Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: VI.

Since John Alexander was an unmarried man, the provision of a chapel was the first priority for the seceders from the Tabernacle. Regrettably the only pictures we have of the Tabernacle come from the end of its life, when it was badly maintained, and soon to be pulled down. They give no impression of its solid beauty. Designed by one of the greatest architects ever to work in Norwich in the 18th century, it was the sort of chapel no congregation would want to leave. But leave they had to.
The chapel in Princes Street (pictured) was nothing out of the ordinary. Some of the rooms behind the building, used as vestries and school rooms, were retained from the buildings that had previously occupied the site.
The chapel was described by a local paper as "a plain, heavy-looking structure, destitute of architectural pretensions." The 'gothick' glazing in the windows seem to give the lie to that. Pretensions there were, just modest ones.
Capacity was one of the first concerns. The building seated 1'000, with galleries around three sides. It cost £4,838 8/8, including the site and the cost of demolition. That did not of course include John Alexander's salary. The congregation, although large, was not wealthy, and at the time all of them would have to have paid a tax to support the Church of England as well as supporting their own church (the Church Rate was abolished in 1868).
Buildingproceededd quickly, and by the end of November the new chapel in Princes Street was ready (it was later discovered that one of the reasons for this swift construction was that corners had been cut, and less than ten years later the chapel needed repairs. In 1868 the building was completely reconstructed).
The last service in the Lancastrian School was held on November 28th, 1819, and on December 1st, the following Wednesday, the chapel was officially opened by Rev. Dr. Raffles from Liverpool (no relation to the amateur cracksman). Thus 'PrincesStreett' became synonymous with the chapel and its people.
A church was formally constituted soon afterwards, and the first meeting of that congregational church was held on March 18th 1820, chaired by the Rev. W. Hull, pastor of the Old Meeting House Congregational Church, the oldest dissenting church in Norwich and the Rev. Alexander Creak of Great Yarmouth. Mr. Alexander wasreceivedd into membership from Bethesda Congregational Church, Liverpool, then the new church partook of the Lord's Supper for the first time. At the next meeting the newly formed church called Mr Alexander as minister, and he was ordained on May31st 1820.
All was not perfect, of course. For one thing the church had been forced to borrow money to build their chapel, and now the debt on it was a major source of worry. Indeed, the situation became so bad that in February 1825 Alexander wrote a letter of resignation and sent it to the church. It was never opened. The deacons, working tirelessly, managed to come to an agreement with the creditors to liquidate the debt of about £900 within five years. The cloud was lifted.

But all was not well. Another trial was about to strike. What it was we shall see, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: V.

Following the court case that decided the trustees of the Norwich Tabernacle had the sole right to appoint a pastor to the church meeting there, John Alexander had returned to London. However he was soon back in Norwich. A large number of members seceded from the Tabernacle Church, and they wanted to call Alexander as their pastor.
At first he refused. He was a young man, not yet twenty-five, and the idea of his first pastorate being in a new church where he would have to organise the Church on congregational lines and build a chapel was hardly inviting. He had been asked to preach at Kidderminster, and he felt that the church there would be more settled.
God and the people who had seceded from the Tabernacle had other ideas. Many of the seceders were descended from Dutch and Huguenot families who had fled to Norwich to escape persecution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They had inherited their forefathers' determination, and they were determined to have John Alexander as pastor. Finally, feeling that this insistence from godly men and women was a divine call, he accepted, on two conditions. Firstly, the new chapel must be built away from existing dissenting chapels, since he had no interest in sheep-stealing, and secondly that the new church must be organised on strictly congregational lines. Not even the possibility of the congregation being overruled in their choice of a pastor must exist.
The people agreed, and in January 1818 John Alexander returned to the city where he would spend the rest of his ministry, and where at length he would lay down both his labours and his life.
The meetings of the new church (not as yet formally constituted) began on 25th January at the Lancastrian School, Quayside (pictured). Week-night services were held in the French Church (also pictured. You can tell which is which).
The young Mr. Alexander thus began his ministry with neither chapel nor manse, but with a devoted, enthusiastic people. Crowds thronged the school, listening to a young man with jet-black hair preaching from an improvised pulpit. The uncertainty that had at first led him to decline the call was gone. This was the will of God, he was where he was meant to be, and that gave him boldness to preach the gospel. How the old 'Lancashire Apostle' must have thanked God for a son who was being used to bring so many to the Lord.
One of those men was John Stoughton, later a noted minister and historian of dissent. "How the people used to crowd and hear him," Stoughton would say years later, thinking of those days in the Lancastrian School and the French Church.
Of course the church began at once to look for a site further away from both the Tabernacle and the Old Meeting in nearby Colegate. There were many difficulties, but one was found in Princes Street (also known as Hungate Street), behind the church of St. Michael-at-Plea and facing the Church of St. Peter, Hungate. On March 16th 1819 John Alexander laid the foundation stone of the new chapel. He preached and the people sang the 117th Psalm.
The congregation was here to stay, and Princes Street was to become a name linked to that of John Alexander.

Next time, God willing, we shall look at the early years of the church at Princes Street.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: IV.

Being a theological student is and has always been, a serious and often daunting business. Traveling to engagements often uncomfortable, even in our days of heated railway trains and cars. In early 1817 it was wretched. A cold, comfortless journey in the Day Coach was made worse for John Alexander when he spoke to a fellow-passenger and said he was going to preach at the Tabernacle with a view to becoming their pastor. At once he was regaled with the well-known stories of the problems at that church (an experience by no means uncommon today, but now the student must wait until after the service). Alexander was horrified. What sort of a place was he going to preach?
A few miles out of Norwich they were informed that the Mail Packet, the other route from London to Norwich (a fast steamer running between London and Great Yarmouth) had suffered a terrible disaster, the boiler having burst just as it was starting, killing eleven passengers.
Arriving in Norwich late in the day, John Alexander went straight to the house of the minister, who was an old man and close to retirement, only to find that the minister and all his household had already gone to bed! What was worse, the old man refused to let him in! Alexander not unnaturally considered taking the next coach back to London. If this was the sort of hospitality students got from the Tabernacle's pastor, what would the people be like?
But he stayed. On Lord's Day morning he mounted the high pulpit (pictured) of the Tabernacle and gave out his text.
"But we see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour." It is hard not to think that he heard his father's advice echoing in his ears, "Put Christ up!"
The response was favourable. That evening he preached on the text, "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh." He had remembered the steam-packet disaster, and now he used it to press home on men a right response - to repent and believe the Gospel.
The great Tabernacle was crowded, many having been made to think of eternal things by the news of the disaster. Can we say that we turn these things to the good of the Gospel?
John Alexander left Norwich having promised to return to preach there during the midsummer vacation. That he did, and he was asked to stay longer.
A majority of the membership wanted to call John Alexander to be the next pastor of the Tabernacle, but unfortunately the church had one of the most unbiblical systems of government known to man. While Biblical arguments have been raised about whether the 'Session' (elders and deacons) or the congregation as a whole has the right to call a pastor, not one scrap of Biblical evidence suggests that the responsibility should lie with trustees. Yet the trustees of the Norwich Tabernacle insisted that they had the sole right to appoint a minister, and were willing to go to court over it.
Quite apart from the unseemliness of such an action, it had a disastrous effect of the church. When the court found in favour of the trustees it split the church.
Alexander had no intention of splitting the church himself. He heard the news of the result of the action on a Lord's Day morning, in time for him to announce that the evening sermon would be his last in the Tabernacle. Alexander was a staunch Congregationalist, and he would not for a moment consider pastoring a church where the wishes of the membership could be ignored by a few unelected trustees. His text that evening was, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

The night of weeping and the morn of joy shall, God willing, be our subject next time.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

D. R. Davies VII: The Way of The Prodigal

D. R. Davies returned from Manchester with an acute sense of failure. He had come to regard himself as brilliant and sensitive, a young man of culture, better than his fellows. To be once more working underground, therefore, was a mortifying shame. Later, Davies was to use this to make a point about the ability of education to improve a man's morals:

"It is important to note that education had made no fundamental difference to me, except to intensify my egotism and inflate my pride. Its net effect was to isolate me from my fellows. My increased knowledge, wider interests, deeper culture resulted in my becoming a greater, more miserable sinner."

Davies came to see in his failure, not the foolishness of his embarking on a course of action he was not able to follow through, but the oppression of the capitalist system. In other words, his socialism had become a way of avoiding responsibility for his actions.

From 1907 to 1912, Davies worked as a miner. He became active in Trade Union politics, as well as the Independent Labour Party. By 1909, he had become a member of his local Trade Union executive, and was soon speaking from ILP platforms. At first, he avoided church, still guilty about his lapse into Unitarianism. However, in time he returned to the church, and began preaching again. A member of the library Committee of the Miners' Institutes at Maesteg, he was able to continue his reading.

