Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Review: 'Fixing the Indemnity'

What is theological liberalism, and what are the boundaries of evangelicalism? These questions ought to be in the minds of all thinking Christians today. To answer them we must look to the past, for the battles of today are closely related to battles fought a century ago. Fixing the Indemnity, by Iain D. Campbell, is the first scholarly biography of Sir George Adam Smith (1856-1942) to be written. Smith was a Free Church of Scotland minister associated with Henry Drummond (whose biography he wrote) and the school known as the New Evangelists. A professor at the Free Church College in Glasgow between 1892 and 1910, Smith helped to popularise the so-called Higher Criticism in the Free Church, confidently asserting
"Modern Criticism has won its war against the traditional theories. It only remains to fix the amount of the indemnity."

Campbell gives a full outline of the life and work of Smith. At times we feel that he is too kind to his subject, but that is a fault in a biographer that is immeasurably better than the reverse. He shows that Sir George considered himself an evangelical from first to last. Despite his views on the nature of the Bible, prophecy and Old Testament religion, there never was a time when he saw himself as anything but. He was a close associate of D.L. Moody, and deeply involved in evangelism. Yet his treatment of the nature of the Bible, the nature of prophecy and other issues led to the overthrow of evangelical theology. Like many born into the Free church after 1843, he preferred German theology to Scottish, and was totally entranced by the subjective Criticism of the German schools. In fact men like Sir George contributed to a temporary debasing of the word 'Evangelical' in the English-speaking world.
So what did Sir George think Prophecy was? He saw the prophets as speaking to and of their own time, enlightened men, yes, but not enlightened so as to see the shape of future events (thus any such reference was to him an evidence that the prophecy in question was written after the events it described). He imposed an evolutionary (and therefore naturalistic) structure on the Old Testament, apparently failing to see that this, consistently carried out, undermined the New Testament as well.
Today we see history repeating itself. We fear that evangelicals who read little, particularly in the realm of history, are ill-equipped to handle the present crisis. Now those who read this blog are not in that category, so we recommend they buy the book, read it, and tell their friends what it contains.

Readers will notice that Sir George's dates span the First World War and that he died after the Second was declared. Campbell deals sensitively (Sir George lost both sons in the Trenches) and plainly with Sir George Adam Smith and the United Free Church's response to the war. He notes that liberal Victorian optimism left the church utterly unable to deal with the realities of war. With rose-tinted spectacles Sir George saw the war as a means of grace(!!!). The reality was far different. Here is another warning to us; the Church cannot identify itself with a jingoistic patriotism without losing some of its power to speak to the age. Nor should it see salvation in anything other than the cross of Christ. We are not pacifists, but at the same time there must be a realism in our views of war that Sir George sadly missed.

Taken all-in-all, this is an excellent book. It gives lessons for today in spades. Campbell has given us a feast of readable scholarship here.
Whether the £19.99 cover price is really justified is another matter, seeing as it is only a paperback. But we leave the conclusion to the reader, along with a hint.

Fixing the Indemnity by Iain D. Campbell is available for £19.99 from Authentic Media sell it for the somewhat more reasonable price of £13.19

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - XIX

The transition from Biggar to Edinburgh meant that there were more calls on John Brown's time, and he was unable to publish much during those years. Perhaps the best- known and most useful of the books that he did publish were not original but compilations from the works of others. One was The Christian Pastor's Manual, containing some of the best works on the pastoral task from Puritan writers, the other The Mourner's Friend, a book of comfort for the bereaved. The rest of his work in this period consisted of prefaces to republications of such works as Matthew Henry's Communicant's Companion and Henry Venn's Complete Duty of Man.
The great Apocrypha Controversy of 1828 moved Brown to write once more. The cause of the controvery was this: the British and Foreign Bible Society published and issued Bibles containing the Apocrypha for distribution in Roman Catholic countries. No doubt the intention was good - to remove prejudice against the Society's Bibles. After all, it was argued, the Apocrypha do not contain anything dangerous to true religion. The Articles of the Church of England recommend them for reading.
But here was the problem, particularly for Scots Presbyterians and English and Welsh Nonconformists. The Apocrypha are not inspired, therefore they ought not to be circulated as though they formed a part of the Sacred Volume. What was more, the Roman Catholics claimed to obtain such dogmas as Purgatory from the Apocryphal books. Arguably the Council of Trent had given the Apocrypha the status of Scripture as a direct claim to control over the Bible, and no true son of John Knox would ever yield to Rome in that.
So Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, was the centre of this dispute, and Brown was, as a member of the Edinburgh Society, involved in the controversy.
The whole Edinburgh Society agreed that the plan to publish the Apocrypha with the Bible was a very bad idea, and demanded that it should cease. The problem was, how was this to be done? Should the Continental societies that were responsible for circulating such Bibles be disbanded, or should they be retained? How should the London Committee responsible for allowing such actions apologise, and how far should they be trusted in the future?
Alas the controversy split the Edinburgh Society, although only after the London Committee had withdrawn the offending Bibles. John Brown went with the dissenters who stayed with the London Committee, and it was Brown who wrote the apologia for the group. The aim of his pamphlet was to plead that the British and Foreign Society was basically sound, that it was opposed to Publishing Bibles with the Apocrypha, and that it was worthy of public confidence.
Alas the sides remained apart. More importantly, the split had been along denominational lines, and it represented the beginning of division in Scottish Evangelicalism.

