Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Donald Fraser's preaching. The Preacher's Power

Yesterday we gave part of Donald Fraser's description of 'The Preacher's Theme' from his sermon 'Successful Ministry'. Today we give Fraser's description of 'a Preacher's power'. All of it, as it turns out, to the close of the sermon.

"It is not in him, but in God.
"No sensible preacher has any objection to the inferior wisdom which the world admires in its own place; but it is not the best wisdom. No sensible preacher has any objection to persuasive words and oratorical skill; only he will look to a higher source for soul-convincing, soul-saving energy. To quote an expression from the second epistle, 'The Excellency of the power is of God and not of us' (2 Cor. 4.7).
"Alas for the eloquent preaching that passes as a mere well-modulated sound, and the intellectual preaching that holds no man by the conscience, and the vociferous preaching that shouts, and signifies little! Let us do our best, but power belongs to God.
"Some one may ask, Why so much insistence on power? Great is truth, and it will prevail. Now there is a reason. To teach men the truth that is in Jesus is a very different thing from teaching one of the arts or sciences. In the latter case one may have to encounter dulness or lassitude of mind - nothing worse - and this a skilful teacher may overcome. But in the Gospel, though the theme is one of heavenly wisdom, it is met not with dulness and lassitude only, but with moral resistance and spiritual obtuseness, which no skill of teacher or preacher can remove. The Holy Spirit must demonstrate such truth to the hearer's conscience and with power impress it on his heart.
"No doubt such a man as Paulcould have made some impression on the Corinthians by the cogency of his reasoning and the force of his powerful personality; but it would have been to little purpose. Short-lived and feeble would have been a faith which stood in human wisdom and not in Divine power.
"We want the prsence of God. The words and usages of Christianity have become familiar to us. The habit of church attendance is formed, and with it that of listening to religious discourses, though quite possibly without much thought or feeling; but where is He who man banish the dulness of routine, and break the form of prejudice, and overcome the habit of procrastination? Who can impress the frivolous and abase the proud, arrest minds that engross themselves with trifles and elevate minds that crawl after earthly gain? Who can wound and heal, warn and win, kill and maske alive? Who is sufficient for these things?
"Let us rely on God, and preach Christ in the Spirit. Hear, and your souls shall live. Men speak the Gospel. God gives the power to preach and the power to believed. He can make your conscience start and your heart melt within you, expose your sins, shatter your excuses, cast you down at the Saviour's feet, give you peace in believing, kindle in you desires and hopes, create in you a clean heart, life you up, and lead you on in the steps of Jesus.
"The teaching of God is not in word, but in power."

(Our illustration shows the old York Presbyterian Church (now URC), opened on November 6th 1879 by Donald Fraser)


Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday Quote : Donald Fraser - Preaching Christ

Our specimen of Fraser's preaching comes from a sermon on 1 Corinthians 2.1-7 entitled 'Successful Ministry'. In it Fraser sets out the Biblical definition of a successful ministry, and enforces on all preachers the Apostle Paul's example. Note What he DOES NOT say. A successful ministry is not about the size of the congregation, it is about faithfulness to the message. We only give part of Fraser's first point here. To-morrow, God willing, we shall give part of his second point.

"The preacher's theme [is] 'Jesus Christ'. This included His power as God-man - His offices as Redeemer and Mediator - His declaration of the Father, and His relation to believers as their righteousness and strength, the light of the world, and the life of all who truly live. Not Christianity, but Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Friend. There are other truths, but this is central and indispensable; just as there are many planets and moons in our system, but it is the sun in the centre that keeps us alive and warm, and covers the earth with life and beauty.
"No doubt we live in a favoured country of Christendom; and som e appear to think that there is little need to preach Jesus Christ, for all have heard of Him. What people need to know is, what can Jesus Christ do in their lives. Can He give them less work and more pay? Or, others would ask, can He help them in any way to solve problems in science, or win triumphs in art? And if the pulpit is to lay itself out to answer all these demands and occupy itself with these mundane affairs - farewell to the Gospel. But we preach Christ to meet deeperwants than these. We are persuaded that even in such a community as this there are many who have no real knowledge of Christ as a Saviour, and there are none who have as much knowledge as they ought to have; and as He is the all of the Gospel, we hold it our first duty to preach Jesus Christ.
"'And Him Crucified.' Paul had not been able to speak of this at Athens. He made amends for it at Corinth. It was no doubt a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks; but the Apostle knew that to preach on the life and doctrine and example of Christ would not effect much, unless he put before the people Christ crucified. Here is redemption! Here is love! Here is the putting away of sin, for He was crucified for us! Here is deliverance from sin, as we are crucified with Him. Nothing has such a peace for the human conscience, or such a power over the human heart, as the setting forth of Christ crucified.
With this, Paul began at Corinth. By this preaching he won his converts there alike from Judaism, and from heathenism. It is always the Gospel that wins converts; it is Christ lifted up on the cross who draws all to Himself. You may alarm men, and convince them of their sin and misery by pressing the law of duty and the authority and claims of God on their conscience; but you never convert them without Christ and Him crucified. This is the word that wins the heart, and reinforces the Church, and gives to all Christian ministers their conquering energy."

