Thursday, December 28, 2006

Things that annoy

As I was returning to Cardiff this afternoon, I had to wait in the CoachStation at Victoria, a singularly unpleasant place. There someone stole my laptop case. This annos me greatly as, among other things, it contained the secon d volume of the works of Thomas Brooks (including 'Heaven on Earth', which I had only just started.

On a happier note, one thing it did not contain was my laptop. Readers may amuse themselves by imagining our villain's surprise as he opened the case.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Message for Christmas and New Year

As I was working in the National Library of Wales over the Summer, I came across the typed letter from Evan Roberts to Sir John Herbert Lewis, politician. The date is December 1932. Roberts had been through a period of depression, and may even have been in a state of doubt as to his salvation. Lewis was paralysed from the waist down and seriously ill. He was to die the next year. These are the words of a man who has known God, and has known affliction.

52, Betwsycoed Road,
Xmas 1932

My Dear Sir Herbert –
Christmas is here again. Now what do I say when I say what thousands say? It is an admittance that time is to all men a conscious thing, but markedly so in the celebrations of our great days. In spite of industrial depressions, in spite of personal afflictions & withering vicissitudes amongst the masses, yet there is sounding out of the heart touched with pathos & wonder as we cry once again “Christmas is here”!

But what of us? If time has laid distress around us, pitching his armies against our feeble city walls, is there not a great amount of eternity itself within us that makes us scoff at the puny circles of time? What is a paltry year when we have been prodigal of centuries in our own experiences? We may well wink at time when eternity comes over its bulwarks, & floods our being with the sweep of the Almighty’s spirit!

But I find that it is not easy to exchange the lesser for the greater, fools that we are. We refuse to put time’s coin into the slot & take from the drawer eternity itself. But do as we will that is the lesson we have to learn. What is mortality? A gown we put on in the bedroom as we go into the Bathroom to get ready for the Eternal Day! Then is it so difficult to divest ourselves of so transient a thing? And is not “putting on immortality” a grander Investiture? And the more a Soul carries on the exchange is he not more like unto him who “inhabiteth eternity”?

We talk of compressed air. Here is Compression! Here is the infinite become incarnate! And on the Cross, pardon the tangency, if it seem irrelevant, we find eternity packed into time’s little vessel! Was it a wonder that the rocks were rent asunder? Is it a wonder that little mortal bodies go into bits when the infinite & the eternal come into them with explosive life? Does not the Yew tree laugh at death when it bursts the tomb? And when it twists the bits of Iron around the grave into comical shapes? Life is stronger than death, be death ever so strong!

Where is time where there is no night? And where is Death when Immortality sits on its Throne & sways its Sceptre?

Both of these, My Dear Sir Herbert, if I may speak in a grand & broad manner, are only nodding acquaintances of ours, when we remember the grand programme of everlasting Life. What is a speck of dust in comparison to the Earth, or to one of the majestic heavenly bodies? And what are our present sufferings compared to the glory that shall be revealed unto us?

Therefore, Dear Sir, we of good cheer. Accept my very humble expression of good-will & my Yuletide Greetings.

Yrs Sincerely, Evan Roberts

John Herbert Lewis Papers A1/692, Evan Roberts to Lewis

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Praise to Christ

Glory to Thee,
Almighty Saviour! We,
Bending before Thy footstool cry
Glory to Thee on high!
All honour,power, and majesty be given
To Thee by all on earth and all in heaven.

Thou art the First:
Thou wert when nature burst
From her chaotic shroud and stood
By Thee approved good.
Thou wert ere stars had chimed their orient hymn,
Or heaven had heard the songs of seraphim.

Thou art the Last:
When earth and time have past;
When suns have paled their feeble ray,
And stars have died away,
Thou shalt shine forth all gloriously bright,
In Thine own uncreated quenchless light.

Beginning none
Nor end hast Thou. Thy throne
Above the heavens for ever stands;
And Round it angel bands
Cease not with ratuous voice to hail Thee Lord,
Equal with God, the co-eternal Word.

Yet Thou didst come,
Leaving Thy glorious home
To be a little child on earth,
The Virgin's wond'rous birth;
Nor didst refuse to be for our relief
A Man of Sorrows and acquaint with grief.

Wondrous Thy birth!
Not less Thy life of earth!
With rapt amaze we follow Thee,
Onward to Calvary,
Along that weary path which Thou didst tread,
Bearing our sins upon Thy sinless head.

Awe-struck we see
God manifest in Thee -
God over all in Thee, the Man
Than whom, since time began,
of all who've toiled or suffered here below,
None ever bore so deep a load of woe.

