Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. VI.

As pastor of the Montreal congregation of the Free Church of Scotland and clerk of the Eastern Canadian Presbytery, Donald Fraser had rapidly become a notable man in Canadian Church life. Year by year he took a more active part in the life of the Church, leading a movement towards union with the Unied Presbyterian Church in Canada.
He also visited Scotland in 1857 to solicit funds for the construction of a new building for Knox College. It was not a task Fraser particularly relished. Asking for money was a bad business, in his opinion, and he did not feel he was gifted or such work. But the college, of which he was an alumnus, asked, and the Synod agreed, so together with Dr. Burns of Toronto, Fraser crossed the Atlantic to 'the old country'. While Burns took Scotland, Fraser had the task of soliciting the English Churches (and particularly the Presbyterian ones) for money.
What was particularly significant for Fraser about this visit was that he made contacts in Enland, particularly Dr. James Hamilton of Regent Square Church, London (pictured). He also preached for the first time in Marylebone Presbyterian Church, where he would one day be pastor.
Rejoining Dr. Burns in Scotland, Fraser was called upon to speak at the Free Church Assembly, then held in the Music Hall, George Street, Edinburgh (The Free Assembly Hall had not yet been finished). It was on the evening set aside for Continental and Colonial matters, and Fraser had the unnerving experience of speaking just fter M. Pilatte had given a telling speech on the condition of France. After the applause, members began to leave the house in troops while Fraser (then an unknown in Scotland) was called on to speak about Canada! It can only have confirmed his dislike of church politics.
After Scotland, Fraser went on to Switzerland, not on a vacation, but on business - to seek out Reformed French-speaking preachers for Quebec. Alas, Fraser found that Switzerland itself was in need of such and could offer no aid, but he did meet the greatest French-speaking theologians of the day - Dr. J. H. Merle D'Aubigne, Professor Gaussen (author of one of the best books ever written on the inspiration of Scripture) and Dr. Caesar Malan. Malan particularly impressed Fraser with his spiritual conversation and his insistence on the assurance of faith.
Before returning to Canada, Fraser was able to visit his relatives in the Highlands, preaching in the Free Church at Kirkhill and the Free East Church of Inverness. He then returned to Montreal, litle suspecting that he would soon return to the land of his birth to stay.

Of which more, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. V.

The Free Church of Scotland's Canadian Synod was very much a pioneer work. Donald Fraser, as a member of the under-manned Presbytery of Montreal, and as Clerk of that presbytery, had a great deal of work to do, and that work was added to by his appointment as convener of the Home Mission Committee for Eastern Canada. He was forced to learn the practice of Church courts and to get involved with the appointment of preachers, the running of mission-stations and the erection of new churches. In a few years the young pastor learned fast, and he acquired in his adopted land a level of practical experience that no-one could have gained in Scotland in so short a period of time.
Montreal, in French-speaking Canada, had a very small protestant community at that time. Yet the support Montreal protestants gave to missions and other religious societies was out of all proportion to its smallness - they were zealous in their givinng to God's cause. Fraser, as a Free Church leader in Montreal, soon became involved with these societies, was a member of various committees, and often spoke at their meetings. He was a regular speaker at the Societies' 'Anniversary Week' in January, when the old Wesleyan Church in St. James Street (its successor is pictured) was crowded night after night. The Religious Tract Society, the Sunday School Union, the Bible Society and the French Canadian Mission held their meetings on consecutive nights, and the leading ministers of Montreal's protestant community spoke of the work of God in the province and the world.
Fraser came into close contact with these men, and formed close friendships with them. His closes friends were William Taylor, United Presbyterian pastor (whose 'Scottish Pulpit' we reviewed here recently), John M'Leod of the American Presbyterian Church, and Henry Wilkes of the Congregational Church. These men were Calvinists and ecclesiastically very close to Fraser. What a thing it is for a minister to have brother ministers who can minister to him!
In late 1852 Fraser lost his youngest brother, and then his father. Though Fraser knew where both had gone, and was glad that his father had gone to his rest, he was sorrowful as well. He was however thankful that his father had been spared to be at his wedding in April of that year to Theresa Eliza Isabella Gordon. Fraser had ganed a good wife from the Lord, and he was properly thankful. She was a good mother to their children and a good wife to him. She also entered happily into the role of 'the minister's wife' in the congregations Fraser served.
So he was entered on the work of his ministry. God willng, next time we shall see how his ministry in Canada was brought to a close, and how a door was opened for him elsewhere.


Friday, May 25, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. IV.