(Note: Since we have not been able to find a picture of Fraser himself, our illustration is of the old Trinity Presbyterian Church, Norwich, which Fraser opened. The picture shows it after it was gutted by incendiary bombs during the Second World War) UPDATE: We have now obtained a picture of Donald Fraser, and it will be put on this blog shortly.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Preaching this coming Lord's Day.

This coming Lord's Day, God willing, I shall be preaching at the Strict Baptist Chapel ('Cave Adullum'), The Street, Barrow, Suffolk. Barrow is a fairly small church, meeting in an old congregational chapel that has thankfully been spared the fate of so many closed chapels - conversion into a private residence. The Baptists have been there about fifteen years, and the chapel was derelict when they bought it. You would never know it now. The Church is a fairly traditional Strict Baptist Church, located close to Bury St. Edmunds, but in the delightful village illustrated in our picture.
When so many village churches are closing, it is good to hear of one that was planted recently.


Friday, July 27, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XXI.

Donald Fraser was not a particularly notable man. He founded no school, had no disciples. In fact he was an example of an active parish minister on the latter part of the nineteenth century. Like many ministers of the period, his theology changed from the Calvinism of his forefathers to a religion more in tune with the 'advanced' nineteenth century. While we firmly believe he was a true Christian, he took the first steps on a dowengrade others found led to disaster. But we shall return to a fuller assessment of Fraser's doctrine next time.
As a pastor, he is an example of a man consecrated to the work and devoted to the local Church. While other nineteenth century ministers gave much of their time to travelling and to a 'wider ministry' (C.I. Scofield, for example, had five months' vacation each year from his pastorate at Dallas), Fraser made it a rule to be in his own pulpit twice every Lord's Day except for a few weeks' necessary vacation - and then he was often preaching elsewhere. While other, better known men, in America and Britain, gave the 'wider ministry' a higher priority than their own Church (and we would count Scofield in his later years an example of this), Fraser made his own congregation his first priority. He remembered that he had been called to PASTOR the congregations he was called to, not just to preach to them whenever he was not preaching elsewhere. It was this commitment to the local Church that made Fraser a beloved minister in Montreal even twenty years after he had left.
Fraser's three pastorates, in Canada, in Scotland and in England, point to something else. Like many Scots of the nineteenth century, he was something of a wanderer. He followed his father to Canada, then returned to Scotland. But then he went into a self-imposed exile in England. What was the cause? It was the increasing movement within the Free Church of Scotland for disestablishment. Now, we do not believe in the national establishment of any church. But at the same time, any Church is in danger when the 'enemy' ceases to be Satan and the World and instead another denomination, almost identical to itself, becomes identified as the enemy. What is worst is when the difference between the two denominations is miniscule, as it was in the case of the Free Church and the Church of Scotland. We do not wonder that this "ignoble sectarian temper" drove Fraser across the border to a Church where such matters were easier to deal with - after all, the Church of England was very different from the Church of Scotland, and with the Oxford Movement on the one hand and the 'Essays and Reviews' party on the other, it really did have more obviously wrong with it.

We would point, then, to Fraser's unceasing labours in the Work of the ministry as an example to all pastors of what it means to really BE a local pastor. And we would point to his move to England as an example of the wholesome distaste a minister ought to have of mere sectarianism.

God willing, next time we shall consider what Fraser regarded as 'Sound Doctrine' in his last work - his commentary on the English Presbyterian Articles.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Three main things have been added to the blog recently. The first is a link to the Highland Host's new solo blog, Strict and Particular. This is a more general theology blog with a Strict Baptist slant to it.

Secondly, two churches have been added to the roll of churches, Providence Chapel, Blunham, and Hall Green Chapel, Haworth. These have been added because they are sound Bible-believing and Gospel-preaching churches. Be sure to check both sites, expecially the Hall Green Chapel site. Haworth is world-famous because of the Brontes. It is encouraging to know that the truth as it is in Jesus is preached there.


A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XX.

