Thursday, August 02, 2007

Donald Fraser: 'Sound Doctrine'. I

Donald Fraser's last published work was his commentary on the English Presbyterian Articles of Faith. These articles were adopted by the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of England on 1st May 1890. The 'Articles' were intended to be a simplified repacement for the Westminster Confession, which had functioned as the Subordinate Standard of the Church up to that point. But J. Oswald Dykes, Fraser's friend and close neighbour, and joint-convenor of the Synod's Committee for the Instruction of Youth, recognised the need for a systematic exposition of the new Articles due to the fact that "Loose and erroneous opinions on nearly every doctrine of religion are widely spread among all classes" (from the preface, P. xi). Donald Fraser was thus appointed by the Synod to write this exposition of the articles. This means that we have a systematic exposition of Fraser's own doctrinal views.
Fraser's doctrinal views are indeed, for the most part, 'sound' and in line with the Westminster Confession. What is notable, however, is that the Articles open, not as the older confessions do, with an article or chapter on Scripture, but with an article on God. Indeed, the article on Scripture does not come until the 19th article, following the article on the Church. Fraser cannot be blamed for that, and he defends the placing of the article on God first, since God is indeed first.

Alas, as was all too common in that period among the most evangelical men, Fraser effectively gives up creation in six days. God's being the creator is, however, stated plainly, and Fraser does not capitulate to evolutionary theory, affirming on P. 57 that Adam was indeed our first father, "Our faith rests serely on Holy Writ, which refers all human life back to 'the first man, Adam'". That would come in the next generation, influenced by the teaching of men like Henry Drummond.

God's providence is asserted in the strongest possible terms, and the fall described as a vital doctrine, since, "the Fall of Man is that which makes both redemption and reformation necessary" (P. 56). The Federal Headship of Adam is affirmed, and the fall traced back to him, not to Eve, since she did not hold a federal headship, but was under Adam as her head. Though (P.59) Fraser says that there is freedom to believe that the Biblical account of the Fall may be "an allegory", his insistence on a literal Adam really cuts the ground out from under this idea. Satan is affirmed as the tempter, and thus a real, personal Satan is taught, as well as a real, personal Adam. The imputation of Adam's sin is taught, since "All mankind, being in him, have come under just condemnation" (aticle V). Death is also affirmed as the result of Adam's sin. The Total Depravity of man is taught with precision, namely that "all parts and faculties of his originally upright nature have been injuriously affected by original sin" (P. 63). "A grievous and even gloomy doctrine this: but it is only the necessary acknowledgement of the grievous and gloomy facts of human history and experience. Every capable observer has taken account of the facts. The Bible alone has given a clue to account for them" (P. 63).

The place of this doctrine is convict men of sin, and to prepare them for Article VI, 'Of Saving Grace'. Here Fraser is in his element as a preacher, and that we sahall see, God willing, next time.

('Sound Doctrine' was published by the Publication Committee of the Presbyterian church of England in 1892. Our illustration is taken from it and is the only portrait of Donald Fraser that we know of)



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