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Free Church of Scotland Position on Worship

From The Presbyterian Banner, December 2010 plus Appendix March 2011 and important Supplement August 2013

I confess very happily that I am an inclusive Presbyterian: I’ve very ready, despite my own prejudices, to live in the same church with office-bearers who have different viewpoints on many issues that are not decided by our Confession of Faith.  I’m also very happy to have close fellowship with churches like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the USA that do not have the same form of worship as ourselves, but do cling loyally to the Reformed Faith. Still, I’m very sorry to see that the Free Church of Scotland on 19 November voted 98-84 to change its position on unaccompanied singing of inspired material in public worship.

The matter of the propriety of limiting sung praise in public worship to inspired material without musical accompaniment has been under discussion in the Free Church for several years. Of course our sister is entitled to make its own decisions in accordance with its constitution. Still, it’s the way the matter has been raised and dealt with that is of particular concern.

As well as rescinding certain past decisions (1905,1910,1932) – not a bad idea if simply replaced with a simple Declaratory Act as to the meaning of the vows – the Assembly resolved:

“5. The General Assembly declare that purity of worship requires that every aspect of worship services, including sung praise, be consistent with the Word of God and with the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith approved by previous Assemblies of this Church.

“6. The General Assembly ordain that every service of congregational worship shall include the singing of Psalms.

“7. The General Assembly ordain that, with regard to the sung praise of congregations in worship, each Kirk Session shall have freedom, either to restrict the sung praise to the Psalms, or to include paraphrases of Scripture, and hymns and spiritual songs consistent with the doctrine of the Confession of Faith; that each Kirk Session shall have freedom whether to permit musical accompaniment to the sung praise in worship, or not.

“8. The General Assembly advise that, notwithstanding the foregoing, no Kirk Session should agree to a change in sung praise or musical accompaniment against the wishes of the minister of the congregation, and that a visiting minister, presiding at a service in a congregation where the aforementioned freedom to use uninspired materials of praise and musical instruments has been exercised, may exercise that freedom or not as he sees fit.

“9. The General Assembly ordain that in meetings of Church Courts the use of uninspired materials of praise and of instrumental music will be avoided.

“10. The General Assembly appoint a Special Committee (using consultants as required) to investigate the feasibility and desirability of producing a  recommended list of paraphrases of Scripture and hymns and spiritual songs consistent with the Word of God and the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith, and whether the Free Church ought to produce a praise resource supplementary to the Psalter, and to report to the 2011 General Assembly.”

These decisions arise from a plenary Assembly of all ministers and an equal number of elders. Against the advice of the Assembly Clerk, James Maciver, it was claimed that the plenary nature of the Assembly rendered Barrier Act procedure unnecessary. Barrier Act procedure dates from 1697 as a method for regulating the exercise of the lawful power of the church. The relevant part reads:

“…considering…that it will mightily conduce to the exact obedience of the Acts of Assemblies, that General Assemblies be very deliberate in making of the same, and that the whole Church have a previous knowledge thereof, and their opinion be had therein, and for preventing any sudden alteration or innovation, or other prejudice to the Church, in either doctrine or worship or discipline, or government thereof, now happily established; do, therefore, appoint, enact, and declare, that before any General Assembly of this Church shall pass any Acts, which are to be binding Rules and Constitutions to the Church, the same Acts be first proposed as overtures to the Assembly, and, being by them passed as such, be remitted to the consideration of the several Presbyteries of this Church, and their opinions and consent reported by their commissioners to the next General Assembly following, who may then pass the same in Acts, if the more general opinion of the Church thus had agreed thereunto.”

The proposal passed was not what was recommended by the relevant Assembly Committee (which essentially recommended the status quo), but was an amendment not considered by presbyteries beforehand. In the setting of the plenary Assembly a decision might well be taken that was not sufficiently weighed and considered, although a majority of Sessions were known to be opposed to change. I have the very distinct impression that a significant number of commissioners were anxious to avoid another split after the division in 2000, and so accepted the proposal as the best obtainable, but in the setting of Presbytery meetings it might well have been rejected. The decision also might have had something to do with the long-standing lack of a positive and succinct statement on the vows about worship, as well as the rather complicated legislation of the Free Church hitherto which might convey to sensitive consciences the thought that other forms of worship were of necessity to be regarded as sinful.

So the Free Church, by the barest of margins, has enacted new binding laws without Barrier Act procedure, and rescinded a contrary position adopted in 1910, again without the Barrier Act procedure required by the Act of 1736. I don’t think this was wise procedure and I’m afraid it may cause trouble. I confess some sympathy with the supporters of the substance of the decision, but their pushing the matter through as they have is disappointing. (I guess as a Church we can’t be too critical since we did something similar re our relations with the Free Church in 2005, but I was opposed then to not following Barrier Act procedure.) William Mackay, a former elder in Melbourne, rightly pointed out in debate how inappropriate it was to make this decision so soon after the new Psalter had been produced.

I know that there was frustration that the Free Church worship style seemed a barrier to evangelicals disillusioned with the now so liberal Church of Scotland, but I hardly imagine introducing hymns and musical instruments is really the solution, assuming that it is within the church’s constitutional power to do so. If we have a proper balance in our practice, singing the psalms is liberating, honours the word, protects the conscience and is truly ecumenical.

The decision will not of itself lead to theological liberalism in the Free Church but when a few high flyers thumb their noses at the vows and garner support from others, with good men caving in for the sake of peace, you have pragmatism operating and ultimately you will get liberalism,

Of course most Free Church congregations will not change from exclusive use of the psalms, but some will. I remain very happy to have close relations with the Free Church, our sister if not our mother, but have no desire to follow in her direction on the worship issue. One very happily supports the superiority of the Psalms of the word of God, and it was pleasing to note at our second Leaders’ Training day in Melbourne on 20 November that our two newest ministers in Southern Presbytery (Messrs Bajema and Miranda) spoke so positively of their use in public worship.