Canada in the 1840s and 50s was still a pioneer colony, and the state of the Free Church there was unusual. Thus Donald Fraser was actually assured of a specific pastorate before he left for Edinburgh, and on his return he was immediately licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Toronto. A few weeks later he recieved the formal call to the pastorate of the Free Church in Cote Street, Montreal. Fraser disliked the old system of Candidature and was heartily glad that he avoided being one.
Fraser was already a member at Cote Street and he knew the people there well. That is not to say that his position was an easy one; prior to his call Cote Street had bee pastorless, and instead they had enjoyed the ministrations of visiting preachers among whom were some of the greatest preachers of Scotland. For a young man just out of seminary it was a daunting prospect. What was more, many had come to the Free Church seeking a lively ministry. Fraser hoped he would be able to introduce a settled order and the sort of systematic preaching that a supply system cannot give.
Donald Fraser was ordained pastor at Cote Street on 8th August 1851. Our illustration shows Montreal in that period. Fraser's first sermon as pastor was from 2 Corinthians 4.5, 'We preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.'
Donald Fraser found his greatest problem was the church debt. Instead of building within their means, Cote Street Free Church had borrowed over fifteen thousand dollars to build a splendid church. The result was that a great deal of the Church's income went on servicing the debt. It was actually paid off during Fraser's ministry, but it meant that he entered upon his ministry in a church burdened with debt.
Like many a young minister, Donald Fraser longed to see fruit for his labours, and when he discovered that some had been converted under his ministry he rejoiced 'with joy unspeakable' that God had used him! His ministry was greatly used also for the building up of the saints.
He had been cautioned to conserve some of his energies, since a city charge was liable to make greater demands on him than he might anticipate. Therefore he confined himself to three services, two on the Lord's Day and one in the week, and to house-to-house visiting of the flock.
It was good advice. For all manner of matters flooded in, matters which would have overwhelmed him had he not conserved some of his energies. The presbytery was small, there were many churches without ministers, and it covered a huge area. The Clerk of Presbytery died and Fraser was appointed to replace him, and so at the age of twenty-six he found himself a leader of the Free Church in Canada.

Of which more, God willing, next time.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. III.

Brought up and converted in the Presbyterian Church, in Scotland and in Canada, there was no question as to whether Donald Fraser should enter the ministry of that denomination. He had investigated the history and doctrine of the church and was satisfied with them, though he had investigated other churches as well. A staunch evangelical, he appreciated the work of evangelical Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Methodists and Baptists, and refused the unchurch any, but he was a Presbyterian through-and-through.
He entered the John Knox theological College of Toronto, the college of the Free Church body in Canada, (a later home of which is our illustration) in the autumn of 1848. At that time the college was housed in a private house. He already had Latin and Greek (and had since his childhood), but at Knox College he had to learn Hebrew as well. He was taught there by Principal Michael Willis, a friend of Thomas Chalmers and later the founding president of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, and Dr. Robert Burns. The theology taught there was the old Scottish Calvinism that Donald Fraser had heard in Inverness and Abberdeen.
During the summer vacation, Donald Fraser preached regularly. The Canadian branch of the Free Church of Scotland was short of ministers, and it was in a country that was still expanding by immigration. His second session at Toronto was followed by more preaching, in the prarie provinces, where log-built schoolhouses served as places of worship and a horse was an essential for the pastor.
A Free Church student spent three sessions in college, and after two at John Knox College, Donald Fraser spent one at New College, Edinburgh. His father urged on him the advantages he would get from a session there, and paid for all expenses.
New College was then at her height. William Cunningham was the Principal, 'Rabbi' Duncan was teaching in his own eccentric fashion, Dr. Black was teaching Church History and Dr. Bannerman was in his prime. Even better, for a young preacher, Edinburgh was full of great preachers, Dr. Guthrie filled Free St. John's (now Free St. Columba's) with his picturesque eloquence, Dr. Gordon's soaring vision of God was declared in the Free High Church, and most of all, Dr. Robert S. Candlish was at the height of his powers at Free St. George's. Fraser was captivated by Condlish and sat under his ministry. Fraser was shaped by the power of Dr. Candlish every bit as much as he was by the New College faculty.
Fraser also read widely. The thing he feared most was a half-educated preacher, a being he though exemplified the adage that 'a little learning is a dangerous thing'. The man who introduces Greek when he does not really know it, or who mangles a theological controversy, was to him the most terrible of beings.
Fraser profited from his time at New College. So did Canada, for when his session was done, despite the pleas of some, he left Scotland to return to his adopted land.

And it is there, God willing, that we shall find him next time.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chalmers Lecture Audio

The audio of my lecture on Thomas Chalmers is now availble online here. Or simply click here to download the MP3.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Preaching this coming Lord's Day.

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Bethel Chapel, the Bars, Guildford. Services are at eleven in the morning and six in the evening. Bethel Chapel is tucked away in a side-street, close to the town centre, yet quiet. I suppose it has every advantage of the old Strict Baptist Churches and is a reminder to us of the value of that heritage. I shall be travelling from Norwich to Guildford, the reverse of the journey made by pastor William Fay, who was minister at Zoar Chapel, Norwich, from 1936 to 1964. Before he was pastor at Norwich, Mr. Fay was a member at Bethel.

We are getting to know Bethel quite well, and find it a welcoming church that treasures a rich inheritance.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. II.

Arriving in Canada late in 1842, Donald Fraser went to his father's house in Sherbrooke, Quebec. There he met for the first time his step-mother, Selina, the daughter of a Canadian gentleman. Donald Fraser had been eleven when he had last seen his father, and the two had a lot of catching up to do. Mr. Fraser was glad to fid that his son had not picked up any bad habits at university.
Donald Fraser began to learn 'business' in a firm near Toronto. He moved on to a firm in Montreal, where he did well, becoming a junior partner. Alas, the firm did not do so well, and it crashed, losing several hundred pounds of Fraser's own money. Thus Donald Fraser's business career came to an abrupt end.
A lover of literature, the as-yet unconverted Donald Fraser began to speak at meetings as a lecturer. He contributed some articles to a local literary magazine, in prose and poetry.
And it was then that the great change came. The great influence on him was his older brother, Alexander, who was by this time a true Christian and active in the Sunday School of the church. The death of the man with whom the two young men boarded awakened Donald to the realities of death and he realised his lost condition. At last, after many exercises of spirit, he writes: "I fell down helpless before God, and His free grace saved me through faith in the Lord Jesus." Now his life took a whole new direction, no longer centred on self, but on Christ. When Alexander had to move from Montreal, Donald took over his work in the Sunday School. He was a humble servant of Christ.
Before, he had been most unwilling to enter the gospel ministry (and rightly so, since he had been unconverted), now he found himself without a profession and longing to serve the Lord. Yet now another barrier presented itself. What if others should think he had entered the ministry to make a living? So Donald Fraser planned to edit a weekly newspaper.
It was then that Christian friends intervened and persuaded him that he ought not to consider what men would say, but consider the leadings of God, and he resolved to become a theological student in the Canadian Presbyterian Church.