In late 1891, Donald Fraser seemed a healthy, active man of sixty-five. That autumn he and his wife returned to the Highlands for a holiday - for it is true that the Highlander's heart is in the Highlands even when he himself is forced to leave his beloved land. They took the train to Edinburgh from King's Cross, then travelled to the picturesque town of Oban, and thence to Inverness, scene of so many happy memories. Dr. Black, then the pastor of the Free High Church, pressed Fraser to take the morning service on the 16th August, and so Donald Fraser occupied his old pulpit for the last time. In the evening he demonstrated that spirit of regard for the Church of Scotland that had been one of his reasons for leaving Scotland by attending the High Church. On a weeknight he preached at the Free West Church, which he himself had helped to found. The evidences of his past work were all around him, and noned could guess how soon it would be before Donald Fraser left them all behind.
The Frasers returned to London via York,visiting the Minster on thier way. Fraser returned to London refreshed to continue his ministry.
That winter he seemed as fit as ever, until 8th December, when he slipped and fell on the icy steps of Westminster College, where he had been attending the usual monthly Presbytery meeting. It left him shaken, and with two sprained wrists, but he thought little of it at the time. Indeed, he was planning a trip to Canada in the autumn of 1892, when he would be one of the English Presbyterian delegates to the Council of the Presbyterian Alliance. He was looking forward to returning to the country where he had begun his ministry, but it was not to be.
In the midst of his work and study, which he continued as before, a cough troubled him in late January, but it seemed to leave him in the first week of February. On 7th February he preached as usual in his own pulpit at both services and administered the Lord's Supper in the evening. He seemed well. The next day was the annual congregational business meeting, which Fraser presided over. The next morning, however, he woke in pain. A doctor was called and pronounced the cause of the pain as congestion of the right lung. The congestion spread quickly to the left and became a serious attack of pneumonia. Fraser sank fast, and on Friday night he died. The active ministry was over.
He was not buried in London, but instead his body was taken, at the end of his funeral service at Marylebone on Thursday 18th February, to King's Cross Station, where it was put on board a special train to Inverness. There Fraser's body was taken to the Free High Church, where he had been pastor for ten years. A simple funeral service was held in the church on Friday 19th, and then the coffin was carried down the snow-covered high street as the bells of two of the churches tolled solemnly. He was laid to rest in the Chapel Yard, in the Fraser family plot, alongside his two little daughters.

God willing, next time we shall give something of an assessment of Fraser.


Monday, July 23, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XIX.

In 1891 Donald Fraser, though beginning to feel his age, was still a very active minister. His children had all grown up, and his sons had followed their father's example by leaving Britain on their careers. His daughter was in India with her husband, and the manse in Cambridge Square seemed empty. Donald Fraser was the last of his mother's family, his brothers and sisters all having predeceased him. His last brotherr, Rev. William Fraser, had died suddenly in his own pulpit in Brighton in 1887. Surely that is one of the most fitting places for a minister to die - literally 'at his post'. To go from the worshipping assembly below to the worshipping assembly above - an easy transition indeed. If a Church service is the closest thing to heaven on earth, then William Fraser's death was a blessed one. The long drawn-out process of dying is feared by many, and it was surely a mercy that William Fraser was spared that.
We are reminded also by this incident that many die suddenly. William Fraser was ready - reader, are you?
The financial burdden of the Marylebone congregation, was somewhat lifted in the winter of 1891, when the Bell Street Mission was amalgamated with the Shaftesbury Institute, but Fraser's load was not lifted at all - he remained just as involved with the mission as he had been from its beginning. He felt that, since it had been begun by the Marylebone Church, it was still connected with the Marylebone Church, no matter what the official position was.
That same year he took up another literary task, that of editing the Presbyterian portion of the 'Review of the Churches', of which he was one of the founders. It seemed that all the action of his congregation in appointing an assisstant had done was allow Fraser more time for other things! He was a man who had to be WORKING. O for more men like that in the Church, consecrated WORKERS who are in earnest about the work. We do not approve of all Fraser's views, particularly not his doubt concerning eternal punishment, but we cannot but admire his determination to keep on working while it was day. It is probable that this is one of the reasons his dates are 1826 to 1892 - sixty-six years only. But we are again reminded that it is better to wear out in the Master's service than it is to rust out.

And wear out he did - but that will be our subject, God willing, next time.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XVIII.

Donald Fraser was an active minister and an active Christian, and the last years of his life were was active as those that had gone before. He stuck to his rule of giving his strength first to the Church over which he had been made pastor and only then to other congregations. He was in his Marylebone pulpit twice every Lord's Day, and he gave of his best. The dislike of more general Church business that had been his in Scotland, left him in England, and he took a keen interest in the business of the Synod. He was made Convener of the College Committee in 1888, and thus had particular responsibility for Westminster College, then located in Queen's Square, London, but later moved to the buildings in Cambridge pictured above. He was part of the committee the English Presbyterian Synod appointed to revise the Westminster Directory for Public Worship. While the Westminster Directory is an admirable document, as a guide to Public worship it was simply TOO LONG for the majority of English Presbyterian congregations in the nineteenth century. If followed closely it would produce two hour services, and Fraser and his compatriots knew that their denomination would not stand for that.
He continued to write, works on 'Metaphors in the Gospels' and 'The Seven Promises' flowing from his pen (having first been preached in the Marylebone pulpit). He also wrote a small work on the new English Presbyterian Articles entitled 'Sound Doctrine'. We have already said that we feel the late 19th and early 20th century preference for minimal doctrinal statements to have been a mistake. The point of creeds and confessions is, as Thomas Chalmers so wisely said, is to be 'landmarks of old heresies'. They are intended not to include as many as possible, but to wisely circumscribe "The faith once delived to the saints'. Especially in a time of doctrinal deviation, the wisest move is to retain the older, longer confessions of the seventeenth century as our standard. Yes, the English Presbyterian Articles were 'sound' as far as they went, but they did not go far enough, and they allowed the 'liberals' to ravage the denomination in safety. God willing, we shall have more to say on Fraser's 'Sound Doctrine' in a forthcoming post.
Fraser began to feel his age at last, and in 1891 the Marylebone Church called Dr. J. Smith, an American, as assistant pastor to give Fraser some relief. The scheme lasted six months, until Dr. Smith returned to his native land. Fraser then took over the whole of the work once more, remaining sole pastor of the congregation until his death.

