WITH THE PASSING of the Presbyterian Record, one more branch no longer bums on the Presbyterian Church in Canadabush. It joins many others which have slowly, gradually, smouldered and died--once-strong congregations, missions, agencies, programs. Our motto is Nec Tamen Consumebatur--Not, However, Consumed--but at this rate of consumption, one wonders for how long.
It is an odd image, this burning bush. It originates, of course, with Moses and the revelation he received way back in Exodus 3: "And, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." As an emblem for the Presbyterian Church, the Scots trace it back to printer George Mossman, who included it in his title page of the Acts and Proceedings of 1691. It is possible that he got the idea from the French Huguenots, who adopted the image in 1583 as their official seal. And their source? John Calvin himself. Calvin, seeing in the miraculous bush a powerful symbol of the Church, says in his Commentary on Acts: "Neither is there any thing which keepeth it from being consumed to ashes, save this, because the Lord dwelleth in the midst thereof."
What matters here is that whether you trace the burning bush and accompanying motto back to George Mossman, the Huguenots, or Calvin, you are tracing back to an age when the church was not operating from a position of strength, but from a position of considerable uncertainty. Presbyterians in 1690 Scotland were experiencing division as the unhappy Covenanters, refusing to join the Church of Scotland, broke away. The 1583 Huguenots were embroiled in the French Wars of Religion, which saw incredible persecution and the death of millions. And Calvin, whose Commentary on Acts dates to 1552, was in the midst of the difficult "Crucible Years" in Geneva, where not only the future of the Reformed Church was in the balance, but Calvin himself had recently suffered the loss of his beloved wife, Idelette.