And, on the heels of this controversy, would come another move. Of which more, God willing, next time.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Preaching this coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at the New Life Bible Presbyterian Church, Salusbury Road, Queen's Park, London. The chapel is just a few minutes' walk from the Queen's Park tube station. This link is to the history of the Church, which records how the congregation came out from the URC and now stands fully for the Truth of the Bible. We believe that there is a message in his history for us all, and it is thus: 'Come out from among them and touch not the unclean thing.' Christians are called to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. How, then can the Church of Christ ever be yoked with the synagogue of Satan? It cannot, it should not!

Services are at 11.00 AM and 4.00 PM. There is a fellowship lunch at 1.00 between the services.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - XVIII

John Brown came to Edinburgh cured of all oratorical tricks by his years in Biggar. What he gave the people was the simple Word of God, and that is why the books that grew out of his ministry are still read today.
The scholar was also a pastor, and he visited the people around his church. On some visits he took a copy of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress with him, from which he read aloud, and which he used as a means to preach the Gospel. During the summer he preached in the open air. We know that this is not always practical today, but surely we have enough parks and pedestrianised shopping streets in Britain today to form platforms for the preaching of the Word. If people will not come to our churches, we should go to the people. In the open air BRown preached like another Whitefield, showing men their sins and pointing to Christ as the only saviour for sinners.
John Brown let no day lie idle. He was always 'redeeming the time'. One day of the week would be given over to visiting the sick, a second to brief visits to members of the Church, follwed by an address to the visited families and the catechising of their children when they met in the evening at the Rose Street Session-house, and a third to teaching a large Bible-class of young women. For the rest, he had to prepare sermons and to study, while from 1834 to 1831 he was Clerk of the United Secession Presbytery of Edinburgh.
Of course the cause of missions remained dear to his heart, and as a pastor in the nation's capital he had a wide field in which to promote them. In those earlier days of missionary societies they took up a lot of a minister's time if he supported them, and Brown found that much of his time was eaten up by them. Yet it was not without profit, as it introduced him to other Evangelical ministers outside of his own comparatively small denomination, men like the Haldane brothers and the Church of Scotland evangelical leaders in Edinburgh.
Brown also managed to find time to teach a class on the Greek New Testament, and it was out of this that many of his commentaries grew. Among the members of this class were William Cunningham, later pincipal of New College, David Brown, whom readers of this blog will be familiar with, and John Brown Patterson. Students gathered around him weekly to read through the New Testament in Greek. Here was a preparation also for the time when the call would come to be Professor for his Church.
There were also meetings of more mature men. One was a society for the study of sacred geography, which was short lived. A longer-lived body was the Christian Economic Society, of which Thomas Chalmers was a member. Since Chalmers and Brown did not always agree, the drawing-room discussions of the society were extremely lively!