And of those last few months of Donald Fraser's life we shall write, God willing, next time.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XVII.

Donald Fraser, like many married men, took fewer holidays when his five children were growing up, and when he did travel for reasons other than work, it was because of his health. We think sometimes that these active Victorian ministers worked TOO hard, but then we recall that it is perhaps better to wear out than to rust out.
Fraser's first overseas trip for his health was an ocean cruise to Madeira on a steamer going to the Cape of Good Hope. Providentially Sir Donald Currie, M.P., a friend of Fraser's and owner of a steamship line, offered a cabin to Dr. and Mrs. Fraser, so that the holiday was cheap as well as refreshing. It had the desired effect, hastening his recovery from the illness that nearly prostrated him and sending him home refreshed and re-invigorated to carry out the work of the Gospel ministry.
In 1883, however, Fraser was taken ill again, this time with sciatica. On this occasion he fulfilled a great desire - to see with his own eyes the land in which the events recorded in the Bible had taken place. He sailed this time to Malta, again accompanied by his faithful wife. From there they sailed to Sicily, and the sciatica was left in Palermo. From there they went to Rome, and then Mrs. Fraser returned to England. Dr. Fraser, however, continued on to the Holy Land by way of Corfu, Constantinople, Beirut and Jaffa. He travelled through the land to Egypt, from whence he returned to England by sea. The visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem enthralled him, seeing those places where the Son of God walked and did His miracles. He found he endorsed the words of a fellow traveller that "Before one has been in Bible Lands, he reads the Scriptures by gaslight, but after he has been there he reads by electric light." We have not been to the lands of the Bible, but we have been to lands much like them, and must admit there is some truth to this if Fraser simply means that things seem more vivid. When one knows whast 'The wilderness' is, has seen 'a city built on a hill', and has seen an eastern shepherd leading his flock, the Bible's narratives come alive as they do not when one is constantly tempted to judge by the way we do things in our own land - a way often very different from the way things are done in the East.
Should every minister go to the lands of the Bible? We would not go that far. But if one has the opportunity, go! Go and do what Fraser did on his return - tell the Congregation about it. Show them the pictures, in glowing colour (Fraser had to make do with sepia).

Fraser had but a few years left to him after 1884. God willing, we shall give some account of those years next time.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XVI.

Donald Fraser and Marylebone Presbyterian Church found, despite the generally wealthy character of the congregation, that they were in debt due to the high land prices in London's West End. The Church struggled to reduce the debt, and would have done so sooner had they not consulted theirt minister's comfort. They bought, at considerable expense, a house in Cambridge Square, near the church, to serve as a manse. It was a great help to Fraser, who could not afford to rent a house in the expensive district around the church building.
The other major drain on the finances of the Church was the District Mission in Bell Street, where a full-time missionary was employed to evangelize the district. We wonder how many modern 'megachurches' are engaged in this sort of work. Surely a wealthy congregation should do everything in its power to assist smaller churches that are poorer in the things of this world, and should employ its resources in evangelism, not in entertainment?
In London, Fraser became a more successful author than he had been in Canada (not a hard thing to do, as he lost money in his Canadian venture). His chief work was three volumes of 'Synoptical Lectures on the Books of Holy Scripture' published between 1871 and 1876. The contents of the volumes had been prepared for the pulpit (as is often the case with books by preachers), and they sold well, going through several editions. The books sold in America as well as in the UK, and the New Testament lectures were translated into Italian.
Between the first and second volumes in the 'Synoptical Lectures', Fraser contributed a number of papers to a magazine on Ephesians 4.4-7. Soon afterwards they were republished in a book, along with a paper on 2 Thessalonians 2, as 'The Church of God and the Apostasy'. His other books were a volume on Thomas Chalmers and a book on 'The Speeches of the Holy Apostles', made up of sermons. Besides these books, Fraser contributed to many magazines and periodicals. He did not publish many single sermons, but one of them, on 'The Lord's Day' almost led to a heresy trial!
In his sermon, Fraser had stated that the Lord's Day is not the Sabbath moved to another day, but a purely Christian institution. Unfortunately an elder at another london Church thought this was heresy and brought it before the Presbytery of London.
It is important to note that Fraser did not deny that the Lord's Day and the Sabbath were CONNECTED, but he felt that the Lord's Day rested on the Jewish Sabbath as upon a pedestal. It was BETTER than the Sabbath. Fraser explained this to the Presbytery, and the accusation collapsed. The sermon was never reprinted.
Fraser's other foray into print was one that caused him great stress and anxiety. The English Presbyterians had no real paper of their own. There was something called 'The Weekly Review' that was MEANT to be their paper, but it was disliked by the denomination and owned by its publisher, who regularly insulted all and sundry in its pages.
To replace it 'The Outlook and Journal of the Churches' was proposed, a weekly penny paper, and Fraser was one of its board. He felt that there were not enough English Presbyterians to support a penny paper and proposed it should be twopence. The price remained a penny, the paper lost money, even with over five thousand subscribers.
And then the editor had to retire, and Donald Fraser was obliged to become the new editor. While he enjoyed some of the work, the pace of it was too fast fort a busy pastor, and his wife, seeing the effect it was having, pleaded with him to give it up. At last he did so, due to illness, and the paper metamorphosed into 'The Presbyterian' and was relaunched.
In general, Fraser was a successful author and a dilligent pastor. But that came with a price, and like many Victorians, he had to travel for his health.
God willing, that is what we shall deal with next time.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XV.

