Friday, June 30, 2006

James Denney Biography: Review

James M. GordonJames Denney (1856-1917): An Intellectual and Contextual Biography. (Bletchley, Paternoster, 2006) 286 pages, Paperback.

James Gordon’s biography of James Denney plugs a gap that has frustrated serious students of Scottish Evangelicalism. While the laudatory biography of 1918 may have satisfied men in its time, it was no more a portait of the real man than the Wedgewood Moody and Sankey on the windowsill of the Kensit Library in LTS are of them. Gordon has used both Denney’s published works and his unpublished manuscripts (manuscripts never used before) to produce a rounded portrait of a scholar and theologian who was a real human being, not a plaster saint. In the first two chapters we are introduced to the influences that moulded Denney’s thought, the ultra-conservatism of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of his childhood and the radicalism that he encountered at university in Glasgow. Then we are treated to a thoroughgoing examination of Denney’s time as a student in the Free Church College, Glasgow, including his publication of a pamphlet against one of his lecturers! It is a brave man who does that! For the first time Gordon has given those of us who do not have access to this rare work a sight of what the young James Denney thought of Henry Drummond’s views. We were heartened to see that he agrees with what we have said about them!

But Gordon does not hide Denney’s views about Scripture. In the appendix we have what Gordon believes to be the original of Denney’s Chicago lecture on Scripture, which caused an outcry when first delivered, and which, when the Chicago lectures were published as ‘Studies in Theology’ (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1894), was entirely re-written. Denney actually denounces inerrancy in this lecture; “This Protestant doctrine of inspiration is literally the most stupendous example on record of lying for God; of deliberately shutting the eyes to the most palpable and obtrusive facts” (P. 242).

Gordon is careful throughout his book to let Denney speak for himself and not put words into his mouth. So we have a warts-and-all portrait here, a picture of a man who was fallible, sometimes unorthodox, but intensely interesting - far more so than suggested by Walker’s biography. Gordon shows us the Denney who wrote the letters that fill two bulky volumes. He also shows Denney the preacher, the man whose expositions of 2 Corinthians and Thessalonians have an honoured place in the Free St. George’s Library. Congratulations, Dr. Gordon, on a job well done; your book has already joined Denney’s on our shelves! Our only complaint is that which we feel again and again, Why, oh why, must important books like this be issued only in paperback? This is the sort of volume for which a good cloth binding was intended!

G. N. CharmleyEditor.

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Tom Nefyn Williams: A Warning from History 4: Broken Cisterns

As we have seen, despite his time at Porth Bible School, Tom Nefyn was required to pass through the denominational colleges of the Presbyterian Church of Wales before he could be considered for a pastorate. By the time of his arrival in the early 1920s, the two colleges he attended, Aberystwyth Theological College (not to be confused with University College, my alma mater), and Bala, the senior college, were both hotbeds of Modernism. There, he would have imbibed the latest Higher Critical theories about the Bible, new psychological theories, and the Social Gospel.

In many ways, this should not have been surprising. By the 1890s, there was no place for truth in the theological colleges. Thomas Charles Edwards, son of the first Principal of Bala, first Principal of the University College at Aberystwyth, had in 1888 lamented the decline of theological knowledge among the laymen and the theologians of the Calvinistic Methodists. The Calvinism of John Jenkins, Hengoed, Charles Hodge and Shedd had been jettisoned in favour of a weak Arminianism mixed with the evolutionary theology of Henry Drummond. The key figure had been Andrew Martin Fairbain, Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, the author of the theological curriculum of the University of Wales.

Fairbain's key text was The Place of Christ in Modern Theology (1893), which portrayed Christ as the pinnacle of Human evolution, the inspiration of the cry, 'back to Christ!' Even Thomas Charles Edwards was affected, his 1895 lecture, The God-Man (1895, English and Welsh) endorsing this view, and declaring that the incarnation would have been necessary, even without the Fall: "Exclude the Representative Man from nature," he stated, "the Son of God from creation, and the Universe has no ethical end and teleological purpose." [p.94] In addition, he had advocated a radical kenoticism in regard to the incarnation [p.104]. By Tom Nefyn's time, the truth had declined further.

