Prospects for Church of Scotland Ministers in the Free Church
Having recently read the biography of William Cunningham , first professor of History and Theology of the New College, Edinburgh, (the theological college established by the Free Church of Scotland after the disruption in 1843), I have been enjoying reading the theological lectures he gave to his first classes in the seminary. They are especially valuable in opening up the issue of the canon and the inspiration of Scripture.
However, Cunningham was addressing men who had left the established church at great cost to enter the ministry of the Free Kirk. These were men who put principle before comfort and many of them lost their salary, their homes, and the security of social status as part of the established church.
History has a way of repeating itself. The Church of Scotland is again in turmoil. In 1845 the national Kirk was not repudiating the gospel or denying the inspiration and authority of Scripture; the issue that caused the split was the matter of church state relationships. Today the situation in the national church is one of doctrinal and moral apostasy, embracing active homosexuals in membership and ministry.
What would Cunningham say today to men in the ministry of the Church of Scotland? How would he speak to professed evangelicals who seem unwilling to leave the security and the financial certainty of the national church to bear witness to the truth of Scripture?
Perhaps it is best to let Cunningham himself speak as he addressed those brave men who in 1843 had stood by principle and at great cost had thrown in their lot with the Free Church:
“We cannot hold out to you in the ministry of the Free Church the prospect of worldly honours and emoluments, of the favour or countenance of the wealthy and the powerful, or of the enjoyment of ease or idleness. With us you must be prepared to endure hardness, as good soldiers of Christ Jesus. But we can offer you a place in the ministry of a Church which, blessed be God, maintains the truth of God, and which therefore he may be reasonably expected to bless.
We can hold out to you a wide field of usefulness, abundant opportunities of labouring in Christ's cause, in circumstances which afford an encouraging prospect of success.
God has set before us an open door — no man can shut it; and, so far as we can judge from the statements of God's word, the general principles of his moral government, and the indications of his providence, there is no reason to fear that he will speedily close it.
When He who had struck Paul with blindness on his way to Damascus was directing Ananias to go and visit him, that he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost, he assured him that Paul was a chosen vessel to bear his name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel;" and then he added, " I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake " (Acts ix. 16); seemingly intending to represent both the sufferings themselves, and the previous intimation of them, as tokens of his favour and his kindness. And men who have any real love to the Saviour, and any honest zeal for his glory, will not shrink from his service because of the difficulties and hardships that may lie before them in the work to which they may be called.”
P18, Theological Lectures