Thursday, August 31, 2006

George Lawson of Selkirk. VIII: ‘The Doctor’

Dr. Lawson was a beloved professor, not just because he did not keep up Brown of Haddington’s custom of visiting students between six and eight in the morning to ensure that they rose early (he carried a stick and was not afraid to prod sleeping students with it). His influence on students was great and there was a clannishness about ‘Selkirk men’ for many years in the denomination. They would meet together to talk about Lawson and ‘Selkirk days’. ‘The Doctor’s’ godliness and good-humour won him the love and respect of his students.
Perhaps the best known of Lawson’s students is John Brown of Broughton Place, Edinburgh, author of many well-known commentaries published by the Banner of Truth Trust. The grandson of John Brown of Haddington, he had been blessed with advantages his gandfather had not. Unhappily he had developed a taste for the flamboyant and metaphysical in preaching, imagining that this would win him acclaim. After one of his ‘class sermons’ he was severely criticised by the other students and by a vising minister. In an interview with ‘the Doctor’ in his study that night Brown confessed that he had deserved all the criticism.
“Yes,” Dr. Lawson agreed, “I fear you have, and if I had gone into criticism I might have been more severe; but, John, we have both good reason to look well to our work, for if you come short in anything, every one will say, how much better you would have turned out if you had studied under your grandfather.”
The faithful admonition was not lost on young Brown, and he learned to preach so that ‘the common people heard him gladly.’ Spurgeon would write of him, “He is a great expositor,” and, “Brown is a modern Puritan. All his expositions are of the utmost value.” Remember, then, as you read Brown’s ‘Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord,’ his ‘Galatians’, his ‘Hebrews’, his ‘Romans’, or any other book of his, that Lawson of Selkirk’s faithful expostulation made Brown of Broughton Place what he was.


George Lawson of Selkirk. VII: The Pastor of Pastors

When John Brown of Haddington died in 1787 the Synod’s choice for a successor fell on Brown’s old student, Lawson of Selkirk. It was a good choice, since Lawson was a kindred spirit to Brown. John Cairns wrote of Lawson: “So wonderful was his memory that he could nearly have reproduced the English Bible, on which he habitually lectured [old Scots term for expository preaching, H.H.] to his congregation with the book shut. He had also by heart large portions both of Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, as well as of the classics. He had studied the Fathers more as a divine of the seventeenth century that of the eighteenth, and his range of information in modern divinity and Church history was equally extensive.” (Cairns, ‘Memoir of John Brown, D.D.’ P. 33. Quoted by David Woodside, ‘The Soul of a Scottish Church’ (Edinburgh, United Free Church, no date) P. 131). Since Lawson would have to teach every single subject this was just as well!
Selkirk now became a town with a noted college. Every year the good people of the Secession Church put up divinity students in their spare rooms, and the Secession Church became a class-room. Once the church heating broke down and Lawson was forced to use his manse for the classes, a terrible thing as there was no single room large enough. Students sat in several rooms and the professor stood in the hall and lectured. We are not told what Mrs. Lawson and the children thought of that!
Students were also required to preach on week-nights in Lawson’s church (thus giving him more time to prepare for lectures), and as a result they were something of an extension of the Selkirk Secession Church ‘family’. While there must have been several drawbacks to this one-man professoriate this was one of the advantages, as Church and college were joined so closely.
Lawson’s students remembered their time at Selkirk with affection, both the lovely market town and the brilliant, loveable professor, whom they affectionately called ‘the Doctor’ (he had been granted a D.D. from Aberdeen).

Of which more, God willing, next time.


The Decline of Welsh Nonconformity 7: Doctrine (conclusions)

Of course, when looking at the rise of theological liberalism, it is easy to over-egg the pudding. There is a real difficulty in assessing the inroads made by the new ideas, since the propagandists of these ideas had a vested interest in exaggerating the spread of their ideas, often claiming lots of people secretly held these ideas, but were too afraid to speak out. On the orthodox side, many claimed that the laity were largely unaffected, another unprovable statement.[1] Certainly, however, doubt was greater among theologians and candidates for the ministry than it had been since at least 1730. Many took refuge in a faith that was subjective, looking within to experience rather than outwards to objective Christian truths (This tendency within the leadership Jones demonstrates by looking at the records of sermons between 1890 and 1914). With the reliability of many of the historical passages of the Bible in doubt, this should not be seen as a surprising development.[2] It was, and still is, far easier to side-step challenges than to meet them, but retreat from any salient, however exposed, can mean exposing one's flank to the enemy.


Percentage of sermons preached on portions of the Bible, 1890-1914:[1]

29% from Paul’s Letters (including Hebrews).
18% Matthew, Mark and Luke (although only 5% of these on the historical events in these Gospels).
14% John’s Gospel and Letters (including Revelation).
11% Psalms and the works of Solomon.
9% Prophets.
9% Historical books of the Old Testament.

[1] Jones: Faith, p.221.
[2] Jones: Faith, p.129-160.
[3] Source: Jones: Faith, pp.129-30. This information is based on a study of about 800 printed sermons. Clearly, this can only be a rough estimate, but since published sermons tend to be ‘the cream of the crop’, it is important as an indicator.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

George Lawson of Selkirk. VI: ‘Josiah Cargill’

‘Josiah Cargill’ is the name that Sir Walter Scott gives Lawson in his novel. A close student, sometimes absent-minded, indifferent to the concerns of the house (although in those days it was normal for the wife to be rtesponsible for those), plain and frugal in his lifestyle and not a little careless in his dress, Lawson certainly provided a tempting model for a novelist. Our subject in this post is George Lawson as a 'character.'
A kindly man, he was never more kindly than in his reproofs. On one occasion, soon after his settlement, a member of the congregation said to him that the people were very well pleased with his sermons, but that they did not like the texts. Lawson gave the person a hard look and said: “I should not have wondered if they had found fault with my discourses, but why should they find fault with the Word of God?”
“I do not know, but that’s what they say, and I aye like to speak all my mind.” the busybody replied.
“Do you know what Solomon says of such as you?” the young minister asked.
“No, what does Solomon say?”
“He says, ‘A fool uttereth all his mind.’” was the cutting reply.
On another occasion he was at dinner with a friend where another guest was fond of using the curse ‘the devil take me.’ Dinner had only just begun when Lawson rose and ordered his horse. His friend was puzzled and asked what was the matter.
“That gentleman has been praying pretty often this afternoon that the devil would take him, and as I have no desire to be present when it happens I beg leave to depart.” Lawson explained.
Suffering at another time from poor health, Lawson consulted a noted Edinburgh doctor. The doctor frequently used the Name of God in a profane manner. On leaving Lawson said to him: “Sir, it is written, ‘Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His Name in vain.”
And George Lawson did not hold back when brother ministers were at fault. To one who behaved in a manner that Lawson thought was unseemly he said: “Sir, your predecessor was a grave, good, godly man.”
“You do not mean to insinuate that I am not?”
“I only say emphatically that your predecessor was an eminently godly man,” was all the reply Lawson gave.

So much, then, for George Lawson as a ‘character’. But his character was, as an old writer quaintly puts it, ‘bright as St. Mary’s Loch when the sun shine falls upon it.” He was beloved by all, and known as a scholar. The result of that we shall see, God willing, next time.


The Decline of Welsh Nonconformity 6: Doctrine

As we have seen, the late nineteenth century saw a tremendous change. Darwinism in science, and new ways of reading the Bible, together with a sceptical approach in archaeology combined to create a climate in which things once certain were in doubt.

There were some, like Thomas Charles Edwards, who tried to combine these new doubts with the old certainties, hoping that, in so doing, they would preserve the central place of Christianity in the national culture. This, Jones and Sheehan both argue, did nothing but pave the way for further inroads of new ideas. Students at the theological colleges simply did not exercise the self-restraint their teachers had shown. Attempts to maintain that the theology of the Bible was essentially correct while the geography, science and history of the Bible were mistaken caused many to wonder how the unprovable assertions of the Bible could be correct when the provable ones weren’t. At the very least, religion could be discarded as having no practical relevance. In the words of a socialist writer: ‘A conception which has been discarded in the explanation of the making of the earth and the development of its inhabitants cannot be honestly retained to explain the social relations of men.’[1] In seeking to keep Christianity relevant, the theologians had undermined the foundations of the Church.

[1] Mark Starr, A Worker Looks at History (London, 1919), p.3.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

George Lawson of Selkirk. V: Pastor in Selkirk

George Lawson took his his pastorate with great earnestness - and he was blessed in it. The second child brought to him for baptism was a little boy, son of the Park family. They named the lad Mungo, and Lawson watched the boy become a man, and the man become a missionary to Africa who brought the Gospel to lands where no European had ever been before. And George Lawson heard at last that the boy he had baptized had laid down his life for the sake of Christ. What minister could have asked for a better ‘first-fruits’ of his ministry?
Lawson could be seen daily making his pastoral visits around the winding streets of Selkirk and in the scattered hill-farms round about. The rest of his time he spent in his study, and his congregation found those hours in the study were as much for them as the hours he spent visiting.
Lawson could also be rather an absent-minded and meditative man, sometimes losing himself in thought. One day in later life he was going out, and his daughter had hung her bonnet on the peg on which he usually hung his hat. Lawson took down the bonnet and put it on! Fortunately for him one of the family spotted the mistake before the people of Selkirk were treated to the sight of the town’s Secession minister walking through the streets with a woman’s bonnet on!
On another occasion the kitchen chimney of his manse caught fire. The servant, understandably alarmed by this, ran into the study yelling that the chinmey was on fire. Lawson looked at her and said sternly: “Go and tell your mistress; you know I have no charge of household matters.” It is said that Sir Walter Scott, whose mansion at Abbotsford was not far from Selkirk and who was a local magistrate who often sat in the noble courthouse in Selkirk’s marketplace, based the character of an eccentric minister in his novel ‘St. Ronan’s Well.’ The cap certainly fits!
He was a great preacher; his books (all of which are really volumes of sermons) are enough evidence of that. But his ability with the Word of God was remarked on in his own day. We shall, God willing, continue with his Selkirk ministry next time.


