John Cairns.

Principal Cairns online

. (page 7 of 11)
Online LibraryJohn CairnsPrincipal Cairns → online text (page 7 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


they went on to consider in detail the various points on which the
two Churches differed. These had reference almost entirely to the
relations between Church and State. The United Presbyterians were,
almost to a man, "Voluntaries," _i.e._ they held that the Church ought
in all cases to support itself without assistance from the State, and
free from the interference which, in their view, was the inevitable
and justifiable accompaniment of all State establishments. The Free
Churchmen, on the other hand, while maintaining as their cardinal
principle that the Church must be free from all State interference,
and while therefore protesting against the existing Establishment,
held that the Church, if its freedom were adequately guaranteed,
might lawfully accept establishment and endowment from the State. An
elaborate statement was drawn up exhibiting first the points on which
the two Churches were agreed with regard to this question, and then
the points on which they differed. From this it appeared that they
were at one as to the duty of the State - or, in the language of the
Westminster Confession, the "Civil Magistrate" - to make Christian laws
and to administer them in a Christian spirit. The Civil Magistrate
ought, it was agreed, to be a Christian, not merely as a man but as a
magistrate. The only vital point of difference was with regard to the
question of Church establishments - as to whether it was part of the
Christian Civil Magistrate's duty to establish and endow the Church.
But, as it seemed to be a vain hope that the Free Church would ever
get an Establishment to its mind, it was urged that this was a mere
matter of theory, and might be safely left as an "open question" in a
United Church. The statement referred to, which is better known as the
"Articles of Agreement," was not ready to be submitted in a final form
to the Synod and Assembly of 1864, and the Committee, which was now
reinforced by representatives from the Reformed Presbyterian Church
and from the Presbyterian Church in England, was reappointed to carry
on its labours.

But meanwhile clouds were beginning to appear on the horizon. In
the United Presbyterian Synod there was a small minority of sturdy
Voluntaries who, while not opposed to Union, were apprehensive that
the price to be paid for it would be the partial surrender of their
testimony in behalf of their distinctive principle. They did not wish
to impose their beliefs on others, but they were anxious to reserve
to themselves full liberty to hold and propagate their views in the
United Church, and they were not sure that, by accepting the Articles
of Agreement, they were in fact doing this. The efforts of Dr. Cairns
and others were directed, not without success, to meeting their
difficulties. But in the Free Church a more formidable opposition
began to show itself. There had always been a conservative element
in that Church, represented by men who held tenaciously to the more
literal interpretation of its ecclesiastical documents and traditions;
and, as the discussions went on, it became clear that the hopelessness
of a reconciliation with the Establishment was not so universally felt
as had been at first supposed. The supporters of the Union movement
included almost all the trusted leaders of the Church - men like Drs.
Candlish, Buchanan, Duff, Fairbairn, Rainy, and Guthrie, Sir Henry
Moncreiff, Lord Dalhousie, and Mr. Murray Dunlop, most of whom had
got their ecclesiastical training in the great controversy which had
issued in the Disruption; but all their eloquence and all their skill
did not avail to allay the misgivings or silence the objections of the
other party. At length in 1867 a crisis was reached. The Articles of
Agreement, after having been finally formulated by the Committee,
had been sent down to Presbyteries for their consideration; and the
reports of the Presbyteries were laid on the table of the Assembly
of that year. The question now arose, Was it wise, in view of the
opposition, to take further steps towards Union? The Assembly by
346 votes to 120 decided to goon; whereupon the Anti-Union leaders
resigned the seats which up to this time they had retained on the
Union Committee.

It is true that, after the Committee had been relieved of this
hostile element, considerable and rapid progress was made. Hopes were
cherished for a time that the Union might yet be consummated, and
the determination was expressed to carry it through at all hazards.
But the Free Church minority, ably led and knowing its own mind,
stubbornly maintained its ground. Its adherents, who included perhaps
one-third of the ministers and people of the Church, were specially
numerous in the Highlands, where United Presbyterianism was
practically unrepresented.

