GEORGE MORLING, BELOVED PRINCIPAL
In 1921 Principal Alexander Gordon of New South Wales Baptist College resigned abruptly. Despite pleas, he would not retract his decision. That proved to be a tough year for Australian Baptists because several other leaders for personal reasons also resigned from the ministry or switched denominations. However the fires of adversity brought to the front an exceptional man for NSWBC.
When twenty-nine-year-old George Morling, one of the school’s associate teachers, was offered interim headship of the college, critics said he was too young. He accepted the position anyhow and immediately tackled enormous challenges. Finances were in trouble, staff was lacking, modernist interpretations of Scripture threatened to tear apart the Baptists, and his own education had holes in it.
But Morling was no stranger to adversity. In his childhood and youth he had suffered irrational fears and had stuttered uncontrollably. Determined to overcome these impediments so that he could preach, he had practiced speaking for hours in front of a mirror and cultivated God’s presence and promises. As a result he had become a successful pastor who saw many souls drawn into the kingdom during his first three pastoral assignments.
Taking the reins of the college in January 1922, he sought to calm the uncertainty created by Gordon’s departure. Before the semester’s classes began he promoted the school and raised funds. His strategy for dealing with modernism was to teach the Bible as truth but to instruct his students in the techniques of higher criticism so they might employ them to serve the truth. To overcome his own gaps in training, he studied at Sydney University (where he eventually was made honorary lecturer in Church History). To help students afford their courses, he and his wife boarded several of them with their own family. Certain that education by itself was insufficient, he insisted that the students cultivate rich spiritual lives.
Impressed by the way Morling tackled challenges, the Baptists made him permanent principal in 1923. Despite episodes of serious illness, he would hold the position until 1960, becoming known as “Our Beloved Principal.” During his tenure, the college graduated students of high caliber who advanced the Baptist cause in Australia. Many became educators in their own turn. Morling was in demand on church committees and as pulpit supply, and he served in leadership roles in the Baptist Union. He also wrote The Quest for Serenity, explaining the Christ-focused spiritual principles he had learned. In addition, he engaged in evangelical outreach and taught at deeper life conventions such as Keswick.
Early in 1974, fourteen years after he retired as Principal, Morling developed a blood clot in his left leg. The resulting thrombosis forced the leg’s amputation. At first he seemed on his way to recovery, but soon took a turn for the worse and declined rapidly. One of his last statements, referring to John 14:3 was, “Jesus himself will come and receive me.” George Morling died on this day 8 April 1974.
The College Council summed up its appreciation in these words, “With thanksgiving and praise this Council records the home going of Principal-Emeritus GH Morling in his 83rd year. For 40 years he moulded the traditions of the College. His Principalship was marked by high scholarship, careful biblical exegesis aglow with the evangelical emphasis, personal interest in all his students and his own deep experience of Christ.”
In Morling, scholarship and fervent faith had been united. He had written in 1928, “The maintenance of a fervent spiritual life in the College has not in any way meant the lowering of the intellectual standard.” According to biographer E. Ron Rogers, Morling feared “truth on ice” —a cold and formal orthodoxy. He wanted “truth on fire.”
Testimonials at Morling’s memorial service showed that even in his own day, he was recognized as one of the greatest Baptists in Australian history. In keeping with this assessment, eleven years after his death, NSW Baptist College was renamed Morling College in honor of his memory.