George Lawson of Selkirk. IV: The Itinerant

George Lawson had finished his theological training and been licenced to preach by his Presbytery. His next step was to seek out a settlement. As it does today, this meant travelling around and preaching in vacant churches. Unlike today, however, when a man travels in the relative comfort of a car, train, ‘bus or coach, in the late 18th century he either had to walk or, if he could afford it, ride a horse.
Lawson was blessed with an industrious and comfortably-off father who gave him a horse to ride. The young preacher’s Bible and other necessities were loaded into saddlebags and Lawson went forth to preach the Gospel. Then, as now, he was provided with free board and lodging for himself and for his horse, and paid a small amount in ‘expenses’; half-a-guinea for each engagement was the amount set by the Synod in those days.
And George Lawson was appreciated. Not only was his conduct such as is becoming to a minister of the Gospel, but his sermons were rich, solid yet transparent. He had a message to deliver and God’s people heard him gladly. He was not the sort of man who could stay unsettled for long.
One of his engagements was in a market town in the Southern Uplands called Selkirk. Then a small town, Selkirk is surrounded by splendid scenery and hallowed by notable associations. It was at Riskinhope Farm at the top of the Loch of the Lowes that the Martyr Renwick preached his last sermon. It was at nearby Ettrick that Thomas Boston had laboured in those barren days before the Great Awakening.
And it was to Selkirk that George Lawson was called. He accepted and was ordained to the pastorate of Selkirk. There he was to spend the rest of his life and ministry until his death in 1820.

Next time, God willing, we shall speak of the opening of the Selkirk ministry.


The Decline of Welsh Nonconformity 5: Doctrine

As had happened on the continent, some theologians, faced by the twin challenges of 'Higher Critical' scholarship and Darwinism, tried to take refuge in the belief that while the existence of God could not be objectively proved, His existence could still be maintained as the necessary foundation of moral life. The Bible could best be defended, in their view, as a book cointaining moral and religious truths, while erring in matters of science and history.[1] This position, modern evangelical historians such as R. Tudur Jones have argued, was not sufficient. Soon, even this foundation came under attack by men who backed up their arguments with scientific (or pseudo-scientific) ideas, such as Karl Marx and Ernst Haeckel.[2] For Bob Sheehan, the astonishing thing about these new ideas of uncertainty, which treated the Bible as just another book, to be questioned, criticized and reconstructed is that they were accepted by almost all leaders of nonconformity (in Wales this included Lewis Edwards and his son, Thomas Charles Edwards). By 1900, these ‘liberal’ and ‘higher critical’ ideas were taught in the Universities and most of the theological colleges in Wales.[3]

Thomas Charles Edwards, in his 1895 Davies Lecture 'The God-Man' attempted to reconcile orthodox Christian teaching on the person of Christ. While enthusastically endorsing the Virgin Birth and the deity of Christ, he introduced the idea of the incarnation as the pinnacle of human evolution (albeit an evolution issuing from the mind of God).[4] In Edwards' view, the incarnation would have occured without the Fall.[5] Most worrying to more conservative theologians was Edwards' apparent endorsement of a fairly radical kenoticism, in which Christ divested Himself of the form and many of the attributes of God, retaining little more than His divine personality. While Christ remained to him God, that great and good man had helped ease Welsh Nonconformity onto the Down-Grade.

[1] R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in Wales (Cardiff, 2004), pp.193-4.
[2] Jones: Faith, pp.196-198.
[3] R.J Sheehan: ‘The Decline of Evangelicalism in Nineteenth-Century England’, in The Banner of Truth (278) (Edinburgh, 1986) pp.15-17. See also W.B Glover: Evangelical Nonconformists and Higher Criticism in the 19th Century (London, 1954) and Davies: Light, pp.95 (Profile of Lewis Edwards).
[4] Thomas Charles Edwards, The God-Man: Being the “Davies Lecture” for 1895 (London, 1895).
[5] Thomas Charles Edwards, The God-Man: Being the “Davies Lecture” for 1895 (London, 1895), p.104.


Monday, August 28, 2006

George Lawson of Selkirk. III: The School of the Prophets

George Lawson entered the Secession Divinity Hall in 1766 while John Swanton was Professor. But Lawson would only sit under Swanton’s instruction for one session, for the Professor died soon after. John Swanton’s last words were: “I would not now return to life for ten thousand worlds; for though my heart and my flesh fail me, ‘God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.’”

The Synod of the church appointed a well-known man, Rev. John Brown of Haddington, as Swanton’s successor. Brown was by any standard a genius. He had struggled against poverty and hardship, teaching himself Greek as he tended the sheep and walking barefoot to St. Andrews for a Greek Testament. John Brown had become one of the greatest scholars of his age, familiar with Latin, Greek and Hebrew and able to read Syriac (Aramaic), Arabic, Persian and Ethiopic. Author of the justly-famed ‘Self-Interpreting Bible’ (responsible for my doing my back in on Friday) and an excellent ‘Systematic Theology’ based on his lectures, Brown was one of the pillars in the denomination.
As was the custom in the Secession the whole Divinity Hall moved to Haddington. There was no building that could be called ‘the Divinity Hall’, it was an institution that was located where the Professor was. The Professor was always a working pastor, an arrangement that ensured that there would be no speculative or dry theology taught in the Hall. What was taught there was historic experimental Calvinism.
Brown believed in discipline. He had himself risen from his humble rank be sheer hard work and he taught his students the value of hard work. He believed that it was important students develop the habit of rising early, and between six and eight in the morning Brown would visit the students in the houses where they were lodging to ensure that they were awake and studying. Any student found in bed would be awoken by a poke delivered with the professor's walking-stick! Stories are told of students sleeping under their beds to avoid this fate. Brown apparently never looked there. Other students, when they heard the professor's tread on the stairs, would spring out of bed and pick up a book so that he would find them apparently hard at work. George Lawson was NOT one of these men - he was always wide awake and studying when the professor made his rounds.
Lawson was immediately attracted to his Professor, who combined a brilliant mind with a deeply Christian heart. The young student drank in the instruction of the great scholar and afterwards John Brown would say that one of the greatest services he had done to his generation was in training George Lawson.

Lawson profited greatly from his theological training, and when the course ended he was sent out a scholar and a preacher.

Next time, God willing, we shall look at Lawson’s entry into the ministry.


George Lawson of Selkirk. II: The Halls of Learning

At the age of fifteen George Lawson entered Edinburgh University. The principal at the time was Dr. Robertson, a noted historian but also the uncrowned head of the ‘Moderate’ (i.e. non-evangelical) party in the Church of Scotland. Although the staff were for the most part of the same stamp there were students there who were evangelical and Lawson found many friends. Chief among them was the godly Michael Bruce whose evagelical fervour found its greatest outflow in poetry. Today he is best known for his contribution to the cause of sacred song in his metrical paraphrase of Isaiah 2.2-6, of which we give the first three verses:

Behold the mountain of the Lord
In latter days shall rise
On mountain tops above the hills,
And draw the wondering eyes.

To this the joyful nations round,
All tribes and tongues shall flow;
Up to the hill of God, they’ll say,
And to His house we’ll go.

The beam that shines from Zion’s hill
Shall lighten every land;
The King who reigns in Salem’s towers
Shall all the world command.

Not that Michael Bruce intended to be a poet. Fasr from it, like a later student at Edinburgh, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, he had a longing to see Scotland made once again 'like the garden of the Lord'. Like Lawson Bruce intended to become a minister, but it was not so intended. He dies of Tuberculosis before he had completed his Divinity course. Lawson was deeply affected by his friend’s triumph in death and he saw that a true faith in Christ had to hold up in sickness and death and in the face of God’s frustrating a man’s best and holiest desires.

In the summer of 1766 Lawson entered the Divinity Hall of his own denomination, which at the time was located in Kinross, in the church of Rev. John Swanton, who was both principal and sole professor of the Hall. George Lawson was determined, by God’s will, to enter the Secession ministry and to do what God had not allowed Bruce to do, to teach Scotland the Gospel again.

And his preparations for that work will be, God willing, our subject next time.


The Decline of Welsh Nonconformity 4: Doctrine

The period after 1870 saw great changes in the doctrine of Welsh Nonconformity, and in their view of Scripture. The largely Calvinistic doctrine of nonconformity in the 1850s, with its emphasis on the Sovereignty of God and the inerrancy of the Bible, was slowly replaced by a muddier doctrine that emphasized the Love of God and viewed the Bible as a human document containing errors of fact. By 1906, it was possible for theologians in the Calvinistic Methodist Connexion to confess themselves unable to name the five points of Calvinism.

In 1887, Baptist Minister Charles Haddon Spurgeon published a series of articles arguing that nonconformists were allowing ideas that conflicted with the historic belief of nonconformity to penetrate their churches.[1] In Wales, voices were heard agreeing with this belief. In 1901, Garmon Roberts, Gobowen observed: ‘Our age is an age of doubt.’[2] This doubt was over fundamental issues, such as the historical nature of much of the Old Testament, informed by evolution and developments in historical criticism.

[1] The articles can be found on the internet at
  • The Spurgeon Archive

  • [2] Quoted in: Jones: Faith, pp.193.


    Sunday, August 27, 2006

    Banner of Truth Books news!

    Presently confined to the house with a back injury (yes, caused by moving theological books) I had time and opportunity to check out the Banner of Truth site: . What a treat they have for us! Not only Iain Murray's new book on Scottish Christianity, but two excellent reprints. Dr. Alexander Whyte might even counsel you to go and sell your beds to buy them!

