Monday, April 30, 2007

10 Great Scottish Christian Biographies. 1.

Christians ought to read. We, of all people, know that books communicate knowledge to us. And, seeing that we are compassed about with 'so great a cloud of witnesses', Christians ought to read biography.
Dr. Al Mohler brought this to our attention with a blog post and a radio programme. So here are ten great Scottish Christian biographies. Unfortunately not all of them are currently in print, but most of them are.

The first three of these books are from the Reformation to the Covenanting period.

1.Thomas M'Crie 'Life of John Knox'. Published by Free Presbyterian Publications and available from Free Presbyterian Bookroom for £5.00.
This is THE biography of John Knox. We have dealt with M'Crie on this blog already. This book re-awakened interest in the Scottish Reformer, and remains one of the all-time classics. M'Crie, himself an unbending presbyterian, had a great deal of sympathy for Knox, and very little sympathy for Mary, Queen of Scots. The Free Presbyterian edition of M'Crie is somewhat edited, so that the book is less intimidating than later nineteenth century editions.
Our quotation comes from M'Crie's description of Knox's agonising over his call to the ministry:
"His distress of mind at the present occasion proceeded from a higher source than the deficiency of some external formalities in his call. He had now very different thoughts as to the importance of the ministerial office, from what he had entertained when ceremoniously invested with orders [in the Roman Catholic Church - H.H.]. The care of immortal souls, of whom he must give an account to the Chief Bishop; the charge of declaring 'the whole counsel of God, keepinf nothing back', however ungrateful to his hearers, and of 'preaching in season and out of season'; the manner of life, afflictions, persecution, imprisonment, exile, and violent death, to which the preachers of the Protestant doctrine were exposed; the hazard of his sinking under these hardships and 'making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience'; these, with similar considerations, rushed into his mind and filled it with agitation and grief. At length, satisfied that he had the call of God to engage in the work, he composed his mind to a reliance on Him who had engaged to make His 'strength perfect in the weakness' of His servants, and resolved, with the apostle, 'not to count his life dear, that he might finish with joy the ministry which he recieved of the Lord, to testify the gospel of the grace of God'. Often did he afterwards reflect with lively emotion upon this very interesting step of his life, and never, inthe midst of his greatest sufferings, did he see reason to repent the choice which he had so deliberately made." (P. 33)

2. Maurice Grant: 'The Lion of the Covenant' Published by Evangelical Press. £ 9.95 from Free Presbyterian Bookroom
The era of the Covenaters is the great heroic era of Scottish Church History, and there are few figures more dashing and heroic in that era than Richard Cameron, the man who lived praying and preaching and died fighting and praying. Maurice Grant does not fall into the trap of making Cameron into a larger than life figure, but gives us Cameron as he may be best known - as a man of God who fought the Lord's battles and who finally chose martyrdom rather than a comfortable life among the exiles of Holland because he loved Christ more than he loved his life.
Our quotation comes from Grant's account of Cameron's return to Scotland after his ordination.
"There can be no doubt that Cameron faced his return to Scotland with a very keen sense of a divinely appointed mission. It would indeed be surprising had he not done so, given the particularly solemn circumstances in which he had been ordained. It would, however, be a mistake to think that Cameron entered on the work in Scotland with little regard for the consequences, either for himself or others. The evidence shows clearly that he was fully conscious of the dangers of resuming field-preaching at a time of intense and bitter persecution. Not only so, but he was also keenly aware of the new responsibilities that devolved on him as an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland. That meant, among other things, maintaining the unity of the church against schism and division. As a true son of the Scottish Reformation, Cameron had an instinctive horror of separatism. That may seem paradoxical in view of his subsequent actions, but the evidence clearly suggests that Cameron was keenly aware of the duty of maintaning communion with his fellow-ministers and not disrupting the visible unity of the church." (P. 165)

3. Julia Buckroyd 'The Life of James Sharp Archbishop of St. Andrews 1618-1679'.
If Cameron's is a heroic life, and an example to all of us, James Sharp is a warning from history, a presbyterian minister who became a persecutor of all he had once believed in, and was finally murdered for his part in the persecution of the Covenanters. Sharp is the flip side of Knox and Cameron, who 'loved not their lives'. He loved his life too much, and compromised until he had sold himself and his church into the hands of the enemy, and there was no return for him. Buckroyd refuses to take the easy route of either making Sharp a martyr for prelacy or a monster and a hypocrite from the beginning. Instead she charts a life of compromise to its bitter end, the life of a man who gained power and influence, but who lost his life and, we fear, his own soul. Buckroyd's book is a tragedy in the best sense.
We give a short extract from the latter part of the book:
"For three years Sharp had been made to dance to a merry tune. His political ambitions had led him to seem to support a cause which he did not support, and to antagonise Burnet into the process. His subordination to the nobilty was not yet complete, however. The process culminated in Sharp's enforced agreement to the Act of Supremacy."
(P. 93)

God willing, next time we shall present some more books.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? Conclusion

We have come to the end of the paper and seen the evidence. If words mean things then, Thomas Chalmers held an Amyraldian position on the extent of the atonement, namely that it was for all men in view of offer, but that only the elect would appropriate that offer. Thomas Chalmers based this theology on his observation that the Bible offered the gospel freely to all, and the only basis for this was that Christ had died for all.

I began this paper thinking that I would find Chalmers was a ‘Fullerite’ free-offer teacher. He knew and admired Andrew Fuller,[See Hanna Vol. 1 Pp. 253-5, 279, Prelections P.425] and that admiration for fuller led to his having a high view of the English Particular Baptists.[“Let it never be forgotten of the Particular Baptists of England, that they form the denomination of Fuller and Carey and Ryland and Hall and Foster; that they have originated among the greatest of all missionary enterprises; that they have enriched the Christian literature of our country with authorship of the most exalted piety…” Romans Vol. 1. P. 229] In fact Chalmers went considerably beyond Fuller, into an Amyraldian view of the atonement. Perhaps it is because of these passages in his writings that Thomas Chalmers has had little part in the reprinting of reformed writings over the last fifty years or so. There are hopeful signs, however, that things may be changing; his Sabbath Scripture Readings have recently been republished in the United States by Solid Ground Christian Books, and the Banner of Truth Trust are about to republish Hanna's 'Letters of Thomas Chalmers'. The Romans has languished in obscurity for a century, and I had to obtain both volumes of the Institutes from North America, so rare have his books become.