Donald Fraser was honoured by his Church to be elected Moderator in 1874 and again in 1880. Without its own assembly-hall, the Synod rotated its meeting places. In 1874 it was held in the splendid Gothic Church built for Edward Irving at Regent Square, then pastored by his friend Dr. Dykes. In 1880 it met in Fraser's own Church at Marylebone - by that time completely reconstructed.
From his arrival at Marylebone, Fraser saw blessing and enlargement in his congregation. Numbers grew, and outreach work was developed. Sunday-schools were set up, District Missions developed. Fraser took much of the credit to his elders, active, godly men who saw their place held responsibility as well as honour.
In 1874 the Marylebone Church finally secured the land needed to enlarge the old building. In fact it was virtually completely rebuilt in what was by then the preferred style- the Gothic. The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Andrew Lusk, laid the foundation stone - as might have been expected, since he was a member of the congregation!
During the rebuilding the Church had to meet elsewhere. The secured the use of Allen's Riding School in Seymour Street. It was a large enough building, but of course they had to lay a wooden floor every Saturday afternoon and take it up again on Monday morning. It was expensive, but there was no other way to hold together the large congregation for which the new Church was being built.

The new Church, a Gothic building with seating for sixteen hundred people, was opened on May 3rd 1875. Dr. J. Oswald Dykes preached at the morning service, Dr. Saphir in the afternoon, and Fraser in the evening. It was a joyous occasion.
However, hire of the Ridin g-School and the cost of the extra land in the West End position of the church meant that the congregation had to open owing some twelve thousand pounds - an enormous sum back then.

God willing, next time we shall see how Fraser fared as an author in London.


Monday, July 16, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XIV.

English, Scots and Irish Presbyterianism shared a common Confession of Faith - that drawn up by the Westminster Divines (pictured). Yet the events of the Secessions of the Eighteenth Century and the Disruption of 1843 left Presbyterianism in disarray, splintered into fragments. By the 1870s the Irish Presbyterians had reunited, and the majority of Scottish Presbyterians were in three denominations, the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, and the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. English Presbyterianism, predominantly a Scottish import (most of the original English Presbyterian Churches having become Unitarian in the eighteenth century) was divided between the English Presbyterian Church, in communion with the Free Church of Scotland, and some United Presbyterian congregations. Since the differences that existed between the Free and United Presbyterian Churches in Scotland did not exist in England, or were irrelevant, it should have been fairly easy to unite the two. It wasn't.
When he came to England, Fraser came into a union debate that had already raged for quite a while. At last his friend, Dr. Dykes, proposed that he and Fraser hold a private conference on the difficulties that stood in the way of the union with an influential United Presbyterian elder, Mr. S. Stitt. They met together, and that private conference concluded that the difficulties could easily be solved. Dr. Dykes then took charge of union negotiations from the English Presbyterian side, and soon the union was effected. That was as far as many wanted to go. Not Fraser.
Donald Fraser saw the Church of Scotland as the mother of the Free and United Presbyterian Churches. Thus any union of English Presbyterianism would not be complete until the Church of Scotland congregations in England were also part of the English Presbyterian Church. Alas, his vision was not to be fulfilled. Dr. John Cumming influenced the English Synod of the Church of Scotland against union, but in the long-term Fraser recognised that the real bar to union was the disestablishment agitation in Scotland. Fraser's initial Free Church objections to the Church of Scotland had been seriously modified by legislation and history since the Disruption. The abomination of Patronage, whereby the congregation was robbed of its power to call its own minister, had been abolished, and the Church's jurisdiction over the settlement of ministers recognised. To continue to oppose the Church of Scotland in the face of these reforms (which were all the Disruption Fathers wanted, and more) sxeemed to Fraser to be "mere trifling with plain facts and fighting for discord." He went on to say: "In the proposal to disestablish the Church of Scotland I see nothing but an ignoble sectarian temper." Expressing that opinion in a letter to 'The Scotsman', Fraser offended many Free Churchmen, but gained to support of many of the Church of Scotland. He expressed quiet relief that the English Presbyterians had kept the question out of the Synod.