William Lindsay Alexander (1808-1884)

This hymn was never finished, but we here at Free St. George's feel that it sums up what Christmas is really about.

We here at Free St. George's join in wishing you a very blessed Christmas. And may Christ be lifted up this Christmas.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'Bunyan Characters in Pilgrim's Progress'

We feel strongly about this book. Our own copy is in two small, beautifully bound red volumes with gold lettering. It was our first introduction to Alexander Whyte, and we feel that it is one of his best works. These lectures (sermons, really) on the characters from Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' seem to have brought out the best in Whyte. Alexander Whyte had a vivid imagination, and sometimes in his 'Bible Characters' he goes beyond the limits of the Scriptures. Working with the products of another man's sanctified imagination, however, he is in his element.
Whyte was a lover of the Puritans and of experimental preaching. Unless a sermon or a book was full of rich Christian experience, he would not touch it. Yet he was also a staunch Calvinist. These two elements, the experimental and the doctrinal, we feel to be central to Christianity. That is why true Calvinism is so powerful, it is rich experience with a firm foundation. Why were there 'giants in those days' of the seventeenth century? The Puritans grew tall because their roots were deep. We believe Bunyan to be not one whit behind the greatest of the Puritans, and Whyte's book wil enhance your enjoyment of the Pilgrim's Progress. Especially if you are teaching the Pilgrim's Progress in a Bible Class or Sunday School, you will find this book to be of first importance.
Whyte's sparkling imagination and verbal imagery are something lacking in too much modern Reformed preaching. It is our opinion that few modern Reformed preachers would be guilty of falling into imaginitive extravagance in their sermons, and therefore we would recommend this book to all.We applaud Tentmaker Publications for making this gem of Victorian Christian literature available once again. If you can, buy one for your pastor.

'Bunyan Characters in Pilgrim's Progress' by Alexander Whyte is published by Tentmaker Publications. The binding is hardcover and it costs £15.95
Whyte wrote two other Bunyan volumes, one on 'The Holy War' and one on Bunyan himself as revealed in 'Grace Abounding'. We value these books as pure gold, and recommend that you read them if you can. Neither book has been republished.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

D. R. Davies X: At War in Peacetime

The end of the war saw D. R. Davies minister of Ravensthorpe Congregational Church. Looking back on this pastorate towards the end of his life, Davies described the young minister he then was:
"I started upon my ministry with a varied assortment of goods in my bag, but amonst them the one essential, fundamental thing was lacking - an experimental knowledge of God as Judge and Redeemer. I had a keen and passionate interest in political and social problems, and a fair knowledge of them [....] I had but little more than an elementary smattering of theology in its various branches, and certainly no scholarship."

Despite the war, he remained confident of humanity, preaching 'a human gospel', as he would later recall. Yet that gospel was also a lazy gospel. Davies did not prepare until the last minute, and employed printed notes for his children's talks (the bane of many a pastor). Even so, he preached politocs from the pulpit, causing offence to many in his congregation, particularly at peacetime. He attacked the rich and praised the working man:

"My one aim was to get society right. If we could abolish war and poverty, I thought, people would automatically become happy and virtuous. I realize only too well how "the hungry sheep looked up and were not fed". I gave them ideas, but no Gospel. How could I give Good News when I myself had ne living experience of Redemption?"

Hating pastoral visitation, the young man became very isolated. He became isolated in an intellectual world all his own, coming to depend on a circle of friends outside the church, the focus of this being the Dewsbury poetry society. This allowed Davies, always sure of his own intellect, to become convinced that he possessed 'the artistic temperament,' along with his involvement in the local art circle.

"I began to breathe the atmosphere in whih Biblical Christianity was irrelevant. Curiously enough, this fortified me in my Modernism, in the belief that to appeal to the world of today the Church would have to undergo a dramamtic theological overturn. What I failed to realise was that religion of any sort had become irrelevant to the modern mind. Without knowing it, I had begun to develop in myself the mentality to which Christianity would no longer be necessary."

But this would take several more years. Before then, Davies left Raventhorpe, preaching his last sermon there at the end of September, 1922. He would move to Hawkeshead Street Congregational Church, Southport, there to enjoy a hectic, troubled ministry, years of sunshine and storms. We shall consider that next time.