Eye-trouble caused by coal-dust forced Davies to take a job on the surface, a loss of status. He was on a gang loading timber for pit-props, under the direction of a tyrannical foreman. Singled out for his education and socialism, Davies came to hate him. After an incident at the pit-head, he nursed a grudge against the foreman, swearing that he would 'do' him.

And, when his father recovered enough to start working again, that is exactly what Davies did. He quit work, and, that very day, ambushed the foreman and gave him such a beating that it was a long time before he could return to his duties. And Davies left home.

He became a stoker on a steamer for New York, but this was more than he could bear. He returned to Liverpool, louse-ridden and feeling thoroughly sorry for himself. At a Church Army Home in Birkenhead, he was cleaned up, and after this he became a tramp, walking through the English countryside, doing odd jobs and sleeping in the 'casual wards' of workhouses.

After some time he 'came to himself.' He realised just how bad the lifestyle of the tramp was for him, and wrote to his mother asking her to send five shillings to the Post Office, Cardiff. When he arrived, it was there. Davies spent most of the money, and had to walk to Bridgend, arriving just in time for the last train to Maesteg. There, he found his father asleep, but his mother was still awake, waiting for him:

"She had a hot bath ready, and a supper of my favourite dish, tea, bread and butter and kidney beans. Then she talked to me. That was typical: she saw to my physical needs first, then addressed herself to my soul. I shall never forget her words: "don't you see, my boy, that the way of the sinner is hard?" So gentle, so cncomplaining, so full of mercy and compassion."

Davies returned to the mine, despite his attack on the foreman (who may well have decided that he'd deserved it), and returned to the chapel. Soon, he was once more feeling drawn to the ministry. In time, he was accepted as a candidate for the Congregation ministry by Bradford United College. Given a job as night-watchman, Davies was able to study for the entrance examination. In 1912, he began to train for the Congregationalist Ministry.


Friday, November 24, 2006

D. R. Davies VI: Drop-Out

The Unitarian College at Manchester, then housed in Summerville College, Manchester (current building depicted) at which D. R. Davies arrived was affilliated to the University of Manchester, and it was the University matriculation that he was to take. This was a bad thing, for it led to Davies becoming isolated from his fellow students. According to his later account of his studies, only his room-mate, Douglas Hoole, showed any interest in him:

"After the excitement of the first few weeks, I began to feel a stranger in the place: I simply slept and boarded there. I attended all my lectures at the University. Once a week I had to attend a sermon-class, when each student in turn had to preach a sermon for criticism. That was the only educational contact I had with the college itself. There was a very marked and definite prejudice against Welshmen [and Davies, remember, had Welsh as a first language], which I felt keenly; it conspired to make me feel an alien, and drove me to find my interests outside. That would have happened anyhow, but the environment certainly encouraged that."

The only University classes were less than gripping for the young would-be minister. Only Greek, taught by Professor Burroughs, interested Davies. Apart form that, he found the course deadly dull, even British history, which was taught by one Hilda Oakeley. Davies began to skip classes, and soon barely attended at all.

After a chance encounter with British statesman John Morley, Davies devoured the man's works, starting with his On Compromise. A pupil of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, 'like his master [...] he loved humanity in the abstract, but had little eye for the concrete specimen." In spite of this, the meeting with the man sparked off what was to be life-long interst in politics and political philosophy, as well as a belief in individual freedom. He became a radical in his politics.

He also discovered the theatre. In time, Davies became intesely interested in plays with a social message, such as the works of Galsworthy and George Bernard Shaw. This served as a gateway to the discovery of other contemporary authors, most notably H. G. Wells, through whose influence, Davies became a socialist:

"I lost both head and heart to Wells. I not only read, I also bought each new book by him, which kept me busy and short of money. He was my guide and philosopher. I raved about him. Yet of all my early gods, he is the one of whom time and experience have made the greatest scarecrow. Today I think Wells merely tawdry, shallow and shabby, with his quack nostrums of World Brain, New declaration of Human Rights, and so on. But in those Manchester days, my youthful,eager mind clothed him in royal purple."

Sunday evenings became a time for politics, worshipping at the altar of socialism, through such high priests as Keir Hardie, Phillip Snowden and J. Ramsay Macdonald. This came to be his religion, Socialism meaning far more to Davies than Unitarianism, although he was a student for the Unitarian ministry. Indeed, by June of 1907, Davies had become deeply hostile to religion in all its forms. He was also under-performing in his studies, due to the fact that he despised them as well. Indeed, only his fear of returning to Maesteg kept him from resigning from the college. Like many before and since, he liked being a student, although he hated the work.

At the start of the summer term, however, Davies found himsel in the Principal's office, being asked to explain his appalling results. After he made a clean breast of his rejection of religion, the Principal gave him a term in which to make up his mind, and, if he felt no different, Davies was to resign.

In the end, God took a hand. Davies' father was taken seriously ill, and D. R. found himself forced to return to coal-mining in Maesteg. He had come to hate coal-mining, for the only practical effect of his time at college had been that D. R. Davies had come to consider himself a cut above his fellows. His next field of labour would be politics, not religion.


John Piper on Alexander Cruden

One of the best books I have read for a while is Julia Keay's 'Alexander the Corrector', a biography of Alexander Cruden. We all know the name, but few of us know much about the man who compiled our concordances. I was going to write on the subject, but John Piper has said what ought to be said about it better than I can.

Cruden had intended to become a minister of the Church of Scotland, but while in university he was incarcerated for insanity. Yet Cruden the minister would never have made the same impact on the Christian world as Cruden the failed 'madman' had been.
Keay's book is pure gold. Every Christian ought to read it.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

D.R Davies V: Unitarianism

Old College School, Carmarthen, was devoted to training young men for the ministry. Students had to study the classics, maths, English, history, and chemistry. The master was the Rev. Joseph Parry, and the assistant Rev. J. B. Thomas. I shall leave the description of those years to David Richard Davies himself:

"I was there in the belief that I had a vocation for the minstry, but it had no depth. I was like the seeds in the parable which, without soil, sprang up and died. In the atmosphere of the school my ideas rapidly dissolved. That is, my Pentecostalism, my Biblical literalism, just vanished."

There, he would have learned some of the higher criticism, in a highly scholastic atmosphere. More, he had been influenced by a student at the Presbyterian (Unitarian) College on the parade (pictured). This building was the successor to the college that had educated Howell Harris and Williams, Pantycelyn, and was now the centre for Unitarianism in Wales. In a heartening development, the College Buildings were puchased in 1980 for thuse use of Carmarthen Evangelical Church.
Meeting a more well-read, older man who espoused Unitarian principles was ultimately fatal for Davies' profession of faith. Unable to beat the man in argument, and formerly convinced of the evident truth of his beliefs, Davies soon moved into lodgings with this Unitarian, and professed Unitarianism himself, much to the distress of his parents:
"To the passionate Protestantism of South Wales Nonconformity in those days, Unitarianism was equivalent to leprosy. Unitarians were a race apart. In the mining valleys they hardly existed. They were confined to the county of Cardigan and a few places in Carmarthenshire, which together were known as the black spot of Wales. To have a son a Unitarian was, therefore, not only a disaster, but a shameful disaster."
While continuing his studies at Old College School, Davies met with Professor Moore, who taught New Testament Greek. Through him, Davies became acquainted with the work of the foremost Unitarian scholars, including the works of James Martineau, especially his A Study of Religion. His studies of the Gospels were informed by the works of Estlin Carpenter and Dr. Drummond. Once a week, the erring student would meet with Professor Moore to discuss his extra-curricular studies. In this time, D. R. Davies learned Church history, as well as associated matters. And, strange to say, he acquired his first pastorate.
"Some months afterwards I was invited to preach at the Unitarian Church, Aberystwyth. The upshot was that I was asked to become a student minister of the Church. Now I can see the absurdity of it, that a youth of seventeen should minister to a congregation of people."
The Church (pictured), was in New Street, behind the college. Fomerly a coach-house, Methodist Chapel and bookshop, it was a small building, and the congregation about thirty in size. The building closed in 1976 and is currently rotting quietly [correction: I discover that the building, although listed as having closed in the town history, is still being used for Unitarian meetings, according to their website. That said, it is still in an extremely poor condition].
Davies preached two sermons a week, which he later called 'appalling things', more from the presumption of youth than the content, which he could not recall. However, in becoming a student minister, he was able to support himself, as his parents had cut off supplies when they found he intended to train for the Unitarian ministry.
At Aberystwyth, D. R. Davies read avidly, mostly of philosophy, reading Aristotle and Plato, as well as Locke and Hume. These books produced doubts about the human condition in the mind of the student minister. In addition, he was preparing for the entrance exam for Summerville Unitarian College, Manchester.
In September, 1907, D. R. Davies left his tiny flock at Aberystwyth for Manchester. He registered at the University for his course. Once more, he was training for the ministry, although now at University level, and as a Unitarian. But this was not to last, as we shall, God willing, discover next time.


Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: III.

