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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter XIV - The Disruption

DURING Mr. McHardy's incumbency the Disruption of The Church of Scotland took place, but in the great "ten years conflict" by which it was preceded, I understand he took no active part. Perhaps he had no anxiety to explore too thoroughly the merits of a question, which if pondered and properly understood might lead to a decision involving consequences far-reaching and unpleasant. However, it is not for me to judge. Rev. Dr. Norman McLeod stuck to the old Kirk as in duty bound after giving his solemn protest against the encroachment of the state upon the purely spiritual realm of Church polity and discipline. His justification of his action was his belief that it was the duty of the State to support the Church and therefore it was his duty to stay by the Church, but protesting still, until the liberties of the Church, so wantonly curtailed, should be restored. He even went so far as to say that it required more heroism, from his stand-point to stay behind than to leave the church along with those with whom he had formerly been associated in defence of the Church's liberties.

Needless to say, his non-intrusion brethren ascribed to him motives less altruistic and less honourable. An echo of their attitude was heard through the press, years afterwards, on the occasion of the Doctor's famous speech on the Sabbath, in a poetic effusion known as "Norman's Blast," a verse of which ran as follows,

"Ye juket Candlish and his squad
"Wi' supple quirk
"Protested weel but kept your haud
"O' State and Kirk

Though Mr. McHardy refrained from participation in the conflict by supporting the one side or the other he seems to have done his best to restrain from excess of zeal such of his parishioners as seemed disposed to interfere improperly with those who favoured the dissenting party. Mr. Beattie, the parish school-master, I have heard had purchased a number of tooting horns to put in the hands of some of his pupils for the purpose of disturbing meetings being held in barns to expound the principles of the non-intrusion party, and was deterred from this purpose only by the influence and veto of his minister. Equally to his credit is the report of an elderly woman of his flock who told me that she had heard him say in the words of Gamaliel, "Let them alone for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought."

"The Disruption" was a serious and testing time in many homes. The whole community was intensely loyal to the Church of their fathers which they had ever known as The Church of Scotland, whose were the fathers, the heroes of the Reformation and the Covenant and on whose banners were inscribed the names of the martyrs who had sealed their testimony with their blood. They could not think but with sadness of cutting themselves off from association with a Church so venerable, and with a history so noble. They forgot that into the purest institutions of earth can come seeds of impurity and decay. The Old Testament Church, founded as it had been, by the Divine Hand, became at last so blind and dead that it failed to recognize, and ultimately crucified its true Kin,-, when he appeared. The visible Church of Christ, established as it had been on the foundation of apostles and prophets, soon became so corrupt as to be scarcely recognizable as a representation of the church of the New Testament. They were indeed the children of Reformers and Covenanters but forgot the warning of our Lord that the building of the sepulchres of the prophets, and the garnishing of the tombs of the righteous, without emulation of their character and accomplishments, will prove monumental only to the infidelity of the builders.

In Coldstone as elsewhere in Scotland the storm that rent the Church no doubt caused amongst the more intelligent of the population great searchings of heart, but the number that finally cast in their lot with the Free Church might be said to have been insignificant. They were indeed but a handful of common people, none of them able to boast of wealth or social standing. For that reason, notwithstanding that to say the least they were not inferior in personal character and intelligence, to those who stayed behind, they became for some time objects of the scorn of the ignorant and less reputable, of their neighbours many of whom knew nothing of, and cared as little for, the great questions that rocked the church to its foundations. Homeless and helpless as the little band had now become, meetings for worship were held for a time in a hospitable barn. When "skailing" from this temporary place of worship they were sometimes met with taunts from neighbours emerging from under the belfry of a well appointed church, the comfortable pews of which either their different views or their easy acquiescence had made it possible for them still to enjoy. The situation, however, had its compensations for those who came out, the greatest of which was the consciousness of having done their duty, and assurance of Divine help in the days that were to come.

It had its humorous side also, A "kirk" titan greeted a nun from the place of worship in the barn with the remark, "So you have been threshing to-day have you?" To which the other immediately replied, "Na, we were winnowing, an' yons the kaff (chaff) ga in' up the hill yonder pointing to the retiring kirk people).

The Free Church was three years oh! when I was born, but I sucked in its principles with my mother's milk, and under the instruction and enthusiasm of my father, grew and strengthened as the sears went on in conviction of the righteousness of its cause and the grandeur of its sacrifice and history. To this day I am satisfied that the dissenting section of the church, with its four or five hundred ministers who left behind them all that meant comfort and happiness in the world, did only what it was their duty to do, and that, as always, duty-doing became a blessing to themselves, to their country, and to the world. This was realized by Lord Aberdeen who, long after the disruption had taken place, stated that when he first realized the consequence of the action of his Ministry which had precipitated the disruption, his feeling was one of the deepest regret, but he had lived to realize that what he had Iong regarded as the greatest error of his administration had, in Gods providence turned out to be the greatest blessing to the country.


