Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - X.

Finding a successor to John Brown of Haddington as Professor was a challenge, of course, but it had to be done. Thankfully there was a man who fitted the post - Rev. George lawson, pastor of the Burgher congregation at Selkirk, in the Borders. Aged thirty-six, Mr. Lawson had been one of John Brown's students at Haddington, where his love of Christ and his extensive scholarship and Biblical and theological knowledge had drawn John Brown to him. Privately Brown had said that Lawson would probably be his successor, and so he was. Lawson combined a beautiful simplicity of character with his learning, and Selkirk, as the seat of the Hall, made for an unrivalled setting. We have dealt with Lawson in more detail elsewhere, and so in this post we shall confine our remarks to Lawson as a teacher.

Students coming to Selkirk from the Universities would have been presented with a remarkable contrast, from a great city to a little market town, nestled in the Souther Uplands, from a noted faculty to a single man, from an historic college building to a little rural meeting-house. Yet students would testify that, as they looked back, it was the university, not the Hall, that suffered in the comparison. Lawson's spirit was such that all students loved him, he was a plain man, the very model of what a minister ought to be, if a little eccentric in some points.

Lawson drew up his own lectures rather than taking an existing text-book. Extending through five sessions, the lectures covered the leading doctrines of Christianity, doctrinal and Practical Theology. His finest lectures, however, were those on Pastoral theology, drawing upon his own experience for examples. He was no framer of rules for preaching, but offered friendly advice so that his students could avoid falling into bad habits such as preaching over the heads of their people. Unlike John Brown, he fixed the length of his meetings with the students at about an hour and a half each. Not only were sermons preached before the students by their fellows, but the advanced students were set 'popular sermons', preached during the week to as many of Lawson's congregation as cared to attend.

Dr. Lawson (as he became when Marischal College, Aberdeen honoured him with the degree of D.D.) was a simple man, well-suited to the Scottish Borders, where the folk despised affectation, and whose publications were designed for the common people, not the literati of Edinburgh. He was the last Burgher Professor of Divinity, for he died in 1820, the year of union, but he died before the union was completed. He taught theology at Selkirk for thirty-three years, loved and admired by all.

Once again the Church had to replace a man of great genius, and on the eve of a union of the majority of the Burgher and Anti-Burgher Synods. How they acted we shall see, God willing, next time.

[Our illustration is the former Lawson Memorial Church, Selkirk, now the Parish Church.]



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