The Free Church of Scotland did not follow Chalmers’ lead in theology. Instead it followed the strict Particularism of Robert Smith Candlish, the teaching that Christ died in no way for the non-elect. Chalmers was not the only teacher of Amyraldian principles in Scottish Presbyterianism, for the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland had John Brown of Broughton Place (author of the Hebrews and Galatians commentaries published by the Banner of Truth Trust, among other works). Neither of these men were followed, and when departures from Westminster Orthodoxy came in Scottish Presbyterianism in the latter years of the nineteenth century what came was theological liberalism, denial of total depravity, of substitutionary atonement and so on. The Free Church of Scotland as she currently exists was constituted in 1900 by strict subscribers to the Westminster Confession. Thomas Chalmers was represented as a name, rather than as a theologian, and ever since that has been his fate.[A particularly egregious example of this occurs in Hugh Watt, Thomas Chalmers and the Disruption (Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1943) Pp. 358-9, where Watt pictures the shade of Chalmers as a radiant figure in the hall reunion hall of 1929 “raising those speaking hands of his in benediction.”] It is time that injustice was done away with and Chalmers revealed as he truly was, not made a mere puppet for others to impose their views on. This paper is intended as a small contribution to that process.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? VII

Our discussion, then, has brought us to the heart of the question. For whom did Chalmers believe Christ died? As we have noted, the Free Offer of the gospel was the starting point of Thomas Chalmers’ theology and the touchstone to which he brought other matters. His theology of the particularity of Christ’s redemption was formed by this doctrine:

“This doctrine of particular redemption is either not a doctrine at all [That is, not properly a doctrine], or is grievously misunderstood – if in virtue thereof a minister feels himself restrained from making the open proclamation of its offered forgiveness to all within his reach.”[Prelections P. 318]

Which was it? Chalmers answered that the doctrine was true, but not in the manner imagined. Although Chalmers disliked discussions on the extent of the atonement, in those few places where he does treat of it, it is apparent that he held a basically Amyraldian view of it. Christ had died for all in offer, but for the elect only in effect.

“It is nowhere said in the Bible that Christ so died for me in particular, as that by His simple dying the benefits of His atonement are mine in possession. But it is everywhere said in the Bible, that He so died for me in particular, as that by His simple dying the benefits of His atonement are mine in offer. They are mine if I will.”[Romans Vol. 2 Pp. 104-5]

Chalmers preached a hypothetically universal atonement, finding that there was no other basis for a free offer, “If Christ died only for the elect, and not for all,” ministers “are puzzled to understand how they should proceed with the calls and invitations of the gospel.”[Institutes Vol. 2 P. 418] And he preached that way: “We tell you of God’s beseeching voice. We assure you, in His name, that he wants you not to die. We bid you venture for pardon on the atonement made by Him who died for all.”[Romans Vol. 3 P. 392]

“Christ did not so die for all as that all do actually receive the gift of salvation; but He so died for all, as that all to whom He is preached have the real and honest offer of Salvation. He is not yours in possession till you have laid hold of Him by faith. But he is your in offer. He is as much yours as anything of which you can say – I have it for the taking. You, one and all of you, my brethren, have salvation for the taking; and it is because you do not choose to take it if it do not indeed belong to you.”[Ibid. P. 203-4]

According to Chalmers’ view, Christ died for all men in offer. Every human being who ever lived and who ever will live is warranted to come to Christ and believe that Christ had died for him. Chalmers could have sung without complaint the lines of Charles Wesley:

Who did for every sinner die,
Hath surely died for me. ['Spirit of Faith, come down'. The 'offending' line is changed in 'Christian Hymns']

Indeed, he could have agreed with all of Charles Wesley’s universal atonement language, for Chalmers declared explicitly his agreement with the Arminian William Paley that “Christ died for the whole world, because now and in consequence of His death, the offer of the remission of sins may be made to the whole world.”[Prelections Pp. 107-8] He noted carefully that there are two sorts of universality that may be postulated with regard to the atonement. One was false, namely the heresy of universalism, that Christ so died for all that all without distinction will certainly be saved. That was a universality of effect, and that was false. The second was a universality of proposition, a conditional universality conditioned on faith.[Ibid. P. 324]

“The remedy [for human sin], in fact, is much more extensive in proposition than it is in effect. It may be held out, in proposition, to all, while at the same time, and effectively, it is limited to those who repent and believe, while most assuredly all those who do so repent and believe shall be saved. And it is also quite true, that though the offer of redemption were rejected by all, there is a sense in which that redemption [Not the offer, note, but the atonement itself. Chalmers guards against his point being misunderstood] might still be called universal. The offer could not be made without it; and now that Christ hath died, the offer might be made to one and all of the species.”[Prelections P. 326]

“We hold as unfortunate,” Chalmers told his students as he criticized the very lectures he had heard at St. Andrews, “the assertion that Christ did not die for all men, but for those of every nation who are in the end to be saved.”[Ibid. P. 356] The implication, backed up by Chalmers’ own preaching, was that the students, in calling sinners to Christ, ought to tell their hearers that Christ died for all. And this hypothetical universalism, which is the marrow of Amyraldianism, was not just a brief theological phase in Thomas Chalmers’ career. From the Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans in the 1820s to his Institutes of Theology, which was still unfinished at his death, Thomas Chalmers insisted on this doctrine when he thought it necessary. In the pulpit it was urged with the outstretched hand of offer, in the classroom urged with scientific logic.