    First up is T.M. Lindsay's 'Handbook on the Reformation" (not to be confused with the later two-volume work). As an introduction to the Reformation it is quite unequalled.Our copy dates from 1935 (twenty-first thousand) and was formerly the property of one Mr. Maelwyn Daniel of Memorial College, Brecon, who came into possession of it in October 1937. The fact that it was continuously in print from 1882 to 1935 tells us something. Previously I have had to tell people to try and obtain one second-hand, but now it will be available in all good bookshops. I suggest that all who can get hold of a copy and read with great attention the last section on the nature and principles of the Reformation. In it they shall read that the Reformation was first and foremost a REvival, that it only came into contact with politics because of the social and political structures of the times, and that the Reformers were, in the truest sense, CATHOLIC. Finally they will read of the great DOCTRINAL principles of the Reformation. Lindsay spent his life researching the Reformation and those who have his 'Handbook' have the history of that great revival of religion in a small compass. The already great value of the work is increased by the 'Chronological Summary' at the back in which contemporary secular events (coronations of kings, etc.), events in the history of the Lutheran, Reformed and Roman Catholic Churches, and in 'Revolutionary movements' (Mystics and Anabaptists), Protestant Theology and later the Anglican Church are recorded in paralell columns. First published in 1882 this is an excellent work, and we at Free St. George's are glad to see it back in print again.

    The other book is Charles J. Brown's book on 'The Ministry'. We have heard great things about it, but it was incredibly rare and we have not actually SEEN a copy. Needless to say, we shall be trying to obtain one when it is released in the UK.


    Saturday, August 26, 2006

    The Decline of Welsh Nonconformity 3: Church Life - Preaching & Preachers

    R. Tudur Jones writes of ‘the Great Preacher’, a character admired almost universally. Yet the greatest were dead by 1890 and many sermons could be flippant, bordering on entertainment rather than instruction. Thomas Charles Edwards, educational leader and preacher, went on record attacking the affectation of many preachers.[1] Indeed, there was a danger of preachers looking to their own popularity, rather than the word of God. Tudur Jones cites the case of a meeting at Ffynnonhenri, Carmarthenshire, where one of two guest preachers went home after the morning service as the man who came after him had been better than him.[2] There were popularity contests held in religious papers,[3] and some men made their names imitating preachers. All this celebrity was not enough, however, to keep young men and students from embracing secular and rationalistic ideas. The content of the message, Francis Jones of Abergele complained, had become less important than its style.[4]

    [1] Jones: Faith, pp.123.
    [2] Jones: Faith, pp.124-5.
    [3] Y Cymro (1897) and The British Weekly (1907).
    [4] Jones: Faith, pp.128.


    George Lawson of Selkirk. I: A Godly heritage

    Today the lowlands of Scotland have a reputation for barrenness as far as the Gospel is concerned, yet in the past the situation was far otherwise. Thomas Boston and the Covenanters all hailed from south of Edinburgh. Our subject in this series will be, God willing, another of these lowland worthies, George Lawson (popularly called ‘of Selkirk’). Lawson is known today by such volumes as his Life of Joseph and his Esther. A great reformed preacher it is fitting that today he is remembered for books that began as volumes of sermons.
    George Lawson was born in 1749 at the small farm of Boghouse in Peebleshire, the son of a hard-working farmer and carpenter who had by his industry secured himself a noble reputation. Better, he and his wife were devout Christians, members of the West Linton Secession congregation. They pertook of the spirit that animated Knox in his stand against Queen Mary, and that led the Covenanters to die for ‘the Crown Rights of King Jesus’. The deadening ‘Moderatism’ of the Church of Scotland had driven them forth from the parish Kirk to seek Christ elsewhere. And they found him among the hardy folk of the Secession, the party of Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine. Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day they were to be found in the humble edifice in East Linton, and each day of hard labour on the farm was sanctified and sweetened by prayer and praise.
    Young George Lawson was early brought to the little church to be baptised and dedicated to God, and his parents took their responsibility seriously. He learned true religion, and the theology of Owen, Manton and Boston. His father and his friends loved to talk about ‘the deep things of God’, and young George listened intensely. Nor weas his early education neglected. By his industry Mr. Lawson was able to employ a young man called Johnson, a future Secession minister, as a private tutor to teach young George the classics. George Lawson loved his tutor, and to the end of their days they kept up a warm friendship.

    And then the day came around when young George must go to university - but more of that, God willing, next time.


    Friday, August 25, 2006

    The Decline of Welsh Nonconformity 2: Church Life-the Church Corporate

    Nonconformist churches were places for social interaction as well as places for worship. Every church had a Sunday-school and at least one mid-week meeting, as well as special events like the Church breakfast illustrated. Analyzing the activities of nonconformist churches, R. Tudur Jones notes that most held meetings on every day in the week, one on Anglesey had as many as 15 meetings –more than two a night!

    Many of these meetings were not religious in character but more generally social-although every chapel did have its prayer meetings. There were activities as varied as debating and sports. Although the purpose of these activities was to bring people together and deepen fellowship, it was too easy for social activities to become a distraction from the main purpose of the church. Competitions such as debating contests could engender an unhealthy spirit of competition. Independent Minister John Thomas deplored the tendency to provide amusements for young people, declaring that: ‘A Bible class in one room cannot compete with the billiard table and the bagatelle board in another room.’[2] There was every danger of churches becoming merely social centres, vulnerable to the coming of bigger and better distractions. Jones agrees, stating that often:

    "[…] people began to identify Christianity with this kind of [social] activity. To such people the Christian faith was merely one facet of the Welsh-Language entertainment culture, and when a mighty tempest came to batter Welsh Christianity, they had not the strength to withstand its force."[2]

    A secularised, merely cultural Christianity, devoid of devotional feeling would not retain members when the social activities that kept them in the church could be found outside it.

    [1] Quoted in Jones: Congregationalism, pp.189.
    [2] Jones: Faith pp.97.

    Appendix: A Typical Chapel Week in Swansea (data relates to Libanus Baptist Chapel, Swansea).[3]

    Monday: Prayer meeting & Temperance meeting.

    Tuesday: Band of Hope & Christian Endeavour (Young People’s meetings).

    Wednesday: Seiat (Fellowship and prayer meeting).

    Thursday: Sisterhood Prayer meeting & Choir Practice.

    Friday: Bible Class.

    Saturday: Men’s Prayer Meeting.

    [3] Source: R. Tudur Jones: Faith and the Crisis of a Nation: Wales 1890-1914 (Cardiff, 2004) pp.89.


    Thursday, August 24, 2006

    The Decline of Welsh Nonconformity 1:

    As the year 1900 dawned, nonconformist leaders in Wales could be forgiven if they surveyed the landscape with an air of satisfaction. The preceding century had seen great advances for nonconformity. Wales had cast off the established church and embraced democratic nonconformity with astonishing vigour. No wonder Thomas Rees, Principal of the Congregationalists' Brecon Memorial College was moved to declare:

    "No children of any century will be prouder of their flag nor louder in their praise to Him who ordains the times and seasons than those of the nineteenth century [...] but the twentieth century will be yet more privileged.’[1]

    Others sounded a more cautious note, but it would have taken a very great pessimist to have forecast that by the year 2000 Wales would be a nation of closed chapels and dwindling congregations, Christianity reduced to no more than a private hobby. Looking back, many have declared that by 1900 the nonconformist citadel was already crumbling, its foundations undermined from within and without. A recent popular (2002) history of Welsh Christianity declared:

    ‘[…] while the [nineteenth] century had begun full of hope, and the Golden Age in the first half of the century had seen that hope increasingly realised, the true situation in 1900 was very different. The outward shell seemed in good condition, but in reality there were serious problems at the heart of the faith in Wales.’[2]

    Yet the years leading up to 1914 can hardly be described as barren. In the Calvinistic Methodist Church, the Forward Movement of John Pugh and the Joshua brothers was reaching English speakers in South Wales to an astonishing extent.[3] In 1904, there was a great revival which swept Wales from end to end. How, then, is it possible to speak of nonconformity being in decline in the years prior to 1914?

    Congregational historian R. Tudur Jones, in his book Faith and the Crisis of a Nation makes just this assertion. In Jones’ work, this decline is described as an attack upon the foundations of nonconformity which left it unable to cope with the storm of 1914 and the years that followed.[4] The factors behind this decline may be grouped into three areas; Church Life, Doctrine and Politics.

    [1] Quoted in: R. Tudur Jones: Faith and the Crisis of a Nation: Wales 1890-1914 (Cardiff, 2004) p.2.
    [2] Gwyn Davies: A Light in the Land: Christianity in Wales 200-2000 (Bryntirion, 2002) p.94.
    [3] See Geraint Fielder: Grit, Grace and Gumption (Fearn and Bryntirion, 2000).
    [4] R. Tudur Jones: Congregationalism in Wales (Cardiff, 2004) pp.219.


    Wednesday, August 23, 2006

    Glasgow's School of the Prophets: Trinity College

    In 1929 the majority of the United Free Church of Scotland united with the Church of Scotland (thus forming the present Church of Scotland body). Although James Denney had argued in the 1910s that the United Free Church Colleges should not be united with the university Divinity faculties the architects of the union of 1929 thought otherwise. Thus all three colleges were united to the universities in the cities in which they were located.
    At Edinburgh the Divinity faculty found itself in possession of a splendid building and eventually relocated there, lock, stock and barrel. Not so at Glasgow.
    The Glasgow College was renamed Trinity College and thus began the most far-reaching changes in the history of the College. It was finally decided to combine the College and University faculties by taking most of the College chairs into the university. The first change was seen in 1934, when the Chair of Natural Science endowed for Henry Drummond was suppressed - the University, after all, had a perfectly good science faculty. But things did not stop there. The following year the Chair of Church History, first occupied by James Gibson and most illustriously occupied by Thomas M. Lindsay was suppressed. Then, in 1946 the Chair of New Testament Language and Literature, occupied by Patrick Fairbairn, A.B. Bruce and James Denney in the past, was suppressed and replaced by a lectureship. The following year a lectureship in Church History was also instituted in Trinity College. Trinity College was a shadow of its former self.
    But worse was to come. As numbers of students dropped in the 1960s and ‘70s it was felt increasingly difficult to justify the division of the Divinity faculty between two sites. It was decided to sell the Trinity College buildings, and they were finally vacated in 1976. Since then Trinity College has been a building without walls. It remains the part of the University of Glasgow responsible for the training of candidates for the ministry.
    Note on sources:
    The website of Trinity College (in case the link doesn't work)

    The official centenary history of Trinity College: Stuart Mechie, Trinity College, Glasgow (Glasgow, Trinity College, 1956) Hardcover. This is a very helpful outline history.