Book Review: God's Polished Arrow

William Chalmers Burns is an important figure in the modern Missionary movement. The man who encouraged Hudson Taylor to wear Chinese rather than Western clothes is not to be underrated. His work in Scotland as a preacher in the great revivals in Dundee and Kilsyth in 1839 is also remembered ny those who know and love the work of Robert Murray M'Cheyne.
But who was William Chalmers Burns? Those interested in the answer to this question ought to read 'God's Polished Arrow' by Dr. Michael McMullen. Published in 2000 in a handsome hardcover binding that makes it a good book to look at as well as to read, it is not a continuous biography, but within its 352 pages comprises four parts, an addition to an introduction. Part one, from P. 19 to P. 132, is a brief narrative biography of Burns, detailing his life from early years as the son of a pastor through his conversion and his career in the revivals of 1839. His work elsewhere in Scotland, in Ireland and in Canada are described, and of course his career as a missionary in China.
Part 2, from P. 133 to P. 248, offers extracts from Burns' Journals illustrating the Biography in his own words. Then Part 3 contains letters of Burns, including a number to Robert Murray M'Cheyne and part 4 contains six sermon outlines by Burns from 1842.
The book is probably best regarded as an introduction to Burns, not a normal biography, but this is no criticism. It is well priced and well presented, although the lack of any portrait of Burns is a rather obvious oversight. I like to know, where possible, what the subject of a biography looked like. Still, this is a minor quibble. The book is a good outline of a great servant of God. Dr. McMullen uses Burns' own words to give a flavour of revival. O that God would do the same in our day and in our poor dead and dry nation! The dangers of both revival and missionary work are not glossed over, and this is an honest book about an honest man. For Burns would be the first to say 'Yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.' Praise the Master, not the servant.

'God's Polished Arrow' By Dr. Michael McMullen is published by Christian Focus Publications and retails for £12.99.
It should be available through any good Christian bookshop, so my apologies to all those who only have access to bad ones. It is also available through the link 'Scottish Reformed Books' in the sidebar. Alternatively you can use the link to the publisher to buy direct from Christian Focus.

For those who want more than this handsome volume offers, Tentmaker Publications of Stoke-on-Trent have republished Islay Burns' 600-page biography of his brother William for £20.95. This book is probably best purchased direct from the Publisher at (or follow the link 'Reprints!' in the sidebar)


Monday, December 18, 2006

Ministers Behaving Badly. Rev. R. S. Candlish

(the first in an occasional series of anecdotes about ministers behaving perhaps as they ought not)

A theological student at New College Edinburgh when Robert S. Candlish was principal was called to a Church in the Borders. Those were the days when Presbyterial trials were extremely important to a young man seeking ordination. The ordinand was solemnly and rigorously interrogated by the presbytery on those things he was supposed to have learned in College - Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Theology and so on. This poor young man had found Hebrew very difficult, and had forgotten what Hebrew he had ever known. Fearing this ordal before the Presbytery he went to the Principal for advice. Dr. Candlish considered the problem for a moment, then looked up and said in his abrupt manner, "Have ye the Gaelic?"
"Yes, Sir," the young man replied.
"Have ye a Gaelic Bible?"
"Yes, Sir."
"Can ye read it?"
"Yes, sir."
"Well, then," Candlish said with a smile, "A nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse."
With that he dismissed the young man, who took heart. He also took his Gaelic Bible to the Presbytery. At the examination before the Presbytery he was asked to read and construe a Hebrew Psalm. Without hesitating the young man read off the Gaelic beautifully, translated fluently, and passed with flying colours.

(adapted from George Reith, 'Reminiscences of the United Free Church Assembly', (Edinburgh, The Moray Press, 1933) P. 42n.


Monday Quote: James Orr: We need doctrine

"Everyone must be aware that there is at the present time a great prejudice against doctrine - or, as it is often called, dogma - in religion; a great distrust and dislike of clear and systematic thinking about divine things. Men prefer, one cannot help seeing, to live in a region of haze and indefiniteness in regard to these matters. They want their thinking to be fluid and indefinite - something that can change with the times, and with the new lights which they think are being constantly brought to bear upon it, continually taking on new forms, and leaving the old behind. They show a desire to get away from precision of thought into a vagueness and obscurity in which nothing can be clearly discerned. What naturally occurs to one in this connection is that religion is, perhaps, the only subject on which men feel in the way described. Few people would regard it as a recommendation of a physician if he made it his boast that he was, and had always been, very hazy about his anatomy and physiology, or would regard it as a recommendation of an economist or statesman if he professed to throw behind him all that had been written or taught on political economy and the science of government, and preferred to be guided solely by his own ideas. This does not mean that there is no progress or advance to be made in any of these departments of truth. But it does imply that there is - or is believed to be - a well-ascertained body of truth in each, which it is imperative for the student in that department to be acquainted with, and without a knowledge of which further progress cannot be made.