Next time, God willing, we shall consider some of Brown's literary work at Rose Street.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - XVII

As is usually the case with devoted ministers, John Brown had no thought of leaving the church at Biggar. In 1817 he had turned down a call to a new congregation in North Leith. The call to Rose Street was upheld by the Synod, however, and Brown himself saw that he ought to yield and go to Edinburgh. He sorrowfully parted from a congregation that just as sorrowfully gave him up to Edinburgh. Brown was glad that he left the church at Biggar to a friend, the Rev. Dr. Smith. Looking back, he reflected: "Biggar was much endeared to me, as the scener of very sweet enjoyments, and very deep sorrows. 'The dews of youth' lay heavy on these scenes, and their recollection refreshes the heart." What Anwoth was to Rutherford, Onley to John Newton and Kidderminister to Richard Baxter, that was what Biggar was to John Brown.
John Brown had nearly completed his thirty-eighth year when he arrived in Edinburgh. He arrived then, not in the flush of youth, nor in the decay of age, but in the prime of life.
Rose Street United Secession Church had begun its life as a split from the original Burgher congregation in Bristo Street. It had been built up almost entirely by the Rev. James Hall, but a dispute about building a new place of worship had split the congregation after nearly forty years, and Dr. Hall had taken a majority to build a new church in Broughton Place, whilst a minority remained behind. This minority had organised itself into a new congregation and called Brown.
This was of course a deplorable state of affairs. Unhappily it was all too common. A gifted minister would build up a congregation in a poorer part of town, then move with the majority to a finer building in a richer part, leaving the poor minority behind. But John Brown entered with gusto on what was effectively the task of building a new congregation in the old building. He had, in other words, to recover the Church from a very painful split.
Edinburgh in 1822 was a city with many great preachers. In addition to Dr. Hall there were in the Church of Scotland such preachers as Andrew Thompson, Henry Grey and Robert Gordon. Evangelical preaching had become popular, and Brown was assured of an audience. A congregation, much less a church, was another matter. Brown had to offer more than simply doctrine, and he did. He preached from the heart. His expository sermons were plain, direct and earnest. There was no novelty, still less were there ticks. Just earnest preaching of the Gospel to sinners. It was here that he preached the sermons that would later become his Exposition of Hebrews, a book of great force and insight.
So John Brown was launched in Edinburgh. God willing, we shall see how his ministry there progressed next time.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - XVI

In February 1820 Dr. George Lawson of Selkirk died. The Burgher Synod was thus left without a professor to teach its students. As the Synod was in talks with the Anti-Burgher Synod for the two fragments of the Secession Church to be made one once more, some thought that the appointment of a new professor should wait until after the Union. Those who wanted a new professor appointed before the Union won, however, and so a committee was appointed to consider who the most suitable men to put before the Synod were. Four men were selected, and John Brown was among them. Ultimately the Synod's choice was between two men, John Brown and Dr. John Dick of Glasgow (John Dick's monument is out illustration). Ultimately the Synod's choice fell on Dr. Dick, by a large majority. The choice, made by devout Christian men, was the right one. Dick was the older man, and his professorship produced his Lectures in Theology (published today by Tentmaker), a book that John Cairns, one of Dick's successors, regarded as "One of the simplest, least exaggerated and most Scriptural exhibitions of the Calvinistic system ever given to the world," and which Archibald Alexander of Princeton called "one of the best works of systematic theology in the English language." John Brown would be a professor, but God's time had not yet come. Brown had much to learn as a pastor, and had other work ahead of him.
The Synod were safe and sensible in choosing the older man. The sort of professorship that the Secession Churches had called for a man with qualities not often found in youth, a man with Dr. Dick's qualities. John Brown's gifts were more exegetical than systematic, as his published works show. Having to teach the sort of class that Dick taught would have robbed us of much of John Brown's work, and of Dick's Lectures as well!
Today we have, alas, become used to the sort of church union scheme that negates everything, affirms nothing and brings up confessions only to say nothing about them. The union of the Burgher and Anti-Burgher Synods in 1820 had nothing of this character. In fact John Brown and a few of the other younger ministers objected that it was too narrowly tied to the Westminster Confession of Faith! Not that their objections were on the fundamentals of the Faith, but they objected to the statement that the Presbyterian is "the only form of government" of the Church sanctioned by the Bible, and they did not think a national establishment of religion was enforced by the Bible. They left a protest on record, but still rejoiced in the fact of the United Secession Church. We think that the very fact that a union could take place on such a rigid basis shows that the union was right. It was no mere fudge, but the cordial union of two Presbyterian Churches that no longer had any reason to remain apart.

