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GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE FREE CHURCH
THURSDAY, MAY 16, 1814.
Sermon by Dr Brown, the former Moderator-The Assembly constituted---Roll of Members called
Dr Brown's Address on leaving the Chair, and proposing the Rev. Mr H. Grey as his successor Mr Grey chosen Moderator-His Address on opening the Assembly--Committees appointed.
The General Assembly of the Free Church met this day in the Canonmills Hall. The Hall was well filled, there being probably about 4000 persons present, and the internal arrangements, on wbich considerable alterations bad been made since last year, were well fitted to promote the comfort both of the members and of the audience, The Rev. Dr Brown, Moderator of last Assembly, preached from Psalm cxxii. 6, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” and after sermon be constituted the Assembly
The roll of members, wbose commissions had been given in, was read over by the clerk, and after a few observations by some members, on the return of the tbeological professors, not in a representative, but in an ex officio character, *
De Brown rose and said, My fathers and brethren, vow that I am about to relinquish the honourable position 1 have held amongst you by your partiality, I cannot but express that I am deeply sensible, and, if a poor worm of the earth nay be said to be proud, proud of the distinction to which I was raised, of presiding in such
as that of the Free Church of Scotland which was held in Glasgow. I have to thank you with my whole soul for the honour you then did me, and I have to thank you for the forbearance that you manifested toward me in the very imperfect discharge of the duties to which I was called. It now falls on me to propose a successor to myself in this chair, and I should certainly never bave bad the presumption to have suggested of myself to this house any individual, without consulting iny brethren in different quarters of the Church, and without their meeting with my suggestion, and their uniting, as with one mind, in regard to the individual that I am now to propose to this venerable house. And as they have unitedly declared his fitness for the holding of this bonourable and important office, I trust it will be the mind of this honourable house, that we have not judged erroneously. When I mention the name of the individual that I now take the liberty of proposing, to be that of Mr Henry Grey-(cheers)—of St Mary's Free Church, Edinburgh, I think you will agree in what I have said. (Hear, bear.) That individual needs no eulogy of bis deep piety,--from his qualifications as a minister of the everlasting gospel,-from his mild and amiable disposition, and general bearing, I conceive he is highly quali
* This subject was taken up by the Assembly at a subsequent diet, and satisfactorily arranged.
fied to hold this important and honourable situation. Therefore, without saying one single word more, I shall propose to this venerable house, that the Rev. Henry Grey, of St Mary's Free Church, Edinburgh, shall be chosen to hold the place wbich I shall now vacate. After a pause, the reverend Doctor said, Is it the pleasure of the house that Mr Grey be elected? (General cries of " Agree, agree.")
The Rev. MR GREY was then introduced, and, having taken the Moderator's chair, addressed the Assembly as follows:- My reverend fathers and brethren, and my respected friends the elders of the Church, allow me, in thanking you for the honour to wbich
your kind and too favourable opinion has raised me, to express the sense l bave of my great unfitness for the office. Nothing but the strong desire that would impel me to serve the Church in every way, accompanied by the feeling of being able to serve it very little in any way, could have overcome my repugnance, or reconeiled me to occupy a position as unsuitable in many respects for me, as I for it. But we are not always fit judges of what are our duties, or even of our own qualifications. A man may promote the progress of business by occupying the chair, who would not do much business if he were out of it. My sphere of duty has not lain much in church courts in time past. I have bad little sbare in the proceedings of General Assemblies; and now, when past the stage for entering on a new line of life, or for acquiring skill which had not been acquired before, I am willing still to go where I am sent, to stand where I am placed, and to do the little I can to help the good cause in any way. I am content, therefore, unworthy as I am, to occupy a place of bonour and dignity for a few days, if, by so doing, I may set at liberty for more efficient services, those who have other and higher resources at command. Allow me to add, that this is about the first General Assembly in which I could, with real comfort of mind, bave held the place of Moderator. I should have felt it hard to sit as arbiter in that scene of often stormy debate, where what should have been wholly the Church of Christ, stood apart in two opposing bands, whose aim was too often to thwart and defeat one anotber. There, struggling with the world in the church, our weapons were