God willing, next time we shall look at Donald Fraser's experiences as a student.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. I.

The Free Church of Scotland can boast many great men in its history. Like many Churches, it can also point to 'obscure men', and to men who, though well known in their day, are now all but forgotten.
Such was Dr. Donald Fraser of Montreal, Inverness and Marylebone, London. Yet Fraser lived in an important time. Born in 1826, he died in 1892. We feel that we may learn a lot from this man.

Donald Fraser was born in the city of Inverness on 15th January, 1826, son of a wealthy and merchant and ship-owner who was a true Christian and firmly attached to that true Christianity that is often nicknamed Calvinism. His mother, Lillias Fraser, was the daughter of Rev. Donald Fraser, the evangelical Church of Scotland pastor of Kirkhill, near Inverness. While she died when Donald Fraser was quite young, his grandfather Donald Fraser 'Kirkhill', as he was known, was a major influence in his life. Named for 'Kirkhill, young Donald was often exhorted to walk in the footsteps of his eminent grandfather. The thought sometimes overwhelmed him, and he felt in his heart that he would never be a minister.
His father distrusted the public schools and instead hired private tutors for his children, a method that had many advantages, not least allowing the children to learn at their own rates. Donald Fraser was a bright boy. He began Latin at the age of six and Greek at ten. Before the age of twelve he was a student at Aberdeen university, a state of affairs he though 'almost absurd' when he looked back on it.
His father moved to Canada about this time, as Commissioner for the British-American Land Corporation, but Donald Fraser remained in Aberdeen until he gained his M.A. at the age of sixteen. Looking back, Fraser lamanted the time he had wasted at university, though his sins had been limited to those which a well brought-up boy in his early teens is capable of - for example he wasted a lot of time by theatre-going.
At the age of sixteen Donald Fraser was faced with the choice of a profession. His father longed to see him follow in the footteps of his grandfather and namesake 'Kirkhill', but Donald preferred the idea of a legal careet - something his father was set against. So Donald Fraser resolved to go into business, and to this end he set out for his father's home of Canada. In 1842 the colony offered many opportunities for bright British young men, so Fraser's move was sensible.
The journey was not easy. He sailed on the 400 ton brig 'Retrench' with only one other cabin passenger and one steerage passenger. Although the captain was a good man, the first mate was addited to alcohol and the second had not been to sea for years. Fraser once found himself helping the captain to put down an attempted mutiny!
After seven weeks of storms and unrest among the crew, the battered vessel arrived in Quebec. The 'Retrench' never crossed the Atlantic again, she was lost with all hands on the return voyage.
So Donald Fraser found himself in Canada. What he did there we shall see, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Book Review: 'The Scottish Pulpit'

William M. Taylor: 'The Scottish Pulpit From the Reformation to the Present' Solid Ground Christian Books, paperback.

This volume, first published in 1887 (and therefore 'the present day' of the title is the 1880s) began as the Lyman Beecher Lectures given at Yale in 1886. It is not a mere repetition of the material given by W.G. Blaikie in his volume 'The Preachers of Scotland', but a very different work. Taylor was a United Presbyterian minister, and that comes out in his ani -state churchism exhibited in the book (a position most modern Christians will agree with). He traces the history of Scottish preaching from John Knox to the preachers on the 1880s, through Henderson, Rutherford (unfortunately Taylor lived at the period when an abortive effort was made the change the standard spelling of the pastor of Anwoth's name) and the other preachers of the Second Reformation, through Archbishop Leighton and the persecuted covenanters, through the eighteenth century, and through Thomas Chalmers.
The book is full of hints for preachers. For example, Taylor shows how Knox "favoured as a general thing the practice of continuous exposition, as being fraught with profit both to preacher and hearer" (P.48), surely suggesting that modern preachers ought to engage in systematic expository preaching as that Reformer did. Taylor points out how Knox's delivery was almost as important as the content of his sermons (P. 59), another pregnant point. the preacher ought to be in earnest, Taylor draws from Knox, passessed by his subject. Rutherfod he shows as a mn full of Christ and longing to speak of Him who is the 'chiefest among ten thousand'. "Like him, preach the living, personal Christ, once crucified, but now risen and reigning as the Saviour and Sovereign of men. Unfold His loveliness. Proclaim His merits. Hold up Himself..." (P. 87)
Archbishop Leighton, a man who was quite unconcerned about the form of Church government, is brought in as a rose among the thorns of prelacy, a man who was for peace when the government and his superiors were for war. The field-preachers appear as they were, a noble race of preaching martyrs driven by the cross of Christ.
Taylor deals well with the Moderates, admitting that they were more cultured than the evangelicals, but with this one fatal defect - they did not preach Christ, "If we have any love for definite theological teaching on such subjects as the Fall of man and the Atonement of Christ, or anything like what seems to me to be Scriptural views of the importance of Regeneration and Conversion, we will look upon the age of their ascendancy as one of dark and disatrous eclipse."
This is a preachers' book, but hearers will benefit from its warm and lucid description of good preaching. We would reccommend it to all.