    Christmas Evans & Sandemanianism 9: Concluding thoughts.

    His meeting with God on the mountain had restored Christmas Evans' zeal for evangelism, and God would once more use him to win many to Christ.

    As for J. R. Jones, Ramoth, he seceded from the Welsh Baptists after 1798 after a meeting in which he accused the Welsh Baptists of: ‘errors in faith and practice’. He joined the Sandemanian ‘Scotch Baptists,’ along with the Churches that followed him.[1] On his death in 1822, however, he was on the verge of leaving the Scotch Baptists because of a disagreement about eschatology.[2] Many of his churches at that point re-joined the Welsh Baptists, although some, like the little chapel at Criccieth, redoubled their efforts. Rejecting the idea of a paid ministry, this chapel called as one of its two elders David Lloyd, a shoemaker. His grandson, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, was named after him. By the time he came to Criccieth, however, the church had split with the Scotch Baptists and embraced Campbellite principles.

    What, then, can this singularly unhappy episode teach us? The first is that the Church is most in danger from error and heresy at the close of times of blessing. Sandemanianism emerged into England and Wales in the wake of the Great Awakening, as the initial fervour was cooling. Similarly Sandemanianism among the Baptists of North Wales occurred in a pause between two movements of the Spirit. At these times we must be especially careful. Secondly, we learn that the effect of Sandemanianism is coldness and a dropping away of hearers, for Sandemanians are keener to make converts to their system than converts to Christ. Accordingly, Sandemanians, like the promoters of similar errors today, will tend to pitch their address to Christians, not enquirers, and often concentrate on new believers. As systems, these tend to attract controversialists and breed divisiveness and pride.

    Finally, however, and here I must rebuke myself, we learn that our methods should be those of Thomas Jones of Glyn Ceiriog, firm but polite. Remember, brethren: ‘Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the Devil he disputed about the body of Moses, he dared not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, the Lord Rebuke you.’ In dealing with those who we believe are guilty of a serious distortion of the Word of the Lord, of ‘turning the grace of God into licentiousness,’ we must remember that our behaviour will witness to the truth of our faith. Men were drawn to Glas by his holy life. They should be drawn to the wells of life and truth by a holy winsomeness. Let railing and blasphemy be the province of heretics, not the field on which Christians enter. And above all, let there be no bitterness, only a holy zeal to bring back the Master’s straying sheep.

    [1] J. Hugh Edwards, MP, The Life of David Lloyd George with a Short History of the Welsh People (London, 1913), vol.ii, pp.59-60.
    [2] Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), pp.59-60.


    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Christmas Evans & Sandemanianism 8: The Melting Heart

    His experience with Sandemanianism had left Christmas Evans' heart cold. But God had not finished with him. A journey from Merioneth to Montgomeryshire saw Christmas Evans visited by the Holy Spirit. Reproduced below is his own account of the experience (spelling has not been changed):

    'On a day ever to be remembered by me, as I was going from Dollgelly to Machynlleth, and climbing up towards Cadair Idris [pictured], I considered it to be incumbent upon me to pray, however hard I felt my heart, and however worldly the frame of my spirit was. Having begun in the name of Jesus, I soon felt as it were the fetters loosening, and the old hardness of heart softening, and, as I thought, mountains of frost and snow dissolving and melting within me. This engendered confidence in my soul in the promise of the Holy Ghost. I felt my whole mind relieved from some great bondage: tears flowed copiously, and I was constrained to cry out for the gracious visits of God, by restoring to my soul the joy of his salvation; - and that he would visit the churches in Anglesea, that were under my care. I embraced in my supplications all the churches of the saints, and nearly all the ministers in the principality by their names. This struggle lasted for three hours: it rose again and again, like one wave after another, or a high flowing tide, driven by a strong wind, until my nature became faint by weeping and crying. Thus I resigned myself to Christ, body and soul, gifts and labours – all my life – every day and every hour that remained for me; - and all my cares I committed to Christ. – The road was mountainous and lonely, and I was wholly alone, and suffered no interruption in my wrestlings with God.

    ‘From this time, I was made to expect the goodness of God to churches and to myself. Thus the Lord delivered me and the people of Anglesea from being carried away by the flood of Sandemanianism. In the first religious meetings after this, I felt as if I had been removed from the cold and sterile regions of spiritual frost, into the verdant fields of the divine promises. The former striving with God in prayer, and the longing anxiety for the conversion of sinners, which I had experienced at Leyn, was now restored. I had a hold of the promises of God. The result was, when I returned home, the first thing that arrested my attention was, that the Spirit was working also in the brethren in Anglesea, inducing them in a spirit of prayer, especially in two of the deacons, who were particularly importunate that God would visit us in mercy, and render the word of his grace effectual amongst us for the conversion of sinners.’[1]

    [1] Reproduced in Joseph Cross, ‘Memoirs’, in Sermons and Memoirs of Christmas Evans (New York, 1856, reprinted Grand Rapids, 1986), pp.256-7.


    Monday, August 21, 2006

    Christmas Evans & Sandemanianism 7: The Bold Champion

    As we have seen, under the influence of the Sandemanian teachings brought in by John Jones, Ramoth, and embraced by Christmas Evans, the Baptist cause in North Wales had begun to decline. There was every chance that the Baptist cause might be extinguished altogether, as had the Methodist Societies in the North of England, by a combination of coldness and division. But it was not God's will that the Baptist cause should perish.

    As the Sandemanian error crept over the Baptist churches of the North, God raised up as a deliverer Thomas Jones of Glyn Ceiriog, Denbighshire (pictured). Thomas Jones was steeped in the Bible to such an extent that Christmas Evans declared ‘Wherever Thomas Jones was, no concordance would be necessary!’ His Church split in 1796 over Sandemanianism, his co-pastor, John Edwards, having embraced the doctrine. Seeing the pernicious effects of the doctrine first-hand moved Thomas Jones to combat it. Unlike his opponents, who bitterly reviled him, Thomas Jones stood firmly but graciously upheld the true Gospel. At the 1802 Llangefni Association meeting, he preached powerfully against Sandemanianism, effective breaking its power over the majority of Welsh Baptists, including Christmas Evans.[1]

    But Christmas Evans' heart was still not restored. For that, he had to wait the visitation of God. Tomorrow we shall reproduce his own account of that gracious, famous hour.

    [1] Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), p.175; B. A. Ramsbottom, Christmas Evans (Harpenden, 1985), p.52.


    Saturday, August 19, 2006

    Christmas Evans & Sandemanianism 6: The Bogs of Sandemanianism

    The effect on Christmas Evans himself was just as bad, as he later confessed, after he had been saved from the bogs of Sandemanianism.

    ‘The Sandemanian heresy affected me so much as to drive away the spirit of prayer for the salvation of sinners. The lighter matters of the kingdom of God pressed heavier on my mind than the weightier. The power which gave me zeal and confidence and earnestness in the pulpit for the conversion of souls to Christ was lost. My heart sank within me, and I lost the witness of a good conscience. On Sunday night, when I had been fiercely and violently condemning errors, my conscience felt ill at ease, and rebuked me because I had lost communion and fellowship with God, and made me feel that something invaluable was now lost and wanting. I would reply that I acted according to the Word. Still it rebuked me, saying that there was something of inestimable value gone. To a very great degree I had lost the spirit of prayer and the spirit of preaching.’[1]

    Jones, Ramoth, an able controversialist, fell out with all around him, deliberately alienating the majority in the belief that all majorities were wrong.[2] Evans followed him in controversy, treating all who disagreed with the Sandemanian view as apostate or at least guilty of serious heresy. He was quite unmerciful. A coldness crept over the heart of the one-eyed Baptist. And he mourned for the loss of his first love, little understanding why his ardour had cooled so. New believers found themselves confronted with ‘doubtful disputations,’ not instruction in following Christ. No doubt some theological controversy necessary, but is the precise manner of breaking the bread at the Lord’s Supper really a right reason for splitting a church?[3]

    Under the influence of Sandemanianism, the Baptist churches of Wales had begun to major in minors, while treating the most vital thing of all, saving faith, as but a small thing.

    [1] Quoted in Owen Jones, ‘Christmas Evans’, in some of the Great Preachers of Wales (London, 1885, republished Hanley, 1995), pp.159-60.
    [2] Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), pp.157-160.
    [3] Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), pp.171-4.


    Friday, August 18, 2006

    Christmas Evans & Sandemanianism 5: The Church and Sandemanianism

    The character of Christmas Evans' preaching changed markedly. Appeals to the awakened consciences of hearers were dropped in the belief that this promoted works. John Jones, Ramoth held that:‘[…] Christianity was a minority religion and in order to retain its purity it had to abstain from appealing to the indifferent multitude.’[1] All manifestation of emotion was suppressed and sermons became dry discourses, reasoning gravely replaced revivalism.

    “Very well,” it may be objected, “but reasoning is good, is it not? Indeed, do not your Reformed services involve reason?” Well, we shall agree with this. However, the Sandemanian preaching had a deadening effect, as zeal to make converts for Christ was replaced with zeal to make converts to Sandeman. As to its effects on the churches in general, I leave that to Christmas Evans:

    ‘Its first effect was to send away the hearers of the gospel; for this it prepared the way by alleging that the mass of hearers were ‘of Babylon.’ I lost in Anglesey almost all my old hearers; many of them attended the ministry with other denominations, and became united with them. There they had rest from the new condemning spirit among us. […]

    Much distraction in the churches followed; a spirit of infallibility and worldly wisdom fell upon the people and on many of the preachers, until the weakest felt himself qualified to govern the church and the world.’[2]

    [1] Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), pp.160-1.
    [2] Quoted in B. A. Ramsbottom, Christmas Evans (Harpenden, 1985), p.51.


