Friday, February 29, 2008

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 11 AM and 6 PM. While the present Bethel Chapel is only ninety-eight years old this year, having been opened in 1910, the church has been in existence for over a century.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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

The Voluntary controversy we hold to have been in general a bad thing. It divided Scottish evangelicalism at the very time when unity was most important, it led to the overflowing of what one Free Church minister would call an "ignoble sectarian temper", and it weakened the witness of the free churches by diverting men into a political battle that was ultimately vain.
Despite protestations that the Voluntaries were not enemies of the Church of Scotland, their behaviour convinced many inside that denomination that they were. Voluntaries held up the division within the Church of Scotland between the 'Moderate' and 'Evangelical' parties. Only late in the Ten Years' Conflict did the Voluntaries cease their aggressive exertions to spread their views, too late to help the Evangelicals. The government, persuaded that support for Chalmers was low by the opposition to the creation of new parishes and other matters in which the Voluntaries had been deeply involved, split the Church of Scotland. The Voluntaries, ignoring the very real part they had played in bringing the crisis to just such a conclusion.
The Voluntaries had deliberately refused any assistance to the Evangelical party led by Dr. Chalmers, just as their descendants would, a generation later, oppose the abolition of lay-patronage in the Church of Scotland.
Therein lay part of the problem. In the name of religious freedom the Voluntaries at least seemed to desire to restrict the freedom of the Church of Scotland. This could be interpreted as a desire to make conditions in the Established Church so unbearable that its members would seek disestablishment. Chalmers and his party were trying to reform the Church of Scotland, whilst the dissenters seemed to be putting every barrier in their way.
The Ten Years' Conflict ended in 1843 in the Disruption, when nearly half of the ministers of the Church of Scotland seceded in protest over government interference in the settlement of ministers. And John Brown paid his respects to those who left all to follow Christ, glad that so many of his old friends had followed conscience, not money.
Yet we must be careful. Many of those who stayed in the Church of Scotland did so because they thought she was worth saving. They were not all 'Moderates', fox-hunting parsons with a love for the things of this world. Some were true successors of Knox who genuinely believed that the Church of Scotland could secure freedom still.

Unhappily the calls for disestablishment and endowment rumbled on. If the Church of Scotland was bound to the state by law, all too often it seemed that the Free and United Presbyterian Churches were bound to the Liberal party. That John Brown opposed. Separation of Church and state should mean exactly that, he felt. As a citizen it was his right and duty to take a full and active part in the nation's political life. But the Synods and Assemblies were ecclesiastic gatherings for ecclesiastical business, and they ought not to seek to meddle in the affairs of the state.

The next controversy in which Brown was involved was the atonement controversy, and there he was to play a more prominent but no less controversial part, of which more, God willing, next time.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Preaching this coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching once more at the New Life Bible Presbyterian Church, Queen's Park, London. The church building is located on Salusbury Road, next door to the public library. Services are at 11.00 in the morning and 4.00 in the afternoon, with a fellowship meal between the two.
THe building is the old St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, West Kilburn, a roomy late Victorian chapel built, we surmise, for the religious needs of wealthy Scots living in the Queen's Park area.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