Here let me say that I cannot help feeling that, underlying this distrust and dislike of what is called 'doctrine', there often lurks a secret unbelief in the reality of any revelation of God from which we can derive sure and satisfying knowledge regarding Him. For it seems to me that if we believe that there has really been a revelation of God Himself in this world - a real entering of God in word and deed into the history of man, culminating in the appearance of Jesus Christ and the redemption of mankind through Him - if we believe that as a result of this revelation we possess an assured and satisfying knowledge of God, of His character, of His will, of His purposes of grace, of the great hope given us in Christ, it must be felt that it is not only our privilege, but our highest duty, to apply ourselves to the study of this revelation, and to get out of it all the knowledge of God and of divine things it is fitted to yield; then, when we have got it, to try to state the things we know as clearly as we can to one another, so that we may carry about with us an intelligible notion of what we do believe, and are prepared to testify for."

'Sidelights on Christian Doctrine' Pp. 3-5.


Friday, December 15, 2006

A book you probably won't get for Christmas (but should)

I have been asked to give a paper at the Amyraldian Association Conference in April (no, I'm not a four-pointer, but I have friends who are) on 'Thomas Chalmers, Scottish Amyraldian?' The paper, God willing, will deal with some of the more controversial elements of Chalmers' theology. The conference will, God willing, be held at Hargham Road Chapel, Attleborough, Norfolk.

One of the three main sources for my paper will be Dr. Hanna's 'Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Dr. Chalmers'. Iain Murray in his 'Scottish Christian Heritage' writes of it that "Unhappily its extent - 4 volumes published in 1850-52 - has been against its general usefulness." (P. 120)

This is probably true. Now, my copy is the cheap edition, two dumpy brown half-calf Victorian volumes adding up to about 1600 pages. Yet it is a tragedy that the book is not more widely known and read - and that, when Dust and Ashes can republish Caryl on Job, no-one I know of has republished Hanna's 'Chalmers'. This is Alexander Whyte's opinion of the book:

"But if Dr. Chalmers is no longer here to inspire us with his great eloquence, and to guide us by his noble example, we have his finely written Memoirs in our hands continually to read. A book, I will say, that must be continually read by us again and again and again through life, if we would form and would retain any right idea of the immense riches of intellectual, and philosophical, and academical, and spiritual experience and attainment that all went to the splendid equipment of the first Principal of the New College. I speak with sme warmth of feeling concerning Dr. Hanna's memoirs of Dr. Chalmers, because long ago I got great good out of that book, and I still get great good out of it as often as I open it. And I am always opening it for something."
'Former Principals of the New College, Edinburgh' (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1909) Pp. 13-14.

"And I am always opening it for something." Yes, it is one of those books!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: Conclusion.

Princes Street Chapel today

Dr. John Alexander began his ministry in 1817 and died in 1868. Can we learn from a man who lived so long ago? Those who read this blog regularly know that we answer emphatically yes!

So what can we learn?

1. A godly heritage is an excellent thing. John Alexander is an eminent example of this, seeing that his father was known as 'the Lancashire Apostle.' Yet William Alexander did not neglect his family. He was a pastor to his son, as well as to his congregations. More, he was a father with a real concern for his children.

2. The need of a true conversion. John Alexander actually got into a fight about the truth when he was a boy, but he had no heart knowledge of it. Mere intellectual knowledge may make a bigot, it cannot make a Christian.

3. The centre of a true Gospel ministry is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. John Alexander was guided by his father's advice in this. When the man they called the Lancashire Apostle wrote, "I say, John, preach Christ. Don't say Christ is not in the text; He is in the Bible; that will do. Put man down, put Christ up," he set the note for a lifetime's ministry that built a thriving, working, missionary Church. No other message will build a church. It may bring people together, it may do a lot of things, but it cannot build a Church of the Living God. Both William and John Alexander saw this and laboured to preach 'Christ and Him crucified.'

4. The importance of Church order. The Tabernacle was wrecked because there was no clear church order, and so two competing claims could arise concerning the right to elect a pastor. John Alexander saw the need for church order and insisted that any church he pastored must have a clear structure of authority. He was also persuaded of the congregational system. A proper church order in the constitution of a local church will be a check on the ambitions of the few.