    Thursday, August 17, 2006

    Christmas Evans & Sandemanianism 4: J. R. Jones & Christmas Evans

    J. R. Jones, Ramoth lived in the county of Merioneth in North-West Wales. At the age of eighteen, he began to preach among the Independents (Congregationalists). However a Baptist mission to his home village of Llanuwchllyn led to his conversion to Baptist principles. He was ordained in 1788 to the ministry at Ramoth and was given oversight of the Baptist Churches throughout Merionethshire. Three years later, Christmas Evans took charge of the Chapel at Llangefni, with oversight of the Baptists of Anglesey.[1]

    Born at Llandysul, Ceredigion on Christmas Day, 1766, Evans had experienced grinding poverty as a child. His father had died while Christmas Evans was an infant and he had been brought up by a drunkard uncle who had shamefully neglected him. The kindness of the Arian Minister of Llwynrhydowen, David Davies, had led to the young man receiving an education. Strangely enough, under the ministry of this markedly unorthodox man, young Christmas fell under deep conviction of sin. He listened intently to each sermon and then preached them back to the farm animals under his care! [2] In the course of his struggles with indwelling sin, Evans had to fight with men as well as the devil. While considering the call to preach, he was set on by a gang of ruffians who beat him to within an inch of his life, destroying his right eye. This, together with a vision of Christ’s Second Advent, Evans interpreted as a sign that he should continue to study for the ministry. After a period of supplying pulpits for the Methodists and Independents, he embraced Baptist principles and was baptised in the river Duar in 1788.[3] The denomination then stood on the cusp of a period of awakening. In 1789, the Baptists of North Wales invited Christmas Evans to conduct a mission among them. After a period of wrestling with God in prayer, Evans agreed. After two years in Lleyn, Caernarfonshire, he moved to Anglesey and took the pastorate of Llangefni, left vacant after the previous pastor had resigned in disgrace.[4]

    In 1796, J. R. Jones, Ramoth, began to preach the principles of Sandemanianism among the Baptist Churches of North Wales:[5] Reading a number of the works of Alexander McLean, a leading Scottish Sandemanian, advocating ‘[…] a rigid observance of the Apostolical tenets and customs […]’, Jones became convinced in 1894 that this was true Christianity. Accordingly, he introduced such practices as the ‘Holy Kiss’ and foot washing to his church. The latter seems to have been met with serious opposition – and no wonder in an age where many of the common people went unshod![6] These practices were made mandatory in the churches that followed Jones, Ramoth. Hard on the heels of the practices of the Sandemanians came the doctrine. While bare belief of the truths contained in the Bible was seen as enough for saving faith, strict adherence to the peculiar practices was considered as necessary for soundness in the faith.[7] Sadly Christmas Evans, a man ‘[…] liable to be swayed to a great extent by the opinions of others’, was borne along in the Sandemanian tide.[8] He professed, in a letter of about 1796, addressed to a church in Swansea, as to faith: ‘This, wrought by the Lord, is no more than a belief in the word of the Lord as true; to believe the account of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ […].’[9]

    [1] J. Hugh Edwards, MP, The Life of David Lloyd George with a Short History of the Welsh People (London, 1913), vol.ii, p.58.
    [2] B. A. Ramsbottom, Christmas Evans (Harpenden, 1985), pp.9-12. Indeed, the young farm-boy had created a ‘chapel’ for his ‘congregation,’ complete with pulpit!
    [3] Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), pp.61-2.
    [4] Owen Jones, ‘Christmas Evans’, in some of the Great Preachers of Wales (London, 1885, republished Hanley, 1995), pp.154-8.
    [5] Thomas Rees, History of Protestant Nonconformity in Wales, from its Rise to the Present Time (London, 1861), p.412.
    [6] J. Hugh Edwards, MP, The Life of David Lloyd George with a Short History of the Welsh People (London, 1913), vol.ii, pp.58-9.
    [7] B. A. Ramsbottom, Christmas Evans (Harpenden, 1985), pp.50-1.
    [8] Owen Jones, ‘Christmas Evans’, in some of the Great Preachers of Wales (London, 1885, republished Hanley, 1995), p.159.
    [9] Quoted in Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), p.171.


    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Spurgeon on Lordship and Repentance

    Reglerjoe at one of the Blogosphere's treasures, The Big Orange Truck, has a piece on Spurgeon's views regarding Lordship Theology and the view that repentance is not necessary for salvation.

    The piece can be found here.

    Spurgeon says it so much better than I can.

    Christmas Evans & Sandemanianism 3: The Calvinistic Methodists

    Sandemanian doctrine initially found its way into Wales at the end of the Great Awakening in the Calvinistic Methodist Societies (which were still part of the Established Church), as a reaction against the emotional and physical manifestations which accompanied the preaching of such men as Daniel Rowland, Wesley and Whitefield. Some felt that their preaching set up an emotional response as a work, and they were recovering salvation by faith alone.[1] John Popkin of Swansea, an ‘Exhorter’ (lay-preacher) was the first Welsh proponent. At the Woodstock (Pembrokeshire) Association of the Calvinistic Methodists, he clashed with elder statesmen Williams Pantycelyn and Daniel Rowland over the questions of the Establishment, the creeds and saving faith, proclaiming himself ‘a plain believer.’[2]

    A man of means, Popkin published works promoting Sandemanianism and translated the works of Glas and Sandeman into Welsh.[3] According to Eifion Evans, ‘his preaching tours […] sowed dissention and confusion […].’ David Jones, from Rowland’s native Llangeitho, a notable preacher, was influenced.[4] However, the influence of Sandemanianism in Welsh Calvinistic Methodism was peripheral. I shall let Thomas Rees conclude their history:

    ‘They succeeded in a short time in perverting many of the members of societies, and some of the preachers; but the bold and determined stand made by Williams of Pantycelyn, and other leading men, against them, soon arrested the progress of the evil. Popkins [Sic.] withdrew from the connexion,[5] and Jones in a short time turned out a reprobate character.’[6]

    In fighting off Sandemanianism, Pantycelyn did Wales a service. In the North of England, the coming in of Sandemanianism would effectively destroy many of the Methodist Societies. It would be thirty years before Sandemanianism again reared its head in Wales, and it would be in the Particular Baptists, not the Methodists. In the words of Christmas Evans: ‘A black cloud arose from the churches of the North, and a destructive storm burst from it.’[7] As one who was caught in the middle of it, the celebrated one-eyed preacher was well-equipped to judge.

    [1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, ‘Sandemanianism’, in The Puritans: Their origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), p9.175-6.
    [2] Derec Llwyd Morgan, The Great Awakening in Wales (London, 1988), p.191.
    [3] Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), p.153.
    [4] Eifion Evans, Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales (Edinburgh, 1985),p.340.
    [5] As was only right and proper. He left no lasting religious legacy.
    [6] Thomas Rees, History of Protestant Nonconformity in Wales, from its Rise to the Present Time (London, 1861), p.408.
    [7] Cited in Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), p.150.


    Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    Christmas Evans & Sandemanianism 2: Faith & Life

    But it was not such practices, however eccentric they must have seemed to the majority of Nonconformists that caused Sandemanianism to become a ‘rock of offence and a stone of stumbling.’ No, it was the Sandemanian view of the nature of saving faith. In the words of William Williams, Pantycelyn: ‘[…] it sets naked faith as the chief thing, believing without power, making little of convictions and a broken heart.’[1] Returning to Fuller, who together with Lloyd-Jones, I needs must make heavy use of in this doctrinal section:

    ‘The foundation of whatever is distinguishing in the system seems to relate to the nature of justifying faith. This Mr. S[andeman] constantly represents as the bare belief of the bare truth; by which definition he intends, as it would seem, to exclude from it every thing pertaining to the will and the affections, except as effects produced by it.’[2]

    Saving faith, Sandeman insisted, meant that: ‘Every one who obtains a just notion of the work of Christ, or whose notion corresponds to what is testified of him, is justified and finds peace with God simply by that notion.’[3] And, when a certain Pike, who professed to follow Sandeman, defended Sandeman by saying that he had been misunderstood and in fact meant a ‘hearty persuasion’, not bare assent, was slapped down.[4] All emotional persuasions prior to the acceptance of the facts about Christ were rejected, even shunned.[5]

    [1] Cited in D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, ‘Sandemanianism’, in The Puritans: Their origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), p.175.
    [2] Andrew Fuller, ‘Strictures on Sandemanianism,’ Works (Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1988), vol.ii, p.566.
    [3] Cited in Andrew Fuller, ‘Strictures on Sandemanianism,’ Works (Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1988), vol.ii, pp.566-7.
    [4] Cited in Andrew Fuller, ‘Strictures on Sandemanianism,’ Works (Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1988), vol.ii, p.566.
    [5] Eifion Evans, Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales (Edinburgh, 1985), p.339; Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), p.155.


    Monday, August 14, 2006

    Christmas Evans & Sandemanianism 1: Another Gospel

    This is a series I have considered for a long time. It is also a series which I take no pleasure in writing, which is perhaps why it has been so long in gestation. I take no pleasure in engaging in controversy, especially not with fellow-Christians, and I understand that, in undertaking to write this series, I shall be seen to be doing just that. However, I feel it to be 'a word in season.' I have recently become aware of the existence of a movement which under the title ‘Free Grace Theology,’ holds that saving faith consists solely in mental assent to the truths of the Gospel (for more see Jenson's Blog). This has been seen before, and its effects on the Church of Jesus Christ were in no way beneficial.

