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Hector MacKinnon, A Memoir
The Flowing Tide


Article written by Mr. MACKINNON for the Church Union 7ournal, only a week or two before his last illness (see p. 137).

THE FLOWING TIDE

"The flowing tide is with us." There is no movement of our day in connection with which these words can be more legitimately used than in connection with the movement which aims at the union of the Scottish Churches. One cannot predict what the outcome of the negotiations now in progress may be, but the feeling has grown into a certainty in the minds of the people of Scotland that union cannot now be very long delayed; and there are elements in our Scottish religious life which justify that certainty. To all of these elements public attention has already been called, I have no doubt, in the pages of the Union Journal; but they are so clamant in their demand for consideration that it is the duty of every one who desires union, to do what he can to keep them before the mind of the nation. That is why I venture to refer to some of them in this paper.

SPIRITUAL AFFINITY OF THE CHURCHES

The first which I shall mention is the spiritual affinity of the Churches chiefly concerned. It is unnecessary to state of what this affinity consists. All that one is called upon to do is to emphasize the fact that it is there, and is growing. Not to speak of the interchange of pulpit courtesies, now so common, nor of the numerous instances of co-operation between ministers and between congregations of which one so often hears and reads, there is the significant fact that when members of either Church migrate from one parish to another, while anxious in the great majority of cases to establish for themselves a church connection in the locality to which they go to reside, they are not nearly so particular as they used to be as to which of the Presbyterian Churches they become members of, there. Dis- junction certificates from the United Free Church find their way into the hands of ministers of the Church of Scotland, and Church of Scotland certificates find their way into the hands of ministers of the United Free Church. Time was when such passing from the one Church to the other was a thing not to be thought of. But we meet with it now in every part of the country. The point in which members of our Churches are most deeply interested, on the occasion of a change in their place of residence, is not so much the denomination of the congregation with which they become associated, but the suitableness to individual taste of the church services they attend, and the acceptability in their view as preacher and pastor of the minister whose flock they join. Some would probably ascribe this feature of present-day Church life amongst us to indifference, but such a construction of it would not be fair. It rather suggests that to-day the religious experience of the membership of the one Church approximates more closely to that of the membership of the other than it ever did before. Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that the two Churches are now nearer each other in spirit and life than different sections of Scottish Presbyterianism were when as yet they were organically one. So that to cross from one Church to the other has become easy. The Scottish people feel equally at home in both Churches, so that the amalgamation which union is calculated to effect is a thing not only for which members of both are prepared, but which they have in aspiration and action begun to insist upon.

NECESSITY OF A UNITED FRONT

Again, there is the consideration that whereas formerly each Church regarded the other as its natural rival, if not, indeed, its enemy, there is now a widespread conviction that the primary business of the Churches is to present a united front to the forces opposed to both. Each is eady to rejoice in any success which may attend the other in the war against evil which both are waging. We have travelled a thousand miles beyond the point at which one pulpit fulminated against the shortcomings, and envied the prosperity of its neighbour of the other Church, and at which, in this respect as in most others, the pew emulated the pulpit in words of uncharitableness and bitterness. What now impresses above all else is the Divine call which has come to the Churches to do battle as one great army against the selfishness and impurity and godlessness which to our sorrow are still so rampant around us. In combating these foes of God and of humanity it is felt more deeply than previously that union is strength—that one great united Church is bound to put forth more power and exert more influence than two less great Churches, however diligent, are able to do. Whenever a large public meeting is held to denounce some evil or champion some movement making for righteousness, ministers of the two Churches stand and speak shoulder to shoulder, and even the General Assemblies have conferred together on questions affecting the common weal. There are few but have come to the conclusion that Churches which can so constantly take up a position like this on matters in which both are interested, although these may be outside the spheres of their administration, ought no longer to stand apart in relation to internal matters, especially seeing they are already one in all essentials of doctrine, government, worship, and discipline. The fact is that we have begun to feel ashamed that we should waste our energies either in defending our own denominational interest or attacking the denominational interests of our neighbours, when so much land yet remains to be possessed for the kingdom of heaven and the cause of righteousness. We have begun to be scandalized at circumstances which necessitate the duplication of agencies and organizations and activities in a way that prevents us from making the best of our opportunities and discharging our responsibilities as trustees of the heritage of Christ in this land. We feel certain that the power which union would set free through the discontinuance of this duplication would go far to carry positions which the common enemy of both. Churches occupies at present without challenge. The Christian conscience of our country rebels against the fruitless expenditure in men and means which the existing state of affairs entails upon us. It demands with emphasis that this expenditure should cease and that the Church of Christ in this realm should be allowed to put forth all its strength in extending the boundaries of Christ's kingdom both at home and abroad. That is why so many of our fellow-countrymen in both our great Churches have grown sick of the ambition and craving for denominational advantage hitherto so prominent in ecclesiastical procedure. And it is also the reason why they are resolved that our divisions, to which they correctly ascribe the slowness of our progress in the fulfilment of our mission, should, as soon as possible, come to an end.

DISTINCTIVE CONTRIBUTIONS

Further, while it is true that the two Churches whose union we have at present in view have now more in common in the matter of religious affinity than at any previous stage in their history, it is recognized, especially by the laity, that each Church has its own distinctive contribution to make to religious thought and sentiment and activity. And it is felt that these contributions would benefit the country more widely and more thoroughly if the Churches were one instead of two. There is no desire that any type or school should perish. On the contrary, the hope is that whatever is true and lovely and of good report should not be confined in its serviceableness to a section, but should permeate and elevate the whole Christian life of Scotland. The United Free Church can give us of the Church of Scotland much that will benefit us here, and we of the Church of Scotland can bring an accession of edifying elements to the United Free Church. It is needless to go into detail, but I cannot refrain from calling attention to the excellent combination of the endowment and voluntary methods of providing Christian ordinances which would attend the consummation of a union. And what splendid equipment would be secured for the ministry of a united Church by the merging one with another of the theological colleges of the respective Churches; and, through a ministry so equipped, what additional confirmation in faith and usefulness in service would come to the rank and file of the membership. For these and other improvements that would result from union the rank and file are longing. That longing receives articulate expression whenever and wherever Church union becomes a subject of conversation. There is a marvellous unanimity on the subject, and the laity of Scotland will not be satisfied until mere ecclesiastics bury their hatchets and the benefits of union are within the reach of all.

This brief paper by no means deals with all the elements that make for union. But those that I have specified are an appeal to the Churches to concentrate increasingly upon the attainment of this grand object. Mr. Augustine Birrell, in addressing a religious gathering of men in London some time ago, exhorted his audience not to be distressed overmuch about the things regarding which they were in doubt, but to lean with all their strength on the things of which they were sure. If Presbyterian Scotland is prepared not to be too much distressed (I mean in union negotiations) regarding the things as to which there is disagreement, and to lean with all its strength on the things as to which there is agreement, it will not be long before the former will settle themselves, and there will be in Scotland a Church greater and nobler than any known to our ancestors---united, national, free. powerful.


 


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