But of course Fraser continued a local pastor, and it is to that aspect of his work that we shall, God willing, turn next time.


Sermon preached at Oulton Broad

The following sermon preached by the Highland Host at Oulton Broad Free Presbyterian Church is now available at Sermonaudio.com: here

(Illustration is a stained-glass window in the Oulton Broad Church Minor Hall, where the sermon was preached)


Friday, July 13, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XIII.

In England, Donald Fraser interested himself more in Church business than he had in Scotland. The English Presbyterian Church was a smaller, weaker body, and questions such as a Sustentation Fund for the support of the ministry, in place in the Free Church from the day of the Disruption, were only just being discussed in England. In 1876 the United Presbyterian churches in England united with the English Presbyterian Church, strengthening the body and helping the establish the young church.
Like many Evangelical leaders in England in the 19th century, Fraser was concerned about the rise of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement in the Church of England. Pioneered by men like John Henry Newman (pictured), the Oxford Movement was a radical attempt to bring the ceremonies and beliefs of the Church of England closer to those of the Roman Catholic Church. While some Oxford Movement leaders such as Newman ultimately became members of the Roman Catholic Church, others such as E. B. Pusey remained in the Church of England and continued to teach their views. The English Presbyterian Synod of 1873 passed a motion proposed by Dr. Fraser expressing concern at "the alarming progress in the Established Church of such teachings and practices as involve some of the most fatal heresies of the Church of Rome" and establishing a committee to further examine the Oxford Movement. The English Presbyterians sought, through communication with Evangelicals in the Church of England, to preserve the principles of the Reformation in the Church of England.
To communicate the danger to the Presbyterians was one thing. To combine dissenting and Church of England men to fight the error proved something far more difficult. Alas several prominent Nonconformist leaders flatly refused to do anything to help their Anglican brethren, so set were they on the policy of disestablishment, while some leading Anglicans refused to admit they had a problem. Faced with this sectarian strife, in 1876 Fraser advised the Synod to drop the matter. Anglicans and Nonconformists seemed utterly unable to work together to preserve the Reformation heritage of the Church of England.

Why was this? Ultimately it was because the advocates of disestablishment made disestablishment their idol and forgot that a threat to the Evangelical faith in the Church of England was a threat to all the Churches. They preferred politics to spiritual co-operation. On the other side, too many Anglicans refused to admit that there was a problem. For every far-sighted man like J. C. Ryle or John Kensit (on the right), there were dozens of men who said that everything was all right where they were and this whole fuss was over nothing.

Fraser's other great concern was Presbyterian unity, and it is to that we shall turn, God willing, next time.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XII.

Although not one of the great Presbyterian leaders of his age, in English Presbyterianism Donald Fraser was a big fish in a small pond. His involvement in such bodies as the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Evangelical Alliance led to engagements outside the United Kingdom. In 1874 Fraser went back to Montreal again, to the conference of the Evangelical Alliance there. Again he was able to renew old friendships and see what had happened in his old Church.
In 1877 Fraser returned to another former scene of his labours, the nation of Italy. He was sent as part of a delegation from the Evangelical Alliance to visit the Evangelical Churches and Missions of Italy. As had been the case during his short ministry in Italy, Fraser was particularly drawn to those Italian Churches that were presbyterian and Reformed, the Waldensians and the Chiesa Libera (our illustration shows a rural Waldensian 'Temple'). The deputation from the Evangelical Alliance did its best to examine carefully the condition of Italiasn Protestantism, and Fraser was glad to see the Italian protestant community drawing together in mutual Christian love. Fraser hoped that they would be able to work through their differences and, with the possible exception of the Baptists, join into one denomination.
Sad to say, Donald Fraser did not see that the basis of any denominational union scheme must be truth, otherwise it is a union in name only. Only on the basis of the Bible can there be true Christian unity. But Fraser had already adopted unsound views on the eternality of hell, which is only possible by twisting the Bible. We reiterate what we have said elsewhere, we gain no pleasure from the idea of an eternal hell, but our conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and we can believe no otherwise.

His next overseas visit was to the General Conference of the Evangelical Alliance in 1879, at Basle. Though he was called upon to preach in English, his lack of understanding of German made it difficult for him to really enter into the proceedings of the conference - which were held mostly in that tongue. He was fairly skilled in French (no doubt as a result of his ministry in Montreal), and had a tolerable grasp of Italian, but German had not been part of his studies. At least it kept him away from the corrosive effects of German modernistic 'theology'!! The visit to Basle at least gave him an opportunity to take a continental vacation with his wife before he returned to England.