Here most distorted views were held of the Voluntaryism which most of
its ministers and members professed. It was represented as equivalent
to National Atheism, and from this the transition was an easy one,
especially in districts where few of the people had even seen a United
Presbyterian, to the position that an upholder of National Atheism
must himself be an Atheist. It became increasingly clear, as the years
passed, that if the Union were to be forced through, there must be
a new Disruption, and a Disruption which would cost the Free Church
those Highland congregations which for thirty years it had been its
glory to maintain. Moreover, it was currently reported that the
Anti-Union party had taken the opinion of eminent counsel, and that
these had declared that, in the event of a Disruption taking place
on this question of Union, the protesting minority would be legally
entitled to take with them the entire property of the Church. The
conviction was forced on the Free Church leaders (and in this they
were supported by their United Presbyterian brethren) that the time
was not yet ripe for that which they so greatly desired to see, and
that even for Union the price they would have to pay was too great.
And so with heavy hearts they decided in 1873 to abandon the
negotiations which had been proceeding for ten years. All that they
felt themselves prepared to carry was a proposal that Free Church
or United Presbyterian ministers should be "mutually eligible" for
calls in the two Churches - a proposal that did not come to much.

Three years later, the Reformed Presbyterian Church united with the
Free Church, and in the same year (1876) the United Presbyterian
Church gave up one hundred and ten of its congregations, which united
with the English Presbyterian Church and thus formed the present
Presbyterian Church of England. The original idea, at least on the
United Presbyterian side, had been that all the negotiating bodies
should be welded into one comprehensive British Church; but this,
especially in view of the breakdown of the larger Union, proved to be
unworkable, and the final result for the United Presbyterians was that
they came out of the negotiations a considerably smaller and weaker
Church than they had been when they went into them.

In all the labours and anxieties of these ten years Dr. Cairns had
borne a foremost part. At the meetings of the Union Committee he took
an eager interest and a leading share in the discussions; and, while
never compromising the position of his Church, he did much to set it
in a clear and attractive light. In the United Presbyterian Synod,
where it fell to his lot year by year to deliver the leading speech in
support of the Committee's report, his eloquence, his sincerity, and
his enthusiasm did not a little to reassure those who feared that
there was a tendency on the part of their representatives to concede
too much, and did a very great deal to keep his Church as a whole
steadily in favour of Union in spite of many temptations to have done
with it. Dr. Hutton, one of those advanced Voluntaries who had never
been enthusiastic about the Union proposals, wrote to him at the close
of the negotiations: "We have reached this stage through your vast
personal influence more than through any other cause."

Outside of the Church Courts he delivered innumerable speeches at
public meetings which had been organised in all parts of the country
in aid of the Union cause. These more than anything else led him to be
identified in the public mind with that cause, and gained for him the
name of the "Apostle of Union." The meetings at which these speeches
were delivered were mostly got up on the Free Church side, where there
seemed to be more need of missionary work of this kind than on his
own, and his appearances on these occasions increased the favour with
which he was already regarded in Free Church circles. "The chief
attraction of Union for me," an eminent Free Church layman is reported
to have said, "is that it will bring me into the same Church with John
Cairns."

That he was deeply disappointed by the failure of the enterprise on
which his hopes had been so much set, he did not conceal; but he never
believed that the ten years' work had been lost, and he never doubted
that Union would come. He did not live to see it, but when, on October
31, 1900, the two Churches at length became one, there were many in
the great gathering in the Waverley Market who thought of him, and
of his strenuous and noble labours into which they were on that day
entering. Dr. Maclaren of Manchester gave expression to these thoughts
in his speech in the evening of the day of Union, when, after paying
a worthy tribute to the great leader to whose skill and patience the
goodly consummation was so largely due, he went on to say: "But all
during the proceedings of this day there has been one figure and one
name in my memory, and I have been saying to myself, What would John
Cairns, with his big heart and his sweet and simple nature, have said
if God had given him to see this day! 'These all died in faith, not
having received the promises... God having provided some better thing
for us.'"