5. God knows our path, we do not. When he was in the Hoxton Academy John Alexander saw his future as the pastor of an existing church, yet he was in fact called to found a church and to build it up practically from the ground. It was the last place he would have seen himself, yet that was what happened!

6. Independency is not isolationism. John Alexander believed fervently in independency. When he founded Princes Street he could have chosen a Presbyterian model of Church government, but he felt that Independency was the Biblical model. Yet he cultivated relations with the other Reformed churches in the city, the Particular Baptists and the Old Meeting. Later in life he was a member of the Congregational Union. Yet all of his formal inter-church relations were on the basis of truth, not of feelings. All were strictly voluntary. Incidentally this decision for the truth meant that Kinghorm would not allow Alexander to partake of the Lord's Supper, yet viewed him as once of his closest friends.

7. The importance of young pastors having fellowship with older, more experienced pastors. When he first came to Norwich Alexander was mentored by Joseph Kinghorn. Later he would mentor Kinghorn's successor. His co-pastors were all welcomed into the family, and pastored by the senior pastor. The 'Paul and Timothy' relationship he had with Mr. Prout is another example of this.

8. A healthy church is a working church. There were no non-workers in Princes Street in Alexander's day. The church young people assisted in Sunday-schools, and there were intensive efforts to reach out with the Gospel. Young men who evidenced preaching gifts were encouraged to excercise them. The church is an army, and there are no spectators in an army.

9. A love of the Gospel ought to lead to philanthropy. Dr. Alexander's greatest concern was always for the Gospel, but that did not prevent him from involvement in practically every charitable and philanthropic project in the city. It was Christian men like him, not Deists or Unitarians, who led the call to abolish slavery. Christians ought to be the greatest supporters of charitable causes, where those causes do not compromise the Gospel.

10. The true servant of Christ will be tried. The financial situation of the church was always a worry to Dr. Alexander, and when the debt was finally paid off he was a happy man. The Tabernacle controversy was another major trial to him. Yet in all these things he was more than a conqueror through Christ.

11. Calvinism is no bar to evangelism. John Alexander swerved not one inch from the Calvinism of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and thousands were converted through his ministry. He planted two churches in the Norwich suburbs, and his church sent missionaries to foreign fields. William Alexander was a flaming preacher, whose ministry was blessed to the conversion of thousands, and he was the man who taught John Alexander his creed. Both of these men saw that Calvinism and evangelism go together.

11. Finally, John Alexander was not a remarkable man. He had a remarkable Saviour. And that Saviour is my Saviour. Is He yours? As J. J. Gurney would tell us, "Praise the Master, not the servant." And praise the Master by turning from sin to serve Him.

What happened at Princes Street after Alexander? Well, they called another pastor, G.S. Barrett. But Barrett faltered on the question of inerrancy. The church is a URC now, and quite liberal. I have only once been to a service there, and once was enough. The minister (not the present one, but his predecessor) said that 'Christians ought to reverence Mohammed more.'
Write 'Ichabod' upon the doors. The Glory has departed. But Christ still lives today, and He is still preached in Norwich.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: X.

John Gill said that he found no warrant in Scripture for co-pastors. We disagree, we think that those passages which speak of a single church having many elders are warrant enough. When Dr. Alexander's first assistant resigned to become a missionary in China, the church called Rev. Edward S. Prout, one of Turner's fellow students. Prout was warmly welcomed into the church and into Dr. Alexander's own home. Pastor and co-pastor in fact became so close that they were known as 'Paul and Timothy'!
Prout's ministry began in October 1859, and for three and a half years he and Dr. Alexander were inseparable. Although he had been the founding pastor of the church, and sole pastor for forty years, Dr. Alexander wisely saw that as his ministry drew towards its close, he could no longer do unaided what he had done for so long. Prout wrote:
"My relations to my beloved colleague during the three-and-a-half years of my co-pastorate were those of unalloyed happiness. Not a shadow clouded it. Though ripe in years, he had a very youthful heart. He was full of humour, and his repartees often sparkled with wit."
The church also had several members, young men converted under Alexander's ministry, who were themselves called to the ministry. Dr John Stoughton, the noted historian and minister, Rev. J. A. Gurney, who ministered in Jamaica, and many others. And they had before them the example of a laborious and faithful pastor.
Thomas Binney, known to most of us from his hymn, 'Eternal Light! Eternal Light!', called John Alexander 'Saint John', and now, the elder statesman of Norwich Dissent, John Alexander bore some resemblance to the aged apostle. In February 1866 he resigned from the pastorate of the church that he had founded, knowing that he was no longer able to be the pastor he had been. At first he was tempted to despair, finding that he was no longer pastor, but God led him into green pastures, and he was still able to preach until within a few months of his death.
As, in 1868, his health began to fail, it was the strong Calvinism of the Westminster Confession, the creed he had learned as a boy, that kept him. He never forgot his father's warning 'preach man down and preach Christ up," and as he lay dying he spoke often of Christ, "Oh, what should I do without Him?"
Dr. John Alexander of Princes Street Congregational Church, Norwich, died on July 31st 1868, aged 75. Although sermons were preached at his funeral they followed the advice Joseph John Gurney had given Alexander when he preached the funeral service for Joseph Kinghorn, "Praise the Master, not the servant."
Fittingly one of his own converts, Dr. Stoughton, preached the funeral sermon, in St. Andrew's Hall, as Princes Street was being almost totally rebuilt at the time. The huge building was packed. Where was his memorial? It was in the pulpit, a young man called to Christ through Alexander's ministry. It was in the seats below, hundreds of men, women and children who could say that Alexander was their father in Christ.
And so there was only one epitaph for Dr. Alexander: Well done, thou good and faithful servant." We can be sure that he entered into the rest of his Lord.

