Acknowledged as one of the most
controversial clergyman in the history of the Victorian Presbyterian Church,
Strong was born at Dailly, Ayrshire, Scotland on 26 September 1844 the son
of Rev. David Strong and Margaret née Roxburgh. While attending
University of Glasgow (Hon. LL.D., 1887) between 1859 and 1864 he
came under the influence of Edward Caird, professor of moral philosophy and
rejected the scholastic Calvinist teaching as the true and sufficient
expression of the evangelical faith, instead following a more liberal
theological view. Ordained in 1868, his success as a “pastor,
preacher, liberal theological teacher and social reformer” led to his
appointment as head of Scots Church, Collins Street (1875-83) in Melbourne.
Yet, “almost from the hour of his arrival”, controversy was never far away
and his essays, outspoken criticism of social evils and advocacy of
evangelical reform soon led to friction within the presbytery; Strong
offered his resignation in August 1881 but instead agreed to take leave and
he left to visit Scotland in 1882. But his absence did little to
resolve the theological divide and soon after his return he became embroiled
in fresh controversy over his failure to denounce
George Higinbotham’s (q.v.) lecture he chaired titled “The
Relation between Science and Religion” and was threatened with a libel
for heresy; in a tense and dramatic sequence of events he refused to attend
the General Assembly on 14 November 1883 arguing the action against him as
“unconstitutional and illegal” according to the laws of the Church and
defiantly set sail for Scotland the next day. In November 1884, Strong
returned to Melbourne and the following year founded the Australian Church -
a free religious fellowship - yet it was his controversial views that led to
its eventual demise in 1957. Among the many admirers of Strong were
Sir James Lorimer (St. Kilda Cemetery), Alfred Felton (St.
Kilda Cemetery) of “Felton, Grimwade & Co”, and Alfred Deakin (St.
Kilda Cemetery), thrice Prime Minister of Australia. Residing at 7
Barnalo Grove, Armadale he died while holidaying at Lorne on 12 February
(above) Rev. Charles
(La Trobe Picture Collection,
State Library of Victoria,
ADB Volume 6 1851-90 (R-Z).
The Age 14 February 1942.
The Herald 12 February 1942.
Macdonald, A., “One Hundred Years of
Presbyterianism in Victoria” (1937).
Hamilton, R., “Jubilee History of the
Presbyterian Church of Victoria” (1888).
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