John Alexander was soon settled as a student at the Hoxton Academy. Then, as now, churches often contacted theological colleges requesting that students might be sent to preach for them. Today many students have cars, or they may make a quick train journey to the church. In the 1810s public transport meant either a coach and horses or a steam packet if your destination was near enough to a port.
In 1817 the church meeting at the Tabernacle, Norwich, wrote to the Hoxton Academy asking for a student to come to preach to them for two successive Lord's Days, including Easter. The Hoxton Academy passed the request to John Alexander, a good student and the son of a remarkable minister.

The Tabernacle, Norwich (the picture shows it shortly before demolition in the mid twentieth century), had been founded in the great revival of the 18th century by Rev. James Wheatley, presumably an Anglican clergyman, who had been associated with John Wesley in the West Country. While labouring in Wiltshire, Mr. Wheatley fell into serious sexual sin, and in June 1751 the Wesley brothers were forced to expel him from the Methodist Connexion.
Deeply grieved, and filled with remorse, Wheatley left Wiltshire and wandered across the country to Norwich. A penitent man, he entered the city. Seeing a soldier on guard outside one of the city's many inns, Wheatley asked him if he knew any religious people in the city. The soldier replied that he did - the Puritans, as they were still called.
Norwich was and still is to an extent, a city that presented a great appearance of religion. It was said that the city had a church for every Lord's Day of the year, fine Medieval edifices with solid towers. It had two Quaker meeting-houses as well, and dissenting churches Congregational, Baptist (Particular and General) and Presbyterian denominations.
The appearance was deceptive. Most of the Anglican pulpits were teaching mere morality, the Quakers were quite inward-looking, the Particular Baptists and Congregationalists were at a low ebb, the General Baptists were struggling with heresy, and the Presbyterians had yielded utterly to heresy and denied the deity of Christ and the personality of the Holy Spirit.
But there few 'Puritans' kept up the truth. His spirit moved within him, Wheatley joined them. They asked him to preach, and he began by preaching at the gates of the Castle, then a prison.
The Holy Spirit came in mighty power. Many of the worst of the people of the city were converted. Thousands attended Wheatley's street-preaching, and a society of nearly two thousand two hundred people was formed from the converts.
Satan came too, and persecution increased. The society was forced to build a huge wooden tabernacle at Timberhill, near the Cattle-market. The persecutors, calling themselves the Hell-fire club, met at a nearby inn, the Bell Hotel.
The rioters descended on the Tabernacle during a meeting. They wrecked the wooden Tabernacle, injured many of the congregation, and nearly killed Mr. Wheatley, only prevented by the personal intervention of the mayor.
The Hell-fire club stirred up the people with an unreasoning partisan bigotry for the Church of England, and the Baptists and Congregationalists also suffered from their fury. Men were beaten up, women raped, for being Dissenters or Methodists. Public order threatened to break down completely, and yet the cry of this mob was "Church and King! down with the meetings!"
If we really want revival (and we should) we ought to consider these things.
When some semblance of order had been restored Wheatley and his people decided to put up a permanent building. A piece of land was purchased in Bishopsgate, close to the river, and the prominent local architect Thomas Ivory (1709-1779) was engaged to design what was to be the largest chapel in Norwich. Externally quite plain, it had a splendid mahogany pulpit and seating for several thousand. George Whitefield preached at its opening.
Rev. Robert Robinson, author of 'Come Thou Fount of every Blessing' was connected with the Tabernacle before he became first an Independent, then a Baptist.
Sad to say, Wheatley fell into sin again, and resigned his ministry. In 1858, at Wheatley's request, the society entered into connexion with John Wesley. This was a huge mistake. Founded on Calvinistic principles, taught by men like Whitefield, the people could not stand the strident Arminianism of Mr. Wesley's men. On one occasion, when one of Wesley's preachers tried to ram Arminianism down their throats, members of the congregation raised an outcry, running up and down the gallery stairs crying "heresy!"
The people of Norwich have never been afraid to speak their minds!
Shortly before he died, Wheatley withdrew the church he had founded from Wesley's oversight, and in 1775 it came into the hands of the Countess of Huntingdon. She sent students from her college at Trevecca to supply the pulpit.
The first settled pastor there was Mr. Mark Wilks, who was a gifted preacher. In due time he became a Baptist and set up a church nearby, taking several members of the Tabernacle congregation, who had also become Baptists, with him.
It was to this church, meeting in a magnificent building which had echoed to the voices of the great leaders of the revival of the 18th century, that John Alexander was sent on Good Friday, 1817. What awaited him was a church that was suffering trials and difficulties.
Of which more, God willing, next time.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: II.

As the son of a great evangelist, John Alexander had a distinctly unusual childhood. A minister's son, he found it easy to identify with the side of orthodoxy, not because he was converted, but because it was his father's side. On one occasion, while arguing with a friend, William Whewell(who later became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge), John actually knocked him down. Looking back, he wrote, "To my shame I speak it, I have contended for the truth, and I once fought for it, when, at the same time, the truth was not in me."
William Alexander was keen that his son should learn what his father did, and on several occasions, when William was going to preach in a street, he sent John to one end of the street to knock on the doors and invite the people to the preaching, while he started at the other end. John disliked the insults he got from some people, but his father replied that they called Christ Beelzebub."
In 1807 John Alexander left his father's house to be apprenticed to a woollen merchant in Liverpool. Of course the 'Lancashire Apostle' had made sure his son was apprenticed to a Christian, and John Alexander learned more about a Christian household in his master's home. More importantly, he learned how a man can be an earnest Christian and NOT be a minister.
John Alexander was not one of those men with a remarkable conversion experience. Unlike his father he had no day that he could name on which he passed from death to life. Nevertheless, pass he did.
As time went on, John Alexander became aware of a call to the ministry, and in 1814 he left Liverpool for the Hoxton Theological Academy in London. William Alexander warned his son that there was only one reason any man should train for the ministry, and that was a divine call. "God forbid you should take it up except in compliance with the will of God," he wrote. Ministers 'merely on man's making' were a bane to the church.
William Alexander also warned his son about the MATTER of his preaching, "I hope you will never be a half-way preacher. God forbid!" he wrote. "I say, John, preach Christ. Don't say Christ is not in the text; He is in the Bible; that will do. Put man down, put Christ up," the devoted evangelist implored his son. May we not detect in these words the fears of a man who had never been to any theological College, but who had seen and heard young men conceited in their own pride preaching sermons that were mere academic exercises? God forbid that we should denigrate theological colleges, but we should always beware of the snare of spurious 'knowledge falsely so-called' that puffs up.
The old 'Lancashire Apostle' had it right. He sent his son to college, but he warned him that the only sort of theological college that is worth anything is one that exalts Christ.

"Put man down, put Christ up." That was William Alexander's motto. You can hear the revival preacher in those words, "Put Christ up!" Yes, put Christ up! The Lamb is worthy! Put Him up! Put Him up! The highest place belongs to Him!
John Alexander would have cause in the years to come to thank his father for those words. And so have we.

What John Alexander's 'putting Christ up' led to we shall see, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: I.

Writing of A. B. Taylor of Manchester reminded me of the Scottish diaspora. After the Union of England and Scotland many Scottish craftsmen like Taylor came to England in search of a better life and a better pay-packet. Many settled in Lancashire, where a separate Scottish community grew up. Incidentally this Scottish diaspora paved the way for the later 19th century re-organization of the English Presbyterian Church around churches founded by these Scottish immigrants.
But our subject for this series was the son of one of these Scots living in England in body, but in spirit still very much living in Scotland.
William Alexander was a native of the village of Stoneykirk on the Mull of Galloway (Kirk pictured). He trained as a carpenter in Glasgow, but at the age of twenty, in 1783, he walked frpom there to Lancaster to join a brother who was already working there and who had advised him that there was more regular employment to be had there.
William Alexander had been brought up in the Kirk, and as he first set foot on English soil he stood still, removed his hat and prayed that God would keep him from evil company and give him grace to serve Him. Like A. B. Taylor, William Alexander had been warned about the evil manners of the people of England - apparently it was a common opinion in Scotland that the English were very wicked people!
The conscientious Scot quickly settled down in England, where he married. But his religion was also tried there, and made deeper. In a strange land he felt a deep and overwhelming loneliness, in which it seemed that no man cared for his soul. And in that loneliness a young clergyman was sent to him, a young man who had passed through the same conflict. William Alexander was brought into full assurance, and he could not but tell of the things God had done for his soul. He joined a Congregational church in Lancaster, where he became a leading member, not because he was wealthy in the things of this world, but because he was zealous for God.
In due course he became a preacher, working at his bench for six days of the week, and on the Lord's Day walking a circuit of over thirty miles, no matter how bad the weather was, preaching at three, four, sometimes five, places, eating dinner as he walked and tea 'when he had time'. Only the fact that he had a constitution of phenomenal strength saved him from an early grave.
Many were converted under his ministry, and the Congregational churches of Lancaster recognized an extraordinary call to the ministry. 'The Lancashire Apostle', as he had become known, was never wealthy, never the pastor of a great church as the world counts greatness. But he was the instrument of many conversions. He did not look for any earthly reward, but looked for a better reward, an eternal one.
His son John was born in 1892, and was practically brought up in a chapel. His earliest memories were of the church - one of them contering around an occasion when the little boy was looking around the chapel and his eyes lighted on the gleaming dove that formed the centre of the chandelier. Delighted, the child cried out, "Look, Momma, there's a Dicky Bird with a leaf in his mouth." What happened next can be imagined.