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

We have seen that, whilst the Scottish dissenters and their English allies campaigned vigorously for Scottish disestablishment (an ultimately fruitless campaign that would last the best part of a century and conclude in failure), the Church of Scotland interpreted the campaign as an attack motivated by sectarian feelings of antipathy to themselves. Coming when it did, it practically cut off Church of Scotland and Free church evangelicals from one another.
With the growth of Scotland's population, especially in the cities, the old Parish system was no longer adequate. Urban parishes were hugely overpopulated and insufficiently supplied with church seatings. Ministers were faced with a parish population too vast to oversee. To supply the need 'chapels of ease' had been built, usually with private funds. These were church buildings without parishes and therefore without elders and the machinery of a parish. This was of course far from ideal, and so Thomas Chalmers and the Evangelical leaders in the Church Of Scotland sought the creation of new parishes.
The Voluntary Associations fought against this measure, which would have involved the government endowing these new parishes. From their side the opposition seems understandable until we realise that the end of these new parishes would have been the better evangelization of the urban poor. At the same time most of these ministers were evangelicals and supporters of Thomas Chalmers. Thus the measure to endow the chapels of ease and transform them into full churches was ironically defeated by a combination of evangelical nonconformists and non-evangelical Churchmen.
Thus the evangelical nonconformists, rather than backing Chalmers, actually contributed to the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 by ensuring that many of Chalmers' supporters were not entitled to a vote in the General Assembly. Ironically the measure passed anyway a few years down the line. The Voluntaries had more zeal than discretion. They never learned to pick their battles, a fact that would eventually turn Scotland against them and ensure defeat in 1929.
One cause that was seen as a real burden by Voluntaries, and that was a battle worth fighting, was the Edinburgh Annuity Tax. This was a tax levied in Edinburgh for the support of the city's Church of Scotland ministry, and many nonconformists though, quite reasonably in our view, that it was highly unfair to tax them to support a ministry that they did not attend on. It was a tax paid by the occupiers of houses within the Royalty, amounting to six per cent. on rental. Lawyers were exempted, but all others, including dissenting ministers, were expected to pay it. The tax supported eighteen ministers in thirteen churches. Some were evangelicals, some were not.
In 1835 John Brown moved inside the Royalty. At first he paid the tax, whilst protesting about the existence of such a tax in the letter column of the Scotsman newspaper. In 1837, however, he changed his mind about the rightness of paying the tax. As a Voluntary he objected to paying a tax specifically for religious purposes. The members of the Edinburgh Church of Scotland congregations were, in his view, responsible for supporting their ministers. He sought the abolition of this tax, and he thought that passive resistance had failed.
Surprisingly Dr. Brown was opposed not by a Church of Scotland minister (this was at the height of the Ten Years' Conflict) but by Robert Haldane, a Baptist and a fellow nonconformist. Haldane himself disapproved of the tax and was a voluntary. Where he disagreed with Dr. Brown was on the non-payment. What Brown's reason for non-payment came down to, Haldane pointed out, was that he disagreed with the tax. Would he then approve of others not paying taxes simply because they disapproved of them? Was it not more Christian to bear with protest the Annuity-Tax rather than to thus rebel against the government by non-payment? He called attention to Romans 13 and the injunction to be subject to the powers that be.
Brown responded in two lectures in which he said that in his opinion Romans 13 only applied to obedience to the magistrate as long as he acted lawfully. Since the Annuity-Tax was unbiblical, it did not come under the injunctions of Romans 13. Furthermore Romans 13 was only telling Christians to remain submissive under a despotism and did not apply under a democracy.
what was still more unfortunate was his comparison of the Annuity-Tax with ancient taxes that supported idolatry, for people easily concluded that Brown was accusing the Church of Scotland of idolatry.
There is a serious question here: is it right for a Christian to withhold payment of a tax or part of a tax that he holds to be going for sinful purposes? Leaving aside the question of whether or not the support of a state church is sinful, what of supporting an educational system that promotes atheism, paganism and immorality?

God willing, next time we shall conclude this brief treatment of the controversy


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

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

The Voluntary Controversy of 1835 to 1843 was probably one of the most tragic incidents in the history of Scottish Presbyterianism. It came on the heels of what was one of the most joyful events in John Brown's life. In June 1835, nineteen years after the death of his first wife, Dr. John Brown, pastor of Broughton Place United Secession Church, married Miss Margaret Fisher Crum, a direct descendant of Ebenezer Erskine. Dr. Brown had known Miss Crum for many years, and their marriage was a cause of delight for both them and their friends. He was to need her comfort and care in the controversy that was to arise.
Voluntaryism is the principle acted on and held by practically all churches without a state connection today. Put briefly it is the principle that the Church of Christ is a voluntary society, that men and women join themselves to the Church freely, and that the church ought to be supported purely out of the voluntary gifts of its members. On the other hand the Westminster Confession, in chapter 23 says:
" [The civil magistrate] has authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed"

