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Crown Him Lord of All.

These two collections of essays commemorate in very different ways the 150th anniversary of what Scottish history calls 'The Disruption', when the Church of Scotland was rent asunder over the lawful powers of the State and its courts in matters ecclesiastical. Scots Presbyterianism, already divided by sundry minor secessions, was never the same again, even though most of the pieces were eventually put together again.

Both books borrow cover or jacket from the great panorama by the Scots artist and photographer David Octavius Hill, showing the 'free and protesting' Church's Assembly, presided over by Thomas Chalmers, then at the peak of his international celebrity. Their approach has little else in common.

The collection compiled by Stewart Brown, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Edinburgh, and Michael Fry is a fairly academic celebration. Its religion is generously laced with sociology and even literary criticism, though its prevailing tone is a modern version of the 'Moderatism' against which (as much as patronage) the Free Church evangelicals protested. The authors, as with most such volumes, contribute more from the diversity of their interests than to the unity of the book.

The book also ranges beyond Scotland, with an account of the impact of the Disruption on the Scots of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, though the important links between Scots and American Presbyterianism are rather cursorily mentioned. There is also a valuable essay by Andrew Ross on the role of the Scottish evangelicals in reviving and shaping the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, even though they were already well on the way to going native -- using High Dutch in church and Afrikaans for less formal occasions -- and were relatively unaffected by the Scots conflict of Church and State.

Clement Graham's collection of essays is very different. It shows how the present Free Church of Scotland (the 'Wee Frees') see their history and their present role as a small ultra-conservative denomination. This is the remnant which, by an irony of history, won its right in the courts to the name and even the property of the old Free Kirk -- or such of it as it could use -- when the main heirs of the Disruption tradition took their first step in 1900 towards the Presbyterian reunion which created the present Church of Scotland in 1929.

This Free Church, often caricatured and sometimes confused with the still smaller group of Free Presbyterians who sat in judgement on the present Lord Chancellor, are drawn in different directions by their mainly Highland culture and their mixed feelings about more strident and popular forms of 'born-again' Christianity. Their most gifted theologian and writer, Donald Macleod, has even been drawn off into the Brown-Fry book, to which he contributes a study of Chalmers' policy towards poverty and pauperism, which reflected both his social concern and what would now be called his Thatcherite economics.

The Wee Frees remain significant enough in theology, in their Highland heartland, and in their history to deserve a book which offers their own testimony to a wider public. This collection of essays may serve, though even other Presbyterians will probably remain baffled by the combination of personal graces and unyielding opinions.
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Author:Kernohan, R.D.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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