I add the following comments 26/3/2011

1. For some considerable period certain ministers advocated change. Now these same ministers object that some of those opposed to the decision are publicly indicating their disapproval. This sounds like the pot calling the kettle black! -especially when the ground of opposition is the claim that the decision was not constitutionally valid.

2. It is claimed that singing of psalms and use of instrumental music is not a change requiring Barrier Act procedure.

a. The Barrier Act is not a means of changing the constitution but of regulating lawful changes within the constitution to ensure they are well considered.

b. The recommendation of the Trustees to the Plenary Assembly was that there should be no change in worship but some tidying up of legislation. The Presbyteries had been informed by the Chairman of Trustees in a letter dated 30/11/2009

‘…If the Plenary Assembly resolve to change the Church’s practice on worship then the matter would have to go to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act and come back to another Plenary Assembly for final resolution. The Board will recommend to the May Assembly that it empowers the Plenary Assembly to call another Plenary Assembly to receive the results of the Barrier Act round of Presbyteries and finally give its ruling on the matter. If the initial Plenary affirms the status quo it will of course be unnecessary to call another.’

c. As it turned out a proposal from Rev Alex J. MacDonald was submitted a day or two before the Plenary Assembly and it was accepted by a narrow margin, and was then declared to be a decision equivalent to one passed under the Barrier Act.

3. The decision was not an esoteric one on a point not of general interest to the church, nor was it one about which there was general agreement, – in which case one could argue that the intent of the Barrier Act was either not applicable or met by a decision of a plenary assembly, but it was one on which there was much division of opinion and concerning which it was known that about 70% of Sessions were opposed and thus ‘the exact obedience’ aimed at by the Barrier Act was not likely to be achieved.

4. It would appear that pressing ahead with change in these circumstances, even supposing it within the constitutional power of the Church, was not prudent but only likely to further division.

5. While one is not forced to use hymns and instrumental music, how one can keep the vow to  ‘assert, maintain and defend’ the worship of the church if one is not satisfied that scripture warrants hymns and instrumental music in public worship is not at all obvious.

6. In March 2011 a Memorial and Protestation appeared in several newspapers circulating in areas where the Free Church of Scotland is represented seeking signatures to a Memorial and Protestation to the Assembly to meet in May 2011 seeking that the decision of the plenary Assembly by recalled. Several former Moderators expressed their agreement with the Memorial although doubtless wishing the situation was not so serious as to require this practice.

7. Much as one respects many who have supported the change as Christian ministers, the proceedings have not been edifying. The Free Church of Scotland suffered from the tyranny of the right in 2000; does she now suffer through the tyranny of the left?


On of the finest statements of the Free Church of Scotland principle and practice is found in

The Free Church of Scotland: The Crisis of 1900 by Alexander Stewart DD and J. Kennedy Cameron DD: ([1910]Edinburgh: Knox Press 1985) – The Maintenance of the Heritage: Chapter XVI, pp 393 – 396.

This Gospel, alike in its fulness and in its freeness, the Free Church is able to preach in accordance with the terms of her Confession of Faith. She is in a position to give every aspect of revealed truth its appropriate place, and to unfold with the clear and harmonious exposition of a definite system the whole counsel of God. The teaching of the Confession was enough for the great preachers of Scotland during the two and a half centuries which embrace the most fruitful period of its history; and the Free Church of today does not profess to have reached unto higher attainments in the secret of the Lord than they. She will be satisfied if, with some measure of the same authority and tenderness, and with the same effectiveness of converting and sanctifying power, the doctrines of grace are proclaimed from her pulpits in the twentieth century.

In the services of the sanctuary the Free Church adheres to the simplicity which is a supreme characteristic of New Testament worship, and which prevailed in Scotland during the best days of its religious history. She dispenses with instrumental aids in her service of public praise. For this restriction she believes that she has ample Scripture warrant. She regards the use of instrumental music in the House of God as out of harmony with the spirituality of the New Dispensation. Adapted as it undoubtedly was to the period of the Church’s growth in which her services were to a large extent of a sensuous and symbolical character, it is among the “childish things” which she “put away” when she came of age in the day of Christ. An outstanding feature of New Testament worship is its independence of the external and its repression of the sensuous. The Father is worshipped in spirit and in truth. He listens to the language of the soul, and takes delight in those spiritual offerings of the grateful heart which find their most appropriate expression in “the fruit of the lips.” There was no need for instrumental music in those days of the Church when the power of the truth as it is in Jesus was most deeply felt in men’s hearts. “Indeed it is only within the last half-century,” says Dr. D. Hay Fleming, than whom there is no higher living authority on the subject, “that, in Scotland, instrumental music in God’s worship has come to be regarded as compatible with Presbyterianism and evangelical preaching.” (The Reformation in Scotland, p.310) There is no need for it still when the message of the Gospel makes music in the soul. These external trappings of worship are an invariable sign of spiritual impoverishment and retrogression. They are the attempt to make sensuous gratification take the place of spiritual enjoyment. When the tide of spirituality rises, it is always found that such professed aids to devotion are largely swept away. The need for them is no longer felt. They are found to be a hindrance rather than a help to the praises of the full heart. That these features of modern worship make a powerful appeal to the natural mind is a fact which cannot be gainsaid. Whether they are at the same time pleasing to God is another question. Certain it is, at any rate, that once there is a departure from the simplicity of worship which is sanctioned in the New Testament Scriptures, it is difficult to draw the line in actual practice. Experience has proved that the element of praise in the services of the sanctuary tends more and more to degenerate into an exhibition of musical proficiency; the needs of the congregation for the vocal expression of thanksgiving are largely set aside; and the Father’s House is turned to a great extent into a place of entertainment.