[NOTE: The author of this review used the 1887 edition of the book, not the Solid Ground reprint, so page numbering may vary]


Monday, May 14, 2007

10 Great Scottish Chrstian Autobiographies. IV.

9. G. N. M. Collins, 'The Days of the Years of my Pilgrimage (Knox Press, paperback)
£ 4.95 fromFree Presbyterian Bookroom
Rev. G. N. M. Collins was one of the great men of the Free Church of Scotland of the twentieth century. We first came to know him through his excellent popular-level works on Scottish Church history, especially his biographies of Professor John Macleod and Professor Donald Maclean, and were thrilled to discover the existence of this slim volume. Born in 1901, he died in 1989. He had therefore a view of the twentieth century few others had. This book is full of little portraits of men who were leaders in a British evangelicalism that changed completely during Collins' life. Our quotation is his sketch of F.B. Meyer:
"Dr. F.B. Meyer of Christ Church was another of the London preachers I used to hear in my student days. His quiet dignity and sustained serenity never failed to impress, although he himsels was quite unaware of these qualities. His books read well, even in this fastidious age, and they continue to command a wide circulation throughout the English-speaking world." (Pp. 49-50)

10. William Still (1911-1997): 'Dying to live' (Christian Focus, paperback)
£6.99 from Christian Focus Publications
William Still did for Scottish Evangelicalism what Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones did for English. We would not approve of all his methods (but you knew that, since he was a presbyterian and the present writer is a Baptist), but we have found his writings most helpful at times. A great advocate of systematic expository preaching in the tradition of John Knox, William Still ministered in the same congregation for more than 45 years - quite an achievement seeing as the church in question was slated for closure when he was called to the pastorate!
Much of Still's ministry reads like that of Lloyd-Jones, making allowances for the Scottish background. Like Lloyd-Jones, William Still discontinued the social events and concenrated on the 'one thing needful'. This book is a challenge to all who read it, and a tonic as well.
Our quotation comes from Still's recollection of the beginning of his ministry in Aberdeen:
"The one thing I recall saying at that Induction Social was that, viewing this beautiful church building and its high arch over the pulpit, it would be my desire to inscribe high up on its walls the two words, CHRIST CRUCIFIED. I now think that sounded too dramatic, and I believe that some of those present may have thought it too agressively pietistic. We never did inscribe the walls, but better than that, we have proclaimed Christ Crucified not only in justificationary terms but in sanctificatory terms, as the victor over all the powers of evil." (P. 79)

And so we complete our series on ten great Scottish Christian autobiographies. We hope that this has been suggestive to readers, as that was its aim. No doubt we have missed personal favourites of some, and referred to characters others are less keen on. But we did not aim to please all, as that would have been quite fruitless.


Friday, May 11, 2007

10 Great Scottish Chrstian Autobiographies. III.

6. Life of Jacob Primmer (1842- 1914), Minister of the Church of Scotland (sadly out of print)
Jacob Primmer was what is known as 'a Character'. He contended for truth in the Church of Scotland in the second half of the nineteenth century. Born in Leith in 1842, he was a babe in arms at the time of the Disruption, and his family was not much affected by it. From a humble background, Primmer was a compositor at the time that he was converted under the ministry of Brownlow North. Shortly afterwards he was called to the ministry.
Primmer was known as 'the Scottish Kensit', and like Mr. Kensit (founder of the Protestant Truth Society), he was forced to contend for the protestant character of his church. Now we feel it absurd enough that a man may, in the fact of the thirty-nine articles and homilies of the Church of England, teach Romanist doctrine such as purgatory, the intercession of Mary, transubstantiation and the like. But for a man who subscribes to the WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH to teach such things seems to us the height of ridiculousness. We value honesty in ministers, and if a man loves candles and incense, the bowings and the liftings, let him become a Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox. This is a free country, after all.
Jacob Primmer was a true son of the Church of Scotland. He contended earnestly for the faith not because he loved a fight, but because he loved his church. This book is a record of his faithful contendings.
This is his description of his Christian life:
"It was not all sunshine. I had to go on the battlefield. The devil and his followers ever since [my conversion] have fought against me. Many a bitter fight have I fought, and sorrowful hours have I spent, at times almost in despair; but Christ has been faithful to His promises. I have never been forsaken, nor have I been left alone by Him. He has always befriended me and delivered me out of innumberable perils and dangers, and to this day I praise and glorify His name for all He has done." (Pp. 12-13)

7. Memoir and Remains of Rev. Neil Cameron (1854-1932) (Free Presbyterian Publications, hardcover)
£11.00 from Free Presbyterian Bookroom
Neil Cameron was one of the Free Presbyterian 'fathers', a deeply exercised Christian man whose holy soul was troubled by the doctrinal defections in the Free Church of Scotland as Primmer's was troubled by the defections of the Church of Scotland. He had left the Church of Scotland in his youth because there was no gospel and no Christ in the preaching he heard there, and had joined himself to the Free Church. Yet there things were only a little better, and they were getting worse. Cameron records, like all Christians, that his conversion was just the beginning of his struggles. Unfortunately Cameron only wrote as far as the third chapter of his autobiography, yet the fragment that there is is one of the richest accounts of that period and full of Spiritual food for those who know and love the Truth as it is in Jesus.
Our quotations deals with Cameron's experience when, as a sinner convicted of his sin against a holy God, came almost to the point of salvation. Let them be a warning to us not to pronounce too soon on a man's spiritual state.
"When I was twenty-five years of age the words 'the sinner' came with such convincing force into my mind that I went away at once to bend my knees in private to plead for mercy and forgiveness. During the six following months I was in great distress of soul, so that everything in the world became valueless and tasteless to me. I could not walk any distance in the hills without bending my knees to plead for mercy. At last peace came to my conscience, which I thought was peace with God, so that I felt very happy now thinking I was saved. But when I went among my fellow-shepherds to attend duties connected with our work 'my goodness passed away like the morning cloud and the early dew that goeth away.' I am now convinced that the five months which succeeded the peace I felt were the most sinful part of my life." (P. 15)