Next time, God willing, we shall draw some lessons from the life and ministry of Dr. Alexander.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: IX.

Dr. John Alexander was a great man, not by worldly standards, but by Christian standards. His father had taught him what made a true pastor, and he had seen first hand what a man of God looked like. Upheld by the grace of God he was used to establish and to build up a large, active, missionary-minded church in the city of Norwich. While Norwich was declining in importance at that time, it was still (as it is today) an important city and the centre of the county. He was a congregationalist to the very core of his being, yet he enjoyed fellowship with evangelicals of every denomination, including Anglican and even Quaker. Under his leadership Princes Street planted churches in villages around the city and educated the children of the poor.
Dr. Alexander was a true philanthropist, a lover of men. For not only did he establish schools and throw himself into such causes as the abolition of slavery and the improvement of conditions in the prisons, not only did he care for the bodies of the poor, but he cared for the souls of all, rich or poor, and he did not shrink from proclaiming to the city the everlasting Gospel of Christ crucified in the very room and stead of sinners.
His wife (the date of his marriage does not appear in my sources) was such a wife as a pastor of Dr. Alexander's fervour needed. She ran a joint ladies' meeting with the Old Meeting House (congregationalism has never meant isolationism).

In 1841 Alexander's health, taxed by years of hard labour on behalf of his Lord, gave way. He was taken ill on March 26th and the deacons ordered him to take a vacation - they knew that he would get no rest if he stayed in Norwich, as the whole city was his sphere of work. He traveled in the south of England and in Lancashire until mid July, when he returned.
The deacons knew that Dr. Alexander (as he now was) had fallen ill because of overwork, and they decided to reduce his workload by having the Lord's Day evening service taken by visiting supplies. Not that Dr. Alexander's preaching load on the Lord's Day was halved, as before 1841 he had taken three services in the church, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening.
In 1847 a great meeting was held in St. Andrew's Hall, the nave of the old Blackfriars' church, to celebrate the thirtieth year of Dr Alexander's ministry in Norwich. The church presented him with £400 - which he immediately gave back to the church to pay off the remaining debt on the buildings!
The people thanked God for Dr. Alexander's 'constant and faithful devotedness to the work of the ministry and the welfare of his people.'
Ten years later, celebrating Dr. Alexander's fortieth year in the ministry, the deacons felt it wise to call an assistant. The Church meeting agreed, and in 1857 Mr. F.S. Turner, a ministerial student at New College, was appointed assistant. He was a valued co-worker, and Dr. Alexander and the membership would have called him as co-pastor, but Turner's heart was set elsewhere. He felt the call to missionary service in the Far East, and he left the church to preach Christ and make Him known where idols held sway. He went from Norwich to China, with the prayers and blessings of the Princes Street Church going with him.

A working church indeed! Next time, God willing, we shall look at the last years of Dr. Alexander's ministry.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Monday Quote: James Orr: We all have theology

"If we think about the truths of God's revelation at all, we CANNOT get rid of doctrine and theology, and it is a vain pretence of anyone to boast that he does. In public life one is familiar with the 'non-politica'l candidate. But what one generally soon discovers is, that the difference between this kind of candidate and his neighbours is not that he has no politics, but that they are confused and bad politics. Similarly, when people go about boasting that they have no theology, what is commonly found out about them is not that they have no theology, but that they have a spurious or bad theology - a theology concocted from incoherent elements gathered in from all directions, with often a very scant use of the Bible."