In the matter of public praise the Free Church confines herself to the words of Inspiration. It is not a little remarkable that the precedence which she thus accords to the hymns of the Holy Ghost should be the occasion of bringing upon her a large amount of reproach, and that even at the hands of those who profess to believe in the unique authority of Holy Scripture. The objections to the Psalter as a manual of New Testament praise are indeed in many cases of the most superficial character. Although advanced in the name of progress and enlightenment they are not always intelligent. The Psalms, for example, are often said to be deficient as a vehicle of evangelical truth and Christian feeling. Scarcely any charge could be more unfounded. The Psalms are full of Christ. When He himself first tasted of the joy of His Incarnation, and set His face upon the steep but pleasant path of obedience which ended in Joseph’s tomb, he found the words which best described the willingness of His heart in the Book of Psalms. When He gave expression again to those awful sufferings which culminated in the agony of His dereliction, it was in the same portion of the sacred volume that He sought the fitting medium of utterance. And, on the other hand, when an inspired apostle seeks, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, to declare the glory and honour which the risen saviour received from the hand of His Father as the reward of His redemptive service, it is to the Book of Psalms that he turns for the terms that most appropriately unfold the splendour of the Mediatorial Throne. Again, when after the Resurrection Christ expounded to His wondering disciples “the things concerning Himself” as the suffering and triumphant Messiah, the Psalms were one of the special portions of the Divine oracles to whose testimony He appealed. And when the apostles went forth on their great mission of preaching the Gospel of Christ to their fellow-men, the effect of the illumination which then flooded their minds was at once apparent. Their recorded sermons are in some cases little more than an exposition of those portions of the Book of Psalms which speak of the Death and Resurrection of their Lord.

Once indeed we realise that the key to the Psalter is held in the Saviour’s pierced hand, we shall find it “vital with His presence and vocal with His voice.” The Book of Psalms is a perfect instrument of praise, a complete and permanent manual of congregational song. There is no aspect of spiritual experience which it does not delineate. There is no phase of spiritual emotion to which it does not give utterance. From the de profundis of penitential sorrow to the exultant strains that are appropriate to the Delectable Mountains – it covers the whole range of expression. There is no form of Christian effort to whose activities it will not form a fitting accompaniment of song. For long generations in Scotland it has been inseparably associated with those peaceful and hallowed Sabbath scenes in which

“the kneeling hamlet drains
The chalice of the grapes of God”;

And for the more stirring and arduous field of missionary enterprise it furnishes material not less sufficient or suitable. The Psalms are adapted to every age of the Church’s history. “Unshackled from time altogether,” to use Dr. Hugh Martin’s striking words, “they are the Holy Spirit’s expression for mental action and spiritual emotion transpiring in a realm above all outward dispensation – the realm of immediate fellowship with God.”

Such are some of the truths which the Free Church is called upon to “assert, maintain, and defend.”

Rev William McIntyre (1806-70), Australian Presbyterian Pioneer


Rev William McIntyre (1806-70), Australian Presbyterian Pioneer

Rowland S. Ward



William McIntyre (6 March 1806-12 July 1870) was a Scottish-Australian Presbyterian minister and educator.



William McIntyre was the 5th son and 7th child of Duncan McIntyre and Catherine Kennedy, who were sheep farmers in the parish of Kilmonivaig, Scotland near Spean Bridge. He was proficient in Latin and Greek when he commenced at the University of Glasgow in 1823. He graduated MA in 1829, completed Divinity in 1832, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Dunoon. He taught in a Glasgow school conducted by his older brother Allan and was recruited for Australia by Dr John Dunmore Lang, who heard him preach in Greenock in 1837. He was ordained for Australia with his friend James Forbes by the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Glasgow on 29 June 1837. He was appointed Chaplain to some 260 immigrants on the Midlothian, which left Portree, Skye on 7 August 1837 and arrived in Sydney 12 December 1837.


Early Australian ministry

McIntyre was the first Gaelic-speaking minister in Australia and the immigrants who came out on the Midlothian mainly spoke that language. Lang falsely represented to Governor Gipps that Lord Glenelg had given public assurances that they would be allowed to settle as a group, which was contrary to the usual policy. Most became occupiers of small but productive farms on Andrew Lang’s estate on the Paterson River. Particularly from 1857 they began to move north as new lands were opened and formed the nucleus of most of the congregations that adhered to the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia minority which remained outside the general Presbyterian union of 1864/65.


McIntyre joined Lang’s Synod in January 1838, taught at Lang’s Australian College, and acted as Lang’s locum tenens while Lang was overseas from January 1839 to March 1841. He facilitated the union of Lang’s Synod and the Presbytery which was accomplished in October 1840. McIntyre was called to Maitland in 1840, but was only settled there in September 1841 following a second call. On 3 April 1844 he was married to Mary McIntyre (1786-1872), the sister and heir of Peter McIntyre (1783-1842) by James Forbes. They made the Pitnacree Estate at East Maitland their home. Peter’s estate exclusive of runs and licence for over 280,000 acres (1,100 km2) of land was sworn at not less than £25,000, so Mary was exceedingly wealthy. There were no children and most of the money found its way into church and charitable causes in due time.


Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia

McIntyre led those who protested and withdrew to form the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia in October 1846. He partly financed the first PCEA church in Sydney, the old Pitt Street Congregational Church purchased in 1846. A stone church still existing was opened in Free Church Street, Maitland in 1849. McIntyre was anxious to see a thoroughly orthodox and evangelistic Church but was hampered by the difficulty of securing recruits prior to the discovery of Gold in 1851 and the tensions between Highlanders and Lowlanders. In 1854 he recruited his brother Allan and James McCulloch, who had married McIntyre’s niece, for the PCEA ministry. McIntyre removed to St George’s Church, Castlereagh Street, Sydney and was inducted 20 February 1862. He served without stipend and saw the debt of £12,000 reduced to £5,000 by the time of his death.


