The heresy of Rhu accuses a village shaken in 1830-1831


The peaceful Garelochside parish of Row – now Rhu – was deeply shaken in 1830-1831 by what became the Row Heresy affair.

The case caught the attention not only of the Church of Scotland as a whole, but also of the country as a whole.

He made famous the pastor of the parish, the Reverend John McLeod Campbell, who was removed from his post as minister of the Church of Scotland by the General Assembly of 1831.

Local historian Alistair McIntyre, director of the Helensburgh Heritage Trust, has just completed a detailed study of the case, and I am grateful for the following.

Campbell has been accused of preaching erroneous doctrines relating to universal atonement, forgiveness, and assurance of faith.

This did not suit the prevailing Calvinist view that only the elect would be saved.

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Campbell was often thought to be a lone wolf, expounding his own views, but the truth is that others played a key role in his theological development.

There seems to be little doubt that the views of Alexander John Scott played an influential role in Campbell’s thoughts and teachings.

Alexander was the son of the Reverend John Scott, a prominent member of the Scottish Kirk, whose ministry was in Mid Kirk, Greenock.

Born in 1805, Alexander seemed ready to follow in his father’s footsteps and began studying at the University of Glasgow at the age of 13, graduating with a master’s degree at the age of 17.

He went to Glasgow Divinity Hall to undertake theological studies, which went smoothly, and through Paisley Rectory he became a licensed preacher in 1827.

The first clue that he may not have been destined to follow a conventional path came around this time, when he met Thomas Erskine, an unconventional laird, who believed that divine forgiveness was accessible. to all. It seems likely that Scott drew inspiration from Erskine’s beliefs.

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When Scott met John McLeod Campbell, something about him made an immediate impression on Pastor Row, who had been called to church there in 1825.

Two years later, his new acquaintance was invited to preach to the village congregation. Its theme was the humanity of Christ, as the means by which the being of God is revealed, namely love for all mankind.

Campbell reportedly listened to Scott’s message with “very particular pleasure”, and he came to regard it as “of the highest intelligence”.

There is no doubt that Scott was a powerful and charismatic speaker, and there was a sharing of ideas.

It seems reasonable to assume that Scott’s influence was significant and that their friendship continued well beyond that point.

Likely as a result of his own changing views, Scott found himself struggling to accept the terms of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

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All those claiming the ministry were required to accept its terms, as were the elders and parish schoolmasters.

One may wonder why the Church of Scotland, ever vigilant in preserving its independence, would have to deal with a clearly English document.

The answer lies in the civil wars of the 17th century, when the English Parliament came to a compromise with its Scottish counterpart, in what was seen as a mutually beneficial alliance.

The Westminster Confession, drafted on Puritan principles, was a result, but while the Scottish Parliament passed it unchanged, the English side subsequently left out sections.

The document was decidedly Calvinist in design, and Scott found himself increasingly unable to reconcile it with his own views.

It was almost certainly more than a fluke that he later became an assistant at Edward Irving’s Presbyterian Church in London, the latter being known for his unorthodox views.

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The crunch for Scott came in 1830, when he accepted an appeal to the Presbyterian Church at Woolwich, but refused to sign the Westminster Confession.

This sparked a chain of events that led to his deposition from the Church of Scotland in 1831 – the same year that saw Campbell adrift as well.

Irvine served as an independent church minister for 15 years, during which time he developed friendships with literary figures such as Thackery, Carlyle, and the Gaskells.

In 1848 he was appointed professor of English literature at University College London, the only institution of its kind that did not require religious tests.

The first source of inspiration, Thomas Erskine, met Campbell in 1828 and immediately formed a friendship that was to last the rest of their lives, Erskine firmly supporting his new friend through the dark days of the Row Heresy affair and in the -of the.

Edward Irving was born in 1792, the son of an Annan tanner. A brilliantly gifted scholar, he received a master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1809 and was appointed master of a school of mathematics the following year.

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Over time he felt the pull of the Church and in 1819 became Thomas Chalmers’ assistant at his church in St John’s Glasgow.

He was ordained pastor of Caledonian Chapel, London, in 1822, where membership rapidly increased from 50 to 1,000.

Irving cut a striking figure, with his “dark and melancholy looks”, while as a speaker he deeply impressed George Canning, a hardened politician.

It all seemed set for a successful career, but over time Irving found himself questioning many of the dominant tenets of the Church of Scotland. As one writer put it: “He harbored a strong antipathy towards the ecclesiastical formulas received.

In May 1828 Campbell, hearing that Irving was coming to preach in Edinburgh, went there to meet him. According to Irving’s biography of Margaret Oliphant, the reunion saw Campbell reaching out to Irving for advice amid his hopes and struggles.

However Campbell himself, later commenting on this interpretation, asserted that it was rather the other way around. Even so, the fact that it was Campbell who came calling might suggest that Oliphant was closer to the target.

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Either way, Irving came to Gareloch in June 1828, preaching in both Row and Rosneath.

Irving’s later story was tragic. There was some fatality about his excommunication by the London Rectory in 1830, following the publication of an article by him on the humanity of Christ, which Campbell also considered to be the case.

Another setback came in 1833 when he was deposed by the Church of Scotland, when his views strayed even further from traditional religious orthodoxy and led him to found the Catholic Church. apostolic, also known as the Irvingite Church.

All these events took their toll on Irving, who was undoubtedly a determined man, and he died in 1834, completely exhausted by his labors.

To be continued.

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