Listening to such radical modernism from men with high-sounding titles and many degrees and publications, the young fundamentalist found that Porth had not equipped him to cope. Whatever resistance he may at first have manifested, Tom Nefyn drank deeply at the wells of modernism. By the time he was inducted to the ministerial Charge of Ebenezer, Tumble, in East Carmarthenshire, Tom Nefyn had become conformed to the modernist spirit of the age.

Part five will look at Tom Nefyn's ministry.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

James Gordon on James Denney - a review. I.

James M. Gordon
James Denney (1856-1917): An Intellectual and Contextual Biography. (Bletchley, Paternoster, 2006) 286 pages, Paperback.

James Denney has long been recognised as one of the most significant theologians of his period, this fact makes it all the more startling that the only biographical works available for Denney until now have both been frankly inadequate, though for different reasons.
The first of these works, T.H. Walker’s ‘Principal James Denney’ (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1918) suffers from all the problems that are to be expected with a biography written so soon after the death of the subject. It papers over certain aspects of Denney that are of great interest to the historian, and it is somewhat brief.
The second, John Randolph Taylor’s ‘God Loves Like That!’ (London, SCM, 1962) is not a biography at all, it is a survey of Denney’s theology drawn from his published works. Undeniably useful, it does not supply the need for a proper biography. This threw the student of Denney back on the two volumes of his letters, the one to W. Robertson Nicoll (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1920) and the other more generally to his family and friends, edited by James Moffatt (London, Hodder and Stoughton, no date). While it is profitable to read these volumes, and Denney’s published works, the need of a proper biography was still felt.
So it is somewhat fitting that this year, the 150th anniversary of the birth of James Denney, has finally seen the first decent biography of James Denney come forth from the presses. We were alerted to this by a flyer discovered on the side-table in the dining-room of the LTS. Immediately we dispatched an order, only to recieve a discouraging note intimating that the wait for our copy would be a great deal longer than we had anticipated. We decided to wait. A month or so later a parcel was posted through the letterbox of our rural retreat, proving to be the book in question!
A review was promised, and a review shall be given, God willing, next time.


Tom Nefyn Williams: A Warning from History 3. The School of the Prophets

Porth Bible School was the brain-child of R. B. Jones (pictured), a fundamentalist Baptist minister who had been awakened in the 1904-5 Welsh Revival. Like Tom Nefyn, R. B. Jones had a burden for the evangelisation of Wales. Because of the impact of the Higher Criticism in the colleges and denominational seminaries, and the older influence of Hegelianism, R. B. Jones had founded his Bible School in 1919, to train missionaries and evangelists without introducing the fatal leaven of modernism.

The school was fairly small, students paying £1.1s.0d. a term. The curriculum was a practical one, aimed at preparing workers for service outside of the ordained ministry. Particular emphasis was placed on preparing educators, in line with the mission ethos of the school.

R. B. Jones was heavily infuenced by American fundamentalism, inviting J. Gresham Machen to address his Church at Porth. A dispensationalist and premillenialist, Jones could almost have been transplanted from the United States. In his stand against error, whatever his theological distictives, Jones stands as one of the forerunners of the Evangelical Movement of Wales.

However, Tom Nefyn felt called to the Ministry of his own demonination, the Calvinistic Methodist Connexion, at this time becoming more usually known as the Presbyterian Church of Wales. The denominational leaders had left the Calvinism of their confession in the late nineteenth century to such an extent that, when questioned by Lord Hugh Cecil of the Disestablishment Commission, John Owen Thomas, one of these leaders, proved unable to name the five points of Calvinism, despite calling himself a Calvinist. When the points were explained by Cecil, Thomas had to admit he was not in agreement with a single one of them.

It was to the theological colleges of this denomination, first Aberystwyth, then the senior college of the Calvinistic Methodists at Bala, that the young fundamentalist evangelist now went.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Further explanation

As was noted yesterday, while the Highland Host is without computer access, responsibility for turning the light of Church History on the problems of the Modern Church has been handed to me, a research student living in Cardiff, Wales. Accordingly, this blog will be taking a holiday in Wales for a while. You may find a more personal tone in these entries, so please complain if you don't like it.

There'll also be more pictures, if that makes you feel better, as well as original material based on my own research.

And I hope you like it.

Tom Nefyn Williams: A Warning from History 2: 'Preach Him to All.'

