those difficult times, but perhaps a closer look at the history might also reveal areas in which continental Reformed ecclesiology brings a stronger and more Scriptural perspective to our historiography.


Collins, G.N.M. The Heritage of Our Fathers. Edinburgh: the Knox Press, 1974.

Committee Appointed by the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church. History of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (1893-1970). Inverness: Publications Committee, Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1970.

Macleod, Donald (ed.). Hold Fast Your Confession: Studies in Church Principles. Edinburgh: the Knox Press, 1978.

Stewart, Alexander and J. Kennedy Cameron. The Free Church of Scotland: The Crisis of 1900. Edinburgh: the Knox Press, 1989 (1910).


1. ReturnHere we may mention exclusive psalmody, the refusal to use instrumental accompaniment in worship, the Establishment Principle, lifetime eldership (more accurately: indefinite tenure eldership), Presbyterian polity and so on.

2. ReturnThis, of course, has roots in the respective confessional language. The language of the Canadian Reformed Churches concerning the doctrine of the Church has (historically) been determined by the respective articles of the Belgic Confession (Arts. 27-29). The language of the FCS has often (though not always) been determined by Westminster Confession chapter 25 which does not speak of the Church in terms of true and false, but rather more pure and less pure (this despite the fact that the Scottish Confession of 1560, to which the FCS also subscribes, likewise speaks of true and false). While Canadian Reformed historiography still tends to speak confessionally (i.e. "true" and "false" churches), it was pointed out to me that our Dutch sister churches are moving ever closer towards an abandonment of this way of speaking. The "Wederkeer" series are given as an example. My experience with the Dutch church history books is limited, so I am not in any position to offer an independent evaluation of this "allegation."

3. ReturnThe Heritage of Our Fathers, G.N.M. Collins (Edinburgh: the Knox Press, 1974), p.6.

4. ReturnChrist's Kingship Over the Nations Maintained and Defended in the Establishment Principle, C.J. Brown (no publication information available), p.1.

5. ReturnIbid.

6. ReturnCollins, p.14.

7. ReturnActs of General Synod Lincoln 1992 of the Canadian Reformed Churches, p.159.

8. ReturnQuoted in Collins, p.19.

9. ReturnIbid., p.40.

10. ReturnIbid., p.37.

11. Return1998 Free Church of Scotland Yearbook (Edinburgh: the Knox Press, 1998), p.5.

12. ReturnThe Free Church of Scotland: The Crisis of 1900, Alexander Stewart and J. Kennedy Cameron (Edinburgh: the Knox Press, 1989 (1910)), p.17. N.B.: Stewart authored most of this book (with the exception of two chapters) and this book is therefore referred to in the body of this paper has having been authored by Stewart. Further references will also be by his name.

13. ReturnCollins, quoting Dr. Garden Blaikie, p.69.

14. ReturnStewart, p.17.

15. ReturnIbid., p.18.

16. ReturnIbid., p.20.

17. ReturnCollins, p.71.

18. ReturnStewart, p.25.

19. ReturnCollins, pp.72-73.

20. ReturnIbid., p.72.

21. ReturnWith Scripture references to Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 reflecting the long-standing Reformed interpretation that these passages refer to Psalms and not Psalms plus uninspired compositions. Cf. the Staten Bijbel comments on these passages.

22. ReturnThe same is likewise evident in the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. Cf. "Purity of Worship," by Hector Cameron, in Hold Fast Your Confession: Studies in Church Principles, Donald Macleod ed., Edinburgh: the Knox Press, 1978, pp.93-128.

23. ReturnStewart, p.41.

24. ReturnThere being no command for the use of instruments in public worship in the NT. Cf. Cameron, op cit.

25. ReturnStewart, p.42.

26. ReturnIbid., p.44.

27. ReturnCf. WC 8.5, LC QA 44, SC QA 25.

28. ReturnCollins, p.89.

29. ReturnIbid., p.90.

30. ReturnStewart, p.67.

31. ReturnStewart, p.69, also Collins, p.91.

32. ReturnIbid. (for both sources)

33. ReturnCrisis, p.70. Also Collins, p.91.

34. ReturnIbid. (for both sources)

35. ReturnCollins, p.92.

36. ReturnThe FCS General Assembly of 1846 declared, "...the Church firmly maintains the same Scriptural principles as to the duties of nations and their rulers in reference to true religion and the Church of Christ, for which she has hitherto contended, she disclaims intolerant or persecuting principles, and does not regard her Confession of Faith, or any portion thereof, when fairly interpreted, as favouring intolerance or persecution, or consider that her officebearers, by subscribing it, profess any principles inconsistent with liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment." Collins, p.89.

37. ReturnIbid., p.93.

38. ReturnStewart, p.71.

39. ReturnHistory of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (1893-1970), Committee Appointed by the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church (Inverness: Publications Committee, Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1970), p.79.

40. ReturnJulius Wellhausen, following the lead of others before him, popularized the notion (among other perversions) that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but by a number of other authors, some as late as the Babylonian captivity.

41. ReturnHistory of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland., p.80.

42. ReturnStewart, p.87.

43. ReturnIbid., p.89.

44. ReturnIbid., p.98.

45. ReturnIbid., p.103.

46. ReturnIbid., p.119.

47. ReturnIbid., p.121.

48.ReturnIbid., pp.124-25.

49.ReturnIbid., p.127.

50. ReturnThe Secession churches of the 19th century did in fact have contact with the Scottish. As Prof. J. Kamphuis notes, "Yet, not that long after the Secession of 1834, Helenius DeCock (son of Hendrik de Cock of Ulrum, the Netherlands) published a little booklet giving information about the Presbyterian churches in Scotland which the seceded churches had already taken up contact with earlier. He tells about their history, their confession (the Westminster Confession), and also how these churches wanted to live in obedience to the Word of God." Notes on the Westminster Confession (J. Mulder and W. Bredenhof trans.), published in Clarion and available on the Internet:

  and originally published in Rondom Het Woord, Vol. 38, #11, Vol. 39, #1, #2, #3 (1984/85). This contact with the Scottish does not seem to have much depth and I was unable to discover any more information about whether or not the Secession churches (or the GKN after the Union of 1892) had any contact with the FCS during the Union Controversies.

51. ReturnIt should be noted that by taking this approach we do not fall into the historical fallacy of Cleopatra's nose. This hypothetical approach is simply being used as an analytical tool in our evaluation, a means by which we can apply Canadian Reformed historiographical standards to the Free Church history -- not a means by which to evaluate the historical importance of the Union or how historical events might have transpired differently had the Canadian Reformed Churches been in existence at that time.

52. ReturnThe issues of worship seem to function much more prominently in the first Union controversy, but this was still an important issue for the minority in the events leading up to the Union itself in 1900.

53. ReturnAs mentioned earlier, an expression rarely (if ever) found in Presbyterian historiography.