Disruption Defaulters

It may not be immediately apparent why a book entitled The Wheat and the Chaff gathered into Bundles is of relevance to a web-site whose main interest is historical and genealogical. But its sub-title supplies the answer: a Statistical Contribution towards the History of the Disruption of the Scottish Ecclesiastical Establishment.

The book was published by James McCosh, a minister who rose to become President of Princeton College, New Jersey, USA – see James McCosh on this site. The competence and integrity of the writer cannot be doubted.

It was published in 1843 by one who had close personal involvement in the matters that led to the Disruption – so the substantial accuracy of the facts recorded cannot seriously be called in question. It records the names of all ministers in the Established Church at the time of the Disruption and divides them into categories: those who left; those who stayed; and those who stayed although they had at some stage given good grounds for thinking they would leave.

Nevertheless there is no claim to impartiality in the presentation of the matter. Quite the contrary. This is presented by a man still warm from the battle and he writes especially about those who had seemed to be willing to take up the fight but were absent on the day when their support was expected. These men, who failed to come out at the Disruption, are part of the “chaff” referred to in the title of the book. The ways in which they showed themselves to have been favourable to the Evangelical cause are noted; especially their voting patterns in the Assembly are mentioned.

We have copied onto this website McCosh’s comments on these 279 ministers who, in his opinion, constituted the “chaff”. These are listed alphabetically at Others/McCosh; and there are links to this material in the General Index of Scottish Presbyterian Ministers.

This book is of real value, not just for the insight it give us into the existence of “chaff” but also because of other material included in it, for example, the Roll Of Probationers who adhered to the Free Church. Also an Appendix includes the text of key documents of the time, including the Declaration against Lord Aberdeen’s Bill; the Solemn Engagement in Defence of the Liberties of the Church and People of Scotland; the First and Second Series of Resolutions adopted by the Convocation of 1842; and Lord Aberdeen’s Bills of 1840 and of 1843.

This book is also a warning against a simplistic interpretation of the Disruption. McCosh may say that the Disruption took place “in the full unbroken strength of a period of great revival.” But why then were there so many who, to use McCosh’s words, “turned back in the day of battle”? In his presentation of the “chaff”, McCosh can, at times be sympathetic in his judgements: ill health or old age are mitigating factors: … “It is but just to say that he had previously been in very broken health. … Has latterly been in a very feeble state of health.”

But there can be little doubt that the lure of preferment and the desire for richer livings are constantly portrayed as key factors in men staying in who might have been expected to come out – especially if these livings were procured at the expense of the “faithful” Disruption ministers who sacrificed all for the sake of their principles: … “Since the disruption, has been presented to St Enoch’s, Glasgow, vacated by a seceding minister. … Has since been presented to the benefice of one of the seceding ministers. … Since the disruption, has obtained undisputed possession of North Leith, one of the richest benefices in the Establishment. … Has now obtained and accepted the presentation to the West Church, Greenock, the richest benefice in the Establishment.”

McCosh’s own description of the erosion of support for the Evangelical position shows that the problem was too extensive to be explained in such simplistic terms.

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