And at the very end of his life, when he was but a few hours from eternity, Chalmers was still defending the hypothetical universalism of his old favourite Richard Baxter. Hanna records a conversation Chalmers had on the day before his sudden death:

“‘Doddridge, [his friend said] for example is latitudinarian; but I should be very unwilling to call him unsound. And Baxter is still more latitudinarian; but I should be very unwilling, in the full sense of the word, to call him unsound. There are what are called Baxterian errors, I am aware, and one of these is in relation to the extent of the sacrifice of Christ; Baxter, I think, holds that Christ died for all men.’ Dr. Chalmers answered, ‘Yes, Baxter holds that Christ died for all men; but I cannot say that I am quite at one with what some of our friends have written on the subject of the atonement. I do not, for example, entirely agree with what Mr. Haldane says on the subject.[A reference to James A. Haldane: The Doctrine of the Atonement (Edinburgh, William P. Kennedy, Third edition, 1852). The first edition of this work was published in 1845.] I think that the word world, as applied in Scripture to the sacrifice of Christ, has been unnecessarily restricted; the common way of explaining it is, that it simply includes Gentiles as well as Jews. I do not like that explanation; and I think that there is one text that puts that interpretation entirely aside. The text to which I allude is, that “God commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent.”’ Here the Doctor spoke of the connexion between the election of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the freeness of the offer of the Gospel. He spoke with great eloquence, and I felt that he was in the pulpit, as some of his finest bursts rolled from his lips. ‘In the offer of the Gospel,’ said he, we must make no limitations whatever. I compare the world to a multitude of iron filings in a vessel, and the Gospel to a magnet. The minister of the Gospel must bring the magnet into contact with them all: the secret agency of God is to produce the attraction.’”[Hanna Vol. 2 P. 773]

God willing, we shall conclude this paper next time.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? VI

We are brought then to the important question of what Chalmers called upon people to believe in. What was the appropriate object of faith to Thomas Chalmers?

What is faith? Chalmers dedicated some seventy-eight pages of his 'Institutes' to this question.[Part II, Chapter VI, (Vol. 2, Pp.122-200)] Thomas Chalmers answer was that faith was assent to the propositions of the gospel. ‘Rabbi’ Duncan called it a “Sandemanian” view [John M. Brentnall: ‘Just a Talker’ Sayings of John (‘Rabbi’) Duncan (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1997) P. 175]. While in one sense correct, in another he was not. Sandeman believed no-one could believe the proposition 'Christ died for me', but that faith was just an assent to the truth of the Gospel account. Like Sandeman, Chalmers insisted that faith always led to a changed life. The Rabbi said “Ah! My doctrine about faith was better than his, but he went to prayer, and his faith was better than mine.”[Ibid. P. 174] This assent, Chalmers insisted, if it was real, would lead to consent to what was taught and therefore to obedience.[See Institutes Vol. 2, P. 185] Nevertheless that consent was not a part of saving faith but an effect of it.

What propositions did Chalmers think that all were warranted to accept? While he felt that those who taught all a sinner must accept was that ‘Christ died for me’ unnecessarily narrowed the gospel, he did not think they were wrong. What he called people to was a true assent to the whole of Scripture, an assent that required them to be well taught by their ministers.

“I do not object, you will observe, to the object of their faith being in this particular form, that He died for my sins – as I hold the precious terms of all, and any and whosoever, wherein the overtures of the gospel are couched, abundantly warrant this blessed application.”[Ibid. P. 168]

“A man might fain to believe that Christ died a propitiation for his sins, because he reads that Christ died a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and he, therefore, as one of the world, takes this declaration to himself.”[Ibid. P. 16]

God willing, next time we shall at least begin to look at the effect Chalmers' insistence on the Free Offer as the starting point of theology had on his doctrine of the atonement.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? V

[Note: this section is descriptive of Chalmers' theology, and reflects HIS views, not necessarily those of the present author]

The Free Offer of the Gospel was practically axiomatic with Chalmers, indeed it was the starting point of his theology, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” had been his entrance into the Kingdom, and he presented the same entrance to his hearers. William Hanna notes that, “The most marked characteristic of his pulpit ministrations after his conversion was the frequency and fervour with which he held out to sinners Christ and his salvation as God’s free gift, which it was their privilege and their duty at once and most graciously to accept.”[Hanna Vol. 1 P. 317] Writing in 1812, shortly after his conversion, Chalmers described the gospel like this: “It is just [God] saying to one and all of us, - there is forgiveness through the blood of my Son, take it; and whoever believes the reality of the offer takes it.”[Ibid. P. 263]

The writings of Thomas Chalmers positively teem with Free Offer passages, in his own preaching and in his instructions to his students on how to preach. “He would bend over the pulpit and press us to take the gift, as if he held it that moment in his hand, and would not be satisfied till every one of us had got possession of it. And often when the sermon was over and the psalm was sung, and he rose to pronounce the blessing, he would break out afresh with some new entreaty, unwilling to let us go until he had made one more effort to persuade us to accept it,” one of his old hearers recalled.[Ibid. P. 318] Here is a sample of that pleading from his expository sermons on Romans:

“We tell you of God’s beseeching voice. We assure you, in His name, that he wants you not to die. We bid you venture for pardon on the atonement made by Him who died for all men. We bid you apply forthwith to the spirit of all grace and holiness, that you may be qualified to enter into that beatific heaven from whose battlements there wave the signals of welcome, and whose gates are widely opened to receive you. We would bring this plain word of salvation nigh unto every conscience, and knock with it at the door of every heart; and commissioned as we are to preach the gospel not to a chosen few, while we keep it back from the hosts of the reprobate, but to preach it to every creature under heaven, we again entreat that none here present shall forbid themselves – for most assuredly God has not forbidden them. But come unto Christ all of you who labour and are heavy-laden, and ye shall have rest. Look unto Him, all ye ends of the earth; and though now placed at the farthest outskirts of a moral distance and alienation, even look unto Him and ye shall be saved.”[Romans Vol. 3 P. 392]

Chalmers based these offers on what he found in the Bible, especially the ‘universal language’ that was used there, the ‘whosoevers’ and such like. Speaking to his students he told them they ought to offer Christ to all:

“This you are fully warranted to do by the terms in which the message of the gospel is conceived – by words, for example, of such universal and at the same time of such pointed and specific application, as ‘whosoever’, and ‘all’, and ‘any’, and ‘every’ being associated with the calls and invitations of the New Testament.”[Prelections P. 167. Chalmers says much the same thing in the Institutes]

What was more, Chalmers insisted that this offer was to be made not just to a congregation in the mass, but to every individual to whom the minister spoke. The offer in the Scriptures, “though expressly addressed to no one individual, yet by the wide sweep of a ‘whosoever will’ makes it as pointed a message to all and to any as if the proprietor of each Bible had received it under cover with the inscription of his name and surname from the upper sanctuary.”[Romans Vol. 1 P. 145] He exemplified this himself in his preaching, as we see from his Romans:

“There is not one here present to whom the gospel does not hold forth a warrant for so hoping [that they may be saved]. It declares the remission of sins to all who put faith in the declaration. By its sweeping term ‘whosoever’ it makes as pointed an offer of eternal life to each, as if each had gotten a special intimation by an angel sent to him from heaven.”[Romans Vol. 1 P. 284-5]

In view of this it should come as no surprise to find that Chalmers had a high opinion of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen’s book on The Freeness of the Gospel. “Dr. Chalmers said over and over again that he thought Mr. Erskine’s ‘Freeness’ one of the most delightful books ever written. It seems to me that the Gospel had never appeared to him in any very different light from that in which Mr. Erskine represents it,” a friend of his wrote.[Quoted in Hanna Vol. 2 P. 194] Not that Chalmers liked the hints of universal salvation he found in Erskine. They came from ignoring certain other passages of Scripture that plainly indicate all shall not be saved, but some will be damned.