apt to become carnal, like theirs ; and our achievements, when we began to move onward, wore too much the character of political triumph. How much more happily, how much more suitably, are we now situated! All we have lost, I trust, will prove to have been well lost, and more than repaired by the greater purity we have gained, -by emancipation from the trammels of acting with those with whom we were not agreed,- of reasoning with those with whom we had no common principles of decision, and by whom our arguments were not understood. Do we not feel now, to a man, that we are in a truer, safer position, as Christ's ministers, and as a section of Christ's church, than we were before? Have we not felt, with all the cares and labours, with all the hardships and perplexities that bave attended our state, that we breathe a freer, happier air, that we stand on surer ground as Christians, and are more efficient and unreproachable as Christian ministers, than we were the year before the last? (Loud cries of Hear, hear.) How anxious, at some seasons, were those moments of suspended hope,-of dubious deliberation,—of heartless, futile, disappointing negotiation,-on which our cause seemed to depend! Well was it for us at those sea. sons, that the helm of our affairs was held by a sovereign, all-controlling hand, well, as I trust we shall yet discover, that our painful efforts after an adjustment came to nothing. Great good, I trust, is yet to accrue to the cause of truth, to the honour of God, to the true interests of the Redeemer's kingdom, from the events that bave taken place. It was not the result we should have chosen,—not the end, certainly, to which our efforts were directed. It is, therefore, more signally the work of God; it is His will, more peculiarly, that has been accomplished. It was meet that we should have moved slowly, mournfully, prayerfully,—that moments of an. guish and dismay should have sometimes surprised us at the event which we saw coming upon us. It was not for us to be cordially active in pulling down the fabric in which we had our shelter and our sustenance; severing what seemed the soul from the body,—the vital from the ostensible church. It was not for us to be strenuous in robbing our country of its best and most honoured institution, that which gave strength and beauty, and the promise of durability, to the whole,-and that, too, at a time when our hopes had experienced a revival, when we had begun to repair our errors, to renew our strength, to recover the efficiency of our earlier and parer periods of existence. This, we may comfort ourselves, my brethren, has been the cause of the catastrophe; our National Church had become more a real Church of Christ than the world could well bear. (Loud cries of Hear, hear.) It had ceased to be an accommodating tool in the hands of politicians, a convenient appen. dage to the wealthy and the great. Its interests lay with the Christian people; its duties were conversant with men as immortal beings, with the souls throughout our Christian land. God, who watches over these interests, and knows His own designs, brought us to a crisis that we could not pass. What we would not have chosen
for ourselves was appointed for us, wrought out and made inevitable by the unimpeded progress of events. Some things in the long series of our endeavours might bave been more cautiously done,—some, perhaps, more fortunately managed; but the issue, I believe, must have proved the same. The rights we now exercise as a Christian Church, so peacefully, so harmlessly, so beneficially, as I trust, to the community, were not to be enjoyed by us any longer as a church in connection with the State. Whether the State or we shall have lost most by the separation, it remains for time to show. We are where we are by God's appointment, in the path of duty, following the leadings of Providence. Whatever griefs or regrets attended the decision, these have no existence now. For how bas our heavenly Father crowned our wishes, disappointed our fears, levelled the mountains, raised the valleys in our path! This day last year, my friends, was a day ever to be embalmed in the Church's recollection--a day of high emotion, of holiest enterprise, of glorious achievement. May the memory of it ever live, to revive us when we are faint, to elevate and con. firm us when we are strong, to bind us over to fidelity and perseverance in every righteous undertaking! Few will live to see brighter days than that. But have we stopped tbere? Has it not been followed up by a succession of prosperous fortune, that makes it only as the first step in our march,-the key-note in our song of praise? Has not every day added to our causes of thanksgiving? For bas anything been against as that we bave seriously felt,—any obstruction that has not been overcome by the flowing tide of prosperity?' Tbere bas been no persecution, compared with what used to be called so, worth the name,—no dishonour done us that he has not reverted on the adversary. The undertaking so large, the expenses so overwhelming, that seemed as if they must needs overpower all our means of meeting them, and leave us defeated and exhausted, have only