Literary & educational work

McIntyre supervised the training of the first locally trained Presbyterian minister (J.S. White ordained by the Synod of Australia in 1847). He conducted a fortnightly paper The Voice in the Wilderness 1846-1852. His major literary work was an Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount published in Edinburgh in 1854. He established the High School of Maitland in 1855, took a number of classes, including Classics, acted as Headmaster without payment 1857/59, and made the school one of the best in New South Wales. As well as a number of booklets and pamphlets, McIntyre published The Testimony monthly 1865-70 until shortly before his death.


Attitude to Church Union

Scottish attitudes to colonial church union changed in 1857 and those of Free Church sympathy who stood apart from the union in Victoria in 1859 were refused recognition by the Free Church of Scotland in 1860 and 1861. McIntyre therefore contemplated union of New South Wales Presbyterians and thought he had secured a satisfactory basis in November 1863; it was certainly a better crafted basis than in Victoria. However, some of his natural Gaelic constituency would not contemplate union with those allied to the Established Church of Scotland. Those in Maclean seceded in December 1863.


McIntyre ultimately became convinced that while in theory the basis was satisfactory the use which the unionists planned to make of it was not. By receiving ministers from the various Scottish churches on an equal footing, the church became complicit in practical involvement in the errors of the Established Church, he held, and therefore compromised the PCEA testimony against Erastianism. He considered that this signalled an approach to truth that seemed capable of extension to other doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Ultimately 5 of the 22 PCEA ministers continued outside the union accomplished 1864/65, and several united who were not really in favour. It should be noted that the still-maintained practice of a capella psalmody in the PCEA was not regarded as an issue of principle on the level of the Erastian issue by McIntyre and his colleagues.


He was an able man, a solid if not winsome preacher. He was a man of firm principles of whom Sir Samuel Griffith, one time Premier of Queensland and the first Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, wrote: ‘On the whole he was a remarkable man, and his name deserves to be remembered as one of the foremost worthies of New South Wales.’

Rev Dr John Dunmore Lang (1799-1878) – Turbulent Presbyterian leader


This is the wikipedia article as at February 2008
which is substantially as written by Rowland S. Ward, May 2006

Lang was the first Presbyterian minister on the mainland of Australia, arriving in 1823.



Background and Family

Lang was born near Greenock, Inverclyde, Scotland, the eldest son of William Lang and Mary Dunmore. His father was a small landowner and his mother a pious Presbyterian, who dedicated her son to the Church of Scotland ministry from an early age. He grew up in nearby Largs, and was educated at the University of Glasgow, where he excelled, winning many prizes, and graduating as a Master of Arts in 1820. His brother, George, had found employment in New South Wales and Lang decided to join him. He was ordained by the Presbytery of Irvine on 30 September 1822. Arriving in Sydney Cove on 23 May 1823 he became the first Presbyterian minister in the colony of New South Wales. On the way back from the second of his nine voyages to Britain (1830-31) he married his 18-year old cousin Wilhelmina Mackie at Cape Town. They were married for 47 years. Lang fathered ten children, only three of whom survived him.


Lang and the claims of the Church of England

Lang found the Presbyterian Scots to be a small minority, dominated by an Anglican administration and outnumbered by the Irish Catholics. There was no Presbyterian church in the colony and he commenced building one before he had applied to the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Brisbane, to provide public funds for it. Governor Brisbane refused. Lang had laid the foundation stone for the Scots Church on 1 July 1824 and it was completed with significant debt by William and Andrew Lang and opened 16 July 1826 with a Trust Deed that tied it to the Church of Scotland. Lang visited Britain 1824-25, where he successfully lobbied the Secretary for the Colonies, Lord Bathurst, to recognise the legal status of the Church of Scotland to the extent that he was allowed a stipend of £300 per annum. During this visit he was made a Doctor of Divinity by Glasgow University, and recruited Rev John McGarvie for ministry at Portland Head.

Lang resisted the claim to exclusive State recognition and support by the Church of England involved in the establishment of the Clergy and School Lands Corporation in 1826, and it was suspended in 1829 and abolished in 1833. Also in 1826 he claimed the right to perform marriages by virtue of a British Act of 1818 relating to the Diocese of Calcutta which protected Church of Scotland ministers there, and thus broke the Church of England monopoly, New South Wales then being part of that Diocese. The Church Act of 1836 gave State-aid to the Church of England, the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church on the same basis. The Methodists were added in 1839.


Educational endeavours

Lang founded the Caledonian Academy in 1826 but it soon folded. Lang made a second visit to Britain in 1830-31 and recruited several teachers as well as acquiring a library and equipment for a school he was to call the Australian College. It opened at the beginning of 1832 on land adjoining the Scots Church. It had considerable promise which was not realised due to Lang’s lack of administrative ability and his failure to achieve more general support because of his own flaws of character and ability, particularly financial mismanagement. By 1840 it had only about 30 students. In 1842 the College became simply a day school for boys meeting elsewhere, and was no more by 1852. Lang dreamed of heading an educational institution of standing. Not surprisingly, he was a supporter of the Presbyterian Theological College, St Andrew’s College within the University of Sydney, although he used his political influence to try and change the legislation, and hoped in 1872 to be appointed its first Principal.


Lang and journalism

Lang returned from his third visit to Britain (1833-34) with more ministers and teachers as well as a printing press and tradesmen to operate it. He commenced The Colonist in January 1835 which he used to promote his schemes, and attack those with whom he disagreed. While he was absent in Britain 1839-41, and until it ceased in 1840, Rev William McIntyre edited the paper and it reported impartially on matters then agitating the Presbyterian Church. Lang commenced a new paper, The Colonial Observer, in October 1841 which ran until 1844. He also conducted The Press for a period in 1851.