Although he had not been made Professor, a change was to come to John Brown's life. In 1822 he was called to the pastorate of the United Secession Church in Rose Street, Edinburgh. God willing, next time we shall see how he responded to the call.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Preaching this coming Lord's Day

This is not an accidental duplication of last week's post. God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall indeed be preaching at Bethel Chapel, the Bars, Guildford. Services are at 11 in the morning and at 6 in the evening.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - XV

We are not to imagine that John Brown's interest in the Church Catholic in any way weakened his affection for his own denomination, or his involvement in her life. He regularly attended the meetings of the Presbytery of which he was a member and the Synod of the denomination. What was more, he took part in debates and sat on denominational committees. John Brown was not one of the world's debaters, but he was a man whose opinions, formed as they were by deliberate study, were valuable and deserved to be heard.
Like his father, John Brown was deeply concerned for the evangelization of the Highlands. It may be hard to imagine today, but at the opening of the nineteenth century the spiritual condition of the Scottish Highlands was desperate. The Lowlanders knew little, if anything about the lands to their North, and the Highlanders were appallingly educated. Not only were many Highlanders illiterate, but there were few Gaelic books for them to read anyhow. English, the language of the Church of Scotland, was barely spoken at all, and of course it could be read by even fewer than spoke it. The Reformation had never really penetrated the North, one reason why the Roman Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie had been able to gain so much support among the Highlanders.
The Highlands had of course been divided into parishes, and each parish provided with a church and minister. However the parishes were huge, and the population too scattered for it to be practical for them to gather in the churches that the Church of Scotland had.
Had each parish been provided with a minister with the zeal of Richard Baxter, the constitution of John Wesley, the earnestness of George Whitefield and the learning of John Owen, all with the orthodoxy of John Knox, perhaps the Highlands would have been well-served. This was, however, the period of the reign of moderatism in the Kirk. Let it be recorded with thanks that there were some godly ministers working in the Highlands, and they did what they could, denying themselves to make Christ known. But they were few and limited in what they could do, especially as Moderate ministers did all that they could to keep evangelicals out of their parishes! Those wishing to read of these days are directed to John Kennedy of Dingwall's books The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire and The Apostle of the North.
A few societies for missions or education did what they could, and independent missionaries and Independent and Baptist preachers had been sent out. Still, it was a vast field and the Burgher Synod had an open door ahead of her.
John Brown's father had ensured that the Synod would act as a Synod in directing a co-ordinated plan of action in missions to the Highlands, and John Brown was sent as the Synod's first deputy to the North. He went in the autumn of 1818, preaching the Gospel twelve times in three weeks and distributing tracts in both Gaelic and English.
Denominational strife is a curse wherever it comes, and it was the curse of denominational strife that blighted the Burgher mission to the North. Opposition arose among Church of Scotland evangelicals and the Synod were beaten down. The Church of Scotland was, however, startled into action, and Church of Scotland Evangelicals attacked the neglected Northern Mission field with great vigour, so that only twenty-five years later the Free Church of Scotland, formed by Evangelical seceders from the Church of Scotland, would dominate in the Highlands.

In September 1818 Brown was elected Moderator of the Synod. He preached on Joshua 13.1, and urged that the Burgher Synod should continue to be a missionary Church, at home and abroad. Brown's position in the Synod was prominent, and chages would come that would make him even more prominent. Of which more, God willing, next time.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Preaching this coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching once more at Bethel Chapel, Guildford. Services are at 11 in the morning and 6 in the evening. Bethel Chapel is located in The Bars, close to Guildford High Street.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - XIV

Returning from London, Brown took the opportunity of passing Leicester to visit Robert Hall. Now we find Hall's playing down his Calvinism a most troubling aspect of his ministry, and find that he unwittingly (and we would emphasize that word) opened the way for the Down-grade in the Baptist Union by such behaviour. But we are not blind to his excellencies. Arriving in Leicester, Brown heard Hall's famous sermon 'And Barnabas was a Good Man'. On meeting Brown, Hall instantly engaged him in conversation about the Union of England and Scotland. Both men finally concluded that the Union was a good thing, ultimately, that had brought many benefits to both kingdoms. We agree, but will not press the political further, as Hall said a far greater thing in this conversation:
To die in the cause of Christianity is the highest honour that can befal any man. To die in the cause of civil liberty is the next.

