John Meiklejohn (1841 – 1915) moderator Presbyterian Church
In 1901 Rev John Meiklejohn as the newly installed Moderator for the Presbyterian Churches noted, ‘The forces that are arrayed against the Church are numerous and strong, and so it has always been. Mammonism, worldliness in its many forms, the lust of gold, the love of pleasure, that selfish devotion to the things that are seen and temporal’.
In his address to the General Assembly the newly installed Moderator for the Presbyterian Churches, the Right Reverend John Meiklejohn, encouraged the ‘fathers and brethren’ to recognise the implications of the union that they had just confirmed. Their motivation for going through the difficult and protracted process of uniting Presbyterians in Australia in one church had been a desire to enter more effectively into mission in the surrounding society. The Moderator spoke of the challenges facing the church in the new century.
The forces that are arrayed against the Church are numerous and strong, and so it has always been. Mammonism, worldliness in its many forms, the lust of gold, the love of pleasure, that selfish devotion to the things that are seen and temporal, and which blinds the vision to the reality, and the beauty and abiding worth of the things that are unseen and eternal, are perennial sources of evil, and have always been at work as hindrances to the Church’s growth… It is because of the evil that is in the world that [Christ] came, that He might by the power of His love overcome it, and lead those who are held captive by it [out of] captivity. And the mission of Christ is the end and aim of the Church.
He described particular challenges at the turn of the twentieth century – and you could be forgiven for thinking they have a familiar ring to them at the turn of the twenty-first century. These included ‘a diminishing feeling of attachment to the Church and interest in its ordinances…, an increasing laxity in the sacred observances of the Lord’s Day, and a growing shamelessness on the part of evil-doers in doing shameful deeds’. Mr Meiklejohn pointed also to the intellectual scepticism which so marked the age, especially modern scepticism about Christian doctrine on the part of Christian ministers. That kind of teaching, he said, ‘is depressing the heart and weakening faith, and chilling the zeal of many in the Church, and keeping outside of it not a few honest and earnest men and women who are in sympathy with the Church’s aims.’ It was not that the growth of scientific insight that characterised the time was to be feared or criticised. In fact the Moderator expressed the view that the best secular learning was consistent with Christian truth in the way that it sought to address the deepest human needs – something which suggested to him that ‘there is at least some ground for cherishing hope with regard to the Church’s mission.’ However, he said,
No greater harm could befall the Commonwealth than that the Churches of the Commonwealth should lose faith in their mission or in that message of Grace and Salvation through the faithful propagation of which their mission is fulfilled.
If the new Commonwealth of Australia was to be healthy it needed a healthy church within it, he argued. And the church, which he called ‘the conscience of the body corporate’, would be better equipped to serve the Commonwealth by being united nationally itself. That’s what the Presbyterian Church had been intending by its union. And, Mr Meiklejohn said, ‘the success of the one might give us some confidence in the success of the other.’
But the Moderator saw something going on for the church that went beyond sharing in the federalist mood of that generation of Australians.
Union is not only in the air, and in public prints, and in Church Assemblies: it is in the heart of every Church that has any claim to be a Church of Christ; for in so far as that claim is well-founded, His spirit dwells in the Church, and His spirit is a spirit of Union, for it is the spirit of Love.
So even now that the Presbyterian Church had finally achieved a state of union in Australia, the Moderator told its first Assembly,
. . we have put ourselves in a position in which we can face the question of union with other Churches… [Far] from seeking by union to raise a barrier between ourselves and others, we have rather been preparing the way for the removal of those that exist.
Principal John Meiklejohn was Emmanuel College’s Foundation Principal – from 1911 – 1914. A retired Professor of Theology from Melbourne and first Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia he served, at his own insistence, without remuneration for the College’s first three years.
Further information on Rev John Meiklejohn and the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in Australia.
Associates of the Rev John Flynn. https://atributetoaustralianchristians.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/associates-of-the-rev-john-flynn
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