8. Diary of Kenneth MacRae (1883-1964) (Banner of Truth, hardcover) £12.95 from Free Presbyterian Bookroom
If Neil Cameron's memoir is a record of one of those who left the Free Church in 1893, this is a record of the continuing Free Church after 1900. MacRae joined the 'Wee Frees' as they were known in 1910, after his conversion in 1909 in Free St. Columba's Church. From 1911 to 1964 he was a minister of the despised Free Church remnant, a burning and a shining light. This book gives a window into the heart of a minister in deep trials. It is worth its weight in gold.
Our quotation shows how many a fearful battle has been fought in a pastor's study:
"Today the Enemy well-night overwhelmed my soul and ruined all my Sabbath work. Engaged as I was upon the preparation of my sermons, he would not let me rest, but continually cast horrid and distracting thoughts into my mind, so that at last all liberty was gone and I feared that I was to be left to darkness. Guilt on the conscience at first kept me from seeking the help of the Lord, but at last, realising that I had no other refuge, in desperation I repaired unto a throne of grace. Blessed be His name, it was not in vain, for when I turned to the sermon which I was to prepare upon Isaiah 41.7, and which, because of my condition, I was almost afraid to look at, I found my bands were broken, and the very bitterness of my experience only enabled me the more feelingly to enter into the case of 'the poor and the needy'. Thus was Satan foiled and his very efforts to snare me and mar my work, were made to serve to the Lord's glory and the furtherance of what he tried to destroy." (P. 176)

Next time, God willing, we shall conclude this short series.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Forthcoming from Christian Focus

Free St. George's are pleased to be able to announce what we hope will become an indispensible tool for preachers. Those good folk at Christian Focus Publications have got Geoffrey Stonier to take all the articles on Bible characters from the old Bible Dictionary of Professor John Brown of Haddington and collect them in a large volume with an attractive cover under the title of 'Brown's Dictionary of Bible Characters'. John Brown was one of the 'common people', and a preacher, not an ivory-tower academic, so we expect useful insights, not the dry-as-dust articles smelling of the 'Higher Criticism' that too many Bible dictionaries are full of. The subtitle promises much, 'A Preacher's Dictionary of Bible Characters'. We are all for works aimed at helping the preacher who has a congregation of simple, exercised believers and who aims at the conversion of sinners and the building up of the Church of God. We hope to be able to review this book when it comes out in July, but in the meantime will be eagerly awaiting its release.

Further details available here.


10 Great Scottish Chrstian Autobiographies. II.

4.Andrew Bonar (1810-1892), Diary and Life. Banner of Truth, Hardcover. £.10.50 from Free Presbyterian Bookroom
The Bonar brothers, Andrew and Horatius, stand as representatives of those men who left all in the Disruption of 1843 to follow Christ 'without the camp.' Both were men of prayer and devotion. Their writings are full of Christ. Andrew Bonar's diary betrays a heart devoted to Christ and zealous for the Gospel. He was a close friend and the biographer of Robert Murray M'Cheyne, and we see in him a model of a minister of Christ.

Our quotation comes from Bonar's diary on the day of the Disruption in 1843:
"We have passed a day which will be memorable in the world till the Lord come. [St. Andrews's Church] was crowded two or three hours before the time. At length the time arrived. The Moderator prayed very suitably and solemnly. Immediately thereafter he stated the peculiar circumstances under which we met, and that therefore this could not be considered a true Assembly. This done, he read the Protest in his own name and in the name of those that adhered. He then withdrew slowly, bowing to the commissioner, and walked up the passage with much firmness and calmnness, followed by Dr. Chalmers and Dr. Gordon, and by all on that side. Deep silence followed. In the street occasional cheers, but all seemed solemnized also. Some wept, none scorned. A line of people all the way to Canonmills. Solemn meeting there. I forgot too much at the time that the eye of Christ was upon us. He was smiling and saying: 'I know thy works.' I was too much occupied with thinking upon the impression this would produce upon the people. Yet I was able to pray a great deal." (pp 103-4)

5. Autobiography of John G. Paton (1824-1907) Free Presbyterian Bookroom
John G. Paton, minister of the Gospel and missionary to the New Hebrides, was a son of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Brought up amid the best of Scottish piety, he was moved by the Holy Spirit to preach Christ where He was not known. In his autobiography he shows us how happy those are who have Christian parents and are brought up in a real Christian home that is full of the joy that the world cannot intermeddle with. Paton also tells us the real dangers of missionary work, the hardships, the heartbreak and the trials. This is no romantic account, but a story of sufferings for Christ, and triumphs that were hard won.
Our quotation is a description of the Lord's Day evenings of Paton's childhood.
"Oh, I can remember those happy Sabbath evenings; no blinds down, and shutters up, to keep out the sun from us, as some scandalously affirm; but a holy, happy, entirely human day, for a Christian father, mother, and children to spend. How my father would parade across and across our flag-floor, telling over the substance of the day's sermons to our dear mother, who, because of the great distance and because of her many living 'encumbrances,'got very seldom indeed to the church, but gladly embraced every chance, when there was prospect or promise of a 'lift' from some friendly gig! How he would entice us to help him to recall some idea or other, praising us when we got the length of 'taking notes' and reading them over on our return; how he would turn the talk ever so naturally to some Bible story or some Martyr reminiscence, or some happy allusion to the 'Pilgrim's Progress'! And then it was quite a contest, which of us would get reading aloud, while all the rest listened, and father added here and there a happy thought, or illustration, or anecdote." (Pp. 16-17