As to what is offered in the gospel, Chalmers said without hesitation, “Christ is offered.”[Romans Vol. 1 P. 412]


Monday, April 23, 2007

We recieve two awards

The Big Orange Truck has handed two meme tag awards to us here at Free St. George's. Namely the 'Thinking Blogger' award:

And the 'Oikodomeis Award':

Now, we COULD return the compliment by awarding both to the Big Orange Truck again, but that would be silly, so instead I will suggest two blogs for the Thinking Blogger award (leaving my brother in Cardiff to do the other three) and one for the Oikodomeis Award (leaving Hiraeth to nominate his own candidate).

First up for the 'Thinking Blogger', not a blog, but (as the name suggests), a blogger: Pastor Gary Brady of Child's Hill. The content here is very varied, which is one of its charms. Gary Brady is a pastor in North London. His blogs are Child's Hill Baptist Church history;
Richard Bernard, Puritan; Benjamin Beddome; Thomas Adams, Puritan Shakespeare; Heavenly Worldliness. The last, with a tremendously varied content, is his main blog. The very fact that he has produced these blogs is a reason for giving him this award.

My next candidate for this award is Rhett Kelley of Rhett's Rants. This is a blog that takes a serious (and sometimes not so serious) look at modern evangelicalism and culture from a solid Southern Calvinistic worldview. As a great admirer of the works of such Southern stalwarts as Robert L. Dabney, John L. Girardeau, Thomas E. Peck, James H. Thornwell, James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus (not to mention Professor Tom Nettles,Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Dr. Russell D. Moore and Pastor Dean Olive), I am glad to be able to say that solid Reformed theology is far from dead in the South. On a lighter note, why are Tom Nettles and Dean Olive the only men in that list with no initial in their names?

For the prestigious 'Oikodomeis Award':, I nominate

Depite causing a few problems on this computer last week (making the browser quit), Fide-O uniformly edifies AND is not afraid to take on large and contentious issues (such as the 'Common Grace' controversy. Do they need my recommendation? Probably not, but they're getting it anyhow!

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Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? IV

From Chalmers' early life we turn to his theology.

Thomas Chalmers bound himself to no rigid system of theology. He wanted to take as his guide the Bible, as it was, not stretched to fit someone else’s ideas, not even to fit the Westminster theology. “Let me not be the slave of human authority, but clear my way through all creeds and confessions to Thine own original revelation,” he prayed in print [Quoted Hanna, Vol. 2 P. 707]. In private he was even more outspoken. In conversation with one of his daughters (they took down his more notable sayings like Luther’s students), he was more outspoken:

I look upon catechisms and confessions as mere landmarks against heresy. If there had been no heresy, they wouldn’t have been wanted. It’s putting them out of their place to look on them as magazines of truth. There’s some of your stour orthodox folk just over ready to stretch the Bible to square with their Catechism. All very well, all very needful as a landmark, but what I say is, do not let that wretched mutilated thing be thrown between me and the Bible.”[Hanna Vol. 2 P. 729]

Thomas Chalmers was a Calvinist. There is no other theological term that can be used to describe him. Not that he was a blind follower of Calvin, as we have seen, he refused to make any man his master in theology save for “the man Christ Jesus.” Chalmers merely felt that Calvin had come closest to the true meaning of the Bible and to the system of theology taught in the Scriptures. He used the name because it had already been coined and was used to describe the system of theology that he held. He insisted on the total depravity of man, the unconditional election of sinners by grace to salvation; the sweet irresistibility of God’s gracious call, and the final perseverance of all the saints of God. He also taught that only the elect would be saved by Christ’s death, “not because of any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross,”[Canons of Dort, Chapter 2, Article 6] but because the rest would not believe. However, as we shall see, Chalmers differed significantly from such writers as James Haldane and Robert S. Candlish in his understanding of what ‘Limited Atonement’ or ‘Particular Redemption’ meant.

God willing, next time we shall look at the starting-point of Chalmers' theology.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? III

Thomas Chalmers had been ordained to his first parish, where he was far more concerned with becoming a professor of mathematics than he was with the care of souls. However, in 1806 an event occurred that shook the young Moderate minister. His brother George, captain of a merchant ship, fell ill and returned to the family home at Anstruther to die. George shared the Evangelical faith of his parents, and it was that faith that comforted him in his decline.

A short time before this, Thomas Chalmers, in a fit of Moderate zeal against evangelicalism, had condemned certain Christian writers from the pulpit at Kilmany. Leaning on the pulpit, he had said: “many books are favourites with you, which I am sorry to say are no favourites of mine. When you are reading Newton’s Sermons, and Baxter’s Saints’ Rest, and Doddridge’s Rise and Progress, where do Matthew, Mark, Luke and John go to?”[Hanna Vol. 1. P. 72] Which is not to say that Chalmers was reading his Bible very much at the time (he was in fact reading scientific works), but that he didn’t want his congregation to be reading evangelical books! Yet in his last illness, Captain George Chalmers got great comfort from just those books! Every evening one member of the family read George one of the very sermons of John Newton that Thomas had denounced from the pulpit. The family took turns reading to him – and so Thomas was practically forced to read Newton.

George Chalmers died on the sixteenth of December 1806, trusting in Christ alone for salvation. On his lips were the words of Simeon, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” It was the first time that Thomas Chalmers had seen one of his close family die, and seeing the comfort and support George got from the evangelical doctrines he despised shook the young minister. It did not shake him out of his Moderatism, but it shook him in it. Less than two years later one of his sisters was taken ill and died in the same faith. He saw the solid comfort evangelical religion gave in death, and it troubled him.

