The Kingdom of God and the Presbyterian Churches Social Theology and Action c.1880 – c.1914
McKay, Johnston Reid
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This study examines how the two strands which made up Presbyterianism in Scotland in the years between 1830 and 1914 coped with the challenges presented to them by the urban crisis which arose in the 1830s and 1840s. The huge increase in the urban population which experienced the effects of cyclical trade depressions and consequent unemployment posed an unprecedented problem to a system of poor relief unable to cope. That system of poor relief was initially provided through voluntary contributions made by the Kirk Session and Heritors of the Church of Scotland. Even after poor relief became the responsibility of Parochial Boards, these Boards were largely composed of office-bearers in the Church. The study covers the years from around 1830 to the outbreak of the First World War. 1830 was chosen because by then the effect of industrial change was beginning to be felt and from then onwards accelerated considerably, most especially in Paisley where traditional weaving soon began to decline. The immigrant population, drawn to Glasgow by the prospect of work, had settled into the subdivided tenements and partitioned town houses which were to cause social problems for the rest of the century. The population of Glasgow grew from around 274,000 in 1830 to 761,000 by the turn of the century, and the Churches found themselves having to address the social problems which grew along with the size of the city. This study ends with the outbreak of the First World War, by which time the beginnings of the welfare state had been established and the energies of the Church of Scotland and the United free Church of Scotland began to be focussed on the process which was to lead to their union in 1929. 2 The study concentrates largely on the west of Scotland because most of the larger studies of the ecclesiastical history of the period have concentrated on Edinburgh and made use of Edinburgh sources. This study is an attempt to redress the balance, but also to recognise that it was in the west of Scotland, first in Paisley with the collapse of the weaving industry and then in Glasgow with the housing crisis which the increase in population through immigration brought about. This study follows two methods. Because its central argument is that Robert Flint’s book Christ’s Kingdom upon Earth, published in 1865, was of crucial importance in the development of a social theology in the Presbyterian Churches of the 19th century, this is an example of historical theology within the history of ideas, and so the research which reflects this aspect of the study has been based on the examination and critical assessment of theological publications, pamphlets, sermons and speeches of the period, all of which provide a rich vein of material on which the conclusions can be based. Because the effect of Robert Flint’s understanding of the Kingdom of God was found initially in the work of those most closely influenced by him, and then later on the context which the theological matrix of the Kingdom of God provided for debates within particularly the United Free Church, this study examines the narrative of the Church’s engagement with society over the period under review, and has involved the study of original church and municipal sources.