God willing, next time we shall carry the list further towards the present day.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

10 Great Scottish Chrstian Autobiographies. I.

Biography and autobiography are, in one sense, similar, yet in another sense they are different. The biographer has no access to his subject's heart and must therefore be careful in that matter. The autobiography, especially the Christian autobiography, is in some sense an outpouring of the heart of ts subject. It is therefore unfair to try to put the two in the same category.
The old 'liberals' and their modern counterparts contend that 'Christianity is life, not doctrine'. We counter that Christianity is a life that springs FROM doctrine. No wonder, then, that Calvinism (which we believe is only a nickname given to Biblical Christianity) has given rise to such TRULY deeper lives. A man who does not suffer in some way and who has only a shallow experience of the goodness of God and his own sin will never have a truly deep Christian life.
As William Taylor notes in his 'Scottish Pulpit', the Scots (especially the lowland Scots) have always had a certain reserve in talking about Christian experience. Yet Scotland has a tradition of Christian autobiography that is extraordinarily rich and full.
As with our last 'books' series, we go in Chronological order. Not all of these books are still in print, but all are worth reading.

1. Memoirs of the Rev. James Fraser, of Brea (1639-1698). Sadly out of print.
This is one of the treasures of the Covenanting period. Fraser of Brea was a genleman by birth, his dates are 1639-1698. In Alexander Whyte's opinion he was "one of the ablest men in a time of able men," (introductory note in 1889 edition). Fraser adhered to Presbyterianism in the period of persecution. His ordination was an illegal act according to the civil law, and he spent several years in prison for preaching the Gospel. Yet this book is, like Augustine's 'Confessions', really an account of God's dealings with its subject. Fraser dwells far more on his own internal struggles than he does about the struggles for liberty in which he was engaged. This is therefore not a book for the superficial 'happy-all-the-day' Christianity popular in some quarters, but it is a book for exercised believers who know that the Christian life is marked by suffering as well as joy. Fraser of Brea improved his afflictions, and he will help us to improve ours. The 19th century reprint of this book was brought about in part by Alexander Whyte of Edinburgh. Of this book Whyte wrote: "Fraser is one of my prime favourites; he stands beside Augustine, Bunyan, Baxter, Edwards, Boston, Shepard and Halyburton, at my elbow."
Our quotation comes from his improvement of his afflictions:
"When the world forsakes, then the Lord takes up; and the world's time of loathing is His time of love. I found shelter in Him when forsaken of all. It is 'in Him the fatherless findeth mercy.' I had no friend but Him, Hosea xiv.8. It is ordinary with the members to be in distress when the body is unwell. Zion the mother was ill now, and in great distress; and no wonder I should have conformity with her. 'Visit me with the gladness of Thy people.' God's way of manifesting His love in trouble is rather by supporting and comforting under trouble, than in delivering out of it." (P. 131)

2. The Memoirs of Thomas Halyburton (1674-1632). Published in Vol. 4 of the Works of Thomas Halyburton (James Begg Society, 2005). £.13.00 (four volume set £45 including postage and packing)
James Begg Society
This is one of 'Rabbi' Duncan's three great Christian autobiographies, ranked by him with Augustine and Bunyan. As the quote above shows, Alexander Whyte shared his opinion of the book. Our review of the four-volume set can be found here. Everything we said then we would repeat. This is a precious volume that has done great good and will keep on doing great good so long as it is read. Halyburton went through deep waters fighting against unbelief in his own soul (and thus was able to fight against it in the Church more effectively).
"Though we may sometimes heal our own wound slightly, yet it is God's prerogative to speak solid peace; yea, and the speaking of it is a work of the greatest power, where the conscience is really exercised: it is a creating peace, and where He creates it, He can make it take effect: 'When He giveth quietness, who can make trouble? and when He hideth His face, who can behold Him? Whether it be done against a nation, or against a man only,' Job 34.29." (P. 129)

3. Memoirs of Thomas Boston (1676-1732) (Banner of Truth Trust) £.11.95 from Free Presbyterian Bookroom
Alexander Whyte called the republication of Boston's Memoirs in 1899 "an event of national importance." It is indeed, as Whyte says, "a book to be always at hand." The early eighteenth century was a time of great declension in the church, and a period in which God raised up men to bear the faith through and to prepare the harvest field for the evangelists of the latter part of the century. Thomas Boston was a Scottish parish minister and one of Scotland's great theologians. The 'Memoirs' show why he was a great theologian - he had a great view of God's glory and his own sinfulness, and he was a man of great exercises.
Our quotation comes from his account of his period of seeking the Lord before he was converted:
"To bind myself to dilligence in seeking the Lird, and to stir me up thereto, I made a vow to pray so many times a day: how many times , I cannot be positive; but it was at least thrice. It was the goodness of God to me, that it was made only for a certain definite space of time; but I found it so far from being a help, that it was really a hinderance to me devotion, making me more heartless in, and averse to, duty, through the corruption of my nature. I got the time of it driven out accordingly: but I never durst make another of that nature since, nor so bind up myself, where God had left me at liberty. And it hath been some good use to me, in the course of my after life."

