Wednesday, May 31, 2006

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

George Matheson was of necessity somewhat limited in his choice of a career by his rapidly deteriorating eyesight. He had wanted to become a lawyer, and in later years he said that he would have become one if it had not been for his disability. Matheson had a great gift of public speaking and an ability to think on his feet that would have been of great use to a lawyer. But it was not to be.
Matheson was a bright scholar, and his family's residence in Glasgow meant that he was able to attend the city's university, which was then located in its seventeenth century buildings in the city centre, not in its present home. Matheson was therefore able to remain at the family home, with his family able to help him by reading aloud to him and by taking dictation from him when necessary.
Matheson shone in his university days, and he was accorded no special treatment because of his blindness. Professor Buchanan, known as 'Logic Bob', the greatest of the professors at Glasgow in those days, compared Matheson to George Milton - a not inappropriate comparison of two blind Christian poets.

After completing his Arts Course, George Matheson entered the Divinity Hall of the University to study for the Church of Scotland ministry. The Divinity Professor at Glasgow in this period was Professor John Caird, and his influence on the students was profound. Caird's theology, however, was not that of the old Scottish tradition; rather it was deeply influenced by German philosophy, more specifically the philosophy of Hegel. Matheson was himself deeply impressed by Caird, and the result of this was that Matheson was never completely orthodox in his theology again. Unlike many of his classmates, however, Matheson never studied in Germany - he was prevented by his blindness.
George Matheson was a popular student who made friends easily in university, and his frank, sensitive, yet friendly nature was the sort that makes for the best of pastors. His preaching was impressive, and a bright future in the ministry of the Church of Scotland beckoned.

How he entered the ministry we shall see, God willing, next time


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

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

As we saw last time, George Matheson the future hymn-writer was brought up in a godly Church of Scotland household. A 'bonnie lad', as the Scots put it, it was discovered at the age of eighteen months that there was something wrong with his eyes. A specialist was consulted, and the specialist told the parents that he could do nothing. He reassured them that there was nothing seriously wrong with the lad's eyes, and there was no reason why he should not see perfectly all the years of his life. Other specialists, when second opinions were sought, agreed.
But they were sadly mistaken in their diagnoses. Slowly, but inexorably, George Matheson's eyesight gave way. During his schooldays he was, by the grace of God, able to see well enough to read, though finally only with the help of very powerful glasses and large-type books. But by the time he enterede university George Matheson was completely dependent on others to read aloud to him.
George Matheson was never totally blind, but what vision he had was so blurred and distorted as to be of no practical use to him at all. Sometimes, it is recorded by his biographer, Matheson had moments of vision, when he could just make out what was written on the sign-boards of the Glasgow shops. Sometimes he was able to make out some part of the features of those with whom he was conversing - but only for brief moments.
The loss of his eyesight deeply affected Matheson. Indeed, it almost overwhelmed him. As a boy he had been able to join in the games of others, but blind he felt separated from the rest of mankind, overcome by a terrible catastrophe. Friends said that the echoes of that catastrophe could be heard in his preaching on the book of Job. The matter of suffering in the world was no mere academic problem to him, it was a great fact of his life.

Next time, God willing, we shall observe Matheson's university life.


Monday, May 29, 2006

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

Probably most Christians who appreciate good hymns know the hymn O Love that wilt not let me go. The hymn was written by George Matheson, a Church of Scotland minister in the late 19th Century. This year marks the 100th anniversary of George Matheson's death, in North Berwick on Tuesday 28th August 1906. Since most people know little about Matheson beyond the fact that he was blind and wrote a hymn, we considered it to be appropriate to mark his death by disseminating some more information about him.

George Matheson was born in Glasgow on March 27th 1842. The date immediately reminds us that he was born into a society where the national Church was in crisis. A year after Matheson's birth the Church of Scotland divided.
George Matheson's parents remained in the Church of Scotland, and this fact set the direction for Matheson's eventual career, where he would be known as a man who valued peace and unity - perhaps too highly.
George Matheson's parents were respectable middle class folk; his father was a successful merchant, a godly man who not only laboured to make wealth, but cared for the good of the community in which God had placed him, and for the good of those in his employment. His name was also George Matheson (so, in American terms, our George Matheson was George Matheson Junior) and a highlander, a native of the ancient cathedral town of Dornoch.
He had at first looked to the ministry as hi future, but God had other purposes for him. He prospered in business, and was an elder in the Church of Scotland.
So George Matheson (Jr.) had a firm foundation, brought up in the old paths of theology.