Although he was a hard worker, William Alexander did not neglect his children. A true son of the Kirk, he taught his children the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and he took a keen interest in their reading and education. And he was rewarded for this dilligence as well.
How he was rewarded in his son John shall be our subject in this series, of which more, God willing, next time.


Monday, November 20, 2006

D. R. Davies IV: Revival Comes to Wales

By the time of the Welsh Revival of 1904-5, D. R. Davies, then in his mid-teens, was working underground in the coal mine at Maesteg. We should not regard this as a hardship, for to be a coal miner, working down the pit, was to be a man. This was a job requiring skill as well as industry. It was also a job that identified David Richard Davies with most of his compatriots. And it made him one of the ordinary working people of Wales, among whom the fire of revival burned brightly.

His younger sister, Annie Davies, was one of Evan Roberts' young female helpers. Converted in the revival and gifted with a fine voice, she sang solos as a means of touching the hearts of men. She accompanied Roberts on his tour of Wales, leading in the singing and becoming a minor celebrity of sorts. Davies accompanied his mother to a meeting at nearby Abergwynfi, excited by the events of the revival:

"Well! I went and nothing happened! I was rather bewildered. My mother was very moved. I heard Evan Roberts preach and my sister sing, and scores of people were converted, I was not one of them."

This failure to respond to the message preyed on David Richard's mind. When Evan Roberts came to stay with the Davies family at Maesteg, D. R. was 'charmed' by the young evangelist's personality:

"I remember being moved at one of his Maesteg meetings. I cannot recall now how or when I was "converted", but it was certainly after one of his visits. That is to say, at some meeting or other, I walked up to the front pew, the "Set Fawr" and publicly announced, along with others, that I was "saved." For a considerable time I attended nightly prayer-meetings, offered prayer myself, and button-holed people urging them to confess their sins."

The quotation marks around the words, "converted" and "saved" in D. R. Davies' account of his own response to an altar-call indicate his recognition that this was merely a phase, that he was reflecting his surroundings, following the example of his famous sister, rather than acting on faith (did he want to be a celebrity, too, I wonder?). Despite his assiduous Bible reading, his faith was emotional, without any intellectual, or spiritual underpinnings. He told his more settled father that he was unsaved, leading to 'an unholy row', in Davies' own words.

In this period, Davies became part of the core of Welsh-speakers who founded an English-language Congregational Church in Maesteg, 'Bethlehem English Congregational Church.' He had a Sunday School class, and accompanied the organ at the services. In this, however, he showed a little of the old weakness, and more than once neglected his responsiblities, feeling a disgust at the need to do his duty.

despite these warning signs, D. R. Davies decided that he was called to preach. He delivered sermons during the revival, and delivered papers at the Church literary and debating society. The church agreed that he should train for the ministry, and so, at the age of sixteen, David Richard Davies was entered into Old College School, Carmarthen, to prepare for the London entrance examination. It was there that he would begin his intellectual odyssey, but that is a matter for another time.

Note: Although D.R Davies describes his own experience as emotional and shallow, he equally admits that: "Many lives were changed for good - and permanently." Equally, he declares that the Revival was from God, although it became mixed with emotionalism. Only in describing his own experience does Davies use quotation marks around "saved" and "conversion." When describing the generality of the revival, or his own sister's conversion, he does not employ them.


Monday Quote: Thomas Jackson Crawford - What Love is THIS?

The 'Moral Influence' theory of the atonement propses that God the Father gave up His Son to sufferings and death simply in order to demonstrate His love and thus to influence sinners to turn to Him. But does it work? In his excellent book 'The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement' (second edition, 1874) Thomas Jackson Crawford, Divinity Professor in the University of Edinburgh, explains:

"How should the sufferings of Christ be thus prominently and emphatically proofs of His Father's love to us? If they were not in any respect directly efficacious in securing for us forfeited blessings, or in exempting us from merited penalties; if they were not in themselves instrumental in obtaining for us substantial benefits which could not otherwise have been enjoyed, - how then should we regard them as affording us an unparallelled manifestation of the love of God? Or how then could we derive from them any better ground of assurance than we previously had, that God is willing to be at peace with us?

" Suppose - if it be possible to suppose anything so unnatural - that an earthly king should seek to conciliate his disaffected subjects by taking his beloved son, and depriving him of life before them, for no other reason than the avowed purpose of assuring the rebel multitude that his heart is full of clemency and kindness towards them - how would they be affected by such a spectacle? Can we imagine that it would have the intended effect? Even if the child were ever so willing a victim - cheerfully placing his life at his father's disposal - we cannot concieve that the taking away of that life, if no public benefit otherwise unattainable directly issued from the sacrifice, could, as an alleged proof of love towards the rebels, have the slightest tendency to bring them back to their allegiance. Rather we might suppose it to have a tendency to confirm them in their alienationfrom a sovereign whose treatment of his own son was as far as possible from being indicative of a kindly and conciliatory disposition towards his subjects. In like manner I am utterly at a loss to see how the humiliation and sufferings of the Son of God should be held to manifest or commend His Father's love to us, if they were not the procuring cause of our deliverance from forfeitures and penalties which could not otherwise have been averted."

Thomas Jackson Crawford, 'The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement' (Edinburgh and London, William Blackwood and Sons, second edition, 1874) Pages 297-298


Friday, November 17, 2006

D. R. Davies III: Child of Poverty

The house of prayer that D. R. Davies grew up in was also a house of poverty. Before D. R. Davies was born, his father had been seriously injured in a mine accident which left him unable to work for a decade, and rendered him unable to work underground ever again. To support the family, Mrs. Davies ran a shop, as well as selling sand. D. R. Davies sold this from door to door during the week-end, and kippers during the week.

After the move to Clydach-on-Tawe, things became more secure. Mr. Davies became a paid choirmaster at the Independent Chapel, and got a job above ground at a local pit. With the wages of D. R's brother, the full amount came to three pounds. Accordingly, D. R. took a job as a butcher's errand boy on Saturdays, for a shilling and two free meals. He also had a paper-round, and it was this that, Davies wrote in his memoirs, that pointed to a grave flaw in his character:

"One winter evening, when I was about half way on my round, I suddenly felt I did not want to do this work any more. The revulsion was so strong that it obsessed my whole being. It paralysed my will. What was to be done? There I was, with several dozens of papers which I was determined not to deliver. [...]

"I solved the problem by pretending to be ill. I sat down in the street with my bundle beside me, and holding my stomach with both hands, I groaned and cried. Before long I believed I was really ill. I have always beeen able to believe my own lies for a while. I soon gathered a little crowd around me, and became the object of general sympathy. A kindly soul took the papers back to the shop, and another took me home and explained matters to my mother [...]. In this [...] incident of my boyhood emerged the fundamental problem of my life, the solution of which lay beyond my power. I want to emphasise that fact. The same situation, in different terms, of course, recurred many times. Each time I was helpless. I was seized by a sudden, irresistible revulsion against doing what I knew should be done. I dod not do it. Instead, I lied: I pretended; I deceived myself; I rationalized. I knew what I ought to do. But I could not do it. That I did not admit my inability was my own sin and tragedy. I believed in my own lie."

Unknown to Davies, that ability for self-deception would soon be demonstrated still more strongly. For his household was to be caught up in the events of the Welsh Revival of 1904-5 in a very personal way.


A. B. Taylor. XI

After thirty-eight years at Rochdale Road, Taylor came to die. He was taken back to his comfortable cottage near Manchester, and there he was confined to bed on July 1st 1887. He was weakening, and on July 5th, in the morning, he repeated the verse:

Let me not murmur or repine
Under this trying stroke of Thine,
But bow beneath affliction's rod,
Be still, and know that Thou art God.

As he lay dying Taylor's mind often went to the great hymns of the faith. He had been a good singer, and taken great care in the singing of the congregation. No wonder that part of his life should comfort him on his death bed. Tellingly one of those was the Scottish metrical version of the 23rd Psalm, taught to him by his mother when he was still a small child.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me,
And in God's house for evermore,
My dwelling-place shall be.

In the hot summer he suffered terribly, quoting once those lines,

Though painful at present, 'twill cease before long,
And then, O how pleasant, the conqueror's song!

"Patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer," he quoted.
"How a tempting devil hunts about for the precious life," he reflected on another occasion, "but he can't find it! It is hid with Christ in God."

Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue;
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Has won my affections and bound my soul fast.

Thy mercy in Jesus exempts me from hell,
Its glories I'll sing and its wonders I'll tell."
And he kept on doing so, even in the pain, until he could speak no more. His last words were "It is well, it is well." Then he lifted his left arm and pointed upwards whispering, "I am going."
That was on Saturday 6th August, the end of his struggles, during which he was supported by the grace of God, came in the early hours of the following morning. He passed away peacefully at a quarter to four in the morning of Lord's Day 7th August, 1887. One of the hymns he quoted in his last illness sums up his hope:

And when this heart and flesh shall fail,
And mortal vigour cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.

A. B. Taylor's funeral service was held in Rochdale Road chapel, Manchester. Over 800 people were present in the chapel for the service. George Chandler of Accrington, speaking at the committal, said, "Perhaps the leading feature in our friend's ministry was the person, work, sufferings, blood, righteousness and offices of the Lord Jesus Christ."

And so ought to be the leading feature of every Christian ministry.

[The main sources of this essay are S. F. Paul, 'Further History of the Gospel Stand Baptists' Vol. 4 (Brighton, 1961). Contains accounts of Manchester and Accrington Churches; B. A. Ramsbottom (ed.) 'Six Remarkable Ministers' (Harpenden, Gospel Standard Trust, 1994). A. B. Taylor's life, mostly by himself, is to be found on pages 85-137; and B. A. Ramsbottom, 'William Gadsby' (Harpenden, Gospel Standard Trust, 2003)]

Illustration: Rochdale Road chapel in about 1960. This chapel is obviously not the original. Built in 1907 on the old site, it retains the pulpit from which William Gadsby and A. B. Taylor preached.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

D. R. Davies II: Early Religious Experience

D. R. Davies was born in the mining town of Pontycymmer, Glamorgan, in 1889. It was, in his words, '[...] one of the smaller mining towns in Glamorgan [...].' High up in the mountains, it was surrounded on three sides, the very image of a Welsh Valleys town. Like all such towns, Pontycymmer was packed with chapels, chapels which were the centre of life.
It must be noted that, while both his parents were highly religious and literate, the language of D. R. Davies' boyhood was not English, but Welsh, for the South Wales valleys were far more Welsh then than they are now.

And D. R. Davies' family were no different. His father was active in the local Independent chapel, conducting the chapel's music, as well as participating in other activities:

"He attended both Sunday services, also the Sunday School and the five o'clock prayer-meeting. He never missed the Monday prayer-meeting; he conducted the Band of Hope [youth group] on Tuesday, the choir practice on Wednesday; and was present at the Gyfeillach, the testimony service, on Thursday, and on Saturday evening took part in the prayer-meeting for the Sunday services."

In addition, the elder Davies worked for John Hodge, the Labour candidate in the Gower division of Glamorgan in 1900. Although Hodge was not successful, the Labour Party won the seat six years later.

D. R. Davies' mother was a similarly religious character. D. R. Davies described her as: 'A woman of outstanding character, a magnificent Christian, to whom religion was a constant, living reality, penetrating every fibre of her being." Her preferred reading matter was theology, and when, late in life, she learned to read English, she devoured her son's theological textbooks with great pleasure. Accordingly, the Davies house was a place of prayer, with a scripture reading from Mr. Davies and fervent prayer from his wife ending the day. For the children, attendance was mandatory, and absence was punished. Writing at the end of his life, D. R. Davies expressed nothing but the most profound gratitude to his mother for forcing him to hear the words of life.

But it was not only prayer and Bible reading that D.R Davies experienced, for his mother was anxious that he should come to a personal knowledge of such precious truth:

"My mother taught me the cathechism from a little work by Dr. Thomas Charles, which exercised a profound influence in Welsh religious circles for many years. It was entitled Rhodd Mam (Mother's Gift). In the most desperate agony of my later life, it was the memory of my mother's teaching from that little book that overwhelmed me. She inculcated Christian dogma by question and answer - and no nonsense. The psychologists would say that she rammed dogma down my throat. and she did - good and hard. Its value and significance did not materialise until I was approaching fifty [...]."

After the family moved to Clydach (pictured), when D. R. Davies was eight, Davies' father was appointed choirmaster at the Independent Chapel there. D. R. Davies had to attend all the services with his father, and thus met with the people of God almost every day. But at this stage of his life, D. R. Davies had little interest in the things of God, and spent most of his time in these meetings day-dreaming.

The religion and song of D. R. Davies' early childhood was 'singing in the furnace,' however, for these godly parents were not spared their tragedies. Still, nothing kept them apart from their Saviour. For D. R. Davies, however, things were very different. As yet unsaved, he found poverty was a snare, as all things are snares to those who do not believe.

Exactly how, we shall, God willing, see next time.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

One Year on

According to our records, the Free St. George's blog began on Tuesday 15th November 2005. One year later, while other blogs have fallen by the wayside, we are still going. Why?
Because we believe that we are providing a service no-one else is, and a service that is appreciated. No other reason. If it was not for our readers we should have ceased publication months ago. So this post is dedicated to those of you who read Free St. George's. May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you abundantly with His covenant mercies.

The title of this blog is 'Free St. George's'. It comes from the name of Alexander Whyte's Church in Edinburgh. This little drawing of it comes from a volume called 'The Tradition of St. George's West' (Edinburgh, St. George's Young People's Society, 1931).

We at Free St. George's speak a great deal about the history of the church. One historian and one theologian with an interest in history, we no doubt suggest many questions. But on this our first anniversary I want to take us to what we believe to be THE question. Over to Alexander Whyte ('With Mercy and With judgment, London, Hodder and Stoughton, no date):

"What think ye of Christ? That is the question of all questions. No other question so important and so pressing as that question has ever been put to the mind, and to the heart, and to the conscience of man. There is no other question that so taxes and so tests the whole soul of every man as just this question - what he thinks of Christ. This question is 'quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing assunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents' of every human heart. What, then, think ye of Christ?" (P. 108)

It would be good to be able to reproduce the whole sermon here, but that will not do in the time we have. So we move at once to P. 111:

"Now, in this congregation as in every congregation, there must be various ranks and classes of people who divide themselves out before God just according to how they think of Christ. For, 'as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Our Lord once said of Himself that His coming among men had brought not peace, but a sword. And not a sword only, but a broad and deep dividing-line also: Many dividing lines indeed, many clefts indeed, and chasms even: many all-but-impassable gulfs, already open between man and man among us, according as we think of Christ. One sad, and not small class among us, is composed of those men and women who simply never think of Christ at all. They are exactly like John Bunyan [before his conversion]: they never think, in church or market, whether there is a Christ or no.
"But happily, there is another class of men among us who are the exact opposite of that. They are but a small class, it is to be feared, in any congregation, and yet, who can tell? - they may be more in number than any one would believe. Few or many, - this noble class is composed of those men and women among us who are continually thinking of Christ. 'To me to live is Christ,' says Paul. 'What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ,' he says again... Now, they cannot be a great crowd in any congregation or community who say such things as these concerning Christ. But there are such men and women among us: 'one of a city and two of a family,' as the prophet says. Yes, - we will believe it: there are truly Christian men and women among us, and more than you would believe, who say to Christ with all their heart every morning, - 'When I awake I am still with Thee!'

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by Thee.
Joyless is the day's return
Till Thy mercy's beams I see."

[interior of Free St. George's Church, Edinburgh]

Housekeeping note: The churches links had become a great forest without any order to them. After some work, they are now in some semblance of an order.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A. B. Taylor. X

A. B. Taylor remained the pastor of Rochdale Road chapel, Manchester, for the rest of his life. As 'Gadsby of Manchester' had been a household name among Strict Baptists, so now 'Taylor of Manchester' was. Under his ministry the attendence increased, and in 1871 when the religious census was taken there were 950 present at the service. A large, impressive-looking man with a solemn manner and splendid voice, he became as much a part of Manchester life as Gadsby had been. Although we have no information on the subject, it is tempting to think that not a few young men preaching in the Rochdale Road pulpit felt that they had Mr. Taylor on their backs!
Unfortunately, while Taylor wrote a fairly detailed account of his life before the call to Manchester, it ends just after the beginning of his ministry, and no biography of him was written at the time of his death. At this late date it is impossible to attempt the task. Letters have been destroyed by the ravages of time, precious memories have gone to the grave, and all we have are a few fragments.
Taylor was a preacher before he was anything else. Many of his sermons were published in 'The Manchester Pulpit', volumes of which are incredibly rare. We have in the Free St. George's Library a few sermons roughly bound by the person who bought them. Taylor alo wrote poetry, and some of it was published in his lifetime. Sermons by A. B. Taylor were also published in the 'Gospel Standard' magazine.
Although he often preached away from Manchester, Taylor was without a dount the PASTOR of the church meeting at Rochdale Road chapel. He took a keen interest in the services themselves and, having been a singer in his early life, maintained a high standard of congregational singing. No organ was allowed in Rochdale Road during his pastorate, and some of the Gospel Standard churches have maintained the tradition of unaccompanied singing to this day.
Taylor's home life was in some respects idyllic. When he first came to Manchester in 1848 he took a cottage called Collyhurst Cottage where he was able to keep a cow. In 1851, however, he bought a small farmhouse called Moss Cottage in Middleton (the picture is of middleton Parish Church). There he was able to keep a little farm. Generations of Strict Baptist Sunday School chiuldren from Manchester had cause to bless God for that cottage and its farm, for every year they were carried out of Manchester and its smoky streets and busy mills to a little farm, where their pastor and his wife entertained them.
Mr. and Mrs. Taylor had twelve children, several of whom died in infancy. Two of his daughters died in adulthood, his eldest daughter died in 1864, followed by her husband. So , at the age of sixty, Taylor had his young orphaned grandchildren placed in his care. on 14th January January 1865 Mrs. Taylor died. No doubt the presence of the grandchildren cheered him in the years that followed
After thirty-eight years in the pastorate at Manchester the end of his earthly service came to Mr. A. B. Taylor in 1887. After a period of decline he preached what proved to be his last sermon on June 26th, speaking for half an hour on the text 'every plant, which My heavenly Father has not planted, shall be rooted up.' He was unable to finish the sermon. Very ill, he had to go home.

