Thursday, July 31, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - IV.

Wilson, with the other Secession Fathers, was ejected from his church by the Church of Scotland. His students watched in amazement as their professor retired to the Glovers' Yard to preach, and his people followed him. The students saw then what it was to suffer for a faithful testimony. Wilson was not long spared afterwards, he died towards the end of 1741, having taught Secession students in Perth for five sessions only. He was only fifty-one, broken by his titanic efforts.

His successor was Alexander Moncrieff of Abernethy, and the Hall was thus removed to Abernethy. Laird of Culfargie, Moncrieff was popularly knows as 'Culfargie' by his congregation and students. He had studied under Markius at Leyden in addition to taking his compulsory courses at the University of St. Andrews, and he was in addition a champion of Reformed doctrine. He was thus chosen over the other possible candidates, the Erskines and Mr. Fisher. No doubt many a student was awed by the new professor's learning, and pleased to dine together with him in the mansion at Culfargie. Further information about the Moncrieffs and Abernethy is to be found here.

Moncrieff followed Wilson's method. As a student of Markius himself, he had a great regard for the Dutch divine's writings, and the system contained in the Medulla was that which he had heard from Markius himself in the university of Leyden. A man of deep piety, he was a worthy man to continue the great work that Wilson had begun in Perth. His lectures dwelt on the central points of theology, such as the deity of Christ. There was, however, one major change. The language of instruction was changed from Latin to English. Since the text-book was still in Latin, the students were required to know the language, but as they had to answer the Professor's questions in English, they were forced to translate the substance of Markius into the English tongue. This certainly forced them to understand the work better, and probably made still better theologians.

In one aspect of training the Secession Hall was in advance of the Church of Scotland, for the Seceders were very careful to train their students in exegesis and homiletics, the interpretation of the Bible and preaching. The Seceders never lost sight of the fact that students were being trained to preach the Gospel, not to teach theology in an academic setting. To preach well, students had to be able to interpret the Bible and know how best to communicate the results of that interpretation. A great deal of the time of the Hall sessions was taken up with students preaching before the Hall. Their discourses would then be criticized by their fellow-students and Professor, hopefully in a loving spirit.

Moncrieff also added a philosophy class to the Hall's instruction. He had become aware that the philosophy taught at that time in the Scottish universities was anti-Christian in spirit and tended to undermine faith in the Bible. The Laird of Culfargie thus appointed one of his students who was competent in philosophy to teach a class in which it would be shown that true philosophy is not opposed to Christianity, and in which a Christian philosophy would be taught. For the first session this class was taught by Mr. Archibald, a student in his final session, and for the next four or five years it was taught by Mr. David Wilson. Students who had already studied philosophy at one of the Universities were not compelled to take this course, but it was strongly suggested that they ought to do so.

In 1743 the 'Associate Presbytery', as the Seceders had called themselves, numbered nineteen ministers, and it was divided into two Presbyteries, forming the Associate Synod. Alas, the Synod itself would soon be divided in a far less pacific way, for a debate over whether or not Church members should be allowed to take a certain oath required of civic officials in some Scottish towns divided the young Secession Church in 1746. God willing, next time we shall deal with the impact of the split on the Hall.

[Pictured: the old Kirk at Abernethy]


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - III.

The Secession Theological Hall, then, began in Perth, with only one Professor and six students. There was no ceremony when the Hall opened, just a teacher and his students getting down to the serious business of preparing for the ministry .

The shortness of the session meant that Wilson decided to teach from a textbook, the Medulla of Markius, a Dutch Reformed theological professor from Leyden, was the textbook, and it was, of course, in Latin. The students were expected to master this systematic theology, and they were examined on its teaching. Wilson supplemented this with lectures upon the cardinal points of doctrine contained in the system. Since the Professor was also a full-time pastor, this was a thoroughly efficient way of teaching, and had the advantage that students could study the system while they were not at Perth. Wilson, for his part, did not have to prepare in essence a whole new systematic theology in his lectures. Having to build on another's foundation, Wilson chose to do so openly. He took great care that his students mastered Markius, examining every part of the system and understanding and remembering it. The desired end was that the Secession Church would possess a throughly educated ministery, and ministers who knew the system of Calvinistic doctrine. Today we have swung away from systematic theology to Biblical theology, and whilst the older Calvinists may have given too little place to Biblical theology, we have tended to err in the opposite extreme.