Next time, God willing, we shall see more of his being brought up, and we shall read of how he lost the power of sight.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

A difficult Church Member

Dr. George Lawson of Selkirk was a noted preacher in his day, and the successor of John Brown of Haddington in the professorship of the Secession Church. Lawson was called to Selkirk as a young man by an almost unanimous call. But the one member of the church there who had opposed the call was violently opposed to the young preacher and took every possible opportunity to annoy him.
Lawson, as a good pastor, visited his people often and he refused to pass by the captious member. One day Lawson was visting the man and trying to show him Christian love, entering into conversation with him in a very frank manner. The church member was, however, still suspicious and difficult, looking for every possible opportunity to catch Lawson out somehow. At last the man declared offensively that the minister had lied to him.
"How?" Lawson asked, quite certain that he had not lied.
"You have. For you said earlier, when I asked you to stay and have tea with us, you said you would not, yet you have done so. Is not that a lie?"
"You must read the story of the angels in Sodom who, when Lot pressed them to enter into his house and lodge with him during the night, refused and said, 'Nay, but we will abide in the street all night;' and instead of doing so, when Lot pressed them much, 'they turned in unto him and entered into his house: and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.' Now, do you suppose that these angels told a lie? No, they only changed their mind; and so I too have just changed my mind, and have remained to partake of your fare."
The unpleasant church member, who had been certain that he had caught the young minister, was silenced.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thomas M'Crie's sincerity

The following anecdote is told of Dr. Thomas M'Crie, the biographer of John Knox.

Two students at a Scottish university, one a Christian, the other an unbeliever, got into a conversation. The unbelieving student stoutly maintained that no clergyman, possessed of any mental powers or liberal acquirements, really believed in the truth of what he preached. The Christian student of course objected, mentioning several intelligent ministers who he did not think could be charged with such dissimulation.
"Can you believe that Dr. X. is not a sincere believer in the tenets which he preaches?"
"Oh, he's a man of the world! He cannot believe in them!"
"What do you say of Dr. Y?"
"He is too much of a scientific man to be a believer!"
"Well then," the Christian student asked, "can you say that Dr. M'Crie does not believe in the truths which he preaches?"
The shot hit home. The unbeliever's face fell, and after a pause he replied:
"You have the advantage of me now; I must grant you that Dr. M'Crie would not preach such doctrines if he did not believe them."
Dr. M'Crie's sincerity closed the mouth of the gainsayer.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Making the best of a bad wife.

Rev. James Fraser of Alness was one of the most pious and godly ministers in the Highlands in what Dr. Kennedy called the 'Days of the Fathers'. He was greatly esteemed, and his writings are still read today. But, like the Apostle Paul, Fraser of Alness had a thorn in the flesh - in his case, an unbelieving wife. She did her best to make her godly husband uncomfortable, refusing to obey him in any way. Sometimes she wouldn't even cook for him! Fortunately for Mr. Fraser, he had godly friends, some of whom actually arranged a secret 'food dump' for him beside his usual evening walk!
Mrs. Fraser refused fire and candles to her husband's study in the winter evenings, which in Ross-shire is one of the cruelest things a woman can possibly do. Fraser paced the floor in order to keep warm, and he wore a hole in the floor by his walking. Fraser's fellow-ministers knew about this, and at a Presbytery dinner one night the toast 'to our wives' was proposed.
"You will, of course, cordially join in drinking to this toast?"
"So I will, and so I ought," Fraser replied. "For mine has been a better wife to me than any one of yours has been to you."
"How so?" they all exclaimed, amazed.
"She has sent me seven times a day to my knees in my closet, when I would not otherwise have gone, and this is more than any of you can say of yours."

Monday, May 22, 2006

The death-bed of Thomas Guthrie

Dr. Thomas Guthrie was one of the greatest preachers of the early years of the Free Church of Scotland. Inclined to be a little flowery, his sermons are perhaps not to modern taste.
But the account of his death-bed is one of the most affecting things in his biography.

"When the great pulpit orator came to die, he grew more and more like a little child. He felt like a babe on the bosom of Jesus. The sight of a little grandchild, who came into his dying chamber, brought a smile over his pale face, and he whispered, - 'Put her up.' When lifted onto the bed, she crept up to him and kissed him, and he nodded his head and said sweetly, 'My bonnie lamb!'
"During those last hours, he found great solace in the singing of dear old favourite psalms and spiritual songs. But of none was he so fond as of simple Sunday-school melodies. When they asked him on one of the last nights of his life, 'What shall we sing for you?' he said quickly, "Give me a bairn's [child's] hymn.' So they sang for the veteran pilgrim... His theology was all narrowed down to one word - Christ. His faith was the faith of a little child. When asked, 'Have you that Saviour now?' he promptly answered, 'Yes, I have none else.' Then he was heard to murmur to himself, 'Over on the other side."

