Friday, August 29, 2008

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Swanton Abbott Wesleyan Reform Church, The Street, Swanton Abbott, Norfolk. Although the website refers to an evening service, that was discontinued some years ago due to the increasing infirmity of several of the leading members of the Church (Mrs. Hunt, the Church Secretary, is 100 this year, and still the Church Secretary, and quite active in the role).

The service is at 11.00 am.

The name 'Wesleyan Reform' has no reference to Reformed doctrine, the Wesleyan Reform Union being decidedly Wesleyan, but to Church Government. After the death of John Wesley, the Methodist Church was governed by the Conference, which was an exclusively clerical body. Since Methodist ministers were moved at least evry three years, and in addition were set over Circuits of Churches, not individual churches, it was felt by some that the conference did not represent the ordinary member in the pew, but only the ministers. In the years leading up to 1849 there was an agitation for a more representative make-up of the Conference, including representatives of the Circuits, and a call for a form of government that was more representative and less autocratic. Some desired more autonomy for the local churches, rather than the system that Wesley had left, of Conference dictating to them.

In 1849 this agitation resulted in the expulsion by the conference of three ministers, Revs. J Everett, S Dunn and W Griffiths. It was felt by many in the Methodist Church that these men had been badly treated, and so a number of churches, and some whole circuits, seceded from the Methodist Church to form the Wesleyan Reform Union. While the majority of the Wesleyan Reform Union merged with several other Methodist groups to form the United Methodist Free Churches (later the United Methodist Church, and now a part of the modern Methodist Church), a remnant remained outside of the United Methodist group, and they are the present-day Wesleyan Reform Union.

The Wesleyan Reform Union today consists of twelve circuits and twenty-five non-circuit Churches. They are based in Sheffield, and their main strength is in that area, although their churches are scattered across Great Britain from Clydebank in Scotland to Cornwall.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Hope Baptist Chapel, Haslemere. Hope Chapel is located on Lower Street, and services are at 10.30 in the morning and 6.30 in the evening. Hope Chapel uses Gospel Hymns and the Authorised version of the Bible. Haslemere is a small town nestled in the Surrey hills, and terribly picturesque.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - XIII.

With the death of Dr. Dick in 1833, the United Secession Synod was once again set upon the task of seeking a new professor. Although appointing a well-qualified younger man might have lessened the frequency of these crises, the Synod wisely recognised that age brings wisdom, especially if the younger years are spent in the pastorate. An older man, settled in his theology and given the balance that a pastorate of many years brings, is a far safer guide for youth than a man not much younger than his students, and lacking in the practical experience of the ministerial calling. The Synod maintained the old method of retaining the pastoral office with the Professorial, to ensure that the teaching of theology never became merely academic. What the Professors taught to their students they also taught to their congregations. In recognition of the calls of the Professorial role, not only did the Synod pay pulpit supplies for the Professors during the session of the Hall, but the professors received a salary of £100 a year - enough to buy the books needed for the course, but not enough to live on.

But the Synod did not appoint one man to succeed Dr. Dick. Instead it resolved to once more double the size of the faculty, appointing a committee to decide on three men to take the place of Dr. Dick. They hoped that this larger faculty would secure a more through education.

The Committee examined the teaching methods in other seminaries, Scots, English, Welsh and American. They were determined to learn from the experience of others, a wise move. In their report they recommended the creation of new professorships, and to that they added the recommendation that the provinces of the professorships should be clearly defined, so that each professor knew exactly what he was supposed to be teaching. Although all the men who had taught the Secession students had been excellent scholars and teachers, they had each proceeded in a slightly different way, and that had made the change-over period difficult for existing students. If each professor had a defined province of teaching, and a rough outline of how the course would proceed, this would tend to make the teaching more efficient. One thing the Synod's committee did not change was the fact that each professor would also be a pastor.

The new appointments were as follows: Rev. Alexander Duncan of Mid-Calder was elected to the Chair of systematic theology to succeed Dr. Dick, and two new professors were appointed, Rev. Robert Balmer of Berwick-on-Tweed to the Chair of Pastoral theology, and Rev. Dr. John Brown of Broughton Place to the Chair of Exegetical Theology. Some surprise was later expressed that Dr. Balmer (he was later awarded a D.D.) had not been appointed to the Systematics chair. He was undeniably gifted in that department, but then so was Duncan. Both were men of orderly minds, and well-read in the old Puritanical theology. Nevertheless, subsequently Doctors Duncan and Balmer did exchange chairs. As before, classes were divided into Junior and Senior. However, the appointment of professors from four different places presented a problem. Dr. Dick and Dr. Mitchell had both been Glasgow ministers, and in the days of a single professor the Hall had migrated to follow the Professor. But now, with four professors, that was impractical, and so the question had to be asked, where would the Hall be located? Glasgow would be convenient for Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Duncan, but unquestionably Edinburgh would be better situated for Dr. Brown and Dr. Balmer.