Lang’s theology

Lang was certainly a turbulent Scot but was not quite the fiery fundamentalist who hated all other denominations that some have claimed. Examination of his sermon manuscripts indicate they were orthodox by the standard of the Westminster Confession of Faith as adhered to by the Church of Scotland. He was influenced by Rev Dr Thomas Chalmers and held a form of the premillennial view of the future. He related quite positively to other denominations of evangelical Protestants, particularly Congregationalists, Lutherans and Methodists. He admitted Congregationalists and Baptists to the Synod he operated 1850-64, and in 1856 ordained two Lutherans, regarding the Lutheran questions and Confession, which he used on the occasion, as the same in substance with those of the British Presbyterians. His ecclesiastical fights were with exclusivist Anglicans, other Presbyterians and the Catholics.


Attitude to Roman Catholics

The traditional evangelical Protestant belief concerning the predicted Antichrist or Man of Sin in 2 Thessalonians 2 was that the Man of Sin was not an individual as such but a movement of error in history under the guise of friendship to Christ. Lang shared this belief and saw the Man of Sin as illustrated in the Papacy. When the immigration of poor Irish Catholics was running at a massive level he campaigned against Irish migration. His fear was that the colony would be swamped by such persons and that Protestant and British liberties would be lost. In 1841 he published The Question of Questions! or, Is this Colony to be transformed into a Province of Popedom? A Letter to the Protestant Landholders of New South Wales, and in 1847 he followed up with, Popery in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere: and How to Check it Effectually: An Address to Evangelical and Influential Protestants of all Denominations in Great Britain and Ireland. He strongly opposed Caroline Chisholm’s campaign to sponsor the immigration of single Irish Catholic women to Australia. But Bridges is right to state: “Lang considered opposition to harmful errors of Catholicism part of his duty as a minister but he consistently championed the cause of Irish and Catholic civil liberties and deprecated any incitement to Protestant-Catholic or Anglo-Celtic disturbances.” He visited Archbishop Polding when the Roman Catholic leader was dying in 1877.


Lang and the Presbyterian Church

The Presbytery of New South Wales (which then included what is now Victoria and Queensland) was formed on 14 December 1832, despite the intemperate habits of two of the ministers, and the opposition of John McGarvie, who had turned out to be a Scottish Moderate. This Presbytery ordained a minister for Launceston and in turn the Presbytery of Van Diemen’s Land was constituted on 6 November 1835 by Lang and two others.

The Presbytery in New South Wales had a number of unsuitable ministers. Lang determined on a further visit to Britain in 1836, securing about 20 men from the Church of Scotland and from the Synod of Ulster. Lang had a pre-arranged plan to set up a rival church court to the Presbytery. When he returned in 1837 he found that an Act to regulate the temporal affairs of the Presbytery had been secured from the Government, the terms of which made the Presbytery the only legal representative of the Church of Scotland in the colony. The Presbytery Moderator’s certificate was necessary for payment of stipends under the Church Act. Lang thereupon represented the Temporalities Act as ‘monstrous and disgraceful in the highest degree’ and having the effect of forcing him and his supporters out. This was complete fabrication, but Lang and five of the new recruits joined in constituting a Synod on 11 December 1837. Lang placed men in the same localities as Presbytery ministers to draw off adherents and drive out the drunkards. A full-blown schism operated until union was effected in 1840.

The Presbytery expelled Lang for schism on 18 January 1838. Lang used The Colonist to spread contention. As James Forbes put it, ‘week after week he poured forth vollies of abuse against the Presbytery, unequalled for satanic bitterness and vulgar scurrility, by the worst of the London Sunday papers.’ Lang was on a further trip to Britain and America 1839-41, and in his absence terms of union were agreed and the union consummated on 5 October 1840 under the name ‘Synod of Australia in connection with the Established Church of Scotland.’ The Basis did not give the Church of Scotland any legislative or judicial jurisdiction, but the Synod was committed to the same doctrinal basis as the Church of Scotland. Presbyteries were created subject to the Synod. Lang was admitted on his return in March 1841.

In 1840 Lang published a substantial volume entitled Religion and Education in America in which he advocated support of churches by voluntary givings rather than the State, and went so far as to advocate no connection between Church and State. This conflicted with the official views of the Church of Scotland as set out in the Confession of Faith, which can be summarised thus:

(1) Church and State are distinct and separate institutions, both being accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ who has received all authority in heaven and earth from the Father;

(2) the mutually helpful relationship between Church and State does not imply subordination of one to the other in its own sphere; and, in particular, the civil authorities have no jurisdiction or authoritative control in the spiritual affairs of Christ’s Church.

(3) In maintaining these Scriptural principles, and the ideal of a united Christian Church in a Christian nation, the Church does not regard the involvement of the State in matters concerning religion as ipso facto contrary to liberty of conscience. Rather, she rejects intolerance or persecution as methods of advancing the kingdom of God, and recognises the individual’s liberty of conscience and the right of private judgement.


Lang’s views brought opposition from many including some who had previously supported him. Lang’s repute had already declined in Scotland. When he was censured for allowing to preach in Scot’s Church a Congregational minister who had been rejected by the Synod, he reacted negatively. On 6 February 1842 he told his congregation that he would go to New Zealand and be supported by voluntary givings. In an extraordinary blast of invective, and alluding to the narrative of Joshua 6:20ff, he said that the Australian church could not prosper until she renounced with indignant scorn the Babylonish garment of an infidel establishment of religion and abandoned the wedge of gold that corrupted all who touched it. At length he consented to remain when the bulk of the 500 adults in his congregation agreed to sever all connection with the Synod and with the State. On 8 October 1842 the Synod deposed Lang for slander – calling the Synod a synagogue of Satan particularly displeased the brethren – divisive courses and contumacy by an 8-4 vote. Ultimately, on 9 September 1851, the Presbytery of Irvine in Scotland declared Lang no longer a minister of the Church of Scotland, but did not tell Lang what was afoot nor give him an opportunity to defend himself.