His death, God willing, shall be our subject next time.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday Quote - VI.

"I dare not say to myself that if I forfeit the opportunity this life offers I shall ever have another; and therefore I dare not say so to another man."

-James Denney on 'second chance' theories, 'Studies in Theology' (third edition, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1895) P. 244


Friday, November 10, 2006

I am Preaching this Lord's Day

This Lord's Day the Highland Host will be preaching at Wattisham Strict Baptist Church, Suffolk. This is the article on the church from the Suffolk Churches website. Be aware that the Suffolk Churches website is written by a Roman Catholic. The factual information given is however accurate. The opinions belong to the site.
The pulpit feels a lot higher than it looks in the pictures on this site.

D. R. Davies: The Agony of Liberalism

As I wondered what to blog on next, my thoughts turned back to my first series, on the unhappy story of Tom Nefyn Williams and the descent into theological liberalism of the churches in Wales. A few weeks ago, Dr. Eryl Davies, former Principal of the Evangelical Theological College of Wales, gave a talk at the after meeting on 'The Work of God in Mid-Twentieth Century Wales,' mentioning the low condition of Nonconformity in the Wales of the 1950s due to the inroads made by liberalism. And another witness to the effects of liberalism came to my mind, a man who suffered as Wales was to suffer, his Christianity being compromised by political involvement as well as liberalism and secular philosophy so far that he was almost destroyed. He drank deeply of the well of political activism and the draught almost killed him, for it turned out to be pure poison.

This man was D. R. Davies, a fomer miner and Trade Union Official, as well as an Independent (Congregationalist) Pastor, both before and after his conversion, latterly in Cardiff. However, he ended his life as an Anglican minister in South-East England. However, he was born in Pontycymmer and ministered in Cardiff and the Valleys, which makes him Welsh indeed. Although he would never become an Evangelical, his experience is as useful as that of Nefyn, for here was a sincerely religious man who would be, like C. S. Lewis, 'Surprised by joy.' More, he had lived the liberal religious life and found it void of hope and joy. On coming to a vital experience of God and of His Word, Davies was enabled to live, and, more than that, live a life of joy and service.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Last Gasps: Welsh Disestablishment 8

After the Conservatives beat the Liberal Party in 1895, Disestablishment retreated into the realm of controversy. With the landslide Liberal victory of 1906, which saw the defeat of every Conservative candidate in Wales, Disestablishment came back on the agenda. By this time, however, Lloyd George (pictured), once the most vocal Parliamentary advocate of Disestablishment, and one who had resigned the Liberal whip in 1894 in protest at the lack of Government action of Disestablishment, was far more interested in Old Age Pensions. Mass protest meeting were held when it became clear that the Government was in no hurry to introduce a Disestablishment Bill, and in 1906, Lloyd George had to mollify a very rowdy gathering at (the now vanished) Wood Street Congregational Church, the largest place of worship in Cardiff, telling them that the time was not yet ripe. It was not until 1910, when the Liberals fought two elections on the platform of abolishing the power of the House of Lords to block legislation Until this was done, Disestablishment stood no chance of passing.

And the rhetoric of the Bishops became even more extreme. Bishop Owen of St. David's (pictured), in two addresses given during the election year, came close to accusing the promoters of Disestablishment of promoting a plan for national apostasy. Since these men were Godly nonconformists almost to a man, such a charge was patently absurd, and could only hurt the Church in Wales.

Worse, such rhetoric covered up a very good point that the Bishop made. Speaking at Newport, Owen declared:

"There have been great changes in Wales during the past forty years [of the Disestablishment controversy]. Neither Church nor Chapel nor yet indifference stands now where it stood. The main religious issue in Wales for many years to come is whether the Christian faith as hitherto understood from the first beginning, can hold its own against new theologies, but thinly divided from what used to be called Unitarianism. [...] It is my conviction that if the truth of the Gospel is to retain its power over the next generation in Wales, those who believe in it, Churchmen and Nonconformists alike, will have to stand, shoulder to shoulder, against our common enemy."

And Owen was not wrong. By 1910, the fight over Disestablishment was a luxury that neither church nor chapel could afford. Made from a partisan platform at election time, however, this call was bound to be ignored, while the rhetoric surrounding the point seemed to suggest that Owen was simply trying to make trouble.

And it was not only the Church in Wales that mixed partisan politics with the word of God. The insistence of nonconformists that the Church in Wales should be deprived of many of its endowments seemed to a number of English Nonconformists, most notably J. Fovargue Bradley, to be little short of a thirst for robbery, while the comments of Lord St. Davids that a disendowed Church would be more effective because it would be closer to apostolic poverty seemed to be arrant humbug, given the peer's immense wealth.

When Disestablishment was achieved in 1920, it was to widepread indifference. The First World War had shaken Welsh Nonconformity to its very foundations, and Welsh society was secularising, the war having dealt a death-blow to old Welsh-language culture. Indeed, had a Disestablishment Bill not been introduced in 1912, it is probable that Disestablishment in Wales would have gone the same way as Scottish Disestablishment.

What were the effects of the controversy? The first was that the chapels were weakened spiritually, as a great deal of energy was spent in political campaigning on an issue which had nothing to do with the Gospel. The Chapels gave themselves over to the Liberal Party as unofficial committee rooms. With the rise of Labour, the Chapels found themselves in danger of becoming politically outmoded, and the experience of sectarian infighting prepared the way for Socialist or even communist preachers, more concerned with the interests of one class over the other than the welfare of souls..

The Church in Wales was pulled the other way, into becoming a campaigning arm of the Conservative Party. Alfred George Edwards of St. Asaph proved a man able to navigate those shoals better than the Nonconformists, but a bitter taste was left in the mouth of the Church. More, a church which had been largely evangelical at the commencement of the controversy was left more Anglo-Catholic, as men were appointed for their ability to -take the fight to the Nonconformists' than their ability to reach out to Nonconformity. The way of Bishop Edwards was not the way of his wise elder brother. Nor, I fear, was it the way of the Lord.

The Church in Wales cleaned its stables before the Disestablishment controversy. The abuses of non-residence and pluralism were dealt with, while churches were rebuilt. The endowments that the Disestablishmentarians wanted confiscated were not being misappropriated, and only a few on the fringes alleged this. Looking in, I must end this rather disjointed series on Welsh Disestablishment with a comment on Scottish Disestablishment:

"In the proposal to disestablish the Church of Scotland I see nothing but an ignoble sectarian temper." (Donald Fraser, D.D)
The chief effect of Disestablishment on the Church of Jesus Christ was to create hatred between brothers and an unhealthy reliance upon political means, rather than spiritual means. The people of God trusted in the Chariots and Horsemen of Egypt, and were rewarded accordingly.


A. B. Taylor. IX

In 1848 Alexander Barrie Taylor, pastor of what is now Peel Street Baptist Church, Accrington, was called to the pastorate of what was then known as St. George's Road Chapel, Manchester (Now Rochdale Road, the name of the road was changed in 1848). Although the Manchester pastorate was more prestigious, Accrington was far more inviting. The Manchester church was in a divided state and numbers had fallen off since William Gadsby's death, while the church at Accrington was united and pressing forward with a new building scheme (which produced the current Peel Street chapel). The deacons and the people pressed Taylor to remain at Accrington, but he felt the call of God to try to bind up the wounded church at Manchester. At first he felt utterly unable to do the work, but while he prayed about it the text came to his mind, 'Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.' "... all was to be done by the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts. O, what I sight I had of the hosts the Lord can marshal when He gives command!" Taylor wrote. It was this realisation that all was to be done by divine power that opened up the way before him, and so Taylor accepted the call in a spirit of deep humility.

