5 JUNE 1880, Page 9


THIS celebrated case has now terminated, and the conclusion to which it has come is such as to deserve more than passing notice. The issues raised have been debated long and

keenly in the Courts of the Free Church. Both sides have put forth all their strength, and the decision of last week is a substantial victory for those who believe that the results of modern critical science are not incompatible with a firm per- suasion of the truth and validity of Divine Revelation. There could not have been a better sphere for the determination of such a question than the Free Church of Scotland. It had long had the reputation of being one of the most strict and orthodox of the Churches of Christendom. Its origin and history alike agreed in securing for it this position. The prevailing type of doctrine within its pale was that repre- sented by the dogmatic period of Protestantism, and the majority of its older Ministers were men of that type. On the other hand, from many causes, for the last twenty years there has been within the Free Church a growing spirit of inquiry. Its students have gone to Germany, and won for themselves a knowledge of the method and results of German critical science. In the New College, Edinburgh, Dr. David- son, in whom the shaping power of an artistic imagination is combined with a spirit of severe scientific research, and whose personal influence over his students is something marvellous, has for eighteen years been causing the rising ministry of the Free Church to move away from the insular state of mind, and to share the ebb and flow of the wider life of the Church Universal. No student could leave Dr. Davidson's class with- out the conviction that on most Biblical questions a great deal remained to be said. Under the impulse derived from him and others, many young ministers in quiet country manses, or in the smaller towns of Scotland, were quietly pursuing their studies, and unconsciously making themselves ready for the day of battle.

It came suddenly and unexpectedly. Professor Robertson • Smith, a student of such eminence that at twenty-four years of age he had been transferred from the students' bench to the Professor's chair, had been called on to give, in the "En- cyclopedia Britannica," an account of the literary side of the books of the Bible. He wrote the article "Bible," an article which soon attracted attention, roused the fears and excited the alarm of many within the Free Church. The panic spread. The Committee of the Assembly took the matter up,

• and it was remitted to the Presbytery of Aberdeen to make inquiries. Even at that stage many members of that Pres- bytery saw no cause for investigation. They held strongly that Professor Robertson Smith had not, in the main sub- stance of his teaching, contravened the essential truth of the Free-Church standards. The Assembly of 1877 suspended Professor Smith from the exercise of his professorial functions, and a "libel" was prepared in the Presbytery against him. Twenty-five charges were brought against him, all of .which were proved irrelevant by his Presbytery ; and that decision was overturned only in one case, where relevancy was proved by the Glasgow Assembly of

• 1878, in a modified form. The points proved irrelevant related to such questions as the date and nature of Levitical legisla- tion, the composition of the Books of Chronicles, the nature of Prophecy, the testimony of the New Testament to the author- ship of Old Testament books, and the interpretation of Canticles. On all these questions, it was determined more than two years ago that the critical solution of them set forth in Professor Smith's writings did not interfere with the Free- Church doctrine of revelation and inspiration.

One question remained, that of the authorship and historical character of Deuteronomy as a whole. Apart from questions of technical procedure connected with the action of the Presbytery, which were disposed of before the final vote in the case, the question before the Assembly was whether Professor Smith, as a Free-Church Professor, was entitled to hold that the legislative portion of Deuteronomy was of later date than • the time of Moses. This involved the larger question of the freedom of Critical Science within the Free Church. And the

Free Church has answered this question in the affirmative. Critical science, which is consistent with a belief in the authority of Scripture and with the divine and supernatural character of Revelation, has vindicated for itself a recognised place within the Free Church. And if this position has been gained in the Free Church, then it is won in every Protestant Church in Christendom. No Presbyterian Church will raise it now, and henceforth there is little probability of any Pro- testant Church being able to tie itself and its hope of the future to untenable positions on questions of Biblical criticism.

In the Free-Church Assembly, the victory was won over a combination of unusual strength. A coalition of all the leaders of the Assembly, except Dr. Begg, had been formed, to secure the expulsion of Professor Smith from his Chair. Dr. Rainy and Dr. Adam combined with Sir Henry Moncrieff and Dr. Wilson to leave the "libel "as it stood, and to remove Professor Smith from his Chair. Dr. Begg and his followers strongly desired that the " libel " should be brought to proof, which, as Professor Smith had acknowledged the authorship, could only be a matter of form, to complete the process ; and if proven, then declare Professor Smith no longer a Professor in the Church. The proposal of Sir Henry Moncrieff was met by a counter-proposal, which proceeded from one of the oldest ministers of the Free Church (Dr. Beith, of Stirling), to with- draw the " libel," and restore Professor Smith to his work. Dr. Beith is one of the most remarkable men in Scotland. For nearly sixty years a minister of the Church, he has taken a prominent part in all ecclesiastical events within that time. It is touching to read the de- claration of the venerable gentleman that it has always been a comfort to his mind that, though a member of the Assembly when John Macleod Campbell was deposed from the ministry, he had not voted for nor helped that sad result. Dr. Beith recognised that these were questions on which the old ministers were less capable of judging than those who had been trained in critical investigations. An unusual proportion of lay members of Assembly took part in the debate, and the impression produced by a perusal of the debate is that the compact between Sir Henry Moncrieff and Principal Rainy had roused the Elders to a state of moral indignation, and precipitated the revolt against the usual leaders, which finally left them in a minority of seven. Those who strove for the regulated freedom of scientific investigation, coalesced with those who felt indignant at the seeming injustice of the proposal of the leaders of the Assembly, and in a great out- burst of liberal feeling won for themselves their constitutional rights. It is a great result for the Free Church, for the deci- sion has vindicated the rights of constitutional liberty within her pale. It is a great result for Protestantism generally, for it is a long step in the direction of a union of authority with freedom in the Churches, and a demonstration of the fact that in the opinion of the Free Church there is no incompati- bility between the affirmation of the divine and supernatural character of Revelation, and the allowing of the utmost free- dom of discussion in all that relates to the literary form, authorship, and date of the Books of Scripture. It is well that this result has been accomplished, for in the present conflict

with Agnosticism and other "isms," it will not do for any one to whom the truths and facts of Christianity are dear to ground their defence on positions which are indefensible, or to take up ground from which sooner or later the theological critic must be disastrously driven.