    It bears the name, not of its founder, but of its most energetic proponent, one Robert Sandeman. Originating in Scotland, these ideas came to Wales from 1765 onwards, into the societies created by the Great Awakening and into Dissent some three decades later. Now:
    Sandemanianism had arisen in Scotland in the 1720s chiefly in reaction against what was felt to be an unhealthy reliance on the authority of man-made creeds. Its founder, John Glas, a Church of Scotland minister in the county of Angus, disagreed with the custom of requiring all ministers to sign the Solemn League and Covenant (a document pledging the Church to maintain Presbyterianism). He believed that requiring a person to submit to a man-made document was wrong and so also refused to subscribe to the Westminster Confession.[1] Finally and most significantly, he held some unorthodox views on the nature of saving faith. This was enough to get him deposed from his charge in 1733. He formed an Independent Church.[2] Glas himself was a man of loving and warm temper, and no doubt his evident holiness did much to persuade others of his system.[3]

    In the course of the years, this Independent church and the churches that followed it adopted a number of characteristic practises. In an attempt to return to primitive Christianity the Churches adopted the practice of ‘breaking bread’ every Lord’s Day, as the Plymouth Brethren do. All man-made creeds were rejected, as was the idea of a paid, full-time ministry. Ministers were expected to work during the week to support themselves, although full-time evangelists were maintained by a general fund.[4] Other customs were re-introduced, including foot-washing and the ‘Holy Kiss.’[5]

    [1] Given that Glas refused to subscribe to the articles and practice of his church, had he been in a Free Church, rather than an established Church, he should have withdrawn citing conscience rather than continuing to draw a stipend. Only the fact that Glas was a minister of the establishment exonerates him from the charge of bad faith.
    [2] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, ‘Sandemanianism’, in The Puritans: Their origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), pp.171-2.
    [3] Tim Shenton, Christmas Evans: The Life and Times of the one-eyed Preacher of Wales (Darlington, 2001), p.155. It is often the case that heretics exhibit a high degree of holiness in their personal lives. Witness Arius of Alexandria, whose personal sanctity was the best advertisement of his damnable error.
    [4] J. Hugh Edwards, MP, The Life of David Lloyd George with a Short History of the Welsh People (London, 1913), vol.ii, pp.65-7.
    [5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, ‘Sandemanianism’, in The Puritans: Their origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), p.172.


    Saturday, August 12, 2006

    Glasgow's School of the Prophets: The United Free Church College III

    The dream of the founders of the United Free Church had been of a church 'united, national and free'. In the late 19th century it had seemed that the only way this could be achieved was by disestablishing the Church of Scotland. The 20th century saw a change in this thinking. Disestablishment became an embarassment, and the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church entered into conference, seeking a compromise solution. The Great War contributed to this since, with a student body depleted by the war and a staff depleted by death, the United Free Church College, Glasgow, had to carry out joint classes with the Divinity Faculty of the University in the sessions 1917-18 and 1918-19.
    Once the war was over new faculty could be appointed and student intake increased into the 1920s.
    In 1929 the greatest change that had ever occurred in the college took place - the Church of Scotland and the vast majority of the United Free Church united. The old sign-boards were taken down and new ones painted up. For the second time in its history the name of the college changed. Now it was to be known as Trinity College, Glasgow.

    What this meant for the institution we shall see, God willing, next time.


    Welsh Nonconformity & Popular Culture 9: Sport

    Lastly in this series on Welsh Nonconformity and popular culture, we come to sport. Wales is, of course, famous for its Rugby, and so we could not end things without reference to sport. Cinema will not be examined, as a new book is out on that and I haven't read it yet.

    Sport was widely seen as a threat to clean living and morality by the chapel hierarchy, being associated with drinking, disorder and the culture of working men’s clubs. The formation of the Ystradgynlais Rugby Club in 1890, for example, was met with trenchant opposition from the chapels, culminating with the removal of the goal posts before the club’s first game.[1] This suspicion remained, despite the growing popularity of the sport, the Rev. John Rees of the Rhondda deploring the tendency of young people to play and to watch rugby, while verbally consigning those who frequented matches to the outer darkness.[2] There were a few evangelists, such as George Clarke, committed to ‘Muscular Christianity’ who embraced sport, while rejecting the culture of drinking and gambling that surrounded it.[3] As noted at the beginning, the Revival of 1904-5 led to the dissolution of Rugby and football teams, as their members were converted. In Ammanford, Rugby was not played again until 1907, in Evan Roberts’ home town of Loughor; there were no matches until 1909.[4] After 1910, however, the state of sport in Wales had returned to normal, and by the 1930s, many churches in South Wales would have their own football teams. As with the theatre, sport would remain something viewed with suspicion by many leading Nonconformists, while increasing numbers of chapel members made their own compromise with the world, choosing to attend or to play, while avoiding the more obvious vices.

    [1] David Smith & Gareth Williams, Fields of Praise: The Official History of the Welsh Rugby Union 1881-1981 (Cardiff, 1980), pp.7-8.
    [2] Smith & Williams, Fields, p.101.
    [3] Smith & Williams, Fields, p.126.
    [4] Smith & Williams, Fields, pp.126-8.


    Friday, August 11, 2006

    Glasgow's School of the Prophets: The United Free Church College II

    The United Free Church College, Glasgow, had come safe though the crisis of 1904, and in 1911 the extension within the gutted shell of the old College Church had been opened free of debt. Though James Orr died in 1913 he was swiftly replaced by another old United Presbyterian Professor, David W. Forrest. While Orr had been very conservative, Forrest was a Kenoticist, albeit of a very mild type (in other words, he held that Jesus had actually denuded himself of some of His divine attributes during the incarnation). All seemed to be going well. We know what happened next, of course - it was the First World War.
    Student numbers plumetted, and in 1914 Principal Lindsay died. In his place was appointed the first of the college's own graduates to hold the post of principal - James Denney. The arch-liberal James Moffat was appointed to the chair of Church History.
    Denney laboured hard to keep the College going, but his health gave out and he died in 1917. His successorArchibald Henderson, was an indicator of how far the College had moved since the early years - he had been one of the students accused of heresy by Professor Gibson.
    Henderson was really a stopgap principal. He resigned in 1921. His successor, W. M. Clow, would see the United Free Church change radically and set her face towards a new future.
    Of which more next time.


    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Glasgow's School of the Prophets: The United Free Church College I

    The union of 1900 constituted the United Free Church, the second largest Presbyterian denomination in Scotland, almost as large as the Church of Scotland (though the relative sizes of the two denominations were contested). The three Free Church Colleges were taken into the new denomination and the United Presbyterian College in Edinburgh was closed. The United Presbyterian professors were dispersed around the Free Church Colleges. In some cases new chairs were instituted for them, but at Glasgow there was already a vacancy, created by the death of Professor Bruce in 1899. Denney was transferred to Bruce's New Testament chair and the redoutable United Presbyterian Professor of Church History, James Orr, was appointed to the Systematic Theology chair. Another United Presbyterian Professor, Alexander Hislop, was appointed to the new chair of Practical Theology. The United Presbyterian principal, George C. Hutton was appointed joint-principal with Dr. Douglas. Other welcome changes came with the union; the Eadie Library and the United Free Church's Kerr Lectures came to Glasgow, along with part of the United Presbyterian College Library.
    Thus began the 20th century at the United Presbyterian College, Glasgow. In 1902 the joint principals retired together and Professor Lindsay was appointed Principal in their place. The crisis of 1904, when the House of Lords awarded all the Free Church property to the minority, caused some panic at Glasgow, but the minority were too sensible even to contemplate taking the Glasgow College, a college they knew they could not use. In the final settlement the Glagow College lost £20,000 of the College endowmwnts and some 900 duplicate volumes from the library.
    Earlier, in May 1903, a catastrophe had taken place. The College Free Church had been gutted by fire. For five years the future of the church was uncertain, but in 1908 the congregation united with Kelvingrove United Free Church. Principal Lindsay saw the opportunity to extend the College, and so building work began to turn the shell of the church into further college accomodation; two new class-rooms, a new library, a gymnasium and a large Assembly Hall.
    All seemed rosy, but no-one could see what was to come.
    Of that, God willing, we shall write next time.


    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Glasgow's School of the Prophets: The Free Church College X

    In the 1870s the Free Church College, Glasgow, moved inexorably to the theological left. In the place of the dogmatic Westminster Calvinism of the original faculty there came an apologetic influence, a school that conceded much to the German theology. With the addition of George Adam Smith and James Denney in the 1890s the transition was all but complete. While George C.M. Douglas remained as principal until 1902, his conservative influence was minimal after the close of his teaching career in 1892. George Adam Smith, his replacement in the Old Testament chair was an advanced liberal, notorious for (in the words of a Free Presbyterian writer) 'Sawing Isaiah in sunder' - he believed and taught that Isaiah was written by two persons. George Adam Smith's views on the nature of prophecy were appallingly low - he taught that the prophet's message came, not from God, but from his own spirit.
    Denney was the most conservative of this faculty; since he did not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and accepted certain liberal positions on the dating of Scripture, this was NOT a good thing.
    Denney was sent to Glasgow in 1897 to succeed James Candlish. Three years later a word would be added to the College name - 'United'. With the merger of the majority Free Church and the United Presbyterians a new era was to begin at the College.

    Next time, God willing, we shall see what that entailed.


    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    Welsh Nonconformity and Popular Culture 8: The Stage (part two)

    In the previous post, we saw that Welsh Nonconformity's involvement with 'life upon the wicked stage' (apologies to Jerome Kern) was problematic. While some people attempted to reconcile the stage and the saints, others rejected this on the grounds that theatrical performances, whatever the subject, tended to appeal to the baser elements in man and could never be used by Christians.