Of which, God willing, we shall see more next time.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Book Review: 'The Secrets of Rosslyn'

The woefully hisdtorically illiterate novel 'The Da Vinci Code' raised the profile of the tiny Medieval gem that is Rosslyn Chapel, but not in a good way. The poor chapel has been linked to Knights Templars, Freemasons and all sorts of strange conspiracy theories. Readers of this blog will of course know that these theories are so much rubbish, thought up out of the imaginations of pseudo-historians. This book professes to give the truth about Rosslyn - truth that is so much more exciting than Dan Brown's fiction.

Roddy Martine, the author, is a journalist and expert in things Scottish. He writes in a clear, lucid way that this reader appreciated greatly. The book is built on facts, not speculation, and it tells the story of how Rosslyn castle came to be in the hands of the St. Clair family, how the chapel came to be built, and its history. The cover of the book itself illustrates the problem Martine faced - it is a Victorian painting showing an idealised view of the chapel in Medieval times, looking West. Except it isn't. For it shows the Chapel following Victorian repairs and alterations, with the Baptistery - a 19th century addition- in existence. The cloaked figures are Knights Templar - but no Templars had existed for a century when the Chapel was built. It is this tangled skein of myth and reality fuelled by the Romantic movement (William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott and J.M.W Turner all visited Rosslyn) that Martine carefully and skillfully untangles. Myth after myth falls before his investigation. The Chapel's richness is no anomaly - it was built by Prince William Sinclair, 11th Baron of Rosslyn, 3rd and last St. Clair Earl of Orkney, Lord St. Clair, Lord Niddesdale, Lord Admiral of the Scottish Seas, Lord Chief Justice of Scotland, Lord Warden of the Three Marches, Knight of the Cockle and Knight of the Golden Fleece - to quote just some of the titles Martine gives on P. 65 - , a man who held more titles than most European monarchs of the period and a man with fingers in every political pie in Scotland in the period. A man with great experience of travel in Europe, he had seen first hand the great cathedrals of France and decided to built his own at Rosslyn.

The old story of the Master's and Prentice's pillars is dismissed as the fantasy that it is, and the Templar connection declared to be extremely unlikely. The legendary 'Templar Head' is identified as probably a head-reliquary, fairly normal things in the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, and the 'Priory of Sion' is dismissed as the hoax that it was. Rev. Michael Fass, current minister of Rosslyn, is quoted talking about the New Age intrusions into his chapel (Pp.137-8), and the trials of being the minister of a church with so many fanciful legends about it current.

The Christian reader should be aware that Martine is not a Christian and appears at times to give credence to stories of reincarnation (Pp.68-70). He expresses agnosticism (Pp. 112-3) about the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and his knowledge of things Biblical is generally poor. On these things he needs to be supplemented. He also mistakenly (P. 114) identifies the disciple in Leonardo's 'Last Supper' whom Brown misidentifies as Mary Magdalene as Peter when it should be John (Peter is depicted by Leonardo in the conventional manner, as is John, who is shown as a very young man because he is said to have died around 100 AD). These are however a small fraction of an otherwise excellent book. We would recommend it as a generally good popular treatement of a tiny part of Scotland's heritage and, what is more, a good read.

'The Secrets of Rosslyn' by Roddy Martine is published by Birlinn Limited in paperback and available for £9.99 from the publishers here


Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XI.

Donald Fraser was inducted to the pastorate of the Marylebone Presbyterian Church, Upper George Street, London, on February 4th 1870. The Church was solid, though not large for Victorian London, and they met in an unpretentious square building which seated between eight and nine hundred people in a large area and two tiers of galleries around three sides of the building. The schoolrooms were located in the basement of the structure, and Fraser described them as "very uninviting."
The sermon on the night of Fraser's induction was preached by his friend Oswald Dykes, who had been settled at Regent Square Church a few months earlier, having not had the same difficulties leaving Scotland that Fraser had suffered. The two men continued their friendship until Fraser's death, and no doubt each found life in England made more bearable by their proximity.
Donald Fraser did not allow his change of surroundings to affect his inistence that he occupied his own pulpit as loften as possible. With the exception of five or six Lord's Days in August and September each year, he was alweays to be found at Marylebone as long as his health held out. If other congregations wanted the services of Mr. Fraser (Dr. Fraser from 1872, when the University of Aberdeen bestowed on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity), they could only secure him on week-nights. This commitment to the Church over which he had been placed is an admirable example of pastoral fidelity, as he could have pleaded many excuses for taking services at other churches.
And Fraser was a popular preacher in London. The old building soon filled up, its two tiers of galleries proved insufficient, and the session was forced to consider plans to extend the sanctuary. Due to its site on Upper George Street, expansion required the purchase of an adjoining building - and that took time and money.
Meanwhile, partly due to the forward movement of the English Presbyterian Church and partly due to the increasing desire of the Church to project itself, Fraser found himself called upon to open buildings from Jarrow to Bournemouth and Norwich to Gloucester. Altogether he preached at the opening of over forty church buildings of the English Presbyterian Church alone, not counting the Churches of other denominations such as the Baptists and Methodists, and Presbyterian places of worship in Scotland and Ireland.
His experiences in Canada and Florence made him a particularly welcome speaker on missionary topics at Exeter Hall and elsewhere. Not only did he preach missionary sermons for his owen denomination and interdenominational societies, but he preached for the Wesleyan Missionary Society and the Baptist Missionary Society. In short, he was 'in labours more abundant'.