'Side-lights on Christian Doctrine' (London, Marshall Brothers Ltd., 1909) P. 7


Thursday, December 07, 2006

D. R. Davies IX: Wartime

The coming of war in 1914 was a greater crisis for British nonconformity than she had faced for a long time. Having achieved political ascendancy through the Liberal Party (in government since 1905), nonconformity had thought it had only green pastures before it. But the outbreak of war caused a disastrous split in political nonconformity.

The Liberal Party was formally committed to peace, yet was forced to war. Many Nonconformist Ministers swung behind the war, but others opposed it,as they had opposed the Boer War at the turn of the century. Dr. Griffith-Jones, the principal of United College, Bradford, was among those who threw themselves into supporting the war effort, as did Dr. Duff, whose lectures became anti-German rants. Davies himself reacted the other way, becoming a fanatical pacifist to the extent of offending many in his congregation at Horton Bank Top church.

Later, Davies was to describe the effect the war had on the comfortable, humanistic, politicised nonconformity of the pre-war years:

"The First World War caught Liberal Christianity unawares. It was an even for which it was totally unprepared. It administered a nasty jar to its whole scheme and outlook. It broke in on it like a gangster in a drawing-room full of old maids sipping their afternoon tea. It took the lid off that human nature of supposed fundamental goodness, and there emerged something which couldn't be squared with the roseate dream of an inevitable progress into perfection. Something had gone wrong somewhere!"

But it was only later, looking back, that Davies realised this had begun to undermine his liberalism. At the time, Davies threw himself enthusiastically into anti-war campaigning, supporting Woodrow Wilson's campaign for a 'just peace,' only to be disillusioned by the popular response to the Peace treaties.

By this time, Davies was pastor at Ravensthorpe, where he was to stay until October 1922, a liberal minister concerned to bring in the kingdom of God by political means. Next time, God willing, I intend to describe those early days in the minstry.


Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: VIII.

Not only was John Alexander concerned with reaching the city of Norwich and its outlying settlements, founding Sunday Schools and chapels, but he encouraged an interest in foreign missions in his church. From the beginning of the church there were members who contributed to foreign missions, and in 1833 the Princes Street Auxiliary of the Norfolk Missionary Association was formed. Often meetings of the Norfolk Missionary Association were held in the chapel. A huge platform would be set up for the representatives, level with the pulpit. Missionary breakfasts were held in the Assembly House (illustrated).
Although taking the Gospel to the heathen in lands where it was still unknown was a priority, as migration to the colonies increased it became clear that there were white settlers who were as much without God as the natives whose lands some of them were taking. Men and women leaving England were also leaving Christianity. Alexander took great interest in colonial missions, and when he was chairman of the Congregational Union in 1853 he made a special plea for this work, as the tide of emigration had swelled to thousands leaving every week.

And Mr. Alexander did not confine himself to his own church's activities, vast though they were. He took an interest in the life of the city, especially in religious, philanthropic and educatonal movements. We must remember that this was before state provision of education, and no-one at that time could even have imagined a National Health service. Alexander was for a time chairman of the board of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
Norwich Dissent grew in influence in the 19th century. Buildings like the Old Meeting House, the Octagon Chapel and the old Gildencroft Quaker meeting-house (illustrated. Sadly destroyed by bombing in WWII. Some Quakers felt the Germans hit the wrong meeting-house) show that it had been wealthy before, but never to the extent it was to become. Alexander's unflagging efforts for his church and the wider church and community earned him a respect unusual for dissenting ministers in the period. One day he might be dining with the Bishop at the Palace, the next with the Quaker bankers, the Gurneys. And yet the man who was to be seen among the great and the good would also be seen without fail visiting the destitute and the bereaved.
Among these great and good, of course, were many philanthropists, such as Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Bart., the anti-slavery campaigner whose crusade against slavery was enthusiastically supported by Alexander and his congregation. The Quaker Gurneys were also great philanthropists, so we ought not to think that Alexander was just hob-nobbing with the wealthy - he was helping them in schemes to improve the city, the country, and the world.