What influenced Wilson to take up a method of teaching that was quite different from that found in the Scottish universities and under which he had himself been trained? We shall never know for sure, but certainly one factor was that Dr. Philip Doddridge, head of the Dissenting Academy at Northampton, England, used the same method. Bishop Burnet, one-time Professor of Divinity in Glasgow University, who adopted this system of examining students on a text-book and giving supplementary lectures.

As we have noted, all instruction was in Latin, as was the text-book. The native language spoken by the students was not English, but Scots, a rather different, though similar, language, in which no systematic theologies existed. What was more, Latin theological works were far better known then, and so Latin was the key to the best of European Reformed and Lutheran Theology.

Students lodged with members of the congregation, ensuring that there was no way for them to be aloof from the local Church. Students were bound together by the closest of ties, living and learning together.

The average class size during the Hall's time at Perth was six students, quickly giving Wilson a class as large as any of the Scottish university Divinity classes.

But the relative peace of the Secession Hall was soon to be disturbed, of which more, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Who was Thomas Nelson? II.

We have seen that young Thomas Nelson, at the age of sixteen, gave up an ambition to go to the Indies to make his fortune when he reflected that there he would be isolated from Christian fellowship and the means of grace. For by this time he was apparently a converted man, and the instrument of that conversion was his own minister, Rev. John McMillan of the Craigs Reformed Presbyterian church, Stirling. McMillan was one of the old Reformed Presbyterian ministers, a deeply learned and evangelical man. He was not only a pastor, he was a professor of theology, for the Reformed Presbyterian church had its own Theological Hall, and that met in Stirling under Professor McMillan.

While no doubt Thomas Nelson's mother was glad that her son had not gone to sea, there was then the pressing question of what his occupation should be. He found a job in a distillery at Craigend, but that work was, for various reasons, distasteful to him. Not only was the product of his labours a liquor that was widely abused, the distillery wanted him to work on the Lord's Day. He resigned and tried to get a job in a pottery, but that was not to be. Once again, then, he planned to leave the family home at Throsk, and the little Kirk in the Craigs, but this time his destination was London. There he hoped to find work, but like many another young man of his age, he found work more difficult to get in lindon than he had imagined. At last he found his resources worn out, and he adopted the desperate measure of approaching likely-looking gentlemen on the street to ask if they knew of a vacancy for a clean-living Scots lad. Finally he heard of a vacancy in a publishers' office at Paternoster Row, then the centre of London's book trade. He applied and was given the post. We assume that it is this, Thomas Nelson's entry into the book trade, that is memorialized by the slogan 'Since 1798' on the website of Thomas Nelson Ltd. today.

Thomas Nelson had always loved books, especially religious books, and the work was one that he enjoyed. He worked hard, and by industry and care, he was able to save some money and decided to lodge it in the Bank of England for safe-keeping. It was this that led to his change of name. Until this point, though pronounced 'Nelson', the young man had spelled his name 'Neilson'. The Bank of England, however, had his name down as it was pronounced, so that when he came to make a withdrawal his cheque was refused because he spelled his name Neilson. Thus he had to change the spelling of his name to obtain his own savings! In later life he would joke that he and Admiral Nelson had one thing in common - they had both lost an 'i' in the service of their country.

Thomas Nelson did not drift away from God in the metropolis of England. He sought out other REformed Presbyterian immigrants and they established a prayer-meeting, unwilling to attend on the Church of England or on any other church that had compromised the principles of the Covenanted Reformation. Nelson kept in touch with Mr. McMillan in Stirling, and he wrote requesting a ministerial supply to what was effectively a Reformed Presbyterian congregation in London. The Reformed Presbyterian Church agreed, and Rev. James Reid was sent to London for five Lord's Days in 1805 to supply ordinances and preaching to the little society.

In 1808 Thomas Nelson, having obtained a licence for a publishing house of his own, returned to Scotland, making his headquarters in Edinburgh. In July of that year he returned to Throsk, and to the simple meeting-house in the Craigs. In that month he was admitted a full communicant member, and sat down with his fellow Cameronians to the Lord's Supper administered in the open air in the Well Green, Stirling. In 1809 he was admitted to membership in the Edinburgh congregation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The publisher and bookseller was chosen as an elder of his church in 1811, and until his death in 1861 he was extremely active in the service of his congregation. As Precentor, Treasurer and Elder, he was known in the congregation, and on more than one occasion he was elected as a Representative Elder to the Presbytery and Synod of the denomination.