Adapted from William Adamson, The Religious Anecdotes of Scotland (London, Simpkin, Marshall and Co., 1893) Pp. 322-3

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What sort of 'Moral Influence' does 'Moral Influence' have?

"Suppose - if it can 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 his of life before them, for no other than the avowed purpose of assuring the rebel multitude than 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 might we suppose it to have a tendency to confirm them in their alienation from 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 Scripture Doctrine of the Atonement (Edinburg and London, William Blackwood and Sons, 1874) Pp. 297-8

New Denney biography (Notice)

James M. Gordon, Principal of the Scottish Baptist College, has recently written James Denney: An Intellectual and Contextual Biography (published by Paternoster in the 'Studies in Evangelical History and Thought' series). The book's details are here. God willing, a review will be posted on Free St. George's as soon as we recieve and read the book.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. XVI.

James Denney died on 11th June 1917, at the age of sixty-one, worn out by the strain of the churches. He joined his wife and his closest friends in eternity, before the throne of God. His body was laid to rest in Glasgow. Denney's Cunningham Lectures for 1917 were never delivered, the full manuscrip was published as his memorial under the title The Christian Doctrine of Reconcilliation.
Denney's dying had been sustained by thinking on the atonement, on the fact that Christ had paid all the debt of sin for him. He died as he had lived, depending on the atonement paid by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Denney's books are still read today, although by fewer people than they once were, no doubt because there are now sounder books on the subjects which we can read. But Denney's battles are being fought again today, and we must fight them. We are therefore glad to have Denney's works.

In Memoriam: James Denney.
By Rev. W. R. Thomson, B.D.

Friend, who hast fallen 'mid the din of war,
Take now thy portion of the soldier's sleep;
For thou, God's sentry, didst thy vigil keep,
Nor watched with idle eyes the strife from far.

Naught trivial found a home within thy mind,
Nor any baseness in thy spirit's place;
Self's spectre fled the daybreak of thy face
To herd in dark confusion with its kind.

The light of thought enthroned upon thy brow
Its splendid largesse flung upon our way;
God's benison to one who loved the day,
Whose riches did us poorer men endow.

And when the shadow fell, and bugles shrill
Blew war's fierce challenge all about the land,
Who more than thou, at Duty's high command,
Didst toil to fortify the nation's will?

Who more than thou didst toil to feed the flame
Of high resolve? to keep inviolate
Our troth with those - to honour dedicate -
Who reaps on fields of death a deathless fame?

Ah, silent now that voice of quiet power,
And dark the eye that kindled at the call
Of God within, and stilled beneath the pall
The valiant heart that held faith's endless dower.

Blow the Last Post across the soldier saint,
Give to the wind and sun our sorrow deep;
Friend, take thy portion of the soldier's sleep,
Thou who didst march God's way and didst not faint.

These posts are based primarily on T.H. Walker, Principal James Denney, D.D. (London, Marshall Brothers, 1918) and John Randolph Taylor, God Loves Like That! (London, SCM Press, 1962). The main other source is an unpublished Summer Project for the London Theological Seminary.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. XV.

In 1915 the General Assembly of the United Free Church of Scotland appointed James Denney to the principalship of the United Free Church College, Glasgow. But Denney's health was not good. The loss of his wife and his closest friends told heavily upon him and, combined with the pressures of his work, they wore him down. As one of the elder statesmen of the United Free Church an increasing burden of leadership fell upon Denney, a burden that was in fact too great for him to bear.
But Denney was not the sort of man who complained about things. In fact, he was the sort of man who willingly took up every task given to him and in fact volunteered for tasks. The trouble was that no-one else was willing to vounteer for the tasks, and so Denney took them up.
The strain of the First World War told on him too. He saw some of the finest students cut down in the prime of life, read reports from Flanders of the cream of the United Free Church youth slaughtered wholesale. The whole of the care of the Church fell on Denney and, after a while, he gave way under the pressure.
He was seized with illness one day in February 1917, while lecturing. Preaching at Kirkintilloch on the previous Lord's Day, he had returned in an open car, and caught a chill. The result on his weakened constitution was a total collapse.
Denney, who was due to give the prestigious Cunningham Lectures in that year, did his best to shake off his illness. He could not, and although his doctor told him he was getting better, Denney knew better. He suffered a total collapse early in June, and on June 11th 1917 James Denney, Principal and Professor of the United Free Church College, Glasgow, passed from this world into the presence of the God he had served with all his strength. He was interred in the Western Necropolis, Glasgow, on 15th June.

Next time, God willing, we shall conclude this series.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. XIV.