    Others were ready to disagree, arguing that if Christianity did not produce morally uplifting plays, then the devil’s agents would be only too happy to produce plays of a very different kind. By leaving the field entirely to the devil, the church would ensure that he would prevail. One of the most prominent of these men was Beriah Gwynfe Evans, a schoolteacher at Gwynfe and Llangadog, Carmarthenshire.[1]

    Beriah Evans, later a journalist and a committed Welsh Nationalist, attempted to win over Nonconformity to the stage in a very different way. His production of Owen Glyndwr at Llanberis in 1880 demonstrated that plays need not approach dubious subjects. Owen Glyndwr was followed in 1903 with Llywelyn ein Llyw Olaf, a play about the last Prince of the House of Gwynedd. As late as 1881, however, the Congregationalist Newspaper Y Tyst would praise the Independent churches in the Rhondda for their role in causing the collapse of the Pentre Traveling Playhouse.[2] Similarly, the 1904-5 Revival shut a number of playhouses as the players were converted or their audience dried up, although in Aberdare, Revival broke out in the theatre as people watched a performance of the play Saints and Sinners by Henry Arthur Jones.[3]

    Things were changing, however. In 1917, Beriah Evans was appointed editor of Y Tyst,[4] and by the 1930s, most Chapels had their own amateur dramatic societies, although performances were always kept separate from the main services, even when JR's religious-themed 'dialogues' were being performed.[5]

    [1] Dictionary of Welsh Biography, pp. 220-221.
    [2] Jones, Congregationalism, p.183.
    [3] Jones, Faith and the Crisis of a Nation (Cardiff, 2004), p.367.
    [4] Dictionary of Welsh Biography, pp. 220-221.
    [5] Gwynn Williams, 'A Physician for Aberavon,' in Evangelical Magazine of Wales 20 (2), p.14.


    Welsh Nonconformity and Popular Culture 7: The Stage (Part One)

    In the third area of ‘literary’ entertainment, the theatre, the reaction of Nonconformity was more mixed. Efforts to capture the playhouse for Christ being viewed with suspicion and downright disapproval in many quarters. Unlike poetry, which has been used in Christian contexts for a very long time and novels, the first of which in the English language was Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, theatre has long been viewed with disapproval by Christians. In the early church, actors and actresses were barred from Church membership until they left the stage, while the Puritans closed the theatres. Theatres were seen by many Nonconformists as dens of iniquity, actresses as little better than prostitutes, and actors as mountebank seducers. As previously noted, the Methodists of the Eighteenth Century Evangelical Revival were implacably opposed to the theatrical performances known as ‘Interludes’ that often took place in churchyards after the service.

    Independent minister John Roberts (better known as J.R, but no Dallas references, please), challenged this aversion to theatrical performances. Starting in 1834, he published a series of ‘dialogues,’ designed to be performed. The first of these, ‘Minister and Enquirer,’ was designed to illustrate the way of Salvation to an audience. Later dialogues included dramatizations of scenes from the Bible, such as Hanes Joseph (The History of Joseph). Coming as they did from the pen of a minister, these dialogues began to be performed in chapels (although not in the main meetings). While some believed theatrical performances could be utilized to spread the Gospel, others voiced deep disquiet, Edward Williams of Dinas Maddwy declaring that the influence of the playhouse ‘is bad even when it is carried on in the most appropriate manner.’[1]

    William Williams, Hirwaun, highlighted the dangers that a performance, even when based on Biblical history, could carry, drawing attention to a performance of Hanes Joseph he had seen, in which the attempted seduction of Joseph by his master’s wife was performed, a young girl playing the part of the Egyptian temptress. This, he declared, was pure voyeurism. ‘In using sacred history in this way, we are guilty of turning God’s grace unto wantonness.’[2]

    [1] Quoted in Jones, Congregationalism, p.182.
    [2] Quoted in Jones, Congregationalism, p.182.

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    Glasgow's School of the Prophets: The Free Church College IX

    With the departure of most of the original faculty in the years 1872-1879 the message taught at the Free Church College, Glasgow, changed. In the place of the Westminster Confession Calvinism taught by men like Patrick Fairbairn and Dr. Gibson there came a message that was crafted in response to the spirit ofd the age. The change began in 1872 with the appointment of two professors. To replace Islay Burns, Hetherington's successor, James S. Candlish was appointed.
    I first came across the name of James S. Candlish in looking for books on the Holy Spirit in the LTS library. I found a little book (always a good thing in reading for essays) entitled The Holy Spirit by J.S. Candlish. Knowing the name of R.S. Candlish, I read the book. Generally it is a good book, but some things are said about the Bible that worried me.
    James Candlish illustrates one of the great problems with the early 'liberals' in the Free Church. Candlish was a Calvinist, like his father. In fact he used the Medulla Theologiae by the Puritan William Ames as his textbook. Yet he was also a supporter of Robertson Smith's advanced critical views on the Bible! It is probably due to this disconnection between his theology and his views on the Bible that J.S. Candlish is widely forgotten today.
    The other professor was far more influential, and remains in print today. His name was Thomas M. Lindsay, and regulars at Free St. George's will know the name. His Magnum Opus was a two-volume history of the Reformation. Of course he was appointed to the Church History chair. Lindsay was a zealous supporter of Robertson Smith, and his influence would be great. In 1902 he would be appointed principal of the college.
    The next, and perhaps the second most influential of these appointments was in 1875, when Alexander Balmain Bruce (of whom we have written before) was appointed professor of New Testament. Bruce emphasised a reductionist apologetic that made serious concessions to unbelief.
    And finally, in 1879, Henry Drummond was appointed lecturer in Natural Science.

    Next time, God willing, we shall see what that meant.


    Welsh Nonconformity and Popular Culture 6: The Novel (Part 2)

    John Thomas, an Independent very much influenced by Dickens, led the way in Welsh religious fiction, publishing numerous novels, most of which were serialized in denominational magazines. His novels included Ada Prys, Watcyn Owain and Arthur Llwyd y Felin (Arthur Lloyd of the Mill). Thomas’ characters were fairly flat, the backgrounds, being based on real places, having greater depth than the protagonists. These novels, although certainly not intended to bore the reader, were not just entertainment, but designed to be improving:

    "The authors invited the reader to recognize situations which could easily fit into everyday life and they presented characters who were general examples rather than individuals in order for the reader to learn how to avoid an unhappy situation or arrive at an attractive goal. For the author, the ethical usefulness of the novels was an important consideration.[1]"

    Besides the rather sentimental religious novels, in which, after a brush with vice, the hero and heroine follow the path of virtue and all goes right, there were some genuinely original productions, such as Margaret Williams, neu…Gyfloy Perchod (or… the wages of Sin), a chilling tale that begins with a grisly murder.[2] On the whole, however, religious novels were of dubious literary quality and have been justly forgotten. Although in all fairness the works of such English writers as Florence Barclay and Ethel M. Dell were hardly any better.

    [1] Jones, Congregationalism, pp.181-2.
    [2] Jones, Congregationalism, pp.181-2.


    Monday, August 07, 2006

    Glasgow's School of the Prophets: The Free Church College VIII

    In our last few posts on this topic we looked at the 'Glasgow Heresy Case'. We hope that we have made it quite clear that our sympathies are with Gibson. But Gibson was standing against the flow of the Free Church of Scotland; in a church where Robertson Smith was removed from his post not for his views on the Old Testament but because he was impolitic in stating them, it was certain that Gibson would not win the case. Indeed, soon after a great change was to pass over the Glasgow College.
    When the Free Church Colleges were first founded there was a serious possibility that the Church of Scotland would use laws that were all but obsolete to exclude Free Church men not only from the professorships of the Scottish universities but also from taking courses. It was therefore felt necessary to provide not only for a theological course but also for arts and science subjects. While Edinburgh was equipped with various arts lecturers, Glasgow only had a Science lecturer. The threatened exclusion from the universities was abortive, but the science lecturer at Glasgow was kept on as part of the theological course. The lecturer appointed was Mr. William Keddie F.R.S.E. His course covered, he said, "the main topics included under the heads of zoology, geology and botany, with a special view to their bearings on the great truths of Natural and Revealed Religion." After Darwin's Origin of Species was published Keddie advertised as a portion of his course "Darwin's theory of the origin of species by natural selection shown to be untenable on scientific grounds." This was not the statement of a Bible-pounding fundamentalist, but of a knowledgeable scientist.
    But in 1879 Keddie was succeeded by Henry Drummond - a well-known popularizer of Darwinism and a man whose preaching, according to Robertson Nicoll, did without any of the usual doctrines of Christianity - most worryingly the Cross.

    But this was part of a larger trend - of which more, God willing, next time.


    One Book Meme 2

    The other contributor and founder writes...

    1. One book that changed your life (other than the Bible): Pilgrim's Progress. The pastor under whom I was converted did a series of studies on it and advised all of us to read it.
    2. One book you've read more than once: Spurgeon's Lectures to my Students, a truly classic book for all ministers.
    3. One book you'd want on a Desert Island:The Works of Thomas Goodwin. One of the greatest of the Puritans
    4. One book that made you laugh: John Knox's History of the Reformation in Scotland. Knox knows how to make history good reading.
    5. One book that made you cry (or feel really sad): Archbishop Sharp by Julia Buckroyd. A story of a minister who fell into temptation and, seeking to save his life, lost it.
    6. One book that you wish had been written: The Spiritual Life vol. 2 by Alexander Whyte. He died before he could write it
    7. One book that you wish had never been written: Wrestling Jacob by Marjorie Bowen: A truly dreadful biography of John Wesley. The only joy I got out of reading it was due to typographical errors such as 'settled on their pees'
    8. One Book You're Currently Reading: The Life of John Knox by Thomas M'Crie. I read the Free Presbyterian reprint a few years ago, but now I am reading the original (well, the seventh and longest edition)
    9. One Book you've been meaning to read: Thomas Goodwin's third volume, Exposition of the Revelation and Select Cases of Conscience
    10. Now tag five people: That I leave to my esteemed brother in Cardiff

    Welsh Nonconformity and Popular Culture 5: The Novel (part one)

    It was not only in the field of Welsh poetry that Welsh Nonconformity made a distinctively Christian cultural contribution. Taking the example of Pantycelyn and Bunyan’s allegorical writing and adding a liberal dash of Dickens, Welsh Nonconformity added the Christian novel to its bookshelf.