The house on the modern Thomas Nelson logo is the old house at the West Bow of Edinburgh in which Thomas Nelson set up his second-hand bookshop at first. A true Christian businessman, he was always fair and just in his pricing policy and soon became popular with university students, who knew that the Cameronian bookseller would never cheat them. As business grew, Nelson was able to begin to publish for himself. At first he reprinted books, including such essentials as the Works of Josephus, Paley, Leighton and William Romaine. His pricing policy, however, made booksellers wary of him at first - the books were so cheap that the booksellers refused to touch them! Instead Nelson's publications were sold at auction in fairs around Scotland! Obviously Nelson was more determined to circulate good religious literature cheaply than other booksellers were!

He obtained the venerable old Palace of Mary of Guise as a publishing works, and until 1843 this was the establishment of Thomas Nelson and Son. With the volume of publications growing, he moved the printing side of the business to a purpose-built printing-works in Hope Park, which stood until its destruction by fire in 1878. It was replaced by a new works at Parkside, which is illustrated on the cover of a book about the company from the Flashbacks series.

Thomas Nelson was a godly man who was deeply concerned for the welfare of his workers. He died as he had lived, a Reformed Presbyterian of the old school. When he was told by his doctor that he was dying, he took up his Bible and said, "Now I must finish my chapter."

Such a man was Thomas Nelson, a man of God who laboured to put the best of Christian literature into the hands of the common man. Let all Christian publishers note him and seek to follow his example.

Classic works issued by Thomas Nelson and Son during Thomas Nelson's lifetime include the Works of Thomas Scott of Aston Sandford, William Arnot's Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, and a series of Works of the Puritan Divines..

[The source of this information is the official history of what was then Craigs Free Church, Stirling, D.D. Ormond, A Kirk and a College in the Craigs of Stirling (Stirling, 1897), Pp.79-89. Ormond was the fourth pastor of the Craigs congregation, which merged with what is now St. Columba's in 1908 owing to declining numbers. All factual errors are therefore Ormond's, not mine.]

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Who was Thomas Nelson? I.

No doubt many of our readers have purchased books published by Thomas Nelson publishers. Perhaps some have seen the 'since 1799' on their website. But how many have actually stopped to think who Thomas Nelson was?

Thomas Nelson was born at Throsk, near the Stirling, in 1780. His grandmother had been a member of Ebenezer Erskine's congregation and had followed her minister when he had been compelled to secede from the Church of Scotland. Although the family name was pronounced Nelson, it was spelled Neilson, and that is how Thomas Nelson spelled it at first.

His father, William Neilson, was a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the Craigs of Stirling, and long one of the managers of that congregation. He and his wife had joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church in around 1766, and so their son Thomas was baptized in the old Reformed Presbyterian meeting-house by the Rev. John McMillan, first minister on the Craigs congregation. From then on he was a regular member of the congregation of the old Cameronian church through his childhood. The modern successor to the old Craigs Kirk is St. Columba's, Stirling.

Although the towns of Scotland were well-provided for in educational terms in the eighteenth century, small places like Throsk were not so lucky, and Thomas Nelson's (to avoid confusion we use the spelling of his name that he afterwards adopted) first schoolteacher was an elderly lady called Mrs. Abercrombie, who could not teach much more than the alphabet. His second school taught only reading and writing, the unnamed master being apparently unable to teach the mysteries of arithmetic. Schoolbooks were rare, and when the supply of reading-matter ran dry, the teacher resorted to using the old books to teach Thomas the art of reading a book held upside-down! Yet even in this he was being prepared for the work that lay ahead of him. For a while Thomas Nelson was the sole pupil in that school, and often on hot summers' days teacher and pupil agreed to sleep much of the day rather than spend it in lessons!

Thankfully Thomas Nelson's third teacher, Mr. More, was a better teacher. A patriotic Scot, he often thrilled his scholars with his teaching of Scottish history, enlarging on the valour or William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, for Bannockburn is not far from Stirling, and Wallace's greatest victory against the English had been the Battle of Stirling Bridge, so the scenes of the deeds of these great heroes were familiar to the pupils. More was not, however, blind to the heroes of his own age, and the greatest of those was Admiral Horatio Nelson, who had defeated Napoleon's fleet at the Battle of the Nile. Hearing the accounts of this hero, Thomas Nelson would feel a glow of pride that he shared the name of this great man.

Thomas Nelson did well at More's school, and at the age of 16 he became a teacher himself. While young for the work, he was probably better prepared for it than the nameless second teacher who had ensured a peaceful class-room by the simple expedient of falling asleep and letting his sole pupil do the same. Young Thomas kept an orderly school, though by more conventional means, and we can be sure that his charges were grateful for his instruction in later life.