James Denney's lectures at United Free Church College, Glasgow, were full of the cross. It was the centre of his whole theology.
It would be nice to be able to say that Denney was thoroughly orthodox in his theology, but unfortunately he was not. While it must be stressed that James Denney fervently believed in the deity of Christ and in the objective atonement. Unfortunately his pneumatology was somewhat lacking; it is always a shock when one comes to a section on the Holy Spirit in one of Denney's books. Denney uniformly refers to the Holy Spirit as 'It', a surprising turn of phrase when one considers that the Spirit is often referred to as 'he' in the Bible. Although he rejected much of the Higher Criticism, Denney also accepted some of it. He rejected inerrancy in favour of a vaguely defined 'infallible power to save'.
Still, his students saw him as "the great exponent of the cross," and such he was.

In 1914 Principal Thomas M. Lindsay of the United Free Church College, Glasgow, died. It was unanimously agreed that Denney would be appointed as his successor. There was no other man who was considered for the post. Denney was the first Glasgow student to have been appointed professor at the college, and now he would be the first principal of the college to be an alumnus. Denney gratefully accepted the post.
It was the crowning honour of Deney's career, and one he would hold only for a few brief years. Our next post, God willing, will be concerned with those years.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. XIII.

James Denney contended that the Cross could only be preached effectively if it was preached as Christ dying the 'room and stead' of sinners.

"I have a friend in Scotland, a convert, I dare say you will be glad to hear, of Mr. Moody during his first visit to us in 1874, who has himself been wonderfully blessed by God as an evangelist and carer for souls. He is a fishing-tackle maker and an enthusiastic fisherman, and told me once of losing his bait in a mysterious way without catching anything. The explanation was that by some accident or other the barb had been broken from the hook. It was my friend himself who made the application of this, when he said that this was exactly what happened when people preached the love of God to men, but left out of their gospel the essential truth that it is Christ on the Ross, the substitute for sinners, in whom that love is revealed. In other words, the condemnation of our sins in Christ upon His Cross is the barb on the hook. If you leave that out of your gospel, I do not deny that your bait will be taken; men are pleased rather than not to think that God regards them with goodwill; your bait will be taken, but you will not catch men. You will not create in human hearts that attitude to Christ which created the New Testament. You will not annahilate pride, and make Christ the Alpha and the Omega in man's redemption."
(Studies in Theology P. 127-8)

Do we not need such a clear view today? Next time, God willing, we shall continue with Denney's life and career.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. XII.

James Denney was very insistent that the cross not only could be preached coherently, but that it ought to be.
"It is tempting, indeed, to think that because of its very greatness we can only have partial and fragmentary views of it, discerning this element or that aspect according as our eyes are opened by grace or by our own extreme need; but the more we reflect upon it, the more we shall be convinced that it is as simple as it is great, and that there is one element in it, one aspect of it, which is omnipresent, constitutive of the thing itself, and not to be denied or overlooked except at the cost of denying the reality of Christ's work altogether." (Studies in Theology, P. 125)

Denney insisted that there were two practical considerations about any view of the atonement:
"The first is, that it can be preached. You can tell men what it is. You can appeal to them with it, in God's name. There are many 'interpretations,' so called, of Christ's work, to which the fatal objection can be made that they are unintelligible. You could never use them to evangelise. They supply no practical or convincing answer to that question, What must I do to be saved? Now I do not hesitate to say that a doctrine of atonement which cannot be preached is not true. If it cannot be told out lucidly, unreservedly, passionately, tremblingly, by any simple man, to gentle and simple alike, it is not that word of the cross whuch Paul describes as the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes. The other consideration is this, that the view of the atonement in question binds men for ever to Christ by making them for ever dependent on Him. There is never any standing for them before God but that which He has bought for them with His blood." (Studies in Theology P. 127)

God willing, next time we shall read some more of Deney's teaching on the cross.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. XI.

James Denney was fully committed to a Substitutionary view of the atonement. When he was writing, in the period when the nineteenth century was merging into the twentieth, it was becoming popular to represent the atonement as something else, as simply a declaration of God's love for man.

Denney's response to this view is well known, but it bears repeating in its wider context:

"There is something irrational in saying that the death of Christ is a great proof of love to the sinful, unless there is shown at the same time a rational connection between that death and the responsibilities which sin involves, and the responsibilities which sin involves, and from which that death delivers. Perhaps one should beg pardon for using so simple an illustration, but the point is a vital one, and it is necessary to be clear. If I were sitting on the end of a pier, on a summer day, enjoying the sunshine and the air, and some one came along and jumped into the water and got drowned 'to prove his love for me,' I should find it quite unintelligible. I might be much in need of love, but an act in no rational relation to any of my necessities could not prove it. But if I had fallen over the pier and were drowning, and some one sprang into the water, and at the cost of making my peril, or what but for him would be my fate, his own, saved me from death, then I should say, 'Greater love hath no man than this.' I should say it intelligibly, because there would be an intellibible relation between the sacrifice which love made and the necessity from which it redeemed. Is it making any rash assumption to say that there must be such an intelligible relation between the death of Christ - the great act in which His love to sinners is demonstrated - and the sin of the world for which in His blood He is the propitiation? I do not think so. Nor have I yet seen any intelligible relation established between them, except that which is the key to the whole of New Testament teaching, and which bids us say, as we look at the Cross, He bore our sins, He died our death. It is so His love constrains us."