This was highly characteristic of Hall. Thank God he put the two in their proper places! Note that he did not confuse the two, as proponents of the so-called 'Liberation theology' and the 'Social gospel' do. Nor did he reverse them, as so-called Christian Socialists have done too often. No, the cause of Christianity is first and supreme. Civil liberty must follow the Gospel, historically it has never preceded it. Men look today at dictatorship and try, as in Iraq, to impose liberty and 'Western' values. But they will never be fully successful in this endeavour unless the Gospel light comes first.
Robert Hall was a good man, and yet it was his love for others that led him to down-play his Calvinism. Alas, the result of this was that he seemed to be giving approval to Free-will teaching, so that many churches that were touched with Hall's influence went much further than Hall himself ever did. This teaching would ultimately affect the United Presbyterian Church, the denomination which would be formed out of several of the Scottish Presbyterian denominations, including Brown's. Brown himself, it seems, at this point had already adopted the Amyraldian or double-reference view of the atonement, that Christ died for the elect savingly, and that his death also had reference to the reprobate, but only conditionally, if they would believe (which they would never do). To understand the appeal of this theology we are again brought back to Hall and his associate Andrew Fuller. Hall and Fuller taught, following Jonathan Edwards to a certain extent, that man's inability to believe the Gospel is only moral, which is to say that the problem is that men are unwilling to believe, not that they are unable to believe because of some corruption in their souls or bodies. The argument goes that, if man's inability to believe is not merely moral, then he is not responsible for it - in other words, it is not sin.
This is a very compelling argument philosophically, and attractive. The trouble is, it is not Biblical. According to the Bible man is totally depraved; every faculty is affected. Inability is both moral and spiritual. The objection to this is obviated by the fact that God in regeneration makes a 'new creature', and so all inability to believe is removed so the Christian can believe. Fuller was not an Amyraldian, but his theology on this point at least led to Amyraldianism in men like Brown. Fuller's insistence on a 'free-offer' preaching led men to ask what the basis for such an offer was if Christ had died only for the elect. They found it in the double-reference theory. Others went beyond even Brown, and became Arminians.
Amyraldianism is not a heresy, any more than the Arminianism of John Wesley is. It is, however, mistaken.

After this brief theological diversion, God willing next time we shall return to John Brown.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Book Review: 'George Smeaton'

John W. Keddie's biography of George Smeaton (Paperback, Evangelical Press) has been available for a while. We review it now because we were given it for Christmas.

George Smeaton was one of the Disruption Fathers of the Free Church of Scotland. A stalwart of the old Calvinistic Scottish theology, Smeaton is probably best known today for his book on The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, published today by the Banner of Truth Trust. Perhaps because of his uncompromising stand for the Truth, no biography of Smeaton has been published until Keddie's worthy effort. A Professor at the Free Church College Aberdeen, and then at New College Edinburgh, Smeaton was placed at the centre of the theological turmoil that engulfed the Free Church of Scotland in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Keddie weaves a masterful narrative that shows that we today have to face many of the same difficulties that George Smeaton faced in his day. We do not face so much in Evangelicalism men who outright deny the Gospel, but men who claim to believe the Gospel but teach views that are ultimately destructive OF the Gospel. So it is with sound churches and denominations. Satan tries to sneak in, as it were, through the back door! Keddie shows us how the theology that drove Smeaton, that theology which is called Calvinism but which is really the old Gospel that Paul taught, is the only sure defence against heresy, whilst true Christian experience is vital as well. Life and doctrine must always be together.
So we would say read this book. It is a book that has come none too soon. Smeaton shows us how a true Christian lived in those times when liberalism came in like a flood. Whilst many turned aside after the theological speculations of Germany, thinking that by so doing they were abandoning a parochial for a cosmopolitan theology, Smeaton recognised that the German theology was every bit as parochial as the Scottish, if not more so. His books show that he was widely read in both English and foreign literature. The supporters of the German liberal theology ignored him, and they have been meting out the same treatment to him to this day. Keddie shows us the challenge of Smeaton for our day. Let us learn from this great man, and not merely admire him but follow him as he followed Christ.

George Smeaton by John W. Keddie is published by Evangelical Press.
Smeaton's books on the Atonement and the Holy Spirit are published by the Banner of Truth Trust and may be found here, here and here.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Preaching this coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at North Preston Evangelical Church, Preston, Lancashire. I have never preached this far North before, but since I have always said that I'll go wherever the Lord calls me... I shall be in Preston this week-end.

North Preston Evangelical Church is located on Sherwood Way, Fulwood, Preston. Services are at 10.30 AM and 6.30 PM.