Lang tried with minimal success to start a new body. In July 1846 he set off again for Britain returning in March 1850. He and two other ministers set up the Synod of New South Wales (the second of this name) on 3 April 1850, although the minutes term it ‘The Australian Presbyterian Church’. During its life of some 14 years, 31 ministers were connected with it at one time or another, including 8 of the 20 brought out by Lang in 1850. It was very loose in approach. Some have regarded it as an attempt to establish a comprehensive evangelical Protestant body, but it appears more an attempt by Lang to maintain a useful power base and maintain his own ego. There were four ministers (including Lang) connected with it when it in November 1864.

Lang was out of the mainstream from 1842, but his political influence was such that he had to be accommodated if union of the three Presbyterian streams was to be achieved. The original Synod of Australia did not wish to recognise Lang, despite having to recall the deposition in 1863 (which was done by a majority of one vote), following Lang securing the reversal of the Presbytery of Irvine’s sentence in 1861. Lang’s Synod lost its identity by being merged on 15 November 1864 with the majority of the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, to form a General Synod which then merged with the original Synod of Australia to form the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales on 8 September 1865 with 47 ministers. In 1872 he was chosen Moderator of the Assembly but used his speech to seriously criticise his brethren for not choosing him earlier. There wasn’t too much mellowing as he grew older.

As a churchman Lang was wilful, egotistical, not respectable (twice jailed for libel). He ‘preached more of the Gospel than he practised’, someone quipped. From the Presbyterian viewpoint Lang is therefore something of an ambiguous figure. James Forbes, writing in 1846 about the 1837 period, stated: ‘…it has ever appeared to us one of the most mysterious permissions of Divine Providence, that the founding of an infant church in an infant colony should have fallen into such hands.’


Lang and politics

In The Colonist Lang agitated for the end of transportation, for the separation of the Moreton Bay Colony (later Queensland) and the Port Phillip District (later Victoria) from New South Wales, and for the establishment of representative government and the reduction in the powers of the British-appointed Governors.

In 1843 Lang was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council as the representative of the Port Phillip District, holding his seat until 1846. From 1850-52 he was one of the members for Sydney, and in 1854 he sat for the County of Stanley (Moreton Bay). He was MLA for West Sydney from 1859 to 1869. Lang was not suited to parliamentary life, since he was temperamentally opposed to parliamentary procedure. He frequently used parliamentary privilege to pursue personal vendettas against his many enemies in the Presbyterian Church and the press.

In 1851, in any case, he was unable to take his seat in Parliament, since he was heavily in debt from his various failed migration schemes and was being pressed by creditors. He was sued for debt, and when he attacked his creditors in the press he was prosecuted for libel, and sentenced to a 100 pound fine and four months imprisonment in Parramatta Gaol. He was imprisoned again in 1855, when his son George, manager of the Ballarat branch of the Bank of New South Wales, was convicted of embezzlement. Lang attacked the judge in print and was sentenced to six months imprisonment for criminal libel. Ten thousand people signed a petition for his release, but he served the full sentence.

By 1850 Lang, inspired by the Chartist movement in Britain and by the 1848 revolution in France, had become a radical democrat and a republican. With Henry Parkes and James Wilshire he founded the Australian League, considered by historians to be Australia’s first political party, although he soon quarrelled with his fellow-founders. He put forward ideas which were both visionary and radical – the federation of the Australian colonies, the establishment of a fully democratic government (at a time when both in Britain and Australia the franchise was restricted to owners of property) and an Australian republic. These ideas reflected both the Presbyterian ideal of congregational self-government (despite the fact that in church affairs he was an autocrat) and his Scottish nationalist dislike of English and Anglican supremacy.

In 1850 Lang published The Coming Event! Or, the United Provinces of Australia in which he predicted an independent Australian federal republic. He followed this in 1852 with Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia, his best-known work. The title of this work has become an established slogan of political radicalism and republicanism in Australia. Despite his bitter anti-Catholicism, his political ideas won him wide support among the Irish Catholic population, who shared his dislike of English and Anglican dominance. In return, he supported Home Rule for Ireland – partly because he thought this would reduce the Irish Catholic influence in British government.

Lang was also an enthusiastic promoter of the development of the Australian colonies. In 1834 he published in Britain the first edition of An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, both as a Penal Colony and as a British Colony, which ran through a series of editions until his death, to promote immigration and investment in Australia. The Westminster Review commented that the book should have been called ‘A History of Dr. Lang to which is added a History of New South Wales’. He also published Port-Phillip, or the colony of Victoria in 1853, and Queensland, Australia in 1861 to promote the northern colony. Lang Park in Brisbane is named after him in recognition of his work promoting the colony.

Despite their eccentricity, Lang’s works were influential in promoting Australia, but his practical schemes for immigration were usually fiascos owing to his lack of business sense. After 1851, in any case, immigration to Australia boomed due to the Gold Rush and had no need of promotion.

Lang’s influence should not be under-estimated but was marred by his wilful personality. As well, the wave of radicalism in Britain and Australia of the mid 19th century soon passed and was succeeded by an era of enthusiasm for the British Empire. But he has become an iconic figure in Australian history, as the first public figure to advocate Australian nationalism, federation, full political democracy and republicanism. Lang is the namesake of Dunmore Lang College, at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Lang’s writings are voluminous, his activities multifarious. His power of description is remarkable, his assessments of individuals generally perceptive if tinged with his own prejudices. His egotism defies belief but his achievements are quite astonishing and overshadow his religious contribution. Excluding his newspaper articles his published work runs to some 10,000 pages.

Lang died in August 1878 following a stroke. His funeral, on 10 August, was the ‘largest ever seen in Australia’- a funeral procession over a mile in length, led by 500 Chinese, with perhaps 70,000 people lining the streets. His wife died in 1888, and the last of his children in 1934. There were no grandchildren.