Thomas Chalmers had already been asked to contribute several articles on mathematics to the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia. Following his sister’s death, he asked to be allowed to write the article on ‘Christianity’. Really what he began to write was an essay on the evidences of Christianity. He began in a thoroughly Moderate tone, not understanding how it was that the death of Christ could take away sin; but before the article was finished, he too was struck down with a terrible illness. For months he hovered on the brink of death, confined to bed. He found that he had no comfort in his religion, and he realised that, though a minister of the Church of Scotland, he had been living without God.

Chalmers recovered, and then, like many who have been convinced of their need of God, he laboured to convert himself, giving up mathematics and chemistry and concentrating on the reading of theological books and the Bible. It was in this condition of trying rather than trusting that he picked up William Wilberforce’s book A Practical View of Christianity (recently republished in a modernised edition). Under God, Chalmers owed his conversion to that book; it awakened him to the true depths of human sin, and our need for atonement. It revealed to Chalmers his need for a supernatural salvation from outside himself. Thus Wilberforce was used to strike off the chains that held Thomas Chalmers in a worse slavery than any man could impose – a slavery to sin. Wilberforce urged his readers to examine their foundations and insisted on justification in the sight of God by faith in Christ alone, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” was the message brought home to Chalmers as Wilberforce ‘preached’ to him through his book. In later life Chalmers would come to know the great abolitionist personally.[See Hanna Vol. 1 Pp. 138-141] Thus Thomas Chalmers, the minister, was brought from darkness into light by a book written by an MP. Truly God moves in a mysterious way.

Following his conversion, Chalmers devoured the books he had once denounced from the pulpit. Baxter and Doddridge were particular favourites of his, especially Baxter. On one occasion he exchanged a horse for a volume of Baxter![14] As a result of this course of reading, Chalmers’ preaching was formed in a particular way. In his pastoral work he followed Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor. He found the Parish plan to be particularly suited to a Baxterian method, and Kilmany was a model Scottish parish. When he was called away to Glasgow Chalmers found the city parishes had become too large; he therefore sought to have the oversized parishes broken up into smaller ones to allow each parish minister to be the sort of parish minister Baxter had been in Kidderminster.

Now preaching the very evangelicalism he had long opposed, Chalmers was made a great instrument for good.

Next time, God willing, we shall turn to the theology of Thomas Chalmers.

[Kilmany photograps from]


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? II

The Divinity Professor at St. Andrews at the time Thomas Chalmers began his Divinity course was Dr. George Hill. Hill’s doctrine was orthodox enough, when brought to the standard of the Westminster Confession, but Chalmers suspected that Hill only taught the doctrines of the Confession because he had to do so in order to keep his post. Even as a Moderate, Chalmers disliked hypocrisy and a slavish following of theological standards.

Thomas Chalmers was licensed to preach on 21st July 1799, but he showed little interest in the work of the ministry. Chalmers was not a lazy man, it was just that he had, as Sir Richard Hill noted of the Moderates, “a very moderate share of zeal for God.” “Consequently,” indeed Chalmers did content himself “ with a very moderate share of labour in his master’s vineyard,” but that did not mean he was not busy elsewhere. His preaching was little more than the delivery of brilliantly composed moral essays (some composed early on Sunday morning), his interest more in learning about mathematics, chemistry and physics than in preaching. When he was appointed to his first post, that of assistant minister in the parish of Cavers, he worked diligently enough, but without any real fervour.

He was ordained to his first parish, that of Kilmany, on 12th May 1803. To Chalmers it was just another event in what he hoped to be his orderly progress to a university chair. He entered into the holy calling with none of that sense of awe and responsibility that ought to attend an ordination. In fact he was more concerned about retaining a post as assistant to the professor of Mathematics at St. Andrews that he had held before he was ordained. The assistantship was an obvious stepping-stone to the Professorship itself. He hoped to be re-appointed, even though he was now a parish minister. After all, he noted, did not his work at Kilmany leave him four days in the week free? The university did not agree and he was not re-appointed. So Chalmers started teaching independently of the University! No doubt he did this to try to impress the university. It did not have the desired effect. He was seen as disruptive and somewhat dangerous! This shows, however, Chalmers' zeal for the professorship! He was willing to go against the University. But he was not willing to take up his cross, deny himself, and follow Christ.

But Thomas Chalmers, Moderate minister, was about to be shaken. God willing, that will be our topic next time.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? I

[Note: all biographical information taken from Hanna]

The life of Thomas Chalmers may be summed up in a single paragraph, as Norman Walker does[P. 20]. Born in Anstruther, Fife on St. Patrick’s Day 1780, sent to St. Andrew’s University in 1892, ordained pastor of Kilmany, Fife, 1803, converted winter 1810-11; translated to the Tron Church, Glasgow, 1815, then to the Church of St. John, built especially for him, in 1818. In 1823 appointed to the Chair of Moral Philosophy at St. Andrews, appointed Theology Professor at Edinburgh University in 1828. At the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 Chalmers led the Free Church party and therefore left the University to become Principal and Divinity Professor at New College, Edinburgh, founded as the Free Church theological college. He died in 1847. Thus Thomas Chalmers’ life in brief. Now we must look more closely at his early life up to and just after his conversion at Kilmany.

Thomas Chalmers was born in the town of Anstruther, Fife, on 17th March 1780, the fifth of fourteen children. He was born into a respectable family; his parents were Christians and taught their children the Shorter Catechism, but as was the custom in middle-class households in the period, they largely left the upbringing of their children to others – with results as disastrous in that day as they are in this. Having survived a cruel and selfish nurse and a schoolteacher whose sole mode of instruction was to apply the rod to his charges, Chalmers was sent at the age of twelve to the University of St. Andrews. While twelve sounds a remarkably young age for anyone to go to university it was quite normal for boys as young as fourteen to be sent to university in Scotland in that period, and Chalmers was not the youngest in his class.