Alexander also kept up good relations with the other ministers of the city. Mention has already been made of his dining with the Bishop, Bishop Stanley, who admired the congregational pastor's energy (inherited, one suspects, from his father), but he was also on good terms with Joseph Kinghorn, the Strict Baptist pastor of St. Mary's, whom he called, "A wise counsellor, a holy example and a faithful friend."
Kinghorm's successor, William Brock, was also a friend of Mr. Alexander's, and unlike Kinghorn was willing to admit Alexander to the Lord's Table. Indeed, there was a period when Willian Brock, John Alexander, and Andrew Reed, pastor of the Old Meeting, lived within a few doors of each other, and the three ministers would always be calling on each other. Those were great days for Norwich dissent. The three ministers all held to the same creed, barring differences concerning baptism, and there was a true fellowship between them. By this time Alexander was growing older, and the two younger pastors looked up to him as he had looked up to Kinghorn.

So he moved from being the new pastor to being the old prophet of Norwich dissent. God willing next time we shall consider some of the events of his later years.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

D. R. Davies VIII: Back to College

In October of 1912, Davies began a course at United College, Bradford, preparing for the Edinburgh University entrance examinations, with a view to entering the Congregational Ministry. His intention was to take the College's Arts course. As at Manchester, he found the course dull, but he had the warning of Manchester, and stuck the course.

Even so, there was friction. Davies admitted to a settled dislike of Hebrew, Old Testament and other subjects, based on his dislike of the tutor, Dr. Archibald Duff. His first Hebrew exam netted him exactly no marks, a result serious enough to lose Davies £10 of his scholarship and the threat of dismissal unless he achieved over sixty percent in his next exam. Even so, he only did the minimum in the areas taught by Professor Duff, with the result that he was dangerously ignorant in important areas.

He went to Edinburgh, only to have his course cut short by a nervous breakdown, caused by long hours of work, frequent preaching engagements, and the need to work underground during vacations.

After consultation with the Principal, it was decided that Davies would follow the theological course, based in Bradford. In preparation for this, he was appointed student pastor at Horton Bank Top Congregational Church, just outside Bradford. There he could exercise a settled ministry and continue his studies in settled peace.

It was the summer of 1914, and soon everything was to change. The war was to break in on the easy theological liberalism that D. R. Davies had picked up in his two years at Bradford.

And that is such a serious topic that it must wait until the next time, God willing.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: VII.

John Alexander had almost resigned over the Princes Street debt crisis, but the deacons had been able to manage the debt. Or so they thought. Within three years the cheap construction of the chapel was starting to show. The joiners responsible for the roof had not been competent to span such a large space without any internal supports, and the church was forced to spend more money to make the roof safe. Until it was the chapel could not be used. The congregation were homeless again.
Yet the event was overruled for good. Not only was the Lancastrian School still available for Lord's Day meetings, and the French Church for week-night meetings, but the representatives of the older evangelical nonconformity in Norwich came to the aid of the congregation. The Old Meeting House, their sister congregational church, offered its building (pictured) for some services, and they and the Particular Baptists meeting in St. Mary's Chapel (named for its location across the street from St. Mary's Coslany) gave a substantial love-gift of money to help meet the unexpected expense. The chapel was reopened on March 16th, 1828.

As has already been mentioned, this was not the last time that the shoddy construction work of the original Princes Street chapel forced the congregation to vacate it while the building was repaired. They used a number of buildings including the Dutch Church, the old Blackfriars church that had been given to the congregation of Dutch refugees by the city. The Dutch Church itself, due to the assimilation of the descendents of the 'Strangers', as they were called, into the native population, was nearly extinct, and the building was used, as it is today, as a public hall. It meant that the church could meet together much closer to their own building, for Princes Street runs past Blackfriars. Alexander remembered that, while the Princes Street congregation were worshipping in the Dutch Church, they had sermons from ministers belonging to almost every evangelical denomination.

In 1820 Mr. Alexander had started a Sunday School in 1820. Like all Sunday Schools of the period it was not only an instrument of Christian instruction, but it was an instrument for increasing the literacy of the children of the area. Alexander took an active role in the running of the schools, saying at one point that they were "his solace in adversity, and one of his chief joys in prosperity." The children loved their pastor, because he was THEIR pastor, not just pastor to their parents. He distributed sweets personally during his visits to the schools, and the children concluded that pastor had an inexhaustible supply of them! Many former Princes Street Sunday-scholars treasured gifts sent to them by the pastor.
Until 1861, when a building was erected to house the Sunday School, classes were taught in the chapel between services, no doubt a rather inconvenient system.
Mission schools were set up in the city, one at Thorpe, one at Pockthorpe one at Trowse, and one in Mariner's Lane. All the young people of the church were either scholars or teachers in the Sunday Schools.
Alexander also had some gifted workers, and Princes Street became very much a working church.

God willing, next time we shall continue our seris on Dr. Alexander (as he became) and his church.