Originally all of the Scottish presbyterian dissenters held to the 'establishment principle', that it was the duty of the Christian magistrate to support the Church. They protested against false doctrine and abuses in the Church of Scotland, not against the very principle of there being such a body. Indeed the old Reformed Presbyterians and Seceders argued that they WERE the true Church of Scotland, and the Seceders appealed to the first free and reforming Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
But decades of being in the position of nonconformists changed the outlook of the Seceders. Contact with English nonconformists led to some becoming convinced that the old position was false and that the voluntary principle was not only expedient, but also Biblical. Practically, all nonconforming churches have to act as voluntary bodies, and decades of experience with this had convinced many of the Seceders that ties to the state were wrong and even sinful.
The actual controversy began in 1829 when Rev. Dr. Marshall of Kirkintilloch preached a sermon in Glasgow in which he urged as the only defence against state endowment of Romanism the complete disendowment of all religion by the state. In 1832 Voluntary Associations, organisations with the aim of bringing about by political means the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of Scotland, began to be formed all over the country. Congregationalists and Baptists joined in these efforts, and English Nonconformists gave their aid.
Whatever we may think about the state support of churches, this move was unwise in the circumstances. It was inevitably seen by the Church of Scotland as an attack upon IT. The call for disendowment was interpreted as a desire by the nonconformist churches to destroy the Church of Scotland, for the endowments of the Church supported education, evangelism and the day-to-day work of the ministry. The evangelical leaders within the Church of Scotland watched in dismay as those whom they had taken as friends seemed to turn against the Church they loved and served.
John Brown was in favour of disestablishment. Unfortunately many voluntaries, by insisting on disendowment as well as disestablishment (rather than seeking a method of severing the ties between church and state that would secure an adequate starting capital, as it were, for the Church of Scotland), made themselves appear as enemies of the Church of Scotland. John Brown however was free of this ignoble sectarian temper. He found the voluntary principle to be Biblical, and felt that reliance on state support actually weakened the Church of Scotland.
So much for the principles. The way that the dissenters worked these principles was, however, extremely unfortunate as we shall see, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

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

"There are worse ways of spending money than buying books," John Brown once said to a man who had complained that he had 'squandered' a large fortune in buying books. His books were of course tools, necessary to his work as a professor. The first quality he looked for in a commentary was understanding of the Scriptures. Sometimes he noted that men with quite strange ideas in one department nevertheless saw clearly in texts that did not affect their systems. Adam Clarke, for example, was extraordinarily helpful on texts that do not enter into the Arminian controversy.
On the study of the Bible he noted that "Dr. Chalmers has hit the true key-note, not, what thinkest thou? but, what readest thou?" Calvin and Bengel were his models, men whose commentaries are full of both the deepest learning and the deepest religion. His students declared that his lectures were devotional in tone, though academic in content. s a preacher he brought much of his pulpit style to the desk, often bringing striking anecdotes. One was concerning Mr. Jameson, who had lectured on John's Gospel. Another minister congratulated him on expounding it to his people, since John was so simple. "You think John simple; but try him, and you will find him deep as the Dead Sea," Jameson replied. A pithy saying, and full of truth indeed. Another deserves to be given in the context Brown's biographer gives:
"Another anecdote was at the expense of Dr. John Taylor of Norwich, who, as is well known, published a Key to the Epistle to the Romans, which professes to open it, in harmony with the lowest Arminianism [Dr. Taylor was a Unitarian-H.H.]. Dr. Brown used to recite, with much enjoyment, the verdict passed by a contemporary divine on the performance:- 'The poor man gave the key a violent wrench, and behold it moved; but it was not the door that was opened, it was only the lock that was broken.'

Like all the best professors, Brown was 'able to have compassion on them that are ignorant and out of the way,' but had only withering contempt for the lazy, the reckless and the proud. Perhaps because of his own experience as a student he abhorred affectation in his students. Of course he showed love to them, with a yearly party in his home. After dinner the party would withdraw to his study. There he would give an informal lecture upon authors and systems, book after book being taken down from the shelves in illustration.
Nor was this labour of love confined to the stated sessions, for in the winter months he conducted a separate class for divinity students who belonged to his congregation, an opportunity they took up eagerly. But the winds of bitter controversy were never far away, and in 1835 there burst upon the scene a controversy the effects of which are felt to this very day.