In this period many a Scot sought to make his fortune by emigrating to the Indies, and Thomas Nelson made plans to do that very thing. A vessel lay at Alloa, and he had arranged to go aboard it to the Indies. His father offered to go with him to the ship, and on the way he said kindly to his son, "Thomas, my boy, have you ever thought that where you are going you will be far away from the means of grace?" The young man reflected and answered, "No, father, I never thought of that, and I won't go." So, for the sake of religion, he gave up a dream of a fortune. That is the sort of man that Thomas Nelson was, an old Cameronian.

God willing, we shall have more to say about Thomas Nelson next time.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God Willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Hethersett Reformed Baptist Church, Henstead Road, Hethersett, Norfolk. Founded in the late 19th century, the present chapel dates from the 1890s, with a rather ugly flat-roofed extension that was necessary to house the vestry, kitchen and toilet. Hethersett Reformed Baptist Church came out of the BAptist Union in the 1980s, and has been an independent Reformed Baptist Church ever since. This is my home Church, and has been since 2001. The pastor is Rev. David Farrow, like all true pastors, God's gift to the local church.

Services are at 10.45 in the morning and 6.30 in the evening.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - II.

The four 'Fathers' of the Secession were Ebenezer Erskine, Alexander Moncrieff of Abernethy, William Wilson of Perth and James Fisher of Kinclaven. Others, such as Ralph Erskine, joined them later. At first they sought to remain in the Church of Scotland, but at last they were forced out. One cause of their concern over the Church of Scotland had been Professor Simson, who had been charged with heresy before the Assembly in 1729. He, the man who ought to have been training young men for the ministry of a Church that was based on the Westminster Confession, had been teaching them instead that Christ was just a man, and his death merely martyrdom for the sake of truth.

In seeking a theological professor, these men were moved by a deep concern for the Truth. Nothing, they held, was worse than a heretical professor. A heretical preacher infected one congregation, a heretical theology professor infected dozens, even hundreds, through his students. Heretical preachers often left their congregations relatively untouched, but a heretical theology professor could wreck a denomination. The sad destruction of English Presbyterianism through dissenting academies infected with Unitarian teaching bore witness to this fact. So the first qualification the professor needed was a living faith in Christ, which is the only certain preventative for heresy. The second was sound theological learning. What was demanded of the man was, in fact, evangelical scholarship.

The Church of Scotland Halls possessed three Professors, one of Theology, one of Hebrew and one of Church History (Greek had already been taught at school). These were full-time academics, based in the universities. While they were also usually elders in local congregations, and some preached, they were not parish ministers. The Secession, on the other hand, was faced with a serious shortage of preachers and funds. They were actually unable to have a full-time professor, so their single professor, in addition to having to be a versatile teacher, would have to combine his professorship with a pastorate.
A Committee composed of Moncrieff and Erskine was appointed to consider the question of appointments to the professorship, effectively ensuring that either Fisher or Wilson would be the Professor. In the end their choice fell on Mr. Wilson. He was the sort of evangelical scholar that was needed, in temperament and intellect gifted for the work. As he was pastor in Perth, the Hall was located there for the duration of his professorate. Instruction was in Latin, the international language of scholarship, and the level of learning was equal to that in the University.

The first class consisted of six students, a small number, but equal in number to the entire ministry of the Secession Church at that time! When all six were ordained, they would double the size of the church's ministry. Few institutions can make such a claim.

We have then seen how it began. God willing, next time we shall continue our story.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - I.

One of the questions that has exercised the Church for the last two thousand years is the training of the ministry. The LOrd Jesus Christ chose men who had for the most part no more than the usual level of education for their day, and most of the early leaders of the Church were of average education, although as Jewish men they were trilingual (knowing Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic) and literate, having to read the Scriptures.

So should there be any special training for the ministry? There are some who answer in the negative forcefully, and say that all a minister needs is a call from God. Others treat the ministry like a profession. Three years in a semionary, they think, gives anyone all that is needed to be a minister. In fact we think things are not so clear cut. An ignorant ministry was the sacandal of the Middle Ages, when many priests knew little of the Bible, but an unspiritual minstry was the scandal of the eighteenth century, when many university-trained ministers were utter strangers to the new birth, just as Nicodemus was.

We begin with the assumption that there must be a divine call for any man to minister the Gospel. But when that call is recognised, is it enough? Historically the Reformed Churches have said that it is not. There must be some preparation, some sort of teaching. This existed in the early Church, as 2 Timothy 2.2 shows us:
"And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
But how to do this teaching? On that the Churches have differed, and will differ. In this series, God willingg, we shall trace the history of answers to that question in what would become the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, from 1736 to 1876.