The Death of Christ (fifth edition, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1905) Pages 176-178


Friday, May 12, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. X.

In his Studies in Theology, James Denney wrote:

"The work of Christ in relation to sin is the great thing in the Gospel. It is the centre of interest and devotion, the main object both of attack and defence; for our understanding of the Christian revelation as a whole, everything depends on the clearness of our vision here." (P. 125)

What was Denney's conception of Christ's work, then? He summed it up thus: "His death is concieved as putting away sin, because that death our condemnation came upon Him. That is the apostolic interpretation, the apostolic theory, of the atonement. That is the ultimate fact which gives significance to Christ's death, and makes it a sin-anulling death. It is a death in which the divine condemnation of sin comes upon Christ, and is exhausted there, so that there is thenceforth no condemnation for those that are in Him. If we cannot say this of His death - that in it God's condemnation of sin fell upon Him - then we must either show other reasons for saying that His death is the ground of forgiveness, or give up the idea that there is any connection between the two. In other words, if we do not accept the apostolic theory of atonement, we must either provide a more adequate one, or else, as intelligent creatures, renounce what we have distinguished as 'the fact.' An absolutely unintelligable fact, to an intellient being, is exactly equivalent to zero." (P. 108)
[Denney has in view here certain writers who said that, while they accepted the 'fact' of the atonement, they accepted no 'theory' of it. As he shows here, the fact of the atonement as presented in Scripture actually comes with a 'theory' already attached to it.]

"Christ, by God's appointment, dies the sinner's death. The doom falls upon Him, and is exhausted there. The sense of the apostle is given adequately in the well-known hymn:
'Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood;
Sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Saviour!'
It is not given adequately, it is not given approximately, it is not given in any degree whatever, it is not seen even afar off, by the most refined theology which leaves the condemnation out of the cross, and invents a meaning of its own, for the phrase of its own invention, that Christ became sin for us." (Pp. 112-3)
(italics Denney's)

What, then, did Denney make of other 'theories' of the atonement? God willing, we shall see next time.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. IX.

James Denney's first work on systematic theology was his Studies in Theology, based on his lectures at Chicago Theological Seminary (quotes are from the third edition, Published London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1895). In it he wrote his first systematic exposition of the Gospel.
"The gospel is the revelation of God's redeeming love, made in view of a certain situation as existing between God and man. Now what is the serious element in that situation, as Scripture unfolds it? In other words, what is the serious element in sin, as sin stands before us in Revelation? Is it man's distrust of God? Man's dislike, suspicion, alienation? Is it the special direction of vice in human nature, or its debilitating corrupting effects? It is none of these things, nor is it all of them together. Wht makes the situation serious, what necessitates a gospel, is that the world in its sin lies under the condemnation of God. His wrath abides upon it. That wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness in man; and it is in view of this, it is as the exact counterpart of this, thaqt the righteousness and love of God are revealed in the Gospel." (Pages 102-3)

"It is this condemnation, then, as a real and serious thing - it is sin in this especial character of that which draws down God's condemnation on man - with which Christ deals. And He deals with it in a great and serious way. He does not treat it as though it were merely subjective, - an illusion from which man has to be delivered. He does not put it away by disregarding it, and telling us to disregard it. He puts it away by bearing it. He removes it from us by taking it upon Himself. And He takes it upon Himself, in the sense of the New Testament, by submitting to that death in which God's condemnation of sin is expressed. In the Bible to bear sin is not an ambiguous expression. It means to underlie its responsibility and to recieve its consequences: to say that Christ boreour sins is precisely the same as to say that He died for our sins; it needs no other interpretation, aqnd admits of no other." (Pages 103-4)

"The answer to the question, 'What did Christ do for our sins?' can only be answered in one word - He died for them; and neither the evangelist nor the theologian who finds this unimpressive will prosper in the attempt to unfold its contents." P. 105

"The Apostolic doctrine of Christ's work in relation to sin - if you prefer it, the Apostolic theory of the atonement - is the thing which gives one his bearings in the Bible." P. 107.

Those are from just a few pages in Denney's Studies in Theology, and from them he never wavered. God willing we shall present some more examples of Denney's teaching on the cross next time, entering more deeply into his teaching.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. VIII.