God willing, we shall continue this series next time.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Book Review: Alexander Whyte on Thomas Shepard

Alexander Whyte: 'Thomas Shepard: Pilgrim Father and Founder of Harvard' ( Reformation Heritage Books, 252 pages, paperback).

This is not a biography in any conventional sense. Alexander Whyte was, we feel, incapable of writing such a thing. The subtitle of the book is 'His Spiritual Experience and Experimental Preaching.'
There is a lot of criticism of so-called 'experimental preaching' today, and we know the phrase will put off some people. That is because TRUE experimental preaching is a rare thing. It is not divorced from doctrine but soaked deely in doctrine until it drips with it. It is the preaching of a doctrine that moulds the interpretation of experience. We therefore make no apologies when we say that we belive that those doctrines commonly called Calvinism are the root of the deepest spiritual experience, since they cast the soul wholly on God. Thus Alexander Whyte, despite some rather strange statements in some of his works, was a Calvinist of the Puritan stamp. The man he looked up to most was the Puritan Thomas Goodwin (he compiled the excellent indices to be found in the last volume of the 19th century edition of Goodwin's works), but Whyte wrote books on Samuel Rutherford and John Bunyan as well.
And he wrote this gem of a book which has been recently republished by Joel Beeke.
Like C.H. Spurgeon and many other great preachers, the genesis of 'Thomas Shepard' was in Whyte's pulpit ministry. It is a series of addresses taking statements from Shepard's writings and meditating on them. Subjects such as the sinfulness of sin, the deep things of Christian experience and most of all the glories of Christ are opened up here. The old Puritan has a great interpreter in Whyte.
We find the three introductory chapters to be worth their weight in gold. The first is on Shepard, in which Whyte reveals his great love for the old puritan volumes with all their hard English. The second is a discussion of the word 'Evangelical', something sorely needed in our present age, when the word is so abused. It ought to be circulated as widely as possible, along with the book Whyte commends in it, G. R. Balleine's 'History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England'. The third of these chapters is on the meaning of the word 'Experimental' and the true meaning oof 'experimental preaching'. Once you have read these chapters, you will be ready to launch yourself upon the broad sea of Shepard's experimental Calvinism. This is not a 'popular' book in the modern sense, one that will give light and easy tips for living. No, it is one that will show you the depths of your own sin and the wonders of God's love in Christ crucified.Buy it. Read it. Then you will learn what evangelical and expermental religion really is.


Memoirs of James Begg online!

We are glad to be able to report that the James Begg Society has put the biography of their inspiration, Rev. Dr.James Begg online. It my be found here. James Begg was a contender for the Truth at a time when other dd not see the significance of what was happening in Scotland. A humble Christian man (despite what his detractors said), there is much in these rare volumes for our instruction.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

10 Great Scottish Christian Biographies. 3.

8. John Kennedy: 'The Apostle of the North' (Free Presbyterian Publications) £4.50 from Free Presbyterian Bookroom
John Macdonald, the subject of this book, was a pastor and a missionary in the Highlands of Scotland. He lived in the period when 'moderatism' was dominant, and he lived to see the end of that moderatism, and the disruption of his beloved Church of Scotland. This is another heroic biography of a man who thirsted to preach Christ wherever he could, no matter what the authorities said. It is written by the able John Kennedy of Dingwall, who is always a delight to read. Kennedy was in the same tradition as Macdonald, and the sympathy is plain.
In our quotation, Kennedy reflects on Macdonald's industry:
"There was no man, in his day, whose labours in the service of the gospel abounded more than his. On Sabbath, when at home, he always delivered three sermons. Once a month he preached regularly in Inverness and in Dingwall, and for a considerable time, statedly in Invergodon. In not a few places he was invariably present on communion occasions, usually preaching every day; besides giving to ministers occasional and more limited assistance. He often went on excursions to various parts of the Highlands, preaching as he went. During three months of each years he preached, on an average, two sermons a day; and in no year of his life in Ross-shire did he preach fewer than three hundred sermons. He preached upwards of ten thousand times during the last thirty-six years of his life; and never delivered an unstudied discourse. This was not owing to his confining himself to a set of sermons which he constantly repeated; for he has left among his papers skeletons of discourses on almost every text on which a sermon could be written, besides notes of lectures [expository sermons] on the Gospels, and other parts of Scripture." (P.119)

9. David Brown: 'The Life of Rabbi Duncan'. (Free Presbyterian Publications) £6.95 from Free Presbyterian Bookroom
Dr. John 'Rabb' Duncan, eccentric Hebraist, missionary and college professr is one of the 'characters' of Scottish Church history His praise is, or ought to be, in all the churches. Duncan's life is his monument, for he left no writings other than a few sermons. The best biography of Duncan is this one by his friend David Brown. Both men had a great concern for the Jews, and show how a man need not be pre-mil to believe in the future restoration of the errant tribes of Israel.
Our quotation concerns an instance of Duncan's absence of mind. He had agreed to take the four o'clock steamer back to Glasgow with Mr. Somerville, a friend, after a week-afternoon sermon:
"The service, it was agreed, should close at twenty minutes to four at latest - twenty minutes being required to reach the ferry in time. Well, worship begins, the sermon goes on - and a striking sermon it was, from the text 'Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins' - 3.40 comes, but no signs of stopping. Mr. S. gets uneasy, whispers to me 'I must go,' glides out of the church, and hurries to the steamer. Dr. Duncan, absorbed in his sermon, and wholly unaware of Mr. Somerville's disappearance, continued to preach till four o'clock. When the service was over, he fell a-discoursing on the subject of his sermon, went away home to dinner - for I had a design to keep him with me all night - and it was only after we began to dine that his obliviousness was arrested, and then all at once he exclaimed, 'But where is Mr. Somerville?" (P. 263)