This will not be a biography of Tom Nefyn, but a description of his role in Welsh theology. However, we shall begin with a brief introduction of the man. He was born in 1895 on the Lleyn peninsular (depicted) of Caernarfonshire, North Wales, the most Welsh part of the most Welsh county in Wales. The turning point of his life came about twenty years later, however.

Tom Nefyn, like many young men of his generation, would look back on the Great War of 1914-18. He served on the Western Front and the Dardanelles (Galipolli), and it was in this period that he professed evangelical conversion. The returning soldier decided to enrol for another tour of duty, this time as a soldier in the army of King Jesus. Tom Nefyn became filled with a burning desire to preach the Gospel. Soon, his voice, poetic and eloquent, could be heard preaching in the open air at country fairs.

Oh, what a delight it must have been in those early days, to 'Preach Him to all'! To be in the front line of the battle to revive the Church, badly hit by the Great War, which had not only emptied Sunday Schools, but split churches over the commitment (or otherwise) to the War effort. If Tom Nefyn was to move from an open-air ministry to pastoring a church, however, he would have to undergo theological training.

As a first step, Tom Nefyn enrolled at the Bible School, Porth, a small fundamentalist college in the Rhondda, the heart of the South Wales Coalfield.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tom Nefyn Williams: A Warning from History 1.

Last week, I was staying in Aberystwyth to do some research on the Tom Ellis and D.A. Thomas Papers. I stayed in a large building on the promenade, formerly the United Theological College of the Presbyterian Church of Wales. This Church, formerly the Calvinistic Methodist Church. It was the first time in all my visits to Aberystwyth that I had a view of the sea. As I sat in the little room, I felt an overwhelming feeling of 'hiraeth', of longing. So I walked in the hills and thought of the world within a world that is 'Aber'. And I began to think of those students who had sat in that room, prayed and read their Bibles, as I was doing. And the coldness which had closed this once-fine institution.

Not to mention one of the college's most infamous students. Tom "Nefyn" Williams. It is his case that I intend, God willing, to address. A sad case of what havoc a liberal theological college can wreak. The series starts tomorrow, and I ask every reader to pray for Wales as they read it.


Seeing as our brother is marooned in the wilds of darkest Norfolk in a decayed hamlet whose church fell down in 1489 control over this blog has been given to a Welsh historian in Cardiff, better known as the voice of Sir Richard Arcos. Accordingly, some posts applying lessons from Welsh Church history will be posted.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A word of Explication to our reader(s)

Free St. George's has been greatly assisted in the past by the broadband internet connection of the London Theological Seminary. As of today, however, we shall no longer have access to that (owing to graduation), and so things will be a great deal more difficult. It is hoped to continue this blog, God willing, albeit in a reduced form (posts a few times a week). If this proves impossible, Free St. George's gives its regards to all our readers, nd we thank them for putting up with us.

Mr. G. N. Charmley, B.Sc. (hons) Liverpool
Free St. George's.

Friday, June 09, 2006

"I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain" George Matheson, X.

Following a terrible crisis of faith shortly after his ordination, George Matheson's preaching changed radically. Instead of the old Calvinism of his forefathers, Matheson preached a 'gospel' modified by Germn philosophy. Instead of seeing the Old Testament Judaism as a unique revelation of God, he came to regard all religions as preparing for the Gospel. This was quite common in the wake of Darwinian teaching on evolution.

Matheson encouraged others to study German theology, publishing a book in 1874 called Aids to the Study of German Theology. He presented the German theology as a good thing, and he found many sympathetic readers not only in the Church of scotland but in the Free and United Presbyterian churches. Matheson's next important book was his The Growth of the Spirit of Christianity, which presented a liberal idea of a developing religion that had only recently become 'adult'. Matheson certainly presented his opinions, but critics noted that there was really very little connection between the facts of history and Matheson's interpretation of them at times.

Yet it seems George Matheson, in the deep study of erman philosophy, did not completely abandon believing. He remained convinced of immortality, of the resurrection, and of the deity of Christ in the strict sense. Some of his poetry is simply sublime; some I cannot read because it is so awful in what it presents.

Will there be a next time? God willing, there shall be, but this brief series on George Matheson is cut off in its prime, maybe never to be finished.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

"I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain" George Matheson, IX.