In 1736 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland cast out of her some of the finest and most evangelical ministers of the period. Among them were the Erskine brothers. These men were cast out simply for refusing to tolerate unconstitutional actions by the Assembly in its riding rough-shod (almost literally) over the rights of the lower courts. At once they found themselves faced with the question of how to train the future ministers of their infant church. The Church of Scotland demanded a learned ministry; ministers were expected to be graduates of a university, preferably one of the four Scottish ones (counting as we do today, though in 1736 the university of Aberdeen was in fact two universities, leading to the quip that Aberdeen had as many universities as the whole of England), and then had to pass through the Church's theological curriculum, taught in Divinity Halls that were part of the universities, though faculty were appointed by the General Assembly.

These halls were of course shut to the Seceders, and even if they had not been, it is doubtful that the infant denomination would have sent its students to them. The theology professors, where not actually suspected of heresy, were on the whole dry and unspiritual, and the tone in the universities was low. The Seceders had to find another way.

This was the age of Methodism, and it is entirely within the realm of possibility that the Seceders could have acted as Wesley did and waived the need for a university education, supplying their ministers with a sort of distance learning course majoring on solid Reformed literature. They did not follow this course, however. Instead they resolved to set up their own Divinity Hall and to appoint one of their number as Theological Professor. Yes, just one professor was to teach all the students. The session of the Hall was timed during the summer vacation of the schools, as most students supported themselves by teaching.

God willing, having seen the plan, we shall see how it actually worked, at least in part, next time.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

'This One Thing I do' John Brown of Broughton Place - XXXVII

Some people die suddenly. Dr. Thomas Chalmers was one day in good health, the next dead. It was not so with John Brown of Broughton Place. No, he died at the end of a long illness. With some people long illness unfits them for all activity, and interrupts their walk with God, with others (and Brown was of this number), it draws them closer to Him in devotion.

He finished his work as Professor in the autumn of 1857. Weak and feeling the burden of years, he tried a vacation, and recovered a little strength. He preached for the last time on the 15th of November of the same year. He almost collapsed during his last sermon, but was able to finish by God's help. Thereafter he was never to be seen in the pulpit again. Some told him that they were sure he would soon recover, But John Brown knew differently. He felt the 'sentence of death' in himself physically, and knew that the end of his course was fast drawing on.

The illness was attended with great pain, and in this intense suffering, Brown prayed not that the sickness might be taken from him, but that God would give him the patience that he needed to bear it. His son, Dr John Brown M.D., was providentially able to care for him, so that his medical attendant was one who cared for him more than any other man could have. Dr. Brown M.D. found that his father's condition was bad. He was suffering from a number of illnesses and ailments, and the medical man knew that this was serious. He called in his brother, Dr. William Brown of Melrose, and the two brothers were assisted by the best doctors in Edinburgh. The verdict was that Professor Brown (as we shall call him to distinguish him from his son) had worn himself out. His tireless labours for the Church had left him unable to resist the ravages of old age, and Dr. John Brown reported: "He became as it were suddenly old, and died twenty years older in constitution than in age."
"It is, I fear, the beginning of the end," the venerable minister said, and he was right.

The sufferings that had marked the end of 1857 found some relief early in 1858, but his strength was almost completely gone. Yet God upheld him. "I do not know that I have ever been closer to the unseen world than at this time," he told his daughter as he lay on his sickbed.
"The sovereign love of God, the infinite atonement of the Redeemer, the Ominpotent power of the Divine Spirit - that is sufficient for any; it is sufficient for me."

He found it hard to lie idle, yet he could do nothing else. When he could, he read and spoke with the friends who came to see him. They found him reading books on old age, from the Classical world to his old tutor, Dr. Lawson. Texts such as "This God is our God for ever and ever" gave him great comfort. The covenant of God could not be broken. He was in Christ, and that was enough. Robert Candlish's exposition of 1 Corinthians 15, Life in a Risen Saviour was a precious work to him at that time.
It was in 1858 that the great revival began in America, and as John Brown waited on the borders of Immanuel's Land, he rejoiced to see the beginnings of this great outpouring of grace. He was able to oversee a reprint of his own little book on Revival that he had first published nearly twenty years ago during the Kilsyth revival of 1839. The book followed Edwards, trying to guard against both fanaticism and quenching the Spirit at the same time. He warned of taking all professions of conversion during such times as true, and also against regarding all revivals with suspicion.
Brown was encouraged that the 1858 revival was not centred on men like Charles G. Finney, and was centred in prayer-meetings, not the sort of protracted meetings that Finney used to play on the emotions. The lack of Finney's 'New Measures' in the work cheered him. This was of God, he felt, not of man.