A. B. Taylor's ministry in Manchester began on the first Lord's Day of December, 1848. His first text was 1 Timothy 1.2, 'The glorious gospel of the blessed God'. It was a manifesto as well as a sermon. This was to be his theme throughout his pastorate of thirty-eight years. Yet at the beginning the faith that brought him to Manchester was mingled with unbelief. He retained his engraving tools for a year, in case he was forced to return to them.
The secession, he discovered, had taken away most of the divisive element, and now that the church had a pastor his visiting and preaching brought others round to the changed state of things.
The year he had given himself came to an end, and rather than the church flying to pieces he found that a number had been added to the church during the year. At the same time his last employer, knowing that Mr. Taylor had given up engraving, offered to buy his tools and machinery for the original cost. So he sold them and continued to give himself wholly to the preaching of the gospel and the ministry of the church at Rochdale Road.

Next time, God willing, we shall look at the Manchester pastorate.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A. B. Taylor. VIII

In 1840 A.B. Taylor had been called to the pastorate at what is now Peel Street Chapel, Accrington. For personal reasons, he declined. He felt that a pastor ought to be able to give himself fully to the work, but the Accrington church was unable to support a man with a family as large as his. He did however continue preaching.
The Gospel Standard denomination, if I may call it that, did not exist formally in the 1840s in the way it came to later. The founders of that denomination, William Gadsby, John Kershaw and John Warburton, were however influential Strict and Particular (Closed-communion Calvinistic, that is practising reSTRICTed communion and teaching a PARTICULAR atonement) Baptists and a network of churches was forming around them.
Then, as now, one way a man got invitations to preach was through a more influential minister mentioning his name in other places. There were few Strict Baptists as influential as William Gadsby. He secured an invitation to Taylor to preach at Zoar Chapel, Great Alie Street, London (the present Zoar Chapel, now used by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, is pictured). Taylor also had invitations to preach at the Baptist Church in Liverpool formerly pastored by Samuel Medley the hymn-writer, to Gower Street Chapel, London, and to Alfred Street Chapel, Leicester.
In 1844 William Gadsby died. The following year Accrington approached Taylor again with a call to the pastorate, and this time he accepted it. He began his ministry in July, running an engraving business as a 'tentmaker'.
But it was only a short ministry, for in 1848 William Gadsby's former Church, Rochdale Road chapel, Manchester, called Rev. Alexander Barrie Taylor to the pulpit in which he had once felt that he had Mr. Gadsby on his back! The church had suffered badly since Gadsby's death, and there had been one major split. It was not the sort of church where a young pastor would necessarily WANT to go. On the one hand Taylor had his people at Accrington and his little business, on the other a church with a large chapel, and some serious divisions.
But after much prayer A. B. Taylor felt the call of God to accept the Manchester pastorate, ad to try to stabilise a church that was on the verge of collapse.

How he went about that we shall, God willing, see next time.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The 'St. Asaph Policy': Welsh Disestablishment 7

The 1890s saw Welsh Disestablishment move into its final and most divisive phase. The appointment of Alfred George Edwards to St. Asaph by Lord Salisbury in 1889, chiefly on the grounds of his work in attacking Nonconformist pretensions, saw one of the North Wales sees placed in the hands of a skillful ecclesiastical politician. Bishop Edwards, formerly the Warden (Headmaster) of Llandovery College, gathered around him a group of similarly-minded men, including John Owen, his successor as Warden at Llandovery College, who soon became Dean of St. Asaph, and would later be appointed to St. David's, the largest Welsh Diocese.

Unlike his brother, Dean Edwards of Bangor, whose suicide in 1884 after a lengthy battle with depression, robbed Wales of a man of truly heroic stature, Alfred George Edwards did not believe in conciliating Nonconformity. He attacked the numerical statistics given by Nonconformists, as well as challenging other alleged facts. However, in this action, Edwards was known to step over the bounds of Christian charity, as well as appearing to attack the Welsh language itself. For example, while his call for a religious census to establish the exact position of the Church in Wales vis-a-vis Nonconformity was not in itslf unfair, when coupled with remarks on the language census that appeared to belittle the Welsh language, it appeared to be an attack on Wales itself. Similarly, some of his statements on Nonconformity seemed to ignore the fact that, whatever the issue of the struggle, Dissenters and Churchmen were brothers in Christ.

This approach was enough to cause friction between the Bishop and his most senior parochial clergyman, David Howell (Llawdden), former Vicar of Cardiff and Wrexham, at that time in semi-retirement at Gresford. Howell was a powerful preacher whose ministry at Wrexham had been greatly owned of God. Like Dean Edwards, Howell preferred a less confrontational approach, believing that the only way to prevent Disestablishment was through a return to God, and a vigorous espousal of the interests of Welsh speakers everywhere. When comments made by Howell turned up in pro-Disestablishment pamphlets, Bishop Edwards' reaction was to so blacken Howell's name as to ensure that he would never receive a bishopric.

Edwards' reputation and actions led to harsh words in Parliament, while his open support for the Conservative Party strengthened the impression that the Church in Wales was little more than 'The Tory Party at Prayer.' His actions in ecclesiastical politics led to a split between his supporters and those who felt that an all-out policy of Church Defence would be counter-productive in the long run.

However, like Bonar Law, the Conservative leader from 1911, Edwards was able to establish a working relationship with Lloyd George, the most powerful Liberal in Wales, and Prime Minister from 1916. The result was a final settlement which was as generous as could have been expected. And a grateful Church in Wales chose Edwards to be its first Archbishop. Undoubtedly, Edwards was a politician and his politicking obscured the spiritual aims of the church. However, he was just as much a product of the age as the Nonconformist leaders who clamoured for the endowments of the Church, and to set all the blame for the unedifying spectacle of the last decades of the controversy at his door, as Roger L. Brown does in his biography of Howell is to obscure the equal role played by politicised dissent. The St. Asaph policy was a political policy, framed for a time when the major religious controversy in Wales was not about the preservation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but whether the state should support a particular denomination or not.

On the rights and wrongs of that, more later.


A. B. Taylor. VII

Different men have different reactions to being asked to preach. Of course all who are truly called to the ministry are apprehensive and diffident, but some more obviously so than others. Alexander Barrie Taylor was initially terrified (admittedly the teapot-throwing incident may have affected him). Having preached several times at his own Church, the Church recognised his gift and authorised him to preach wherever he was invited. The fact that there were people praying for him was a great comfort.
However, he was not immune to discouragement. On one occasion he was called to preach at Sabden (illustration: the old Baptist Chapel), but on the way he was overcome by an attack of uncertainty and he felt unable to preach. Feeling wretched, he lingered on the moors until all the churches in Accrington had begun their services and he wandered back.
On the way Taylor entered the old Methodist Chapel in Accrington. Behind the minister the words 'take heed how ye hear' were written on the wall. Taylor took heed and was astonished at the theology he heard. When the preacher finished by saying that Jesus was standing, holding off the stroke of God's wrath to see if men should come, Taylor, brought up a Calvinist in Scotland and trained in English Particular Baptist Churches of the Gospel Standard stamp, was horrified. Here, he thought, was man's plan of salvation, not God's.
The next Lord's Day the Church at Sabden sent a man to escort Taylor safely there, and he found the people, and their pastor, very friendly and supportive.
Taylor was soon preaching in a number of small churches, and some that were not so small, in his area. The most intimidating for him was Gadsby's Church in Manchester, for there he felt, as he put it, "that I had Mr. Gadsby on my back, and could not get him off."
He was called to the pastorate at Accrington, but since the church was unable to support his large family, he had to refuse.

Yet it was evident that he was intended for the pastorate, and in due time a call came. How it came, and by what means, will be our topic, God willing, next time.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Housekeeping notes:

(Illustrated: Free St. George's Church, Edinburgh)

Free St. George's moves slowly forward towards its first birthday. The format is pretty much the same, multi-part essays on Scottish Church History enlivened by Hiraeth's essays on Welsh Church History. Our 'Monday Quote' feature is done by me for two reasons: 1. I'm the editor; 2. Hiraeth hasn't asked to do one yet. He's allowed to, though.

Keen-eyed readers will notice a few changes in the sidebar. First of all, three new blogs linked to. Firstly Kim Riddlebarger's blog finally got noticed. Secondly Martin Downes' 'Against Heresies' is now featured where the now-defunct 'Lame World View' used to be. I went to University not too far from Deeside Evangelical Church, and the blog's content interested me.
Thirdly 'Screw Loose Change' is featured, despite the occasional use of profanity by posters there. It isn't a Christian blog, but before I was converted I had some interest in conspiracy theories. Screw Loose Change is dedicated to proving concerning the 9/11 conspiracy theories are, like all other conspiracy theories, bunk.
Fourthly, the last blog on the blogroll is now 'The Vengeance of the Green Man', a fairly diverting adventure fiction blog that occasionally publishes some very funny 'Sunday Supplements' satirising some of the oddball elements of contemporary Christianity.
Fifthly, having found Russell Moore's guest host appearances on the Albert Mohler programme so diverting, we now link to the Henry Institute, his website.
Sixthly, the churches links are still growing. They are not, nor are they intended ever to be, a comprehensive list of sound church websites in the UK. The list is highly idiosyncratic and personal.