CHAPTER VIII

WALLACE GREEN


All the time occupied by the events described in the last two
chapters, Dr. Cairns was carrying on his ministry in Berwick with
unflagging diligence. True to his principle, he steadily devoted to
his pulpit and pastoral work the best of his strength, and always let
them have the chief place in his thoughts. He gave to other things
what he could spare, but he never forgot that he had determined to be
a minister first of all. His congregation had prospered greatly under
his care, and in 1859 the old-fashioned meeting-house in Golden Square
was abandoned for a stately and spacious Gothic church with a handsome
spire which had been erected in Wallace Green, with a frontage to the
principal open square of the town. A few years earlier a new manse had
been secured for the minister. This manse is the end house of a row of
three called Wellington Terrace. These stand just within the old town
walls, which are here pierced by wide embrasures. They are separated
from the walls by a broad walk and a row of grass-plots, alternating
with paved spaces opposite the embrasures, on which cannon were once
planted. The manse faces south, and is roomy and commodious. When Dr.
Cairns moved into it, he had an elderly servant as his housekeeper, of
whom he is said to have been not a little afraid; but, after a couple
of years or so, his sister Janet was installed as mistress of his
house; and during the remaining thirty-six years of his life she
attended to his wants, looked after his health, and in a hundred
prudent and quiet ways helped him in his work.

The study at Wellington Terrace is upstairs, and is a large room
lighted by two windows. One of these looks across the river, which
at this point washes the base of the town walls, to the dingy village
of Tweedmouth, rising towards the sidings and sheds of a busy
railway-station and the Northumberland uplands beyond. The other looks
right out to sea, and when it is open, and sometimes when it is shut,
"the rush and thunder of the surge" on Berwick bar or Spittal sands
can be distinctly heard. In front, the Tweed pours its waters into the
North Sea under the lee of the long pier, which acts as a breakwater
and shelters the entrance to the harbour. Far away to the right, Holy
Island, with the castle-crowned rock of Bamborough beyond it, are
prominent objects; and at night, the Longstone light on the Outer
Farne recalls the heroic rescue by Grace Darling of the shipwrecked
crew of the _Forfarshire_.

Opposite this window stood the large bookcase in which Dr. Cairns's
library was housed. The books composing the library were neither
very numerous, very select, nor in very good condition. Although he
was a voracious reader, it must be admitted that Dr. Cairns took
little pride in his books. It was a matter of utter indifference to
him whether he read a favourite author in a good edition or in a cheap
one. The volumes of German philosophy and theology, of which he had a
fair stock, remained unbound in their original sober livery, and when
any of them threatened to fall to pieces he was content to tie them
together with string or to get his sister to fasten them with paste.
One or two treasures he had, such as a first edition of Bacon's
_Instauratio Magna_, a first edition of Butler's _Analogy_, and a
Stephens Greek Testament; also a complete set of the Delphin Classics,
handsomely bound, and some College prizes. These, with the Benedictine
edition of Augustine, folio editions of Athanasius, Chrysostom, and
other Fathers, some odd volumes of Migne, and a considerable number
of books on Reformation and Secession theology, formed the most
noteworthy elements in his collection. He added later a very complete
set of the writings of the English Deists, and the works of Voltaire,
Rousseau, and Renan. Side by side with these was what came to be a
vast accumulation of rubbish, consisting of presentation copies of
books on all subjects which his anxious conscience persuaded him that
he was bound to keep on his shelves, since publishers and authors
had been kind enough to send them to him. Nearly all the books that
belonged to his real library he had read with care. Most of them
were copiously annotated, and his annotations were, as a rule,
characterised by a refreshing trenchancy, - in the case of some,
as of Gibbon, tempered with respect; in the case of others, as of
F.W. Newman and W.R. Greg, bordering on truculence. The only other
noteworthy objects in the study were two splendid engravings of
Raphael's "Transfiguration" and "Spasimo" (the former bearing the
signature of Raphael Morghen), which had been a gift to him from Mrs.
Balmer.