Spring passed into summer, and Professor Brown was able to drive in the country around Edinburgh. He made use of strength that he knew was only temporary to write a farewell letter to his people at Broughton Place. His next work was to write to his students explaining that they would see him in the Professor's chair no longer. Many plans had to be abandoned, as that measure of health and strength deserted him again. He delighted himself in the reading of John Owen, especially Owen's last work, Meditations on the Glory of Christ.

By October, Professor Brown was obviously dying. It seemed on the 13th of October that he was unconscious, but as his daughter whispered to ask if he was well, he replied, "Wonderfully well."
He died soon after, with his family gathered round. Since his own sons were medical doctors, there was no stranger there to break the family intimacy.

He was buried in the New Calton Burying-Ground on the 20th of October, and thousands turned out to pay their last respects. Ministers who had been his students came, great men, and poor men and women who had known him as their pastor and their friend. And there were many, very many, who knew him also as their father in the Gospel. He was laid beside his wife and child, and on their monument was written: "Looking for the mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."

Truly he was a man "In labours more abundant," as his friend John Cairns said of him. By his precious writings he still speaks, and if the message of his writings can be condensed to one text it is this: "Search the Scriptures."


Monday, July 21, 2008

'This One Thing I do' John Brown of Broughton Place - XXXVI

Dr. John Brown published in 1852 a volume entitled Plain Discourses on Important Subjects. As the title suggests, this was a volume of sermons, including two of his 'Canongate Lectures'. These were sermons given to a congregation at the Canongate Mission in a poor part of the city. Though Brown was a brilliant and popular preacher, he never forgot the ordinary folk, and the work of an evangelist. But a more significant volume was his The Three Gatherings, published in 1857. This was a volume of Missionary Discourses on Isaiah 56, originally preached to encourage and inform the wealthy Broughton Place congregation on the matter of missions. Revised for the press, these were, as befitted their author, deeply exegetical, and spoke of missions to both Jew and Gentile, for this was the Scotland of the Bonar Brothers and Robert Murray M'Cheyne, men who had a great love for God's ancient people. We give a sample:
"The question has been agitated as to the priority and connexion of the two gatherings of the Jews and Gentiles, which together are to form the third gathering. Are the Jews or the Gentiles to be first converted? Are the Jews to be the instruments of the conversion of the Gentiles, or the Gentiles of the Jews? Unfulfilled prophecy, generally covered with clouds, gives on these subjects no certain sound. So far as I can discover its meaning, it intimates that both events shall take place, if not exactly contemporaneously, yet during the same epoch; and Gentiles shall be instrumental in the Conversion of Jews, and converted Jews extensively employed in the final in-bringing of the unconverted Gentiles. It is while men are 'Fearing the Name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun,' that 'the Redeemer will come to Zion.' 'The blindness which happened to Israel' continues till 'the fulness of the Gentiles be come in,' or rather till the fulness of the Gentiles shall be gathering, 'and then all Israel shall be saved.'"

Not content with simply dealing with questions of Jewish and Gentile missions, he also answered those who felt that the present manner of evangelism by the preached Word alone would be superseded by a method involving the miraculous. Such anticipations greatly retarded the growth of the modern missionary movement, and it is most likely that the retort to Carey that "When God sees fit to convert the heathen, he'll do it without your help" was not so much the result of hyper-calvinism, but of this mentality that God must bring in a new age of miracles for the world to be converted to Christ.

Dr. Brown was not pre-millennial, though he did not write off pre-millennialism as heresy, simply as a difference of opinion on a secondary matter. He once remarked on his pre-millennial brothers in Christ:
"We do not look for the Saviour so soon as some of our friends do, but if He should come, we shall be very glad to see Him."
Brown was in fact a post-millennialist, looking for the final triumph of Christianity in this age, before the Second Advent. He had little faith in prophetic speculation, saying that the folly of men who dared to set exactly dates was "manifest to all men but themselves." As in all things, John Brown sought to know what the Bible had to say on unfulfilled prophecy, and to keep Bible and newspaper in their proper places.

Brown was no mere theological antiquarian. He laboured in all his writings to address the unchanging Gospel to the people of his age, and to interpret the Bible according to itself, not some artificial system. He was a Calvinist, but a Bible-Calvinist like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, not a System-Calvinist. In this we think he was quite right - as surely should all Christians think! That is, John Brown was a Calvinist because of the Bible, not the Westminster Confession of Faith. He subscribed the Confession because he felt it was Biblical, he did not try to cram the Bible into the Confession.