And finally, pictures are back. Fuzzy, but back. Hiraeth wasn't going to get all the good graphics. Although admittedly some posts are hard to illustrate.

UPDATE: Old Truth, Calvinist Gadfly and Fide-o have also been added to the blogroll.

Monday Quote - V.

This week you get a double-helping of Monday Quote. Our second is from James Morison's 'Commentary on Matthew'. Commenting on Matthew 7.1 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.'

"'What then?' asks Chrysostom, 'Ought we not to blame them that sin?' 'If this were so,' he adds, 'all would be lost; whether in churches,or in states, or in homes. For except the master judge the servant, and the mistress the maid, and the father the son, and friends one another, there will be an increase in the things of wickedness.' It is right to judge sin to be sin and to blame it. It is right to judge whether or not men around us sin; and to blame them when we cannot avoid the judgement that they have sinned. It is right to sit in judgement on ourselves, and to condemn our own sins. In fact, the judicial element of our nature is the judicious. If we were without judgement, we should be things, not persons. If we were to live without the exercise of our judgement, we should be at the mercy, not only of every wind of doctrine, but also every wave of passion. What means then Our Lord? His language is epigrammatic, and derives its point from the prevalence of censorious judging among the scribes and Pharisees and others. It is in antithesis to this censorious judging, that He demands from His disciples, in this sphere of things as in others, a higher righteousness (chap. v.20). And hence the connection of this passage with what goes before. Judge not, that is, Judge not others in a censorious and uncharitable spirit, as the scribes and Pharisees are too much accustomed to do (Luke xviii. 11, 12). In such censorious judging there is always malevolence. This malevolence manifests itself in a secret eagerness to find fault, and in a secret gladness to find a neighbour in a fault. The censorious person is always moreover self conceited, imagining that he himself is above being the legitimate object of all similar judgement. He is positive too that he has penetrated the true motives of the person whom he judges. He mounts the throne of judgement as a matter of course, in his peculiar circle or circuit, and, looking down upon his auditors, passes judgement with such self elevation, assurance, and infallibility, as implies it would be folly, if not a crime, to dissent from his judgement. THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED: That is, in order that you might not be retributively judged in like manner by others."

'Commentary on Matthew' (Repr. Klock & Klock, 1981) Pp. 103-4


Monday Quote - IV.

"It is a cause for sorrow that denominational divisions are so many; and that they have often been both cause and consequence of unchristian feeling. Yet when men part peaceably to carry out their deliberate convictions, to which they cannot give effect together, and when in doing so they do not unchurch or condemn one another, there may be less offence against Christian charity than when a commuion, professedly one, is the scene of bitterness and strife. In either case indeed there is something to regret, and probably something to blame; but the former of the two cases is by no means necessarily the worse."

Principal Robert Rainy 'The Epistle to the Philippians' (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1904) Pp. 105-6


Friday, November 03, 2006

David Davies Penarth: Welsh Disestablishment 6

In the arguments that swirled around the Disestablishment Question in Wales, the most potent weapon in the hands of the Church in Wales was history. While in Ireland the Established Church had been demonstrably alien, having never claimed the loyalty of the majority of the Irish people, the Church in Wales had contained the majority of the people in Wales for most of the eighteenth century. Church apologists like Alfred George Edwards, brother of Dean Edwards and Bishop of St. Asaph, pointed out that: '... until the rise of Methodism in Wales the other nonconforming bodies were numerically and numerically insignificant.' And, Edwards, added '... the early Welsh Methodists were deeply attached to the Church, and that Welsh Calvinistic Methodism only dates from the year 1811.' (Alfred George Edwards, A Hand Book on Welsh Church Defence (Denbigh, 1894), p.24 & pp.26-7.) More, they could point back to the days of St. David, for they had the buildings and the tradition (the Bishop of Llandaff in the Reformation era served Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I).

David Davies, minister of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Penarth (pictured), and a writer of popular books on Welsh Church history, was not one to take such things lying down, however. In his book The Ancient Celtic Church of Wales: Where is it? Davies presented a very different picture of early Welsh Christianity, a picture of a church free of hierarchy and closer to the Congregational, nonconformist model than the Episcopal model. He argued that the Welsh Church had never known an Archbishop, except possibly as primus inter pares, selected from among the ranks of the Welsh Bishops. According to David Davies, the early welsh Churches were independent of one another, except in the case of church-plants (Ancient Celtic Church, p.19), while Celtic Bishops were said to be merely officials attached to monasteries and varying according to the dictates of abbots, perhaps as many as 138 existing at one time! Indeed, relying on a quotation from Basil Jones, Bishop of St. David's, he suggested that the lists of Welsh Bishops might have been '"faked up," and even invented, by ecclesiasts in the interest of traditional clericalism and episcopacy!' (Ancient Celtic Church, p.20).

This ancient and democratic church, Davies asserted, had been extinguished whem Wales was conquered by England. More, the history of the Church in Wales after the English conquest revealed that church as the enemy of all things Welsh. In conclusion, he declared:

'I repeat that the spirit of the Celtic Church still lives in the Nonconformists of Wales. It is the self-reliant spirit of that grand old Church, which was essentially democratic in constitution and politity, which was essentially democratic in constitution and polity, and which never would brook interference on the part ofPope, Archbishop, or State, in matters of religious creed and practice, that reasserts itself to-day in the Free Churches and institutions of our land, and demands that the possessions which have been diverted to utterly alien purposes shall be restored to the people. It demands that they shall be devoted to the best interests of the whole Welsh nation, without regard to narrow prejudices or irritating bigotries, whether religious, social, or political, devoted to those purposes of philanthropy, truth, and justice, which shall unitedly lead up to the highest ends and noblest issues of our corporate life, and ultimately find their consummation in that "righteousness that exalteth a nation."' (Ancient Celtic Church, p.109.)

While Davies' account was not allowed to stand for long, with two Church Defence books, each more than twice the size of Deavies' work, its arguments served to give Nonconformists greater confidence in their cause. Whatever the justice of these treatments, it must be admitted that Davies' picture of the ancient Welsh Church was not accurate, owing more to Davies' belief that Nonconformity was closer to scriptural Christianity, and thus closer to ancient Welsh Christianity. In fact, while the Christianity of Acts shows no evidence of the Episcopal model, Celtic Christianity, which had fellowship with the Coptic Church, was at least as sacramental as the Churches on the Continent. And it was certainly monastic. Having assumed his conclusion, David Davies went on to select evidence and interpret that evidence in such a way as to support his conclusions.

In arguing with those who hold to tradition, evangelicals should go back to the Scriptures, rather than trying to invent their own accounts of history. By all means, let falsehoods be corrected, but Davies went further, creating his own past and exposing himself to the charge of deliberately twisting the facts.


A. B. Taylor. VI

William Gadsby (pictured) was undoubtedly one of the great Christian leaders of the early 19th century. Originally from Attleborough near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, he had been called to the pastorate at what is now called Rochdale Road Chapel, Manchester, in 1805. By 1834, then, Gadsby was quite a fixture in Manchester. Since A. B. Taylor loved Gadsby's hymn-book, it was only natural that he should fix on Gadsby's chapel as his spiritual home in the metropolis.
Soon after the move to Manchester, Taylor's health began to suffer. Gadsby, always a concerned pastor, prayed with him. One day, in the service, Taylor was overwhelmed with a knowledge of the love of God shed abroad in his heart. The assurance he had lacked for so long came now in a wonderful golden tide, and he rejoiced 'in joy unspeakable and full of glory.'
Because of his health Taylor was forced to move out of Manchester again and back to Accrington, then a town outside Manchester. On the Lord's Day he went to the chapel in Blackburn that was connected with Mr. Gadsby. It was there that he was finally baptized into the Divine Name in obedience to a command that he had hitherto not obeyed because of his lack of assurance. For the first time since he had left Scotland, Alexander Barrie Taylor was received into the membership of a local church.
The more experienced members of the church carefully taught Taylor in the things of God, and in due time the membership felt that their brother had been gifted by God as a preacher. He was asked to preach at one of the Lord's-day meetings, but for fear did not tell his wife. She found out some other way, and her reaction was hardly positive - she threw a teapot at him!
He still preached, and his wife repented of the teapot-throwing incident.
There being quite a number of people who walked to the Blackburn chapel on Lord's Days, it was decided to plant a church at Accrington. One was finally set up in 1836, and continues to this day as Peel Street Baptist Church. A pastor was called, but Taylor was often asked to preach at the chapel. It seemed now that God was guiding him towards the ministry of the Gospel.
And that, God willing, shall be our subject next time.