MORLING, GEORGE HENRY (b. Sydney NSW, 21 Nov 1891; d. Sydney, NSW, 8 April 1974). Principal, NSW Baptist College.
Refused entrance to C H Spurgeon's Pastors' College because diagnosed 'consumptive' Charles A Morling came to Australia in hope of recovering his health. He later married his English fiancée, Annie Hillman, and George was their third child. At seventeen, under the ministry of Rev W M Cartwright at the Ashfield Baptist Church, George Morling professed faith in Christ, was baptised and joined the church. While working as a tutor and junior teacher he undertook evening studies at Sydney University (BA 1913, MA 1925) and at once successfully applied to be trained for the Baptist ministry. After the required practical experience he was sent in 1915 to the Victorian Baptist College. When such a college began in Sydney in 1916 he was in the first batch of students under Principal Alexander Gordon.
After a brief country ministry he returned to a city pastorate in 1919, having in the meantime married Gladys Rees on 28 April 1917. At once he was associated with the fledgling college as a visiting lecturer. When Principal Gordon resigned, he was appointed acting principal for 1922 and confirmed as principal in 1923: a term that lasted to 1960. He endured chronic ill health and heavy responsibilities as principal but continued academic study in history. In 1929/30 he served as president of the Baptist Union of NSW. In 1938 the Board of Divinity Studies of Sydney University appointed him an honorary lecturer in Church History. His interest in university students led to his appointment in March 1947, as chairman of IVF (Australia). When the British Empire Baptist Congress was held in London in 1951 he gave a major address as the representative of Australian Baptists. By the time he retired as principal hundreds of men had been trained under him for the ministry. To honour him the G H Morling Chapel was erected on the College campus and subsequently the College itself was renamed Morling College.
J D Bollen (Australian Baptists-A Religious Minority: 57) noted that his 'peaceful forty-year term' neither challenged nor changed the theological direction of NSW Baptists. However, by his balanced, non-controversial approach he was largely responsible for overcoming tensions in the Baptist Union of NSW and steering it into calmer waters following the unhappy resignation of his predecessor. Moreover, during his term of office the Union experienced its most cohesive period and its greatest numerical growth.
From 1960-62 he served as ministerial Vice-President of the Baptist Union of NSW, and from 1962-64 as president-general of the Baptist Union of Australia. To mark his contribution to the denomination Australia-wide a retirement complex in Canberra was named Morling Lodge. He served on numerous committees and organisations, denominational and interdenominational, and in the New Year Honours of 1963 was appointed an OBE for services to religion.
George Morling had a disturbed childhood plagued by irrational fears and a severe speech impediment. It was this 'legacy of nervous weakness' that subsequently prompted his largely successful 'quest for serenity'. Prompted by his own need and influenced by such men as Hudson Taylor and Bp H C G Moule he was possessed by a continuing aspiration for immediacy in his experience of God. He thirsted for holiness of life, made available by the work of Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit. It was this that drove him to a study of mystical theology and caused him sometimes to be styled a mystic. In an unpublished manuscript by David Nicholas, 'Because of Morling' there is a chapter 'Morling the Mystic'. He shared much of his spiritual pilgrimage in a little book, The Quest for Serenity. Many were attracted to him because they sensed spiritual reality in him and desired to share his secret.
He was an excellent teacher because he was able to communicate the excitement he felt for what he was teaching. He informed, but more than that, he inspired. He was convinced that theology had to be lived, not merely thought, that doctrine meant little unless it was experienced. For this reason he warmly welcomed the series of volumes published early in his principalship as The Library of Constructive Theology for they presented the experiential aspect of theological themes. He wrote in a diary: 'there must be a very strong stand taken for doctrinal-experimental truth. I believe that God is calling me to this distinctive work both in College and church'. His particular theological emphases were the Holy Spirit and the soul's union with Christ. These were the staple of his wider public ministry. His ability as an inspirational Bible teacher was widely recognised. On numerous occasions he was a featured speaker at Keswick-type conventions including Upwey/Belgrave Heights, Katoomba, Auckland and many other centres, particularly in India. It was mainly in this capacity that he became known to the wider evangelical community. Though he stressed God's transcendence he set over against it his conviction that God is to be seen as immanent not only in Christ and in creation but also in the church and the Christian. He was concerned that believers should know God in Christ indwelling them by his Spirit.
In a history of New South Wales Baptists it has been claimed that 'conservative theology, evangelical conviction and expository preaching' found 'personification and advocacy' in G H Morling (Prior, 1966: 136).
J D Bollen, Australian Baptists-A Religious Minority (London, 1975); G H Morling, The Quest for Serenity (Dallas, 1989); A C Prior, Some Fell on Good Ground (Sydney, 1966.)
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Electronic Version © Southern Cross College, 2004
Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004