By 1900 James Denney had been teaching Systematic and Pastoral Theology at the Free Church College, Glasgow for three years. But 1900 ushered in a new era, for it was in 1900 that the Free Church of Scotland united with the United Presbyterian Church, producing the United Free Church of Scotland. The United Presbyterians had had their own college, located in Edinburgh. Since the Edinburgh Free Church College (New College) was far better equippped than the U.P. College it was agreed to close the United Presbyterian College and to redistribute the professors around the Free Church Colleges. Glasgow had a vacancy in the New Testament chair created by the death of Professor Bruce, but the U.P. Professor who was assigned to them was James Orr, United Presbyterian professor of Systematic Theology. Dr. Denney was moved to the chair of New Testament and Apologetics. It was the post for which he was probably best qualified. One of his future colleagues, Professor Clow, wrote: "For this Chair of New Testament Exegesis he was uniquely prepared... he was essentially a man of one book. That book was the New Testament. Its history, its sources, its authors, and especially the Gospel writers, and Paul as their interpreter, called forth from him all his powers, with a deep joy in their exercise." It was telling that he greatly resisted an attempt made later to transfer him back to his original chair after the death of Professor Orr.
Denney's interpretation of the New Testament centred around the doctrine of the Atonement. The death of Christ was the absolute centre of his system, holding together everythin else.
God willing, we shall say something about his teaching on the atonement next time.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. VII.

James Denney entered upon his career as professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at the Free Church College, Glasgow, with great enthusiasm. Denney, like all good theological lecturers, made his lectures interesting and was not above cracking the odd joke from the desk. When one of his students repeated one of the stories about Spurgeon and cigars, Denney exclaimed, "I know a better one. An old lady met Spurgeon one day and remonstrated with him about his smoking. Spurgeon replied, 'I do not see any harm in it as long as one does not smoke to excess.' 'And pray, Mr. Spurgeon, what would you call smoking to excess?' The came the withering retort, 'Madam, smoking two cigars at once!'"
Denney enjoyed recreation too, although his chief recreation was a game of whist. For his health he went for long walks about Glasgow, walking to every preaching engagement that he could. He tried a bicycle once, but did not take to it (unlike a certain other apologist). Denney was a brisk walker, and he only used public transport when he was unable to walk to his destination.

Denney was a conservative scholar at heart, but he was by no means as conservative as such modern scholars as Dr. Albert Mohler. One of his friends, a man who was something of a liberal, said, "There was no kind of ignorant narrowness about Denney. He was as critical as he was conservative, and knew when to be agnostic as when to be dogmatic."
Denney championed two doctrines in particular, the Divinity and the Atoning Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. As systematic theology professor, Denney had a great deal of influence. But his great ability was in New Testament studies, and in 1900 Denney was moved to a new post that would utilise that skill.
How that happened we shall, God willing, see next time.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. VI.

After a successful and happy pastoral ministry of eleven years at East Free Church, Broughty Ferry, James Denney was called by the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland to the chair of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at the Free Church College, Glasgow. While still at Broughty Ferry Denney had been invited to deliver a course of theological lectures at Chicago Theological Seminary. His lectures, published under the title Studies in Theology, had brought him to the notice of the Assembly's College Committee. They had also earned him a D.D. from the University of Chicago, and so it was as Dr. Denney that he took up his new post in Glasgow.
Denney did not forget East Free Church, Broughty Ferry. In a very real sense he was, as his successor in the pastorate said, "minister of the East Free Church till the day of his death." He appeared in his old pulpit every year for the rest of his life.

Glasgow is Scotland's second city, and the Free Church College wanted to be seen as superior to that in Edinburgh. Dr. Denney was quite a gain even to their faculty. After all, his lectures at Chicago had given him a worldwide reputation. Students came from all over the world to sit under Denney's teaching.
Denney recognised that a theological professor cannot simply be an academic, he must also be a pastor. Denney spoke of his work as being, to a great extent, "creating a conscience" in the students. For their part the students recognised his spiritual influence. Denney also tried to help the young Free Church students to develop good habits of study and preparation. He could come down in terrible wrath upon the student who had deliberately failed to prepare for a class. One man who had tried to speak in class without preparation earned the rebuke of "not having the ghost of a glimmering of an idea of what he is talking about."
Those students who were prepared to put in hard work, however, found in Denney a friendly, genial man. A little shy by nature, Denney made the effort to invite students to meet with him in his study, and even in his house. Some of the students thought so highly of him that a theological debate among Glasgow Free Church students was often ended with the question, "What is Dr. Denney's view?"

The college desk was Denney's native environment, and he took to it with delight. God willing, we shall look further at his professorial career next time.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. V.