As I have said. the Disruption period was a time of testing. Families were divided in opinion, in this small way repeating the variance in families described by our Lord in connection with the original introduction of His Gospel. My father, I believe, at first hesitated. I can understand how great a trial it must have been for him to differ from Mr. Beattie who had been his much respected teacher, and from his brother-in-law Donald Farquhar on at Ballater, whose name I bear. The more he read and studied the question, however, the more convinced did he become that it was his privilege not less than his duty, to cast in his lot with the dissenting party. His decision was made easier, no doubt, by the action of my mother who, along with her sister Jane, leaving behind father and mother and all her kindred, eagerly embraced the principles and boldly declared herself an ardent adherent of the evangelical party. My father who had theretofore for some years held the position of precentor its the parish church, as now installed in the same position in the new Free Church at the Braes of Cromar. There along with David Stewart of Newkirk. and other honoured men, he was to due time appointed to the eldership in the Congregation. ln that capacity he afterwards attended a meeting of the General Assembly of the Free Church in Edinburgh and was profoundly impressed by the character and ability of the leaders and was specially charmed with the eloquence of Dr. Guthrie.


The supporters of the new church were few in number and weak in resources, but, with liberal aid from the Church Building Fund of the new denomination, a church and a comfortable manse were soon built. Rev. Donald Stewart, formerly of GlenGairn, was the first minister. He was brother of the late Rev. Murdoch Stewart of Cape Breton, and uncle of a very brilliant Canadian family among whom were, the late Rev. Thos. Stewart, D.D., well known as Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Dr. John Stewart of Halifax, a pupil and friend of Lister, who stands as high as any man has ever stood in the esteem of his profession in Canada, and the late D. A. Stewart the engineer who built the Pembina Branch of the C.P.R., which traverses Southern Manitoba. Mr. Stewart's native tongue was Gaelic, and he could not be described as an eloquent speaker, at least in English, but he was a faithful minister and proclaimed a full and true gospel message. In his good work he was ably sustained and aided by his faithful wife, who immediately commenced a Sunday School, in which she acted as superintendent and teacher most efficiently until the retirement of her husband, which occurred after a ministry in the congregation of about thirty years.

It is interesting to note, that while from Reformation times had come down the ideal, and generally the practice, of building and maintaining a school in every parish, as well as a Church, the same ideal in modified form was destined to be carried into the Free Church. It is true that the new-born church paid no attention to parish boundaries, but immediately set about building churches and manses in localities suitable to the needs, present and prospective, of their own supporters. It must be remembered that for some years previous to the Disruption the majority of the national Church, as represented in the General Assembly, had been strongly "evangelical" and opposed to State interference in matters ecclesiastical. Now the secession of the Free Church party had the immediate effect of reducing the evangelical remnant to a hopeless minority, thereby giving the "moderate" party full control, subject only to state-imposed limitations, not only of the national church, but also of the parochial schools. Under such conditions it would not he surprising if the leaders of the Free Church, should have suspected that under the control of the now hostile national church, the national schools might be used to bring hack the children of The Free to the Established Church fold, To no such suspicions, however, but to considerations entirely unanticipated, as I understand, was due at last the policy of establishing separate denominational elementary Schools. Chief of these considerations was the necessity of providing employment for parochial school teachers who, at a sacrifice not only of their former positions but of the possibility of future employment as teachers in any parochial school, had cast in their lot with the Free Church. Thus originated a duplicate system of elementary schools as well as of churches, parallelling largely those of the national church. These schools were maintained efficiently until the passing of the new Education Act of 1872, by which denominational disabilities were modified or entirely removed, when most of them scent to have been voluntarily given over to the national school-boards. Upon the shoulders of the youthful church thus, meantime, was laid the three-fold burden of erecting churches, manses and schools, and the success of their efforts is one of the marvels of Scottish history.

From time to time, the minister at the Braes was successful in securing as assistants on Communion and other occasions, the services of other preachers of more than local celebrity. Among these may be named, Mr. Cobban of Braemar, Mr. Reid of Banchory, Mr. Fullerton of Strath-Don, and Mr. Nicol of Auchindor, the father of Sir Robertson Nicol, late Editor of The British Weekly.

Illustrative of the prejudice against the Free Church, which persisted for years, it may be mentioned that in the village of Ballater, and in several other places, no proprietor would sell to the Free Church a site for any church purpose, while one large proprietor on Donside, forbade his tenants to furnish or give the local minister board or lodgings. As disobedience to this unreasonable and autocratic command was likely to bring trouble to his people, the minister quietly took up residence in a local hotel where, for six weeks at a time, he could legally claim board and lodging at the ordinary rates. Such petty persecutions, however, soon ceased, and relations more harmonious became gradually established, not only among :neighbours as such but also between the Free and Established Churches.

The union of almost all the various Scottish Presbyterian churches which had been cleft from the parent stem of the national Church by the introduction of Erastianism, was completed by the union of the Free Church of Scotland and the United Presbyterian Church in the United Free Church its 1900. This was followed in October of 1929 by the union of that Church with the Established Church of Scotland. the re-united church to be henceforth known as "The Church of Scotland." Such a union, healing as it does the breaches made at the Disruption in 1843 and the many previous divisions, may well be the occasion of joy and thankfulness. May peace be within her walls and prosperity within her palaces. Personally, I wish to express the hope that the retention of the state emoluments and the attenuated form of establishment may neither lower her spirituality nor prove the occasion of future discord.

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