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The Month

By J.J. Haley


      The chronic troubles of the Melbourne Presbytery over the Rev. Charles Strong and the Scot's Church have culminated in a charge of heresy against that gentleman. He is charged by his accusers of denying the divinity of Christ, the efficacy of the atonement, the fact of the resurrection, and the personality of the Holy Spirit, and of being a disturber of the peace and unity of the church. He was openly declared by some of his brother ministers to be a Unitarian, a Hegelian, and what Dr. Cunningham denominates a "Pantheistic Idealist." The evidence in support of these grave charges is Mr. Strong's alleged complicity in the Higinbotham lecture on "Science and Religion," delivered in the Scots' Church; the compilation of a small hymn-book in which the name of Christ does not occur, and which is distinctively and palpably Unitarian in sentiment; the publication of a catechism of the same character which leaves out everything peculiarly Christian, and only inculcates the duties of a "bloodless moralism;" his exposition of Emerson to the young ladies of his charge; and his admiration of Lessing, whom Prof. A.B. Bruce calls "the father of eighteenth century Rationalism." McFarlane, who was tried for heresy in Scotland, declared in one of the "Scotch Sermons" that modern criticism had left three things undisturbed which can never perish, viz., "God, Duty, and Immortality." Mr. Strong seems to be of the same opinion, and presents these matters in such a way as to strongly remind one of Theodore Parker, Lessing, and Mr. Voysey. Under these most serious charges, and notwithstanding the frequent entreaties of his brethren to speak out and relieve their minds of suspicion, and his own reputation of odium, Mr. Strong remains obstinately dumb. This we cannot but regard as guilty silence. We can understand a minister being charged with a trivial offence, or heresy in regard to doctrines of but little importance, thinking it beneath his dignity to condescend to give the accusation a denial. But when he is charged with denying the historic foundations, the fundamental redeeming facts, of the gospel, and of affirming that the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection of Christ are ideas only, the supposed history of which are not reality but mere rhetorical drapery; under such fearfully damaging charges as these, it seems to us that nothing could possibly induce or justify silence but the consciousness of guilt. If the counts in this charge have any foundation in fact, Mr. Strong ought to be ashamed to call himself a Christian minister. If they are not true--and we hope they are not--he ought to come out like a man and say so, and set the whole matter at rest.

      As the practical outcome of these troubles the Scots' Church will lose their minister, and the Presbyterian Church of Victoria will lose the Scots' Church; and, what is worse, religion in general will suffer from these unseemly contentions. It seems that the old prejudices existing between the Established Church of Scotland and the Free Church formerly amalgamated in Victoria, have had much to do in embittering the present controversy, if indeed these old sectional jealousies are not at the bottom of the present rupture. The Scots' Church congregation has held two meetings, characterised by great bitterness of feeling towards the brethren of the Presbytery, to consider the question of separation from the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. At the last of these meetings the following motion was put and carried--

      "That this congregation now resolves to take steps to separate from the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, and to revert to the position it occupied previous to the Act of Union, on the basis of adherence to the Standards of the Church of Scotland."

      This resolution was carried amidst great applause, about 300 or 400 voting in its favour, and only 18 against it. The prosecution of Mr. Strong has thus had the effect of alienating this large and influential congregation from the Presbyterian Church of Victoria and will probably have the further effect of throwing back the whole church of the colony into the original state of disunity before the amalgamation of the Established and Free Churches. We are sorry in the interest of union that such a result should accrue. If, however, Mr. Strong teaches the doctrines laid to his charge--and we cannot understand so much smoke where there is no fire--the Presbytery of Melbourne in maintaining and defending the fundamental supernatural facts of Christianity, has been fighting the battle of all Christendom, and therefore deserves the sympathy of all christian men. We are not ignorant of the fact that Scotch Presbyterianism is obstinate, narrow, and prejudiced, and sometimes in cases like this, these unlovely qualities are aggravated by ministerial jealousies, but we are inclined to the opinion that the arraignment of the Rev. Charles Strong is a battle for the vital principles of the faith, and not a petty persecution instigated by envy and bigotry. His congregation inform us that they believe in the "eternal verities" of religion, but this may mean anything or nothing. It was a favorite expression of Theodore Parker's, and meant when used by him what he was in the habit of calling "the absolute religion," and this was simply the Unitarian naturalism or moralism of God and duty. Nothing was said about the Deity of Christ, the Inspiration of the Scriptures, or the Personality of God and the Holy Spirit, although these were the points at issue. This is suspicious.

      "The Month." No Other Foundation: A Documentary History of Churches of Christ in Australia: 1846-1990, ed. Graeme Chapman. [Mulgrave, Victoria: Privately published, 1993]. Pp. 438-439. Reprinted from Australian Christian Witness, 1883, p. 33.

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