At the age of 31 James Denney was ordained as pastor of East Free Church, Broughty Ferry. As the successor of A.B. Bruce, Denney was faced with an educated congregation with very high standards. Denney rose to the challenge, determined to preach 'Christ and Him Crucified.' Although he had many rich and educated people in his congregation, Denney did not succumb to the temptation to preach for them. He aimed at the common people, and was certain that the more educated would be able to understand him too. His sermons appealed to both the intellect and the conscience.
He had been moved in his doctrinal moorings by some of his teachers at the Free Church College, but at Broughty Ferry a new influence came to bear on him - James Denney married. His wife was an evangelical, and a lover of the sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon as well. She introduced her husband to Spurgeon, and the London preacher's uncompromising Calvinistic theology drew Denney back to his evangelical roots. Mrs. Denney was an 'help meet' indeed to her husband!
The Cross filled Denney's horizon, and his preaching. He challenged his hearers with the claims of Christ to be Lord of All, and with the need to bear the cross. "Count the cost," was his message to the wealthy of Broughty Ferry. He would not - could not - compromise the cross. His motto in preaching was, "What we have got to do in preaching is not to be original, but to make the obvious arresting."
We have two memorials of James Denney's Broughty Ferry ministry, his commentaries on II Corinthians and Thessalonians in the 'Expositor's Bible' series. But Denney's abilities had been noticed, and in 1897 the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland appointed him to the Chair of Systematic and Pastoral Theology in the Free Church College, Glasgow. Eleven years of pastoral ministry was to be succeeded by twenty years of teaching.

God willing, we shall begin to look at those twenty years next time.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. IV.

At the Free Church College, Glasgow, James Denney was lured away from the Cameronian faith of his fathers by the concessive apologetics of Brofessor A.B. Bruce. Yet Denney also engaged in evangelism, becoming a student missionary for Free St. John's, Glasgow. Denney had an evangelist's heart, and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. Still more theologically conservative than Professor Bruce, James Denney the student entered on his first work as author. He wrote anonymously, mostly because he was attacking a book written by one of his professors (although a professor with whom Professor Bruce disagreed)!
Denney was reviewing Professor Henry Drummond's Natural Law in the Spiritual World, and he intended to counteract the work's tendency. Drummond, Denney contended, had so confused the Spiritual and Natural worlds that his title was frankly a misnomer!

In 1886, James Denney graduated from the Free Church College and was licensed to preach by the Free Presbytery of Greenock. Immediately afterwards the 31 year-old preacher was called to succeed his mentor Professor Bruce in the pastorate of the East Free Chruch, Broughty Ferry.
Broughty Ferry was a wealthy town near Dundee in which the wealthy of Dundee lived, away from the poverty of the city. Professor Bruce had given his famous book The Training of the Twelve as sermons from the Broughty Ferry Pulpit, quite a challenge for a young preacher!

How Denney coped we shall, God willing, see next time.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. III.

The Scottish Presbyterian Churches in their best days have always laid a great stress on the need for an educated ministry, thus it was seen in the conservative circles in which James Denney's family moved as only natural that the brilliant student should become a minister. Denney himself felt a deep desire to teach the Gospel.
The Free Church of Scotland, to which Denney belonged, was second to none in the standard of its ministerial education. It had three colleges, one large, extremely well-equipped one in Edinburgh (New College), and two smaller, but also excellently-equipped colleges in Glasgow and Aberdeen. Coming from Greenock and graduating from Glasgow University, Denney decided to enter the Glasgow Free Church College. Although New College was more prestigious, there was a sense in which Glasgow was more attractive to James Denney, and it was that Glasgow was seen as being more on the 'cutting edge' of theology. Its staff consisted mostly of younger men, influenced by a changing theological climate. The Principal and Old Testament lecturer, George C.M. Douglas, was a thoroughly conservative man, but he allowed the other professors a great deal of liberty in their teaching.
These young professors were Thomas M. Lindsay, Professor of Church History, James Candlish, Professor of Systematic Theology and son of Robert S. Candlish, and Alexander Balmain Bruce, New Testament and apologetics. Natural science was taught by Henry Drummond. These four men were all 'New Evangelists', attempting to engage with modern liberal scholarship without abandoning evangelicalism.
Denney was particularly attracted to professor Bruce. He admired Bruce's work on the Gospels and declared of Bruce, "He made me see Jesus!"
But Bruce was moving away from evangelicalism, and sadly he carried Denney, whose conservative evangelicalism had been disturbed by a tour in Germany, with him for a while.

Next time, God willing, we shall see how Denney's other great concern, evangelism, was developed in his time at the Free Church College.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. II.