It would be a good thing if this could be as arcadian a post as the last few, but it will not be. Even in such an idyllic place as Innellan the 19th Century caught up with George Matheson. This was the period of the Victorian Crisis of faith, and while men like Charles Haddon Spurgeon and J.K. Popham might be immune Matheson, trained in a theological institution where the latest philosophic speculation, direct from Germany, were taught, was not. Let Matheson tell the story:

"At one time, with a great thrill of horror, I found myself an absolute atheist. After being ordained at Innellan, I believed nothing; neither God nor immortality. I tendered my resignation to the Presbytery, but to their honour they would not accept it, even though a Highland Presbytery. They said I was a young man, and would change. I have changed. Without hypocrisy I preach all the old doctrines and use all the old forms, but with deeper meaning. My theological sympathies are in favour of breadth, but not negation. It is a great mistake to suppose that there is any advantage, or disadvantage, in being broad or narrow, long or short, high or low. The question is, what is it that is broad? Is it broadcloth or broad shoulders? Therefore I do not value an opinion simply because it is a negative opinion, and different from use or wont. I am as broad as can be, but it is a broad positive."

What is 'a broad positive?' we may well ask. The answer is that it means George Matheson did not discard the theology of his forefathers, at least, he did not deny that it was true. However, he interpreted it through a framework of German philosophy. He loved to listen to men like Pfleiderer and Lichtenburg being read. In short, Matheson's 'broad positive' meant abandoning the old Calvinism of Presbyterian Scotland in favour of the rationalising philosophy of liberal Lutheranism.

Next time, God willing, we shall see what the effect of this theological change in Matheson was.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain" George Matheson, VIII.

The people of Innellan came to love their blind pastor George Matheson, so much so, in fact, that when he was unwell and other men preached in his place, very few of the villagers would go along to hear the substitute! (the present author would condemn such a practice. We come to worship the Lord, not to listen to one servant or other).
The fact that Matheson was ministering in a village where the main industry was hospitality ensured that his name spread far and wide. People started to invite him to take special services in their various churches, hoping that the collection would be larger after a sermon by the pastor of Innellan.
But Matheson was not merely a preacher. He was a pastor, and he did his very best to be one. He visited the villagers, and he took particular care to visit those in sickness and in distress. During the winter months, when Innellan was rather a dull place, Matheson joined in with the various schemes of the populace to liven up the place, taking part in social events, giving lectures, and trying to raise the intellectual tone of the village.
George Matheson was only at Innellan for a few years before moves were taken to build a manse for him and to erect the charge into a full parish. This required some three thousand pounds to be collected - it was done by the end of 1873. A few years later the church had a spire added.
Matheson also had to lead a kirk-session, and that he led with great tact and diplomacy. He seemed to be a model reformed pastor. But changes were afoot in Innellan, and what those changes were we shall, God willing, see next time.


Monday, June 05, 2006

"I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain" George Matheson, VII.

George Matheson's biographer gives a description of a summer morning service at Innellan during Matheson's ministry. We are to imagine a great crowd converging on the little kirk that stood on the crown of the hill. Once the congregation were seated George Matheson, arrayed in preaching gown and bands, emerged from the vestry door, which was located immediately behind the pulpit. There would already be an open Bible in the pulpit in front of the minister, something that was for the benefit of the congregation rather than the preacher.
He would open the service by giving out the first Psalm. After the Psalm was sung, he would pray. The prayer was a mix of liturgical fragments selected from prayer-books and extempore expressions.
When he gave out Bible passages, Matheson looked down at the open Bible on his book-board. Not that he could see it, of course, but it meant that his listeners were not distracted by reflecting on the preacher's blindness. Like many blind people, Matheson had a fantastic memory - he memorised practically the whole service.
The sermon was, as was normal in Scottish Presbyterianism, was the crowning glory of the service. Seldon much longer than twenty minutes, it was beautifully constructed, and usually held the congregation from beginning to end. Unsually it was a three-point sermon, followed by a brief application of the exsposition of the text.

George Matheson rapidly became known as 'Matheson of Innellan', and his popularity further increased the holiday resort's income! Not only that, the local people valued his preaching and his pastoral care for them. God willing, next time we shall look at some more aspects of Matheson's Innellan ministry.


Saturday, June 03, 2006

"I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain" George Matheson, VI.