excited the zeal of the faithful people. The heart has been enlarged with the call, and the means grown out of the inclination to bestow. Beneficence has flowed as from an invisible fountain fed by a Di. vine hand, far beyond all common expectation and common liberality. And these, we are thankful to think, are only the first fruits, the earnest of what is yet to come. This, and countless other virtues and graces, bas our disruption called forth, sifting out not merely the church from the world, but the world's vanities from Christian hearts, purifying and illustrating wbat belongs to the Christian character. Looking at what a year has brought about, where all was to begin, and such a mass of labour and obstruction to overcome, we cannot but raise our Ebenezer, and say, " Hitherto the Lord bath helped us." We cannot but see, that it is by an Almighty hand that we bave been brought to this position, for far more important ends than are yet unfolded. God begins by showing us wbat resources he bas always in his band, that be can “ of stones raise up children to Abrabam,”-how soon he can build up a new cburch from the heart offerings of his willing people,—and bow far beyond all the endowments of the dead, -the gifts consecrated by time,-are those furnished by the love of the living generation. The piety of our ancestors often crippled our efforts, and made us mistrustful of the goodness of God. Tbrown now on our own resources, we find strength equal to our day, a liberality not known, because never put to the proof before. And most cordially do I sympathize in the sentiment embodied in various overtures to our Assembly, that we have been busied hitherto in preparation, and have hardly entered with full energy on the real appropriate work incumbent on us as a Church placed under such peculiar and encouraging circumstances. The tokens are of the best, the time every way most propitious, the fields whitening
on every side to the harvest. Much, much is wanted to be done; many are willing and zealous beyond their knowledge, and require to be instructed; thousands are perishing in unreclaimed ignorance around us; we shall fall miserably short of our bigb destination if we do not, working with the time, prove a signal blessing to our country and to this generation. The bearts of our people are much at our dis. posal. We are, - I say it without disparagement to any,-Scotland's true ministers; and all who labour in the service of our Master are really on our side-we hold them all as brethren. Nothing would more impede our progress, or impair our work, than an exclusive, separating spirit, “ comparing ourselves among ourselves," one party with another, wasting our time in parleying with all objectors. We feel that we are content with our position, and envy others nothing that they possess. We know that we would not exchange again with those that have succeeded us. (Loud applause.) If they preach Christ—and we do not deny that they may--so do we also preach Christ. Let us wish them God speed, and rejoice that “every way Christ is preached.” There is work enough for us both. And surely the farther manifestation of who is right and who is wrong anong us may be left to God, and does not belong to us. Let us not set at nougbt or despise any of our brethren. We have left in the flocks from wbich we have parted, many that we love, many for whom we cannot cease to pray.
Let us follow the course by which we may best edify observers, and conquer their regard. The well-disposed are not indisposed to us. If we so prosper as to carry through, in our work, the marks and attestations of the Divine favour, they will not “fight against God,” they will come over to us. And those brethren “gone out from us," whose faith was weak, who were not all of us, or like-minded with us, are they not under their Master's discipline ? To Him they stand or fall. We are not called to decide on their case or conduct. We have many faults and imperfections to weed out; much good to learn and to aspire after. Let us turn every thing to good account. The censures and imputations of opponents and of competitors are far more instructive to us than the opinions of our friends. We do not know ourselves till we fall into the bands of our enemies, and hear our character from them; and we should rest satisfied with notbing in ourselves that may give just cause of offence or blame in any quarter. We are now Jaunched, my brethren, on a prosperous sea, in " a time that, taken at the tide, leads on to fortune.” We must labour while the sun is bigb ; we cannot tell how long the sunshine is to last. It is under the first influence generally that the greatest impression is made. What a spreading and continuous revival attended the rise of the Methodists, under Wesley and Whitefield ! Out of the church they effected what they could not have done within its pale ; and the church within and without shared in the benefit. We are churchmen, as they were at starting, and are debtors to both parties. Let not our good wishes or good influence be circumscribed by any conventional or imaginary limits, or our efforts for our own country cease till they have possessed it in