So, God willing, next time we shall come to the final scenes of Dr. John Brown's life.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

'Echoes From Scotland's Heritage of Grace'

The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) contains some of the most gracious and exercised saints of God in Scotland. It carries on a long and distinguished history, and that history is the subject of this book.

Hugh Ferrier has not attempted to write a history of the Free Church of Scotland. What he has given in this book is a series of sketches of Church history. The first two chapters give an overview of Scottish Church history up to the time of the Disruption of 1843. Chapters 3-5 are more detailed studies of Scots religion in three settings, the Isle of Arran, the Highlands, and Inverness. Chapters six to eleven tell the story of the Free Church of Scotland, from its good beginnings through its decline and to the Union of 1900 and its consequences. With the exception of Chapter six these chapters are records of controversies, reflected in titles like 'The Union Controversy' and 'The Higher Criticism Controversy'. Whilst there are some men who we may regard as 'villains', the real story in these chapters is of good men who dithered and failed to take action when it needed to be taken. Ferrier reminds us that the problem all too often is not that of wicked men in the Church, but of good men standing idly by. Whilst there are some slight references to the recent controversy that rent the Free Church, they are oblique and there is nothing said of a personal nature. This is not a partisan book, it is an evangelical book and might just as well have been written by a man in the Free Church of today.

The moderate size of this book, and its relatively self-contained chapters, make it an excellent book for someone trying to find a 'taster' on Scottish church history, or trying to get an overall idea of the history of the Free Church of Scotland. There is an extensive bibliography for those interested in further study. We highly recommend this volume and thank Mr. Ferrier for writing such a stimulating and lively work on such an important subject.

Echoes from Scotland's Heritage of Grace (Hardcover, 265 pages) is available from Tentmaker Publications


Monday, July 07, 2008

Another Bookseller

We are pleased to announce the addition of Particular Baptist Press of Springfield, Missouri, to our list of good Reformed publishers and bookshops. The work of Pastor Gary Long, Particular Baptist Press specialises in the publication of historic Baptist titles of lasting worth. It falls under our Scottish remit because the Particular Baptist Press publishes the two commentaries of James Haldane, on Galatians and Hebrews. We expect that most of our readers are familiar with the masterly commentary of Robert Haldane on the Epistle to the Romans, but we wonder how many are aware that his brother James wrote two commentaries. These two books are of particular interest to Baptists as having been written by a Baptist from a consciously Baptist standpoint. It is James Haldane's contention that it is the confusion of Old and New Testament worship that is responsible for the corruption of the Church today. Even for those who disagree with him, the books are a good read as exegetical apologia for the Baptist position.

But to our mind the most important volumes that Particular Baptist Press have produced are the Life and Works of Joseph Kinghorn. Kinghorn was a Baptist pastor of Scottish descent, born in Northumberland, trained in Bristol, who spent his whole ministerial career in one place, as the pastor of St. Mary's Baptist Church in Norwich. And for Clarification, the building was called St. Mary's because it was in St. Mary's Plain (sort of like a square), not because of some outbreak of Baptist Mariolatry.
Kinghorn was probably second only to John Gill in his learning and intellect, and after Gill's death he was certainly the greatest mind among the Particular Baptists. Given this, readers amy wonder why he is so little known, and why he ministered all his life in Norwich. The answer is that he chose to remain a pastor in the 'fine City' of Norwich rather than to accept a call to a more public station. Furthermore, the question forgets that such a man as Kinghorn was needed in Norwich, for it was a far more learned and intellectual city than men imagine. Possessed of the first free public library in England, the citizens of Norwich had an unparalleled opportunity to delve into the stores of human learning, good and bad, and the city boasted the finest Unitarian Chapel in England, full of cultured unbelievers. Furthermore, Kinghorn's learning in Hebrew equipped him for the work of evangelism in the city that once boasted the only 'Synagogue Street' in England, and his knowledge of the Scriptures prepared him for the work of reaching out to the Romanist population of Costessy (pronounced 'Cossey' because we Norfolk folk like to catch you foreigners out), a few miles from the city.

Kinghorn was also an evangelist among the ignorant nominally protestant population outside of Norwich, under God founding several Baptist Churches in Norfolk. We have preached at one of them, in the village of Salhouse.