George Matheson's first pastoral charge was the small village of Innellan on the Clyde coast. Innellan was an unusual village in some ways; as a holiday resort its population was vastly swelled in the summer months. That meant that the profile of Matheson's congregation for eight months of the year was radically different from what it was for the other four months. For eight months there was only one service on the Lord's Day, and a relatively sparse congregation; for the other four the church was packed, and there were two Lord's Day services. For four months he had a large number of wealthy, educated members of the urban elite in his congregation, for the rest of the time the congregation were mostly simple rural folk.
The fact that life in Innellan was so settled in its rhyths meant that it was quite simple for Geirge Matheson to develop a routine in sermon preparation during those eight months of comparative quiet. On Lord's Day afternoons, after the service was over, he would select the text of his next sermon. During the week the blind minister would ponder over it. Towards the beginning of the week he would start to dictate the sermon to his secretary, and he was finished by Saturday morning. In the four summer months the evening sermon would be a repeat of one of the sermons preached during the winter - since virtually all of the summer evening congregation were visitors, they would not have heard the sermon the first time. At that time Matheson actually memorised the whole of the sermon, which would be read aloud to him so that he could memorise it.
At first Matheson had a couple of Scripture readings in his services, but he substituted a brief exposition of a part of Scripture for one of them. They were interesting services and, God willing, our next post will be a description of one of these services at Innellan.


Friday, June 02, 2006

"I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain" George Matheson, V.

George Matheson, the blind Scottish poet, had been called as assistant to the pastor under whose ministry he had been brought up. His preaching was not scintillating, but it was competent and interesting. During this time he was growing and developing in his experience. A congregation of a thousand certainly stretched the young probationer, both as a preacher and, more particularly, as a pastor.

George Matheson's time as an assistant pastor was short, and he was soon elected pastor of a parish of his own, the parish of Innellan, at that time a Chapel of Ease of Dunoon parish. Innellan is a beautiful seaside village in West Scotland, about two miles from Dunoon village. The church there had only been built some fifteen years before Matheson's call, but the village had been developed as a holiday resort, and so it was a very wealthy and comfortable village. Today the seafront at Innellan is still lined with solid Victorian villas, testimony to its Victorian prosperity. George Matheson lived in the midst of the most beautiful scenery, but of course he could not see it.
The Rev. George Matheson was ordained the fifth minister of the Chapel of Ease, Innellan on 8th April 1868 by the Dunoon Presbytery. The following Lord's Day he was formally introduced to the congregation. The man who performed this duty was Rev. Dr. Macduff, whose assistant Matheson had been. The church was crowded with the rich and the poor. George Matheson thus entered upon his first pastorate, an event that would be a serious challenge to him, as it is to every young minister.

Next time, God willing, we shall take a look at Matheson's Innellan ministry.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

"I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain" George Matheson, IV.

George Matheson was licenced to preach by the Presbytery of Glasgow on 13th June 1866. He signed the register himself, but another had to place the point of the pen for him to begin writing.
He did not actual begin to preach until the following year, spending the remainder of 1866 writing sermons and otherwise preparing for the work of the ministry. Although he found travel difficult, Matheson managed to travel to Paris and London in this period, both of course by railway.
George Matheson was determined to be a great preacher. This was, after all, the age of the great preacher, with Spurgeon and Parker in London, AlexanderMaclaren in Manchester, R.W. Dale in Birmingham, and a host of men in Scotland. Matheson studied particularly the men who were the 'greats' of the Church of Scotland in that period, Caird, Norman Macleod, Charteris, Pulsford and Macduff, all of whom have vanished into the oblivion of history.
It was Dr. Macduff of Sandyford Church, Glasgow, who was to have the greatest influence on Matheson, for the simple reason that he was the pastor of the church where Matheson's parents were members, and where young Matheson had gone from early boyhood. It was Dr. Macduff who called the young man to be his assistant pastor six months after Matheson had been licenced. Matheson asked to be excused on the ground that he had so few sermons prepared, but when it was discovered that he had thirteen, Macduff declared that this was quite enough, and so George Matheson was officially appointed Dr. Macduff's assistant on 8th January 1867. Once again it will be seen how God provided a relatively easy route for the blind preacher.

Next time, God willing, we shall consider Matheson's time at Sandyford Church.