The greater part of each day was spent in this room. He could get
along with less sleep than most men; and however late he might have
sat over his books at night, he was frequently in his study again long
before breakfast. After breakfast came family worship, each item of
which was noteworthy. Although passionately fond of sacred music, he
had a wild, uncontrollable kind of voice in singing. He seemed to have
always a perfectly definite conception of what the tune ought to be,
but he was seldom able to give this idea an accurate, much less a
melodious, expression. Yet he never omitted the customary portion of
psalm or hymn, but tackled it with the utmost gallantry, fervour, and
enthusiasm, although he scarcely ever got through a verse without
going off the tune.

His reading of Scripture had no elocutionary pretensions about it;
it was quiet, and to a large extent gone through in a monotone; but
two things about it made it very impressive. One of these was the deep
reverence that characterised it, and the other was a note of subdued
enthusiasm that ran all through it. It was clear to the listener that
behind every passage read, whether it was history, psalm, or prophecy,
or even the driest detail of ritual, there was visible to him a great
world-process going on that appealed to his imagination and influenced
even the tones of his voice. And his prayers, quite unstudied as they
of course were, brought the whole company right into the presence of
the Unseen. They were usually full of detail, - he seemed to remember
everybody and everything, - but each petition was absolutely
appropriate to the special case with which it dealt, and all were
fused into a unity by the spirit of devotion that welled up through
all. After prayers he went back to his study, and nothing was heard or
seen of him for some hours, except when his heavy tread was heard
upstairs as he walked backwards and forwards, or when the strains of
what was meant to be a German choral were wafted down from above.

The afternoon he usually spent in visiting, and, so long as he
remained in Berwick, there was no more familiar figure in its streets
than his. The tall, stalwart form, already a little bent, - but bent,
one thought, not so much by the weight of advancing years as by way
of making an apology for its height, - the hair already white, the
mild and kindly blue eye, the tall hat worn well back on the head,
the swallow-tail coat, the swathes within swathes of broad white
neckcloth, the umbrella carried, even in the finest weather, under the
arm with the handle downward, the gloves in the hands but never on
them, the rapid eager stride, - all these come back vividly to those
who can remember Berwick in the Sixties and early Seventies of last
century. His visitations were still carried out with the method and
punctuality which had characterised them in the early days of his
ministry, and he usually arranged to make a brief pause for tea with
one of the families visited. On these occasions he would frequently be
in high spirits, and his hearty and resounding laughter would break
out on the smallest provocation. That laugh of his was eminently
characteristic of the man. There was nothing smothered or furtive
about it; there was not even the vestige of a chuckle in it. Its deep
"Ah! hah! hah!" came with a staccato, quacking sound from somewhere
low down in the chest, and set his huge shoulders moving in unison
with its peals. The whole closed with a long breath of purest
enjoyment - a kind of final licking of the lips after the feast
was over.

Returning to his house, he always entered it by the back door,
apparently because he did not wish to put the servant to the trouble
of going upstairs to open the front door for him. It does not seem
to have occurred to him to use a latch-key. In the evening there was
generally some meeting to go to, but after his return, when evening
worship and the invariable supper of porridge and milk were over, he
always went back to his study, and its lights were seldom put out
until long past midnight.

Although his reading in these solitary hours was of course mainly
theological, he always kept fresh his interest in the classical
studies of his youth. He did not depend on his communings with Origen
and Eusebius for keeping up his Greek, but went back as often as he
could find time to Plato and to the Tragedians. Macaulay has defined a
Greek scholar as one who can read Plato with his feet on the fender.
Dr. Cairns could fully satisfy this condition; indeed he went beyond
it, for when he went from home he was in the habit of taking a volume
of Plato or Aeschylus with him to read in the train. One of his
nephews, at that time a schoolboy, remembers reading with him, when
on a holiday visit to Berwick, through the _Alcestis_ of Euripides.
It may have been because he found it necessary to frighten his young
relative into habits of accuracy, or possibly because an outrage
committed against a Greek poet was to him the most horrid of all
outrages; but anyhow, during these studies, he altogether laid aside
that restraint which he was usually so jealous to maintain over his
powers of sarcasm and invective. He lay on the study sofa while the
lesson was going on, with a Tauchnitz Euripides in his hand; but
sometimes, when a false quantity or a more than usually stupid
grammatical blunder was made, he would spring to his feet and fairly
shout with wrath. Only once had he to consult a Greek lexicon for the
meaning of a word; and then it turned out that the meaning he had
assigned to it provisionally was the right one. A Latin lexicon he
did not possess.