Of which more, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

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

Dr. John Brown was fifty years old when he was appointed to the chair of Exegetical Theology in the United Secession Church. He had behind him many years of pulpit experience. His studies had always had a large exegetical component - indeed, all preaching ought to be grounded in sound exegesis - and his old lectures were re-worked for the classroom rather than the pulpit, whilst new Broughton Place lectures were prepared with a view to re-using them in the classroom at a later date. Yet the different nature of the classroom meant that he had to enter into discussions that preachers do not and ought not to enter into in the pulpit. Minute philological questions were raised, the Greek and Hebrew took the place of the English Bible.
Dr. Brown felt more at home as an expositor in the professor's chair. Free from the need to address a mixed congregation, he was able to use all the technical terms that he had rigorously excluded from the pulpit. Not that he ever allowed himself to lapse into intellectualism. He held firmly that all study of Scripture must be in a reverent manner.
"There is something sadly deficient when the Christian system, either in the Bible itself, or in the attempts to reduce it to the order of human science, can be treated in the same manner as a mathematical problem, or an abstract speculation in metaphysics."
He was to write in his last work, an Address to Students.
For twenty-four sessions Dr. Brown taught the students of his denomination, and about a thousand students sat under him. Some were from abroad, some from other denominations, but most came from his own Secession Church. During the session the students heard at least an hour of lectures each day, to which was added another hour in either examinations or hearing exegetical exercises read by the students and criticised by the Professor.
Dr. Brown's true home was in the New Testament. His Greek was like a second language to him, and his reading in critical and lexicographal studies extensive. His Hebrew was good, but he was not a Hebraist of the order of John Gill or John 'Rabbi' Duncan. His personal library contained printed editions of the Scriptures in the original tongues from the Reformation to his own day. Commentaries from the Church Fathers onward occupied other shelves, although it was with the exegetical literature of the Reformation and the seventeenth century that he was most familiar. No Scottish work of Biblical interpretation was unknown to him, not even those he regarded as "worthless and inane." Most English Biblical scholarship was also well-known to him. Modern German scholarship he had little interest in, although of course his favourite Bengel was from that nation.
In fact Brown's library was probably the second largest clerical library in Scotland after that of Principal Lee of Edingurgh. Brown's library was carefully selected and, like Spurgeon, he was familiar with every volume he owned.

God willing, next time we shall have a few further remarks to make about Dr. Brown and his books.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ministers Behaving Badly

The year 1894 saw a re- markable, and highly unfor-tunate libel case. G. J. Williams, minister of Brynteg Congregational Church, near Wrexham, sued W. Isaac Morris, minister of Sardis Welsh Congregational Church, Pontypridd. Prior to being called to Brynteg, Williams had been a member at the English Congregational Church in Pontypridd (pictured). A letter praising Williams by the minister of that church, J. Vyrnwy Morgan, had been received by Brynteg. One of the deacons had written to Morris, a leader of Pontypridd Congregationalism, asking for clarification as to Williams' status.

The letter that Morris sent back, in short, advised that Williams ought not, in his opinion, to be allowed within a hundred yards of a pulpit. According to Morris, (i) Williams was not recognised as a preacher by the church he was a member of; (ii) having been a pastor of two Baptist churches; (iii) having given up the calling of a pastor in order to sell beer as a grocer. Once Williams learned of this letter he sued for libel, alleging all charges were untrue. His pastor, Vyrnwy Morgan, appeared for him. Samuel Evans, MP and eminent QC appeared for Morris.

In the course of the case, it was proved that every single charge was correct. Further, Williams had threatened Tongwynlais Baptist Church (of which he was a member) with legal action if they did not remove his name from their membership lists. But worse was to come. Vyrnwy Morgan, appearing as a character witness, revealed that the letter praising Williams had not, in fact been written by him, but by Williams himself.

Williams had somehow got his hands on some of Vyrnwy Morgan's stationery, written his own testimonial, then signed Vyrnwy Morgan's name at the end of this fulsome recommendation.

Unsurprisingly, the court ruled that Williams was, as Morris had described him, a most irregular person.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Preaching this coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Wattisham Strict Baptist Chapel, Wattisham, Suffolk (near Stowmarket). Services are at 10.45 in the morning and 6.30 in the evening.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