Chalmers’ parents were evangelical Christians, this meant, in the Scotland of the last decades of the 18th century, that they were staunch Calvinists; the university of St. Andrews, however, was of another character. Although it could boast such stalwarts of Calvinism as Samuel Rutherford and Thomas Halyburton among its former professors, by the 1790s it was the stronghold of Moderatism. Chalmers would write of it: “St. Andrews was at this time overrun with Moderatism, under the chilling influence of which we [students] inhaled not a distaste only but a positive dislike for all that is properly and peculiarly gospel.”[Hanna Vol. 1 P. 11]

Sir Richard Hill, an evangelical of a slightly earlier era characterised ‘Moderates’ thus: “A moderate divine is one who has a very moderate share of zeal for God. Consequently, a moderate divine contents himself with a very moderate share of labour in his master’s vineyard. A moderate divine is too polite and rational to give any credit to the antiquated divinity of our articles, homilies and liturgy [Sir Richard is speaking of English Moderatism, a Scots Moderate would not give much credit to the Confession or catechism]. And therefore he seldom quotes them except it be to show his contempt for them, or to torture their meaning; nevertheless, a moderate divine is ready enough to subscribe to them, if by so doing he can get an immoderate share of church preferment. A moderate divine is always very cool and calm in his pulpit; he never argues, except when he is preaching against… the principles and conduct of the evangelical and zealous servants of Christ, who seek to do away with abuses which are favourable to Moderatism. A moderate divine is usually an advocate for card-parties, and for all assemblies except religious ones; but thinks no name too hard for those who assemble to spend an hour or two in prayer, and hearing God’s Word.”[Quoted in Robert Buchanan: The Ten Years’ Conflict (Glasgow, Blackie and Son, 1859) Vol. 1 Pp. 150-1] It is no wonder that, in such an atmosphere, Chalmers preferred natural science and mathematics to theology.

Nevertheless, at the end of his arts curriculum at St. Andrews he chose the Christian ministry as his profession and enrolled as a student of Divinity. I use the word ‘profession’ advisedly, for that was what he saw it as. Though intellectually assured of the truth of the Bible, he had no living faith at all. His true love was mathematics, and he saw the ministry as a profession that would give him leisure time to pursue mathematical studies and one that (since at the time the Church of Scotland dominated the universities) might very well lead him to a mathematical professorship.

God willing, we shall continue our re-presentation of the paper next time.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thomas Chalmers - Scottish Amyraldian? Introduction

[The next few posts will be a re-presentation, slightly edited, of the paper I gave at the Amyraldian Association conference in Attleborough on 11th April 2007. Footnotes are given in the text since some of what is said here may be more than a little controversial.]

Scotland has probably produced more Reformed theologians than any other country of comparable size. The Scottish theology has influenced Holland, France, the United States, New Zealand and Canada (the author's volumes of Thomas Chalmers' 'Theological institutes' were purchased from the United States (Volume 2) and Canada (Volume 1) respectively); in short, everywhere that Reformed theology has been known. It will be of interest to this conference [which focussed particularly on the Huguenots - H. H.] that many Scottish theologians, exiled by James VI, taught in the Reformed academies of France in the early seventeenth century. Moise Amyraut, for example, was schooled by a Scotman by the name of Cameron, and Andrew Melville, Knox's successor, spent his last years as a French Reformed professor.

The Scottish Theology has always been decidedly Calvinistic (see for confirmation John Macleod's 'Scottish Theology'), and no Scottish Church has done so much to disseminate that theology than the Free Church of Scotland. A late nineteenth century number of the Methodist Times, surely a more or less impartial witness, said, “The Free Church is the most theological and literary Church in the world.” (Quoted in Norman L. Walker: 'Chapters From the History of the Free Church of Scotland' (Edinburgh, Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1895) P. 298)

Dr. Thomas Chalmers is widely regarded as the ‘Father’ of the Free Church of Scotland. As Professor of Moral Philosophy at St. Andrews, and later as Professor of Theology at Edinburgh University, Chalmers trained up the first generation of Free Church leaders. It was his mind that planned the structures of the Free Church and energised its mechanisms – and of course, he was the first Moderator of that Church. Yet Thomas Chalmers is commonly regarded as anything but a theologian. In some circles he is regarded as an economist, in others as an ecclesiastical politician, in still others as an administrative genius, and in yet others as a great preacher. All of these things are true, but it is his theology that we find the core of the man himself. In this paper I intend to show that Thomas Chalmers had his own contribution to Scottish theology, and that he cannot really be properly understood outside of an understanding of the core of that theology – a theology that departs significantly from Westminster orthodoxy on one major point. What is more, on that point Chalmers leans in a significantly Amyraldian direction.

Chalmers’ life, and especially his early years as a student and then as a parish minister, played a significant part in the formation of his theology. Mercifully his biographer excellently serves Chalmers; I say biographer because there is only one biography of Chalmers, from which all others are really just compilations. It is the 'Memoirs of Thomas Chalmers' by William Hanna, his son-in-law.['Memoirs of Thomas Chalmers, D.D. Ll.D.' (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable and Co. 1854) 2 volumes. Hereafter Hanna] In his recent 'A Scottish Christian Heritage', Iain Murray has suggested that the book is a little long for modern tastes.[Iain H. Murray, 'A Scottish Christian Heritage' (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 2006) P. 120] That is more an indictment of ‘modern tastes’ than it is of “That truly classical and absolutely invaluable book.”[Alexander Whyte: 'Former Principals of The New College, Edinburgh' (London, Hodder and Stoughton 1909) P. 16] Though the two-volume edition weighs in at about sixteen hundred pages of closely packed text, there is nothing tedious about it. Alexander Whyte exhorted the New College students of his day to read it “again and again and again all through life,” he got great good out of it every time he opened it, and he was always opening it for something.[Pp. 13-14] One rises from Hanna’s book with the feeling that one has sat and talked with Dr. Chalmers himself.

Thomas Chalmers’ writings themselves are voluminous. They occupy thirty-four volumes and cover subjects as diverse as prefaces to theological books and tracts concerning economics. Therefore for practical reasons I have confined myself in this paper to Chalmers’ three works that have a bearing on systematic theology. They are firstly his series of expository sermons on the Epistle to the Romans[Thomas Chalmers: 'Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans' (Edinburgh, Sutherland and Knox, 1848) 4 volumes, hereafter Romans], given to his Glasgow congregation in the 1820s; second his ‘Prelections’ on the textbooks used in the theology classes at Edinburgh in the 1830s[Thomas Chalmers: 'Prelections on Butler’s Analogy, Paley’s Evidences of Christianity, and Hill’s Lectures in Divinity' (Edinburgh, Sutherland and Knox, 1849), hereafter 'Prelections']; and thirdly his Institutes of Theology, which are based on his theological lectures given at Edinburgh, and were still unfinished at the time of his death.[Thomas Chalmers: 'Institutes of Theology' (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1849), hereafter 'Institutes']

God willing, next time we shall begin to look at Chalmers' early life.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Preaching this coming Lord's Day.

