The Disruption

1843. The withdrawal of 474 ministers from the Church of Scotland, which brought the Free Church of Scotland* into existence. The Church of Scotland had been debilitated spiritually for about a century by various secessions. The seceders were usually earnest men, deeply concerned about what they felt to be the wrongs of patronage, and the national church could ill afford to lose them. The growth of Moderatism further weakened the spiritual quality of its ministry. The French Revolution, however, seemed to many to be a direct challenge to the complacent rationalism of the Moderates,* and the Calvinism they so much despised seemed much more in touch with reality. Rationalism had never really affected the pew as it had the pulpit. People flocked to the Secession churches, but at the same time the tides of evangelical life and power began to flow more strongly in the state church itself.

The Evangelical party found an outstanding leader in Thomas Chalmers,* and from 1815 (the year of his settlement in Glasgow) it grew rapidly both in numbers and influence. There was a breath of genuine revival in the air. Chalmers had once been a Moderate himself, but now the fire of the gospel of Christ burned in his heart, and he became increasingly aware of the social and ecclesiastical implications of the new faith to which God had brought him. The twin enemies of the Evangelical were Moderatism and patronage, and the matter of state interference in the affairs of the church came more and more to the fore.

The general assembly of 1842, by a large majority, declared that the Church of Scotland must be free to govern itself, and it protested against any attempt by Parliament or the courts to interfere in matters spiritual and ecclesiastical. Parliament rejected this claim of right; thus, as the general assembly of 1843 opened, Chalmers and some two hundred other ministers, mostly Evangelicals, walked out. They and nearly three hundred others founded the Free Church of Scotland, with Chalmers as its first moderator. They claimed to stand for “the confession of faith and standards of the Church of Scotland as heretofore understood.” It was one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the Scottish Church. The movement which led to the Disruption was undoubtedly spiritual at its heart, but it was also an expression of the nineteenth-century swing toward greater democracy.

See also Ten Years' Conflict.

Disruption Worthies, A Memorial of 1843 (1876); A.J. Campbell, Two Centuries of the Church of Scotland, 1707-1929 (1930); H. Watt, Thomas Chalmers and the Disruption (1943); J.H.S. Burleigh, A Church History of Scotland (1960), pp.334ff.