10. Patrick Carnegie Simpson: 'The Life of Principal Rainy'
We have previously dealt with Principal Rainy on this blog, and would advise our readers to review that series. Rainy was the leader of the Free Church in a period of pivotal change. Though a theological conservative himself, he allowed too much freedom to the so-called higher critics. His biographer was a great deal more 'liberal' in his theology than Rainy, but nevertheless does a fine job. The book ought to be required reading. It paints a portrait of an iron man always ready to stand for what he considered right.
Our quotation deals wit the matter of books
"He set about furnishing his library, and almost his only extravagance in life was his liking for fine copies of the Fathers and other standard works. In one of his letters he refers with his often recurring irony to his new folios:-
"'I feel sinsibly more learned ever since they came. Have you ever noticed the deceptive feeling which befools us into so delightfully foundationless a conceit of ourselves? I have felt great in casustry ever since I got Taylor's 'Ductor Dubitantium', though I have neither read it nor have any immediate intention of doing so.'" (Vol. 1. P. 136)

An excellent Rainyism to close a series on books with!!!


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

10 Great Scottish Christian Biographies. 2.

Part two of this feature looks at biographies of figures between the end of the Covenating period and the Disruption of 1843.

4. Robert MacKenzie: 'John Brown of Haddington.'
John Brown of Haddington is one of the great figures of the old Scottish nonconformity. The story of how an orphan shepherd boy became a minister and a theologian who influenced the whole of his country deserves to be read and re-read. Although the Banner of Truth has printed Brown's short account of his own life, this remains the best biography of this fascinating figure, and a window into Scottish religion in the period of his lifetime. Brown's 'Systematic Theology' and 'Self-Interpreting Bible' were prized by many of the best Christians.
Our quotation deals with Bown as professor:
"For the more efficient study of Hebrew, the Professor prepared a short grammar and vocabulary of his own. In Divinity he struck out a path for himself, and discarded what was generally taught in the theological classes of Scotland at the time, the 'Medulla' of theDutch theologian, Marckius, or the 'Institutes' of the Genevan Professor, Turretin. He produced a 'System' of his own, which he eventually published in 1782. In Church History he mapped out no less a field than one covering the whole course of the Church, from the birth of Christ to his own day, and its conquests in various lands. Lectures on Practical Training were also delivered, bearing on style, delivery, conduct as a pastor, and on examples worthy of imitation." (P. 137)

5. Alexander Haldane: 'The Lives of Robert and James Haldane' (Banner of Truth Trust) £13.95 from Free Presbyterian Bookroom
Scotland is best known as a Presbyterian country, and therefore most of these biographies are of Presbyterians. But there is one Baptist biography that stands up amongst all these Presbyterians, that of the Haldane brothers. Brought up Presbyterian, the reason they at length left the Church of Scotland is far from creditable to that Church. The work they did in spreadig th Gospel in Scotland and abroad still remains in a measure today. While James was a pastor, Robert was a missionary at home and in atheistic and rationalistic Europe. These were men we follow with unequal steps. The biography conveys their almost limitless energy excellently.
Our quotation comes from Robert Haldane himself:
"The impression produced at Geneva was, by the blessing of God, so great that discussions became frequent on the grand truths connected with salvation. The pastors and professors in the Faculty heard of the doctrine I was inculcating, and the manner in which I spoke of their false doctrine. They baga to preach openly against what I taught, and I as plainly controverted what they taught, collecting their aguments, setting them before the students and others to whom I had access, comparing them with Scripture, and labouring to refute their destructive heresies." (P.433)

6. William Hanna: 'Memoirs of Thomas Chalmers'.
Thomas Chalmers (subject of our last series) is a towering figure in Scottish history. The 'Moderate' who became an evangelical of the most pronounced kind and whose genius built the Free Church of Scotland, Chalmers was blessed with a biographer who knew him personally and whose writing style is clear and luminous. Chalmers left behind many letters and journals, which Hanna inserted almost entire, so this book is made up in a large part of autobiography. Quite rare, but the accompanying volume of letters is due out from the Banner of Truth soon. Petition the Banner to reprint the 'Memoirs' as well. For quotations from the memoirs readers are invited to see our paper on Chalmers.

7. Andrew Bonar: Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M'Cheyne (Banner of Truth Trust) £14.95 from Free Presbyterian Bookroom
This is another one of the great classics of Scottish Church history. M'Cheyne is a legend in Reformed circles still, a man who did more in his short lifetime (he died before he turned thirty) than many men do in a life twice as long. He remains a great example to set before ministers, a man who could say sincerely, "I have no desire but the salvation of my people, by whatever instrument." Everyone should have this book.
Our quotation deals with M'Cheyne's testing the fruits of the that had occurred revival in his church during his absence:
"Never, perhaps, was there one placed in better circumstances for testing the revival impartially, and seldom has any revival been more fully tested. He came among a people whose previous character he knew; he found a work wrought among them during his absence, in which he had not had any direct share; he returned home t go out and in among them, and to be a close observer of all that had taken place; and after a faithful and prayerful examination, he did most unhesitatingly say that the Lord had wrought great things, whereof he was glad."

God willing, next time we shall conclude this short series.