    The decision of certain ministers that the writing of novels might be a means of influencing the public seems to have had a part of its roots in the temperance movement. Writing a novel in which an innocent (often female) is degraded through alcohol, ending with their redemption (or untimely end) was thought to have a greater effect in some quarters than sermonizing, like the ‘social message’ film or TV show today. The most obvious example of such a novel is Gruffydd Rhisiart’s Jeffrey Jarman (content obvious), of 1855.[1]

    The popularity among English nonconformists of the stories of Emma Jane Worboise, a prolific and largely forgotten authoress,[2] showed Welsh Nonconformists that sentimental, romantic religious novels had a ready audience among evangelicals. In addition, the capture of a popular form of reading for the church would allow Nonconformists to join the popular passion for novels without compromising their faith and example. [3]

    [1] Jones, Congregationalism, p.181.
    [2] R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in England 1662-1962 (London, 1962), p.292.
    [3] For a discussion of modern Christian novels, see


    Saturday, August 05, 2006

    Welsh Nonconformity and Popular Culture 4: The Eiseddfod (Part two)

    Today's illustration shows the Gorsedd Circle outside Cardiff Town Hall. Until recently, when the Gorsedd acquired brand new fibreglass stones, such circles would be erected wherever the National Eiseddfod met, a permanent monument to the cultural gathering. As we saw in yesterday's post, the Gorsedd of bards, with its ceremonial, allowed Nonconformist preacher-poets the experience of hierarchy and liturgy.

    What sort of poetry, then, did these poet-preachers actually write? It was not simply secular poetry, but their religious convictions determined the form and content. Caledfryn was the first to lay down the principles that should govern distinctively Nonconformist poetry. His base standard was the poetry of the Psalms and songs of the Bible. ‘The Bible,’ he declared, ‘or the Bible’s poetry, is the only perfect standard for us to know what poetry is.’[1]

    Like his Puritan forebears, Williams found in the Bible a complete rule for life and work and it was this that he attempted to apply to poetry. The subject matter had to be suitably lofty, possessed of a moral purpose. Ideally the subject of Nonconformist poetry should be religious experience or Doctrine. This was popular poetry, aimed at the common people and aimed at improving the common people.[2] W.J Gruffydd and Thomas Parry were later to criticize much of this poetry as weak and sentimental. It probably was, as poetry, but the poets and their readers had somewhat different standards, measuring the quality of poetry by its usefulness in declaring Jesus Christ or moving people to live better lives. Still, in comparison to Bunyan and Pantycelyn, the work of these poets was weak and ephemeral.[3] Additionally, involvement in Eisteddfodau could lead to an unhealthy spirit of emulation among ministers (one minister compared another to the devil!), as they competed for the prize in a most un-Christian manner, as well as unnecessarily stoking denominational jealousies.[4]

    [1] Jones, Congregationalism, p.179.
    [2] Jones, Congregationalism, p.180.
    [3] Jones, Congregationalism, pp.180-1.
    [4] Jones, Congregationalism, pp.178-9.


    Friday, August 04, 2006

    Welsh Nonconformity and Popular Culture 3: The Eisteddfod (Part One)

    When it came to the churches reaching out into the world, sallying forth to capture the citadels of culture for Christ, there was an initial reluctance, born of persecution. In the days of discriminatory Acts of Parliament, it had been enough to thank God for the freedom to meet Equally, there was a common feeling that the world, opposed as it was to the Saints, had to be brought within the Chapel to be conquered, that if the Chapel went forth to capture the world it might itself be captured. Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland had opposed the performance of ‘Interludes,’ short pieces of drama (normally performed in churchyards), as the work of the Devil; while Williams Pantycelyn’s great poetic gifts had been employed as writer of popular devotional literature and hymns.

    Yet by 1840, things had begun to change, the traditional Nonconformist hostility to secular poetry being gradually challenged by a few men within Nonconformity. The first of these brave souls was William Williams of Denbigh (Caledfryn), who broke the mould by competing in the Wrexham Eisteddfod of 1820, and action he repeated a year later in Caernarfon. He was to be joined by two more natives of Denbigh, William Rees (Gwilyn Hiraethog-pictured), the winner of the first prize at the 1826 Brecon Eisteddfod, and Thomas Pierce, who competed in Eisteddfodau from 1839.[1] These men proved to be pioneers, leading a great flood into the Eisteddfodau from Chapels of all denominations. Although the Independents led the way, the Calvinistic Methodists and the Baptists were not slow to follow, many Chapels displaying the Bardic Chairs won by their ministers and members. The Baptist Chapels in Aberystwyth displaying three between them.[2]

    Why did competing in the Eisteddfod prove so popular to Ministers? R. Tudur Jones suggested an answer in his Congregationalism in Wales, for Ministers, he averred:

    "[The eisteddfod was] so clearly congenial to the spirit of an age which more
    than anything else exalted competition and emphasized personal fulfillment and
    satisfaction. Alongside this, there were also social reasons for the success of
    the eisteddfod. Through it, a host of men who had not been to college and were
    lacking in status had a suitable stage. They could adopt poetic and unusual
    pseudonyms; to have a poetic pseudonym became in itself a sign of status.
    Through becoming an eisteddfodic judge the literary man inherited authority in a
    field of eminence as far as the social aspirations of the period were concerned.
    He could reward the successful with literary immortality and consign the
    unsuccessful to oblivion. In the Gorsedd of Bards, Nonconformist ministers could
    enjoy ceremonial without becoming Anglicans, and the Gorsedd gave them an
    opportunity to attain precedence over each other without denying their authority
    as ministers.[3]"

    [1] Jones, Congregationalism, p.177.
    [2] Attendance at both chapels.
    [3] Jones, Congregationalism, p.178.


    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Spring (okay, Summer) Cleaning

    Having received an e-mail from Peter Reynolds Books that their link had gone and died as they'd moved their websites, I thought I ought to put a few things in order. I've checked the blog links and (I hope) removed the ones that lead no-where or to dubious commercial sites, but have not checked the others links.

    I am aware that the Hertherset Baptist Church Link now leads to a web-squatter, but am advised that they mean to kick them off. However, if any of the other links have died or now lead to on-line gambling or worse, please drop a comment and let us know.

    The picture is where I spent this afternoon, in a rare off-day from research or writing, Ruperra Castle, Glamorgan. Built in 1626 for Sir Thomas Morgan, it was destroyed by fire on 7 December, 1941. I was unable to get close to the building, which is dangerous, but was able to walk round the park and eat blackberries, which were plentiful. Apparently there is a restoration scheme in the pipeline, which will probably see the house converted into flats, along with the substantial outbuildings, and new housing built (hopefully not so as to spoil the aspect of the castle).

    Personally, I think it's a crime that such a beautiful building, set in an unspoiled park, should have been allowed to lie unused and unloved for seventy years. Nonconformity and popular culture returns tomorrow when I've gone off the boil.

    Welsh Nonconformity and Popular Culture 2: Belief

    The majority of Welsh Nonconformists were Calvinists; as such they believed that God was sovereign over all creation – not simply the Church. With Dutch pastor-politician Abraham Kuyper (pictured), they held that religion was a life-system, affecting every part of the life of a person – and through them the life of the nation in which they lived.[1] Accordingly, Welsh Nonconformists set out to capture the culture for the church and the Gospel, responding to Calvin’s declaration that every sphere of human life had to be brought under the dominion of the Gospel. Not only did Nonconformity give birth to a new Christian culture, ‘Voluntaryism,’ but new forms of old culture, such as a distinctively Christian entertainment culture.[2]

    Welsh Nonconformity in particular felt that it was not enough to equip the new convert with a basic understanding of Christianity, but to broaden their general culture as well. Welsh Literary Societies sprang up in many of the Chapels to meet the demand for popular engagement with culture, with essay-writing competitions being introduced from mid-century, following the example of Daniel Jones, the Minister of Bethesda Independent Chapel, Merthyr Tydfil.[3] Along with literary societies came popular lectures on heroes of the faith, and a little later on, debating societies. Of the social programmes of the chapels, enough has been said elsewhere; suffice it to say that these were full, and often eclectic. There were meetings on most week-day evenings. The calendar of one chapel in Anglesey reveals fourteen week-night meetings![4]

    [1] Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Lafayette, 2001).
    [2] Jane Shaw & Alan Kreider (ed.), Culture and the Nonconformist Tradition (Cardiff, 1999), p.2.
    [3] R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in Wales (Cardiff, 2004), p.153.
    [4] R. Tudur Jones, Faith and the Crisis of a Nation (Cardiff, 2004), pp.89-90.


    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Welsh Nonconformity and Popular Culture 1: Introduction.

    Mid-nineteenth century Wales was popularly characterized as ‘a nation of Nonconformists.’ Men such as Lloyd George and Tom Ellis went out of their way to stress the unique religious heritage of the Welsh, while a simple walk through any Welsh town will reveal a plethora of Chapels, the incidence of places of worship in Cardiff having more in common with Cairo than any English town. R. Tudur Jones, in his history of Congregationalism in Wales speaks of ‘A Nonconformist Civilization.’ Mighty Tabernacl, Morriston (pictured) reminds us of those days.

    However, the image of the ‘Little Bethels’ as the homes of Welsh culture is challenged by the counter-image of Welsh Puritanism holding back Welsh popular culture. Just as the Methodists had opposed the performance of ‘interludes’ in the eighteenth century, so they opposed rugby and football in the nineteenth, not to mention golfing on the Sabbath. The Welsh Sunday Closing Act, a milder form of prohibition, kept Welshmen from their pints on a Sunday night, while the effects of the 1904-5 Revival included disbanded theatre companies and sporting clubs, not to mention cancelled eisteddfodau. The reaction between nonconformity and Welsh popular culture was – and is – complex and multifaceted, at once favorable and antagonistic.

    The first – and the most obvious – point is that the primary task of the Chapels was not the perpetuation of Welsh culture, popular or otherwise, but the saving of souls. The reason why Griffith Jones, Llanddowror had set up the circulating schools in Welsh was not because he wished to save the Welsh language, but because he wished to save the Welsh people, and the quickest way to achieve this was in their own language. However, the church exists in the world, and its moral imperative to save souls has always necessitated engagement with the world and its culture. By the 1840s, the engagement of Nonconformity with Welsh culture was producing a dynamic synthesis which went beyond the use of Welsh on purely pragmatic grounds.

    And it is this synthesis which we shall, God willing, examine in more detail over the next few posts.