After four years as a pupil teacher at the Highlanders' Academy, Greenock, James Denney entered Glasgow University in November, 1874, aged eighteen. His fellow-students were amazed at his brilliance, and his fame was established through his undergoing the ordeal of the 'Blackstone Examination.' The examination was connected with the Blackstone Prize, a gold medal awarded to the student who may profess to read the greatest number of Latin books, and translate any passage or passages selected by the professor, from the whole, correctly. Often students professed to have read some seventy or eighty books, and Denney was no exception. Sitting in the 'Blackstone', a black marble chair from which the examination took its name (like Mastermind, but with a marble, rather than leather, chair), Denney passed a long and searching examination with flying colours, to the delight of his classmates. His reputation was assured.
Denney profited immemsely from his university years, particularly benefiting from the Greek classes. But all was, of course, a means to an end. He was looking forward to serving the Church of Jesus Christ.
By the time he graduated from Glasgow University, James Denney was connected with the Free Church of Scotland due to the merger of his Cameronian Church with the Free Church. Denney's steps therefore turned towards the Italianate towers of Free Church College, Glasgow. What befell him there we shall, God willing, see next time.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. I.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Professor James Denney, who was born 5th February 1856 in Paisley. His parents were 'Cameronians' - that is to say, they were Reformed Presbyterians, or Covenanters, members of that Church which originated in the fierce persecutions of the 'Killing Times' of 17th cenury Scotland. Four months after Denney's birth his parents moved the the nearby town of Greenock, and for that reason Denney regarded himself as a Greenock man. They attended the Reformed Presbyterian Church until, in 1876, the majority of the Cameronians united with the Free Church of Scotland. Denney's father was a joiner by profession, and also held the office of deacon in the Cameronian congregation of which he was a member. Thus James Denney was trained up in the Reformed Presbyterians during his formative years, and for the rest of his life he would own that he owed the RPs a debt that he could never repay.
Denney was an excellent student at the schools of his youth. At the Highlanders' Academy he carried all before him, and was soon teaching himself! He was no comet, however, but a steady, methodical boy who succeeded by sheer hard work. Nor was James Denney too proud to put on an apron and work at the joiner's bench at his father's little firm. For two years after he finished at the Highlanders. Academy, Denney worked in the office of a tug boat agents, in order to develop his penmanship.
James Denney's sights at this time rose no higher than an ambition to be a teacher. He was indeed to become a teacher, and his pastor, noting the young man's intellectual abilities and his fervent piety, suggested to his young member that God might be calling him to the ministry.
In order to enter even the Cameronian ministry, Denney would have to take an arts course at university -and it is there, God willing, that we shall rejoin him next time.


Monday, May 01, 2006

James Morison, the Scottish Finney. XV

The year of 1843 is best-remembered by evangelicals, and quite rightly, as the year in which the Church of Scotland split, and the Free Church of Scotland was born. But, two days before the mighty Disruption launched the Free Church of Scotland, another denomination was born. While the Free Church was the longest lived of the two, the smaller denomination born on May 16th, 1843 was arguably the better indicator of the Times.

James Morison had been expelled from the Secession Church in 1841 for teaching, contrary to the Westminster Confession, that Christ's atonement was universal, that Christ died as much for Judas as for Peter (for that matter, as much for those who died in the Flood as for Noah), and that all men had the ability to believe. Following his expulsion, Morison had become a four-point Arminian. Others had joined him, and a new denomination was clearly coming to the birth. Its birth took three days (although the birth-pangs were longer, of course). A conference was held in the Session-house of Clerk's Lane meeting-house, consisting of thirteen men, four ministers (all expelled Secession ministers), one Evangelist, and eight elders. A Confession and a name for the new Church, consisting at that time of three congregations, were discussed. They decided to call themelves the Evangelical Union. The Union was to be purely voluntary, their basis of faith short.
'Faith' the new denomination declared to be a 'simple belief of God's record', the saving influence of the Spirit was declared to be available to all, and the doctrines were summed up in 'the three universalities', the universal love of God the Father, the universal gift and sacrifice of Jesus, and the universal work of God the Holy Spirit in applying the death of Christ.

Calvinistic Presbyterian Scotland had produced its first Arminian denomination, a denomination that would welcome Charles Finney to Scotland, and that would have a deep and lasting influence upon Scotland - all due to James Morison.

The Evangelical Union Church, popularly known as the Morisonian Church, throve during the lifetime of its founder. But it was a denomination founded on a man, and Morison died in 1893. In 1897 the Evangelical Union merged with the Congregational Union. In practially every Scottish denomination Morison's doctrines had been accepted.

Note on sources: The two principal sources for this series were William Adamson, The Life of the Rev. James Morison, D.D. (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1898), and Oliphant Smeaton, Principal James Morison the Man and His Work (Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1902).