Volume one of this set is biographical, while Volume two contains various writings by Kinghorn, including two sermons addressed to Jews and a printed debate with a Unitarian. They show his heart for perishing sinners and his earnest desire to exalt Christ. Whilst the Presbyterian Churches have produced such luminaries as the Hodges and Alexanders, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, Thomas Chalmers, William Cunningham and R.L. Dabney, so long as the Baptist Churches have such men as Dr. Gill and Dr. Kinghorn in our history, we have no cause to be ashamed of the learning of our forefathers.

Particular Baptist Press features reviews of the first volume of Kinghorn by George Ella and Michael Haykin .


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Book Review

The Calvinistic Methodist Father of Wales: John Morgan Jones & William Morgan (trans. John Aaron), Banner of Truth Trust, £40 (2 vols.):
Christians throughout the English-speaking world have a great deal to thank the Banner of Truth Trust for, and this two volume set adds to that debt of gratitude. Previously only available in Welsh, these two massive volumes (each almost 800 pages long), describle the history of the Calvinistic Methodists of Wales from the first stirrings of the eighteenth century awakening in Wales to the Methodists' decision to ordain their own ministers, thus separating formally from the Church of England in 1811.
While, as the title implies, these volumes are mostly tken up with short biographies, there is some necessary narrative, setting these people in the context of the start of the revival, the breach between Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, and so on. The decision to tell this story cheifly through biography, however, is largely successful. Given the scale of the task, this allows readers to learn of otherwise obscure characters, such as Howell Davies, 'the apostle of Pembrokeshire', or Howell Howells of Tre-hill, an Anglican curate who evangelised parts of the Vale of Glamorgan.
The picture is diverse, Oxford-educated clergymen rubbing shoulders with weavers, all bound together by a common experience of grace. And all, sad to say, rejected by the religious authorities of the day. While the covers of the two volumes might suggest a rigid geographical division between North and South Wales, in fact, while the second volume does contain a chapter on'the beginnings of Methodism in Gwynedd', South Wales features heavily, the last chapter being on Ebenezer Richard, Tregaron, perhaps best known today as the father of politician Henry Richard, but, as the book reveals, an important character in his own right.

Those who feel that emotion has no place in religion, will not enjoy the book, which contains frequent references to people being 'lost in wonder, love and praise'. Particularly appealing was the story of Howell Howells, Tre-hill, at the pre-communion gathering at Salem Chapel, Pencoed (present chapel pictured), after sining praises to the Saviour 'he would leap as a hart.' These pages are soked in the Spirit's anointing, which, alone, shows why these men were such giants. They were, for the most part, prepared to lose all in order to glorify Christ.
Much of the first volume is taken up with Howell Harris' diaries, perhaps because so much material from them survives, while Daniel Rowland's papers are lost. There is no such single person's tale running through the second volume, Thomas Charles merits three chapters, John Jones, Denbigh and John Elias two each, the denomination's battles over hyper-Calvinism being covered through the lives of those two men, who found themselves ranged on opposite sides of the fight.
While this is well worth buying, and comes highly recommended, there are a few faults. The first is that the books lack an index, which means that use as reference volumes is hard, although devotional reading is recommended. There are a few typographical errors whoch have not been picked up in proof reading, and John Aaron could have made more use of corrective footnotes, in noting, for example, that the old chestnut about Griffith Jones' parents being nonconformist is a fiction from the pen of a libellous opponent.
Still, with summer approaching, this is certainly a book to take to the beach. Especially if you are going to the West wales coast.


Ministers Behaving Badly: A text for a king

James I of England and VI of Scotland was a strange man. Pearson M’Adam Muir states that:
“He was a strange compound of wisdom and folly, of vacillation and obstinacy, of learning and prejudice, of self-assertion and timidity. Even the tutorship of George Buchanan could not make more of him than a pedant. During his reign many events of the utmost importance for the kingdoms and the churches both of Scotland and of England took place - some for good, some for evil; but whatever part the king took in them he invariably contrived to be ridiculous. At one time he was strongly Presbyterian: “He fell forth praising God that he was born… to such a place and to be king in such a Kirk, the sincerest Kirk in the world… As for our neighbour Kirk in England, it is an evil-said mass in English, wanting nothing but the liftings.” At another time he was strongly Episcopalian: “No bishop, no king.” The controversies which sometimes occurred in church between him and the preachers to whom he was listening fill us with amazement. Whatever can be said as to the reverence, there can be no doubt as to the appropriateness of the text which, according to tradition, was once announced in his presence: ‘James First and Sixth: He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.’”
(The Church of Scotland (London, Adam and Charles Black, 1891) Pp. 87-88)