Friday, August 03, 2007

Donald Fraser: 'Sound Doctrine'. II

We saw last time how Donald Fraser was a fairly typical Victorian Evangelical in dealing with the first five articles of the English Presbyterian Confession of 1890. With Article VI he came on the articles dealing with redemption.

"It is the joyful duty of the Church of God to announce and testify His grace to fallen and sinful men," (P. 65) is typical of Fraser the preacher, anxious to proclaim the mercy of God. He insists on that glorious text that 'God is Love', a text that is unique to Christianity and to the Bible. "[God] was induced by His love to designate and send a redeemer. This thought we have derived from the Bible; and it has become so familiar that it passes for an obvious, almost an axiomatic truth, Yet, in reality, it has not been at all self-evident to the human mind, nor has it been commonly recieved in any age of the world" (P. 67). Free and sovereign grace is proclaimed plainly.

Christ is taught as He is declared in Scripture, the eternal Son of God, Son of God from eternity, 'God manifest in the flesh,' fully God and fully man, with body and soul. That is an important matter, for denials of these things have been preached in every generation. Christ is declared as the only Saviour, and a perfect Saviour, who has fully satisfied the Justice of God. However, at best Fraser is Amyraldian in his view of the extent of the atonement (that is, he holds the view that Christ died savingly for the elect and conditionally for the non-elect, on a condition they cannot fulfil). The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is taught according to the Bible.

Election is taught, and unconditional election, "It is not to salvation, do what they may; it is to salvation in a way that is right and holy, and the divine purpose contemplates and secures the means as well as the end, the steps as well as the terminus" (P. 121). This is something we and all Calvinists have always insisted on against the Arminian straw man that "the elect shall be saved, do what they may" (Wesley). Although Fraser notes that God has elected a people, he also notes that the community is of INDIVIDUALS. Justification by faith ALONE is insisted on, as is the imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ (though the two cannot be separated, being aspects of the one obedience)

Donald Fraser notes quite correctly that detailed plans of the future have no place in confessions of faith: "The best men in Israel did not forsee what would occur at the First Advent of Christ; and it is quite likely that all the maps of futurity drawn by students of Scripture regarding the Second Advent are full of mistakes. But the Church commits herself to no details regarding the order and succession of events. In these articles she specifies the chief features of the time of the end, as shown in Scripture - the second advent, the Resurrection, the Last Judgement, the Life Everlasting. As to the order of time, and all similar questions, let students of the Bible think for themselves, as it may be revealed to them" (Pp. 196-7). We have always thought it a tragedy when denominations (and much more inter-denominational missions) set themselves up with a basis of faith that commits every member to a particular theory of the End Times. We know of a mission to the Jews that insists all its members are premillenial, yet while the Bonar Brothers and David Brown of Aberdeen differed widely on their view of the timing of the millenium, all three were utterly committed to reaching the Jewish people with the Gospel. All three were members of the same denomination, and could have the closest fellowship. So why is there then a problem?
Having said this, Fraser was not a Dispensationalist (remember that modern 'Progressive Dispensationalism' did not yet exist, and the only sort of Dispensationalism in existence in 1892 was that of J.N. Darby), noting that "There is to be only a Second Advent, not a third, and it is to be splendidly conspicuous. Every eye shall see Him" (P. 198).
We have said that Fraser wobbled on the question of Eternal Punishment. He was constrained by the Bible to say that the punishment will be eternal, but he professed agnosticism on the exact nature of the punishment. But note that this is MUCH FURTHER than some modern 'evangelical' preachers are willing to go!

To close, then, Fraser is not completely sound, but he was plainly an evangelical and a true Christian, at least in his profession. We firmly believe him to be now in glory.

(Illustration is West Hartlepool Presbyterian Church, opened by Donald Fraser)



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