THE MEETING OF THE SYNOD
With the vestry of the Marrow kirk in Bell's Wynd the synod met, and was constituted with prayer. Sederunt, the Reverend Gilbert Peden, moderator, minister of the true kirk of God in Scotland, commonly called the Marrow Kirk, in which place the synod for the time being was assembled; the Reverend Allan Welsh, minister of the Marrow kirk in Dullarg, clerk of the synod; John Bairdieson, synod's officer. The minutes of the last meeting having been read and approved of, the court proceeded to take up business. Inter alia the trials of Master Ralph Peden, some time student of arts and humanity in the College of Edinburgh, were a remit for this day and date. Accordingly, the synod called upon the Reverend Allan Welsh, its clerk, to make report upon the diligence, humility, and obedience, as well as upon the walk and conversation of the said Ralph Peden, student in divinity, now on trials for license to preach, the gospel.
Allan Welsh read all this gravely and calmly, as if the art of expressing ecclesiastical meaning lay in clothing it in as many overcoats as a city watchman wears in winter.
The moderator sat still, with a grim earnestness in his face. He was the very embodiment of the kirk of the Marrow, and though there were but two ministers with no elders there that day to share the responsibility, what did that matter?
He, Gilbert Peden, successor of all the (faithful) Reformers, was there to do inflexible and impartial justice.
John Bairdieson came in and sat down. The moderator observed his presence, and in his official capacity took notice of it.
‘This sederunt of the synod is private,’ he said. ‘Officer, remove the strangers.’
In his official capacity the officer of the court promptly removed John Bairdieson, who went most unwillingly.
The matter of the examination of probationers comes up immediately after the reading of the minutes in well-regulated church courts, being most important and vital.
‘The clerk will now call for the report upon the life and conduct of the student under trials,’ said the moderator.
The clerk called upon the Reverend Allan Welsh to present his report. Then he sat down gravely, but immediately rose again to give his report. All the while the moderator sat impassive as a statue.
The minister of Dullarg began in a low and constrained voice. He had observed, he said, with great pleasure the diligence and ability of Master Ralph Peden, and considered the same in terms of the remit to him from the synod. He was much pleased with the clearness of the candidate upon the great questions of theology and church government. He had examined him daily in his work, and had confidence in bearing testimony to the able and spiritual tone of all his exercises, both oral and written.
Soon after he began, a surprised look stole over the face of the moderator. As Allan Welsh went on from sentence to sentence, the thin nostrils of the representative of the Reformers dilated. A strange and intense scorn took possession of him. He sat back and looked fixedly at the slight figure of the minister of Dullarg bending under the weight of his message and the frailty of his body. His time was coming.
Allan Welsh sat down, and laid his written report on the table of the synod.
‘And is that all that you have to say?’ queried the moderator, rising.
‘That is all,’ said Allan Welsh.
‘Then,’ said the moderator, ‘I charge it against you that you have either said too much or too little: too much for me to listen to as the father of this young man, if it be true that you extruded him, being my son and a student of the Marrow kirk committed to your care, at midnight from your house, for no stated cause; and too little, far too little to satisfy me as moderator of this synod, when a report not only upon diligence and scholarship, but also upon a walk and conversation becoming the gospel, is demanded.’
‘I have duly given my report according to the terms of the remit,’ said Allan Welsh, simply and quietly.
‘Then,’ said the moderator, ‘I solemnly call you to account as the moderator of this synod of the only true and protesting Kirk of Scotland, for the gravest dereliction of your duty. I summon you to declare the cause why Ralph Peden, student in divinity, left your house at midnight, and, returning to mine, was for that cause denied bed and board at his father's house.’
‘I deny your right, moderator, to ask that question as an officer of this synod. If, at the close, you meet me as man to man, and, as a father, ask me the reasons of my conduct, some particulars of which I do not now seek to defend, I shall be prepared to satisfy you.’
‘We are not here convened,’ said the moderator, ‘to bandy compliments, but to do justice—’
‘And to love mercy,’ interjected John Bairdieson through the keyhole.
‘Officer,’ said the moderator, ‘remove that rude interrupter.’
‘Aye, aye, sir,’ responded the synod officer promptly, and removed the offender as much as six inches.
‘You have no more to say?’ queried the moderator, bending his brows in threatening fashion.
‘I have no more to say,’ returned the clerk as firmly. They were both combative men; and the old spirit of that momentous conflict, in which they had fought so gallantly together, moved them to as great obstinacy now that they were divided.
‘Then,’ said the moderator, ‘there's nothing for't but another split, and the Lord do so, and more also, to him whose sin brings it about!’
‘Amen!’ said Allan Welsh.
‘You will remember,’ said the moderator, addressing the minister of Dullarg directly, ‘that you hold your office under my pleasure. There is that against you in the past which would justify me, as moderator of the kirk of the Marrow, in deposing you summarily from the office of the ministry. This I have in writing under your own hand and confession.’
‘And I,’ said the clerk, rising with the gleaming light of war in his eye, ‘have to set it against these things that you are guilty of art and part in the concealment of that which, had you spoken twenty years ago, would have removed from the kirk of the Marrow an unfaithful minister, and given some one worthier than I to report on the fitness of your son for the ministry. It was you, Gilbert Peden, who made this remit to me, knowing what you know. I shall accept the deposition which you threaten at your hands, but remember that co-ordinately the power of this assembly lies with me—you as moderator, having only a casting, not a deliberative vote; and know you, Gilbert Peden, minister and moderator, that I, Allan Welsh, will depose you also from the office of the ministry, and my deposition will stand as good as yours.’
‘The Lord preserve us! In five meenetes there'll be nae Marrow Kirk’ said John Bairdieson, and flung himself against the door; but the moderator had taken the precaution of locking it and placing the key on his desk.
The two ministers rose simultaneously. Gilbert Peden stood at the head and Allan Welsh at the foot of the little table. They were so near that they could have shaken hands across it. But they had other work to do.
‘Allan Welsh,’ said the moderator, stretching out his hand, ‘minister of the gospel in the parish of Dullarg to the faithful contending remnant, I call upon you to show cause why you should not be deposed for the sins of contumacy and contempt, for sins of person and life, confessed and communicate under your hand.’
‘Gilbert Peden,’ returned the minister of the Dullarg and clerk to the Marrow Synod, looking like a cock-boat athwart the hawse of a leviathan of the deep, ‘I call upon you to show cause why you should not be deposed for unfaithfulness in the discharge of your duty, in so far as you have concealed known sin, and by complicity and compliance have been sharer in the wrong.’
There was a moment's silence. Gilbert Peden knew well that what his opponent said was good Marrow doctrine, for Allan Welsh had confessed to him his willingness to accept deposition twenty years ago.
Then, as with one voice, the two men pronounced against each other the solemn sentence of deposition and deprivation:
‘In the name of God, and by virtue of the law of the Marrow Kirk, I solemnly depose you from the office of the ministry.’
John Bairdieson burst in the door, leaving the lock hanging awry with the despairing force of his charge.
‘Be merciful, oh, be merciful!’ he cried; ‘let not the Philistines rejoice, nor the daughter of the uncircumcised triumph. Let be! let be! Say that ye dinna mean it! Oh, say ye dinna mean it! Tak' it back—tak' it a' back!’
There was the silence of death between the two men, who stood lowering at each other.
John Bairdieson turned and ran down the stairs. He met Ralph and Professor Thriepneuk coming up.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.