* John Dunmore Lang, Reminiscences of My Life and Times, Both in Church and State in Australia, for Upwards of Fifty Years, an autobiographical manuscript, unpublished in Lang’s lifetime. Edited by Donald Baker, Heineman, Melbourne, 1972
* Donald Baker, Preacher, Politician, Patriot: a Life of John Dunmore Lang, Melbourne University Press, 1998
* Barry J. Bridges in Presbyterian Leaders in Nineteenth Century Australia edited by Rowland S. Ward, Wantirna,1993, pp. 1-36

Note: In his introduction Baker acknowledges Bridges’ informed criticism of his earlier volume on Lang, Days of Wrath, but strangely Baker does not incorporate Bridges’ corrections, which relate mainly to the ecclesiastical side, into his later work.

There are important articles on Lang in the December 1999 and June 2000 issues of Proceedings of the Uniting Church Historical Society of Victoria.

James Forbes (1813-1851) – Melbourne’s first Christian minister

James Forbes (1813-1851) – Melbourne’s first Christian minister


Rowland S. Ward

Last updated 2 May 2010

Early life

James Forbes was the oldest of the ten children (only five surviving infancy) born to Peter and Margaret Forbes who farmed “New Braes” on the estate of Sir Arthur Forbes in the parish of Leochel-Cushnie about 40 km west of Aberdeen, Scotland. He was baptised on 4 April 1813, and was educated locally and at Aberdeen Grammar School.


He entered King’s College, Aberdeen in 1826 and completed the Arts course in 1829 but, like the majority of students who regarded it as an expensive formality, he did not bother to graduate. The Church of Scotland’s Presbytery of Garioch records show that he was enrolled in divinity for part of 1829/30, 1830/31 and as a regular student 1831/32. He must have had doubts about his fitness for the ministry for he accepted a teaching appointment at the Colchester Royal Grammar School in England between 1832 and 1835. Here he experienced an evangelical conversion as he heard the sermons given in the school assembly by the Church of England preachers. This brought him back to the divinity course at Aberdeen which he completed in 1837.

He was licensed as a preacher by the Presbytery of Garioch on 10 May 1837. Recruited for Australia through the influence of Rev John Dunmore Lang he was ordained with his friend William McIntyre by the Presbytery of Glasgow on 29 June 1837 for work in Australia.

Departure for Australia

Leaving Greenock on the 541 ton barque Portland on 24 July 1837, Forbes arrived in Sydney on 4 December 1837. The passengers included Dr Lang and a number of other ministers and teachers. Forbes rejected Lang’s proposal that the new ministers join him in forming the Synod of New South Wales to rival the existing Presbytery of New South Wales, and duly became a member of the Presbytery. His appointment being for the District of Port Phillip, he arrived there by boat on 20 January 1838.

He found his future father-in-law, Rev James Clow, had arrived in Melbourne to settle the previous Christmas Day. Clow was a Church of Scotland chaplain from Bombay retired due to health issues and of independent means. Forbes offered to go to Geelong, but Clow deferred to the younger man with an official appointment. Forbes thus became the first Christian minister settled as such in Melbourne, which was then a settlement of a few huts and two weatherboard houses that served as hotels. Within 18 months the population increased from a few hundred to 3000.

Presbyterian beginnings in Melbourne

On Saturday 3 February 1838 a meeting of members and friends of the Church of Scotland was held with James Clow in the chair. It was resolved to build a church and that £300 be raised in order to obtain the matching grant available under the Church Act. This is regarded as the official birthday of Presbyterianism in Victoria and of the beginning of Scots’ Church. A committee of James Clow (treasurer), James Forbes and Skene Graig (secretaries) was appointed to collect subscriptions and to take the steps to obtain a church site. The sum of £139.19.0 was subscribed on the spot.

Forbes continued the afternoon service in the Pioneers Church on the corner of William and Collins Streets Street which had been commenced by Clow on 31 December 1837. Originally a non-denominational building opened in February 1837, the land on which it stood was reserved for the Church of England later that year, and in April 1838 Bishop Broughton advised it would not be available for the use of others once a priest arrived. The Presbyterians thereupon resolved to provide their own facilities. Forbes held services in Skene Craig’s property in Collins Street West until a temporary timber building called Scots Church was opened in July 1838 on David Fisher’s land next door. The location was the south side of Collins Street between the later Olderfleet and Rialto buildings (Lot 14 Section 2) where the Winfield building now stands. It was essentially a large room with a fireplace able to hold about 60 people.
The temporary building also served as the Scots’ Church School, which was begun on 26 November 1838 with Robert Campbell as teacher. He had come to Australia with Forbes and was a Scots’ elder from 1839 until 1842. The school prospered and soon had 80 pupils. The school relocated to new brick premises in September 1839 on the part of the present 2 acre site on the corner of Collins and Russell Streets which adjoins the present Baptist Church and on which Georges department store was later erected. The number of students was soon 150, a third of them girls, and two aboriginal children were among those who received prizes at the first examination in June 1840. The church services were similarly moved to the new school.

The first purpose built Scots Church on the present site, corner of Collins and Russell Streets, was opened on 3 October 1841. It was designed for 500 sittings and the contract sum was £2,485 without plastering, gallery, vestry or fittings. The building was opened with temporary seating on 3 October 1841, plastering was carried out the following year, proper pews, gallery and vestry were added in 1849 and a spire some years later. (The present building was opened 29 November 1874 seated for about 900.)


Forbes visited Geelong in November 1838 and obtained Rev Andrew Love from Scotland as minister for this place. Love arrived in April 1840. In 1842 three more ministers were secured and the Synod in Sydney approved Forbes’ request for a separate Presbytery of Melbourne to be formed. It held its first meeting on 7 June 1842.

Early Societies

Forbes was the founding honorary secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society auxiliary founded in 1840, chairman of the Port Phillip Theological Education Society, assisted in the founding of what is now the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Melbourne Debating Society, all in 1841.

