Tuesday, August 07, 2007

10 Great works of Scottisch Church History: I

The third in an occasional series pointing out great books. As with the previous posts in this series, not all of these books are currently in print, but all of them are important. Scottisch Church history is a fascinating, though sometimes almost overwhelming subject. These books help to make it understandable.

1. Thomas McCrie: 'The Story of the Scottish Church' (Reprinted, Free Presbyterian Publications, 1988) £10.95 from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom here.
This Thomas McCrie is not the biographer of John Knox, but his son and successor in the ministry at Davie Street, Edinburgh. He taught Church History and Systematic Theology at the English Presbyterian College from 1856 to 1866. This is undoubtedly his best-known book. It had its origins in a series of popular lectures to young people delivered in the mid 1840s. It covers the history of Scottish Presbyterianism from the Reformation to the Disruption of 1843. The full form of the book was reached in 1874, and it is this edition that the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland reprinted. Although the original lectures were intended for young people, the book extends to some 568 pages and is anything but superficial. McCrie writes in a clear, enjoyable and easy style, and the reader can easily follow the narrative of the history.
Our extract comes from his description of Thomas Chalmers: "This meteor shot up suddenly into our horizon in 1815. Transported from the quiet hamlet of Kilmany to the Tron Church in Glasgow, his 'Astronomical Discourses' burst on the astonished gaze of multitudes, at once proclaiming the marvel of his recent spiritual change, and proving the prelude of his future fame. Seldom, if ever, in the history of the Church has such a luminary appeared, shining from first to last with such intense and sustained brilliancy" (P. 527)

2. John Macleod, 'Scottish Theology in Relation to Church history Since the Reformation' (Previously published by Banner of Truth Trust, now Reformed Academic Press).
This is another one of the great classics of Scottish Church history. Like McCrie's book, it originated as a series of lectures, in this case given at Westminster Seminary in April 1939. The full title of the book explains its scope, and it takes a sweep from the Reformation through to the Scottish Church of the early 20th century. Macleod writes from a strict Calvinistic standpoint, the standpoint, theologically, of the Free Presbyterian and Free Churches in the 1930s. He charts rises and falls, and the book's outline is primarily historical rather than being laid out according to doctrine. That is, rather than analysing the sweep of Scottish thought on individual doctrines, each chapter covers a historical period. Leading theologians are brought forward and displayed to us. That this book is apparently out of print strikes us as a terrible tragedy. It is a splendid survey, and we know of nothing like it.

"The story is told of one of Cunningham's students who had thoughts of taking a session at Princeton with Hodge. He was a canny Scot and wanted to make sure beforehand that a session taken overseas would count as part of his Divinity course. So he went to see the Principal about it. He stated his case. Cunningham, when he heard it, took a pinch of snuff - for he was a snuffer - and then gave his answer. He had a question in his mind about this business. But here was the shape that it took. His only question about the matter was whether a session taken with Hodge ought not to be counted as equal to two" (P. 271, though of the Knox Press edition of 1943).

3. James Walker, 'The Theology and Theologians of Scotland 1560-1750' (Reprinted Knox Press, 1982) £2.95 from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom here.
Like the other two books in this post, Walker's 'Theology and Theoilogians' originated as a series of lectures, namely the Cunningham Lectures for 1871. Although the title invites comparison with Macleod's book, Macleod himself deprecated any such comparison. The structure and intention of the two books is quite different. Macleod called Walker "a masterly work... in its own department, a classic." Walker takes the loci of theology, Predestination, the Atonement, the doctrine of the Church, and expounds the teachings of Scottish theologians on the doctrines. In the introductory and concluding chapters, Walker gives a survey of Scottish Theology and clears up misrepresentations. Scottish theology is cleared of the accusation of dourness, and Scottish theologians are shown full of love for Christ and sinners. The whole is such a sustained argument that we shall not give an extract, but say 'taste and see.'



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