its widest and fullest extent. We have that mark of a genuine church, that we are an extending and a missionary church. (Hear, hear.) We cannot, in aiming at the world, overlook the nearest and the dearest part of it. St Paul was “the apostle of the Gentiles;" but how deep and absorbing was the love he bore to his kinsmen after the flesh, though they were his greatest persecutors ! “ Continual heaviness and sorrow of heart” oppressed him. Losing delight in his own privileges, and almost ready to forego his interest in Christ, if so he might bring them to share it with him, how anxious was he, though he knew the impending judgment and desolation near at hand, to snatch as many as he could from the ruin, if possible to “save some of them !" As many as come over to Christ, not only escape the blust for temporal judgment, but are saved for evermore, and become saviours of others. Whatever days are at band,—whatever calamities may overtake us, it is well for them who have chosen the better part,—who are on the Lord's side, fighting in bis ranks,-suffering with the Church, and not with the world. And there is room in the ark for all. Signal and blessed will be the deliverance of those who have their portion there. Allow me, as I am in this place, to make a suggestion to which I trust that every heart that does not anticipate me will at least cordially respond; it is indeed in entire accordance with wbat our late excellent Moderator bas already so beautifully and affectionately inculcated on us,I mean, that we cultivate, not only unity of principle, but perfect harmony of senti. ment and feeling, that we be “ of one accord, of one mind," that each endeavour to “esteem other better than himself, in honour preferring one another.” The subjugation of pride, self-estimation, and love of pre-eminence, is the best security for esteeming others, and giving just weight to their sentiments. The habits of our latter times, and of human nature in all times, tend to turn meetings for conference and discussion into scenes of debate and ultimately of difference and contention. This inevitably would prove the death of our cause; we must shun it altogether as we would ruin and disgrace. The man who would cause divisions, or throw the apple of discord, should be to us as a heathen or an idolator. It is practicable, surely, or we should not be so tenderly enjoined and besought in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to have no divisions, but to be “ perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment.” This peace and unity will be ours if we truly understand its value, and learn in meekness to place every favourite opinion, every project of ours, and scheme for prosecuting it, second to this transcendently great object. We shall take care not to let it go or be endangered, if we mark well how perpetually the Scripture presents it as a first-rate object, invokes it as a blessing, and promises it as a reward. These suggestions are not made from any tendency that I bave observed, for I trust we are at present far from danger, and every mind fortified with the contrary principle. Still, lest, in the strenuous pursuit of argument, it should be at any time forgotten, it is good to be prepared against all temptation, and on every occasion to keep sure hold of the peace in which we resolve to abide, and to “ leave off strife before it has been meddled with.” I have, I fear, occupied more of your time than is becoming my present situation, and shall willingly assume the listener's post you have kindly assigned to me, and bope for mucb gratiñcation and profit from what I shall be called to bear. (Loud applause.)
Committees were then appointed on Bills and Overtures, and to arrange the business of the house.
Dr Candlish said, be presumed it would be the mind of the house that they should to-morrow hold a diet for prayer; but he begged to propose, in addition to that, that there should be a diet for business in the evening. He might mention that it had been the usual practice in Edinburgh to hold prayer meetings in the different churches on the evening of Friday. These, bowever, bad on this occasion been fixed for this evening in most of the churches, so that to-morrow evening would be left free ; and to-morrow evening, therefore, he begged to propose that they should take up the overtures on the state of religion-(hear, bear,)—and perbaps they might add another business of a kindred and congenial kind,—the Report of the Sabbath Committee. (Hear, hear.)
The proposal was unanimously agreed to.
Dr CANDLISH then moved, “ That the subject of the representation of this Church in the General Assembly baving been brought under the notice of the Assembly, the following committee be appointed to consider the same, and report to a future diet of Assembly.”
The motion having passed, Dr Candlish nominated the committee, wbich was also agreed to.
Mr Dunlop also suggested that to-morrow forenoon the Assembly should receive from Dr Makellar the general Report on the Contributions to the Schemes of the Church.-Agreed.
The Assembly adjourned at a quarter to four o'clock, till Friday at twelve, then to meet for devotional exercises.