THE CHURCH IN SCOTLAND [To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.]
Snr,—Two surprising statements are made in the article " Scottish Problems " in the Scottish number of the Spectator. In the first place, we are informed that " the Die-Hards of the Free Church broke away from the moderate majority who had effected a union with various small Presbyterian bodies." The Union of 1900, to which the writer is referring, was a union between two of the three principal branches of Scottish Presbyterianism, the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church, both of them large and influential, and, outside of .the Highlands, practically coextensive.
Again, we are told that " when once rid of the extremists, the ' Wee Frees,' the United Free Church found that it no longer had any serious differences with the Establishment." This is truly an extraordinary misreading of the situation. The so-called " Wee Frees " were simply the remnant of what had been known as the Constitutional Party of the Free Church, who not only opposed union with the " voluntary " United Presbyterian Church, but as resolutely resisted any attack on the Establishment. The Constitutional Party maintained that the establishment of religion was a funda- mental principle of the Free Church. For thirty years they resisted the disestablishment agitation and advocated con- ference with the Church of Scotland. The refusal of the remnant of this party to enter the Union of 1900 had, for the time being, an effect precisely the opposite of that assumed by your contributor. It made the abandonment of the estab- lishment principle by the Free Church majority appear to be final and complete. It is notorious that in Conservative circles in Scotland the Union of 1900 was widely regarded as a preliminary to a still more formidable attack on the position of the Church of Scotland. This was to misjudge the United Free Church and the spiritual forces which had created it, though it was certain that so long as Dr. Rainy retained the leadership there would be no lowering of the disestablishment banner. But already a generation had arisen in both branches of the Church which was looking elsewhere for a solution of the ecclesiastical situation in Scotland. A few years saw the United Free Church on the road to conciliation and compromise.
Narrow and intransigent as it may have been theologically, the old Constitutional Party of the Free Church had read the ecclesiastical situations more correctly than its opponents. It maintained that there was a better way to peace and union than disestablislunent, and that the Scottish people would never accept disendowment. Both of these positions have now been conceded, but it is doubtful if there is any just recognition of the men who in face of overwhelming and occasionally disdainful majorities maintained forty years ago the principles which have now become the shibboleths of the hour. One searches in vain the speeches of the present leaders of the United Free Church for any appreciation of those into whose labours they have entered. Nothing, how_ ever, is more certain than that when the history of the present Church in Scotland comes to be written the honour that is due to them will be given to such churchmen as the late Lord Ardwall who pointed the better way and for doing so paid the penalty of being wise before their time.—I am, Sir, &c.,
A SCOTTISH READER.