On Sunday, Wallace Green Church was a goodly sight. Forenoon and
afternoon, streams of worshippers came pouring by Ravensdowne, Church
Street, and Walkergate Lane across the square and into the large
building, which was soon filled to overflowing. Then "the Books" were
brought in by the stately beadle, and last of all "the Doctor" came
hurriedly in, scrambled awkwardly up the pulpit stair, and covered his
face with his black gloved hands.[15] Then he rose, and in slow
monotone gave out the opening psalm, during the singing of which his
strong but wandering voice could now and again be distinctly heard
above the more artistic strains of the choir and congregation
rendering its tribute of praise. The Scripture lessons were read in
the same subdued but reverent tones, and the prayers were simple and
direct in their language, the emotion that throbbed through them being
kept under due restraint. The opening periods of the sermon were
pitched in the same note, but when the preacher got fairly into his
subject he broke loose from such restraints, and his argument was
unfolded, and then massed, and finally pressed home with all the
strength of his intellect, reinforced at every stage by the play of
his imagination and the glow of a passionate conviction. His "manner"
in the pulpit was, it is true, far from graceful. His principal
gesture was a jerking of the right arm towards the left shoulder,
accompanied sometimes by a bending forward of the upper part of the
body; and when he came to his peroration, which he usually delivered
with his eyes closed and in lowered tones, he would clasp his hands
and move them up and down in front of him. But all these things seemed
to fit in naturally to his style of oratory; there was not the
faintest trace of affectation in any of them, and, as a matter of
fact, they added to the effectiveness of his preaching.

[Footnote 15: In accordance with the old Scottish custom, Dr. Cairns
wore gloves during the "preliminary exercises," but took them off
before beginning the sermon. On the Sunday after a funeral he
discarded his Geneva gown in the forenoon, and, as a mark of respect
to the deceased, wore over his swallow-tail coat the huge black silk
sash which it was then customary in Berwick to send to the minister
on such occasions.]

In Wallace Green Dr. Cairns was surrounded by a devoted band of
office-bearers and others, who carried on very successful Home
Mission work in the town, and kept the various organisations of the
church in a vigorous and flourishing state. He had himself no faculty
for business details, and he left these mostly to others; but his
influence was felt at every point, and operated in a remarkable degree
towards the keeping up of the spiritual tone of the church's work.
With his elders, who were not merely in regard to ecclesiastical
rank, but also in regard to character and ability, the leaders of the
congregation, he was always on the most cordial and intimate terms. In
numerical strength they usually approximated to the apostolic figure
of twelve, and Dr. Cairns used to remark that their Christian names
included a surprisingly large number of apostolic pairs. Thus there
were amongst them not merely James and John, Matthew and Thomas, but
even Philip and Bartholomew.

The Philip here referred to was Dr. Philip Whiteside Maclagan, a
brother of the present Archbishop of York and of the late Professor
Sir Douglas Maclagan. Dr. Maclagan had been originally an army
surgeon, but had been long settled in general practice in Berwick in
succession to his father-in-law, the eminent naturalist, Dr. George
Johnstone. It was truly said of him that he combined in himself the
labours and the graces of Luke the beloved physician and Philip the
evangelist. When occasion offered, he would not only diagnose and
prescribe but pray at the bedsides of his patients, and his influence
was exerted in behalf of everything that was pure and lovely and of
good report in the town of Berwick. His delicately chiselled features
and fine expression were the true index of a devout and beautiful soul
within. Dr. Cairns and he were warmly attached to one another, and he
was his minister's right-hand man in everything that concerned the
good of the congregation.

It will readily be believed that Dr. Cairns had not been suffered to
remain in Berwick during all these years without strong efforts being


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11

Online LibraryJohn CairnsPrincipal Cairns → online text (page 7 of 11)