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

In 1833 the Rev. Dr Dick, Professor of Theology in the United Secession Church since 1820, died. Dr. Brown was his obvious successor. But times were changing, and the Secession Church was changing too. The old method of a single professor who taught every subject was beginning to be seen as somewhat inefficient. It demanded a succession of geniuses. Thankfully such a succession had been supplied from John Brown of Haddington to Dr. Dick. In 1820, when the Burgher and Aniburgher Synods united, a change had been suggested, but it was not carried through as the Antiburgher professor did not enter the union. The united Synod did, however, set up a committee to consider the question of a second professor. The Church of Scotland had three theological professors in each of its Divinity faculties, teaching Hebrew, Church History and Theology. The idea of multiple Professors was therefore not novel.
In 1822 the Rev. John Jameson of Methven published a pamphlet setting forth a plan to establish a proper theological college for the Secession Church, located in Edinburgh and with a staff of five professors, each teaching a separate year of the five year course. These professors would remain pastors, and the short two month sessions would be retained. Jameson proposed three Systematic Theology chairs, a chair of Pastoral Theology and a chair of Biblical Literature. Needless to say the plan was not adopted. What WAS done was that in 1825 the Rev. Dr. Mitchell was appointed as a second professor with Dr. Dick, teaching Biblical Literature.
On the death of Dr. Dick a further effort was made to reorganise the Hall. Dr. Brown had supported Jameson, and he saw Dr. Dick's death as the opportune moment to press Jameson's scheme on the Synod once more. The Synod appointed a committee to examine the provision for the training of candidates for the ministry. It decided on a system with four professors, Biblical Literature, Exegetical Theology, Systematic Theology, and Pastoral Theology with Church History. Although it was felt that a longer session was desirable, it was recognised that the students had to support themselves, so the August-September session was retained out of necessity.
The committee's advice was adopted by a large majority in April 1834. The next step was to appoint the three professors for the three empty chairs. Dr. Brown was elected to the chair of Exegetical Theology in recognition for his Biblical commentaries. Rev. Dr. Duncan of Midcalder was elected to the chair of Systematic Theology and Dr. Balmer of Berwick to that of Pastoral Theology.
Dr. Brown retained the chair until his death, working with such colleagues as Dr. John Eadie. The new scheme had the great advantage that it sought out men with expertise in a specific area. By doing this it not only reduced the calls the chair made on busy pastors, it also ensured that students were properly trained.
Since Dr. Dick and Dr. Mitchell had both been Glasgow ministers, the Hall had been located in Glasgow during Dr. Dick's lifetime. This continued to be the case in 1834, and Dr. Brown and Dr. Balmer in particular found this difficult, so much so that they considered resigning. Only a petition by the students kept them from resigning, and the Senior Hall (the last three years of the course) was located in Edinburgh.

God willing, next time we shall consider Brown's actual work in the Chair.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

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

John Brown's talents brought him to the attention of many in Edinburgh. In terms of Churches the most important was Broughton Place, the congregation formed after the split of the Rose Street congregation. Dr. Hall, for whom the Broughton Place chapel had been constructed, had died in 1826, and John Brown had preached his funeral sermon. A little over a year later he received a formal call to the pastorate. Although it was set aside by the synod, they renewed the call in 1829.
Brown did not know what to do. His ministry at Rose Street had been greatly blessed, and an effort was being made to build a new, larger chapel for the congregation. On the other hand the Broughton Place congregation was still unsettled. At last his mind was made up to follow the advice of the Synod, even if it meant laeving Rose Street. It did, the synod decided to remove John Brown from Rose Street and translate him to Broughton Place. Not surprisingly many Rose Street members followed Brown to Broughton Place, but the Rose Street congregation continued to exist, and Brown's successor, Rev. John M'Gilchrist, proved a worthy one.

John Brown was inducted at Broughton Place Church (pictured) on 20th May 1829. It was to be his last pastorate, and one that he would hold for nearly thirty years. He was to find it a peaceful church, his trials coming from without, not within, his congregation.
It was shortly after this that Brown received the degree of D.D. from Jefferson College, Pennsylvania. He had not sought the distinction, but it served to distinguish him from his grandfather, who never received the D.D..
Numbers are often deceptive, but it is worthy of record that the membership at Broughton Place grew from 600 to 1000 by the end of 1829. The church seated 1600, and it was invariably full. Since the two churches were in the same city it was not surprising that the profile of the Broughton Place congregation was like that at Rose Street, from the students with their Greek Testaments to the tradesmen in their Sunday best.
Dr. Brown's preaching continued to be expository, and the cause of the Missionary societies continued to be urged on the congregation. In 1835 the church pledged itself to provide the full support for a foreign missionary in Jamaica and employed its own full-time city missionary. The Jamaica Mission was blessed to the founding of a church, which was at first supported by the Broughton Place church until a change in denominational policy brought it under the direct control of the Synod.
In 1832 Dr. Brown lost his father. The godly old minister rejoiced to see his son's ministry so blessed, and as Dr. Brown attended on his deathbed, the old man expressed his full assurance of eternal life in Christ.

ANother death in 1833 was to bring more changes in Dr. Brown's life, as we shall see, God willing, next time.