How those labours played out we shall see, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. X.

In the summer of 1869 Donald Fraser paid a visit to his old flock at Montreal, in Canada. The people there welcomed their former pastor with great kindness, and his greatest pleasure was being able to stay with his sister Jane. It was a short and uneventful visit, but one that held a dear place in Fraser's heart. There was the place where he had first preached the Gospel, the congregation that he had helped to build up, and the building he had helped to wipe out the debt upon. More than that, there were precious souls he had been the instrument of winning to Christ.
Fraser was happy at the Free High Church, Inverness. He had recieved a call to the prestigious pulpit of Free St. John's Church, Edinburgh (the building is now Free St. Columba's) after the retirement of Dr. Guthrie, but he had turned it down. In 1868, however, he recieved a call to go further afield, to leave the Free Church of Scotland for the young English Presbyterian Church. He was asked to pastor the congregation at Marylebone in London. Fraser knew Marylebone, and he felt a definite pull towards the English Church, but finally he thought it better to stay in Inverness. However the Marylebone session was not easily put off. On his return from Canada Fraser once more found a call to London, and this time Fraser felt more inclined to accept. A conversation with Mr. Oswald Dykes (later Dr.), who was considering a call to London's other great presbyterian Church, Regent Square, helped to decide things. Oswald Dykes said that he would accept the call to Regent Square if Fraser would go to Marylebone. Fraser accepted.
Fraser was beginning to become unhappy with events in the Free Church of Scotland, and this contributed to his decision to leave Scotland once more. He saw an 'ignoble sectarian temper' (as he put it) beginning to emerge, a temper that wished ill to the Church of Scotland and was jealous of the reform of that body, lest she should render the grounds of separation from her less obvious. He did not support disestablishment, but nor did he fully sympathise with James Begg and the Constitutionalists. In the small English Presbyterian Church he saw a body that was relatively free of this 'sectarian temper'. And so, once again, Donald Fraser decided to become a voluntary exile from his own land.
The Free Presbytery of Inverness, however, refused to let Fraser go! Fraser insisted that he felt he was called to London by God, and at last he was allowed to leave Inverness in January 1870 to take up the pastorate at Marylebone, where he would spend the rest of his ministry.

God willing, we shall begin to look at that ministry next time.


Monday, July 02, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. IX.

Though Donald Fraser made it a rule to occupy his own pulpit on the Lord's Day, to put the needs of his own congregation first, there were two occasions wshen he was called by the denomination to leave the pulpit of the Free High Church to minister abroad.
The first occasion was in 1867, when he was called on to spend some time in Italy. The Rev. J. R. MacDougall, pastor of the Chiesa Scozzese (Scots Church) in Florence was to be absent from his post for a short time while he undertook evangelical work in Venice. Since there were many ministers in Scotland who could cover for Fraser, Fraser was asked to take the oversight in Florence for a time. He agreed (as who wouldn't?) and for three months lived in the Italian city with his family. There was a thriving Scottish population in the city, and one of the elders there had previously been one of the elders of the Free High Church, so that the Frasers felt quite at home in Italy. At that time Florence was the capital of Italy, and the Frasers took great interest in the events of the city. For a man who had spent much of his life in Canada among a largely Roman Catholic population in Montreal much was familiar, and the difficulties of the Scots Church were those he had known in Canada.
The evangelistic work in Italy was 'feeble' in Fraser's opinion, and he was not able to preach in Italian. He gained a vicarious pleasure from the preaching of Dr. De Sanctis of the Waldensian Church (pictured), which drew considerable numbers.
After Mr. MacDougall returned to Florence, Fraser and his eldest son took a short vacation, visiting Venice, Rome and Naples. At Venice he met with General Garibaldi and was impressed with the patriot's dignity. At Rome he saw the Pope, Pius IX. Though Pio Nono had a fine bearing, Fraser noticed the man's eyes were keen and cruel, and he thought it must be a terrible thing to fall into the hands of such a ruler.
Fraser found his heart moved within him as he saw a nation given over to the darkness of a superstitious Romanism, and he retained to his dying day an interest in the nation. Italy is now becoming more secularised, but the cause of the Gospel is still feeble there - we ought to keep up that interest.

Fraser's second overseas visit was of a more personal nature - of which more, God willing, next time.