God willing, I shall be preaching at Bennett's End Baptist Church, Hemel Hempstead (see sidebar links) this coming Lord's Day. Services are at 10.30 AM and 6.00 PM. The Church meets at the Bennett's End Community Centre.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday Quote: Atonement and the Love of God

As always, this year we have been treated to the spectacle of some apostate cleric contrasting the love of God with the cross. We at Free St. George's have therefore decided there is no better way of marking Good Friday than by giving the following quote from James Denney, the great Scottish Theologian of the Cross. The Cross, as James Denney quite rightly says, is the revelation of the love of God.

"Perhaps the most striking thing in the first Epistle of St. John is the manner in which the propitiation of Christ is related to the love of God. The connection of the two things is, as we have seen, universal in the New Testament. No one could teach more emphatically than St. Paul, for example, that it is to the love of God we owe the presence of Jesus in the world and His work for men. No one could contrast what the love of God has done for us in Christ more emphatically than St. Paul does with the utmost which men will do from love for each other. But St. John rises above all comparisons to an absolute point of view at which propitiation and love become ideas which explain each other, and have no adequate illustration apart from each other. He not only defines the propitiation by relation to love - God Himself loved us and sent His Son a propitiation for our sins (iv. 10); He defines love by relation to the propitiation - in this have we come to know what love is, that He laid down His life for us (iii.16). The emphasis in this last sentence is on the expressly contrasted works 'ekeinos huper hemon'. It is the contrast of what He is and of what we are, of the sinless Son of God and the sinful sons of men, in which the nerve of the proposition lies. So far from finding any kind of contrast between love and propitiation, the apostle can convey no idea of love to any one except by pointing to the propitiation - love is what is manifested there; and he can give no account of the propitiation but by saying Behold what manner of love. For him to say 'God is love' is exactly the same as to say 'God has in His Son made atonemennt for the sin of the world.' If the propitiatory death of Jesus is eliminated from the love of God, it might be unfair to say that the love of God is robbed of all meaning, but it is certainly robbed of its apostolic meaning. It has no longer that meaning which goes deeper than sin, sorrow, and death, and which recreates life in the adoring joy, wonder and purity of the first Epistle of St. John"

James Denney 'The Death of Christ' (Fifth edition, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1905) P. 275-6

We would advise our readers to read the quotation carefully, memorise it if possible, and use its substance against the old canard that 'If God is Love then He wouldn't punish His Son in the place of sinners.'

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Preaching this coming Lord's Day.

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be taking the Easter services at Hope Baptist Church, Haslemere, Surrey. Hope Chapel is located on Lower Street, Haslemere and services are at 10.30 am and 6.30 pm. The Church meeting at Hope Chapel is a historic church that seceded from the old Congregational Church at Haslemere (now closed) in the nineteenth century over the vital issue of the independence of the local congregation. Soon afterwards the independent-minded seceders embraced believers' Baptism, and since then they have been a strict Baptist Church. The picture of the chapel below is quite old and may not represent the present appearance of the building, as last time I was there the shop next door was slated for demolition.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Conversion of Thomas Charles Edwards

In a gesture of fillial piety towards my Alma Mater, today's entry presents the conversion of that young man who was instrumental in the conversion of John Pugh, Thomas Charles Edwards, pictured here later in life.

Thomas Charles Edwards was possessed of an impeccable pedigree. His father was Lewis Edwards, first Principal of the Calvinistic Methodist College in Bala, an advocate for a learned ministry. Thomas received the best education availiable. And it did him no good at all. He read deeply in philosophy and theology. All his reading did was fill him with doubts, until he was uncertain 'of the very being of God.'

The year was 1859, when Thomas returned to his home on holiday from college. Soon after, he found himself in a special meeting in the chapel, a meeting that was to be addressed by two preachers from another part of Wales. Both men were comparatively unlearned, especially so in comparison to Edwards. One man had been a tailor, and the other a carpenter. Edwards with all his learning, viewed the men with something akin to disdain, as he sat in the chapel gallery.

As he left the meeting, Edwards could not recall all the details of the two sermons, but his lofty academic spirit was quite gone. He was one with the two unlettered men, for now he was their bother. The doubts had gone, to be replaced with the ultimate certainty: 'He was more certain of God than he was of even the things he could see with his naked eye.'

Doubt was now impossible. The young scholar had met with God. Not with clever arguments, not with his intellectual equal, but with the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Thomas Charles Edwards, doubter, was converted and filled with the Holy Spirit. He was filled with a burning desire to tell others the good news.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

John Pugh XXVI: An Assessment

Clifton Street today is more empty than in John Pugh's day, but sinners still frequent it. The church is closed, but the dens of sin remain. So, what are we to make of John Pugh's life and work?

Pugh's work was marked by a boldness and willingness to go out on a limb for God. Unless such work is undertaken in faith and total trust in Christ, it will fail. We cannot work this up, but we can expect it.

Pugh's ministry was a learned ministry. Pugh knew his Bible and his Confession. He knew Christ, and could never know enough about Christ. Pugh knew the value of learning, provided it was put in the service of Christ.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of John Pugh's ministry in the Forward Movement was its building programme. Even sympathetic historians have criticised the building programme for having left the movement with a burden of debt, as well as a great deal of peoperty, in the form of large halls that were vulnerable to shifts in population and the decline in churchgoing that was to mark much of the twentieth century.

All of which is probably true, but in defence of Pugh, 'faint heart never won fair lady.' The act of building the halls, in faith, was blessed by God. Most of the halls, and all of the major ones in the Cardiff area, were built so large because that was necessary. There was no other way. The missions often started off with borrowed accomodation, in the way certain modern churches meet in community halls, but these became insufficient to their needs. Indeed, when Highfields took over Crwys Hall, a major restoration programme was undertaken, while Heath Church may shortly undertake a similar programme.
The Forward Movement was an act of faith, undertaken by Spirit-empowered men. If we are to fully understand John Pugh, then we must seek the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. When God begins to work again among the masses, may we see such men again. We may not see halls, but we shall see the name of Jesus exalted in this land again. John Pugh was a unique man, but we have the same God.


Forthcoming Banner of Truth Titles.

The Banner of Truth Trust remains the best publisher in the United Kingdom for historic Christian books. If more proof were needed, here it is. The forthcoming publication of the 1853 volume of Thomas Chalmers' letters, edited by William Hanna and with a new introduction by Iain Murray gives every reader of Hanna's biography of Chalmers an extremely important and previously rare supplementary volume.
Thomas Chalmers is a particular favourite of ours, and though we think Iain Murray has, in some of his previous publications, 'papered over' some of Chalmers' theological eccentricities, we are overjoyed to see that the reprinting of this volume is forthcoming. God willing, we shall review it here when we have obtained and read a copy.