In 1845 he inaugurated the Presbyterian Female Visiting Society. As it was not sectarian in 1847 it was renamed the Melbourne Ladies Benevolent Society. He supported aboriginal missions established by Wesleyans and Baptists, and was a true friend of all.

The Free Kirk

The effects of the Disruption of the Established Church of Scotland in May 1843 had repercussions in Australia because the Australian Synod was in legal and moral connection with the Established Church of Scotland, and identified as such by its title. Forbes and one of his three elders adhered to the position also adopted by those who formed the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia on 10 October 1846.

Reasons of distance and the general desire of those in Port Phillip to run their affairs without control from Sydney, meant Forbes organised a distinct body but on similar lines to the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, formed as a result of the Disruption. Forbes gave up his handsome stipend (£200 from the government plus £150 from the congregation), the church, school and manse he had erected, and commenced afresh. He issued his Protest on 29 October 1846 and submitted it to the Presbytery of Melbourne on 17 November, the date of the organising meeting of what the minutes call The Free Presbyterian Church of Australia Felix. The first service was held in the Mechanics Hall (where the the Athenaeum now stands) on 22 November 1846 with about 200 people crowding the building.

The building of John Knox Free Presbyterian Church, Swanston Street was opened 8 May 1848 on the corner with Little Lonsdale Street and with frontage to that street. The John Knox School began in the building on 3 July 1848 with T.J. Everist as teacher. Within a year there were 120 students and an adjoining brick building came into use in August 1850. The congregation erected a two-storey manse next door to the church in Swanston Street late in 1850. [During Rev William Miller’s ministry the school closed and the school and manse land was sold to aid the reconstruction of the church. It was re-opened by Rev William McIntyre 26 July 1863. It now houses the Church of Christ congregation in the CBD.]

Forbes sought to obtain additional ministers for the Free Church. He apparently offended the Irish Church by some critical remarks on some individual Irish ministers who had not stood with him in 1846, so assistance came chiefly from the Free Church of Scotland. Thomas Hastie came from Tasmania in January 1847 and was settled at Buninyong and The Leigh, while Rev J.Z. Huie became minister at Geelong in the same year. Schools were established in both parishes. There was little other help until the explosion of population following the discovery of gold in 1851, the year of Forbes’ death.

The three ministers and Henrie Bell, elder at John Knox, formed the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church on 9 June 1847. Forbes showed himself an efficient administrator. He not only wrote the Fundamental Act of the Synod (which was adopted also by the Free Presbyterian Church of South Australia upon its formation 9 May 1854) but he drew up rules for the guidance of the church. His own death plus the revolution caused by the Gold Rush meant his careful positions were modified to facilitate union into the Presbyterian Church of Victoria in 1859. His strong stance against receiving state aid on an indiscriminate basis was modified in 1853. Ironically, the three parishes that ultimately continued the Free Presbyterian Church of Victoria and united with the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia in 1953 (East St Kilda, Geelong (Myers Street) and Hamilton/Branxholme) had all benefited from state-aid.

Forbes and Education

Forbes has been called rightly Victoria’s First Public Educationist (Edward Sweetman, 1939). He wrote extensively on this subject.

The Chalmers Free Church School began on 4 June 1850 in purpose-built premises at what is now 257 Spring Street (opposite the Royal College of Surgeons) under George McMaster, an experienced Scottish teacher. The school was named after Thomas Chalmers, the first Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland Assembly. McMaster transferred to the Knox School In October and was replaced by George Knox until May 1851. At that point the students were transferred to the Knox school and the Chalmers’ premises stood empty waiting for the arrival of a rector from Scotland for Forbes’ proposed Academy.

Forbes was keen to see a superior educational institution which would provide an education in the higher branches of science and literature as ‘the first step towards the training of a Colonial ministry from among the Colonial youth.’ He personally sought and obtained the assistance of Miss Mure of Warriston, Edinburgh, to guarantee the salary of a rector and so make the project viable. The Academy opened in the Chalmers premises 6 October 1851, a few weeks after Forbes’ death, with Robert Lawson (1826-69) as rector.  The Academy moved to the south-west corner of Spring and Little Collins Streets (now 99 Spring Street) in 1852, and the Chalmers’ premises were let to an unrelated minister, Rev. William B. Miller. (David Baillieu, Hills of Home: A life of Robert Lawson (Melbourne 2009) 33-38 has confused this United Presbyterian minister with Rev William Miller, the successor to Forbes, and thus Baillieu’s conclusion that Scotch College operated in two premises for several years is without foundation.)

The more recent Scotch College History by Jim Mitchell also confuses Rev William B. Miller with Rev William Miller, Forbes’ successor at Knox Free Presbyterian Church. (See separate article on him on this website.)

Of recent years Scotch College, located in Hawthorn since 1916, has rediscovered their founder. In 2002 the first stage of the impressive buildings of the James Forbes Academy (drama/music) was opened.

Marriage and children

In 1845, Forbes married Helen Clow (1822 – 1898) a daughter of Rev James Clow. They had four children:

* Margaret (1846) who married Robert Chirnside.
* James (1847 – 1898) who died unmarried and was buried with his parents.
* Helen (1849) who married Alexander Creswick.
* Charles (1851 – 1901), also a bachelor, baptised by his father as his last ministerial act.

Death and afterward

Forbes’ passing was much lamented. In 1855 his remains were removed to the new Melbourne Cemetery and a memorial erected. His name is held in honour still by both the Presbyterian Church of Victoria formed in 1859 as a union of most of the different strands of Presbyterianism, and by those few who continued the Free Presbyterian Church of Victoria and who in 1953 united with the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia.


* R.S.Ward (ed), Presbyterian Leaders in 19th Century Australia (Melbourne, 1993) 37-53
* M. Harman, James Forbes of Melbourne (Sydney: Crossing Press, 2001)
* Baker, D.W.A., Preacher, Politician, Patriot: A Life Of John Dunmore Lang (Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.