As if the Chalmers volume were not enough, Iain Murray's short biography of Professor John Murray of Westminster Seminary is now available in a separate form. We find the writings of this Reformed stalwart to be of great help wherever he writes. Hitherto this excellent biography of Professor Murray has only been available to those who have the means to purchase the four-volume set of Professor Murray's collected shorter writings. Now it is to be published in a separate form as a paperback. We hope that in this form Iain Murray's work will reach those who are unable to puchase Professor Murray's collected works.

And the Banner of Truth have also announced a reprinting of the Scottish Covenanter David Dickson's commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith entitled 'Truth's Victory over Error'. All lovers of the historic Reformed doctrine taught in that Confession will, we are sure, find this book invaluable. Since the old heresies just keep on cropping up over and over again we are sure the errors detected by Dickson in the 17th century will have their proponents today. Again, a review will appear, God willing, when we have obtained the book.
Lovers of Scottish Church history and Scottish theology have nothing to complain about with the Banner of Truth Trust!


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

John Pugh XXV: The Legacy

It is just over a hundred years since John Pugh was called home to his father's house on high. Thus it is appropriate to look back over the years to what the Lord has wrought.

Seth Joshua lived to see the ebbing of the tide, dying in 1925. He saw the Forward Movement taken over by men who listened to the voices of caution and hesitated in their work. Good men, but men without the dauntless spirit and God-given faith of John Pugh. Even so, the work went on, spreading into North Wales and into new estates.

What of today, however? East Moors Hall is today a community centre. The church took over Jerusalem Calvinistic Methodist Church, Splott in 1927, and the old hall turned over to social work. Clive Street shut its doors in 1978, and Clifton Street Church is now an Arts Centre. The Church at Saltmead Hall is still open, although today it meets in a new building. Memorial Hall is gone, only two worked stones in a wall by the new St. David's hospital to remind people as they walk by. Someone was sprayed flourescent orange paint over them, and in a few years a hedge will have hidden even these.

Central Hall, Newport, is gone as well, destroyed in a ham-fisted post-war redevelopment of that town. Malpas Road remains open, however, recently and sympathetically extended. Like Heath Hall and Bethlehem, Sandfields, this church has left the increasingly liberal Calvinistic Methodist church, and is now an independent Evangelical church.

Heath Church has enjoyed remarkable seasons of blessing, through all the changes in Cardiff. Although a depleted band today, the church remains more full than the average church, and people are still led to Christ. May it long continue.

Crwys Hall is another story. The congregation strayed from the word, and in 1996 the church closed. A year later, however, the building re-opened, when a group who had split from Heath Church took over the building, which is now Highfields Free Church. The building has been re-developed and now serves a large congregation, with a foyer and offices on the site where Pugh had planned his Institute.

The legacy today is a mixed one. We cannot rest secure in Sion any more than those struggling congregations to which Pugh came. Men and women are perishing daily outside the walls.

And let us not use the excuse that these are bad times. Pugh faced bad times, he faced a culture marked by drunkenness, and he brought the Gospel to them. He was not content to pass by on the other side, nor to simply say the right words. He acted.

We too, must act. And in order to act, we must pray for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Like Pugh and those who accompanied him, the work today is work that cannot be done by men alone.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Hymns in Translation VII

Concluding our presentation of the many ways in which a Welsh hymn has been rendered into English.. I am indebted to Mr. Geraint Jones of Heath Christian Bookshop for this composite translation, using the best elements of each translation:

In heav'n at God's bright throne of glory
The streams of our joyfulness spring;
For there has ascended the Saviour,
And there intercedeth the King:
The blood which was sprinkled up yonder,
Which full statisfaction did give,
Is there by the throne sweetly pleading
That we, the transgressors, might live.
Ere long we'll ascend from the desert
To Paradise, home of the blest,
And there shall our spirits, so weary,
Repose on God's bosom and rest:
There we shall find refuge eternal
From sin, from affliction and pain,
And unto the ages unending
We'll feast on the love of the Lamb.
We'll view from the fair hills of Salem
Our path through the wilderness here,
And then all the steps of the journey
In heav'n's perfect light will be clear;
We'll gaze at the tempests and terrors,
The grave, and grim death, now all o'er,
While safe from their reach ever swimming
In God's love and peace evermore.


The history of a denomination: Epilogue.

The history of the United Free Church of Scotland from 1900 to 1929 is very instructive. The thread that runs through it all is that of the United Free Church's relationship with the Church of Scotland. Open hostility in 1900, when the Church of Scotland was rarely referred to by its own name, and disparagingly called 'the Establishment' mellowed into friendship, and friendship became Union! What had once been the leading party, the advocates of disestablishment, became irrelevant and embarassing. The reversal was almost total! Those who had been for leaving the dissenters in 1900 without property or funds or name found themselves the dissenters in 1929.

Just as the Union of 1900 had been seen as a triumphant new beginning, so was the Union of 1929. And in both cases the expected revival did not happen. Why? Well, just as George Reith of Edinburgh said that the dissenters of 1929 might have been better called 'the Disunited Free Church', agreed in little else beyond their opposition to Union, so those who went into the Union disagreed on every point except for the desirability of Union! Liberals who denied the inerrancy of Scripture mingled with stanch Westminster Calvinists. It was a Union in organisation only, not in mind or in heart. In effect, the blessing of God was being asked on that which He had not commanded. The Church of Scotland experienced the same decline as other British denominations. Many of the fine buildings owned by the United Free congregations that went into the Union, but also by Church of Scotland congregations, are now closed. Some have found alternative uses that retained their original interiors and character, most have been gutted and turned into offices or flats or houses. Others are derelict. Some have been demolished. On each is written the old word ‘Ichabod’. The glory has departed.
Am I saying that revival can only be expected in doctrinally orthodox circles, that we need to have our theology right before God will grant a revival? Certainly not! But we cannot BRING ABOUT a revival by ignoring God’s commandments. The main instruments in the revivals of the 18th century in England were ministers in the Church of England, a body which had lost its way.
But what I am saying is that organisations can never replace God’s presence in the Church, and THAT is what we need.