Next time, God willing, we shall see how the problem was solved, at least for a time, and how the increase in professors affected the Hall.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - XII.

Dr. John Dick taught theology to the United Secession Students as sole professor for five years, but with the number of students increasing, and Dr. Dick over sixty years of age, it was felt that it would be best for him to be joined by another man. Dr. Dick was far from being unsatisfactory. His lectures were and remain classic statements of Calvinist theology, and his brethren in the Synod had total confidence in him. Nevertheless it was becoming plain that one man could not teach everything that a future minister needs to be taught. Of course, as the course only took two months of each of the five years that a student had to study for, much was done in private study, guided by the Presbyteries of the Church. One thing that is difficult to learn alone, however, is another language. Since at this time Greek (albeit the Classical Attic Greek of the philosophers and poets, not the Koine Greek of the New Testament) was commonly taught in schools, the Divinity Hall's main responsibility in terms of language study would be Hebrew.

We have noted that by this time it was expected that students at the Hall would have taken a University degree. Readers should not suppose that this would be a modern specialised degree. The Scottish Universities of the period were truly universities, and the arts course was designed to give students a rounded knowledge of history, philosophy and literature. What was more, students were much younger than they are today. Commonly modern university students in Britain are eighteen or nineteen. In the period with which we are dealing the average age of a freshman student was about fifteen years old. The undergraduate course was, in terms of age at least, much more like a modern English A-level course. It was not uncommon for boys of fourteen to be sent to university - something to remember when we read of great men of the past entering university at such an age.

The Synod resolved to establish a second Professorship, for the express purpose of "expounding the history, evidences, and interpretation of the sacred Jewish and Christian books, and for examining the students in Greek and Hebrew." Thus this was a Chair of Biblical Languages and Literature, leaving to Dr. Dick the fields of Systematic Theology, Pastoral Theology, Church History and Apologetics. Quite enough for any one man. Since Dr. Dick had been of the Burgher Party before the Union, it was felt best to appoint his colleague from the ranks of the former Anti-Burgher party.

The man chosen by the Synod was Rev. Dr. John Mitchell of Glasgow. As well as possessing the scholarship needful for the task, he was an exemplary Christian, regarded by some as like 'a second Saint John'. A tall, powerfully-built man, he dressed impeccably, not wanting to give offence by slovenly attire. In an age when neat clothing was more appreciated than today, a scruffy minister would have increased the offence of the Gospel. He combined in himself love and learning, godliness and amiable simplicity. Indeed, he was such an amiable man that his intellectual brilliance was noticed by few. His students, however, soon came to appreciate it as he expounded the Sacred Oracles.

Mitchell was appointed on 15th September 1825. To make things easier for the students and the professors, the class was now for the first time divided, the Junior Class, consisting of students in the first two years of their course, would be under Dr. Mitchell, while the Seniors, the remaining three years, would be under Dr. Dick. As the average yearly intake of students was 26, this meant that Mitchell's class would be about fifty-two in number, while Dr. Dick would be teaching some 78 students at a time.

In terms of languages, as has been said, Dr. Mitchell's main responsibility was the teaching of Hebrew. Mitchell knew his Hebrew well, and he loved it. HIs enthusiasm for the language helped him to teach it. He assumed that, as the men before him were future ministers, they would not employ any methods of 'cheating' to appear to know more Hebrew than they did. This is not so. We know of a seminary where students took advantage of the fact that the lecturer's desk was in an alcove to surreptitiously post a 'crib' to Hebrew grammar above the alcove. Thus a student would look upwards as if in though, and read the crib. So it was in Dr. Mitchell's day. Some men had the Psalms by heart in English, and thus 'translated' by repeating the English from memory. Others read from the English Bible that was open on the desk before them. One enterprising man, who had been a Glasgow Police surgeon before his call to the ministry, hit on a splendidly bizarre method. One of his class-mates was afflicted with epilepsy, and of course was glad of the doctor's medical assistance when seized with a fit. Thus, when the former surgeon foresaw that he would be 'stumped' in Hebrew, he would pretend to observe some sign of a forthcoming fit in his friend, and drag the man from the room, to sit quietly with him for the rest of the morning.

The two professors worked well in their respective spheres until 1833. It was on 25th of January of that year that Dr. Dick, by now very nearly seventy, died after a short illness. With his death the synod began to consider that more professors should be added to the faculty. Theological scholarship was beginning its nineteenth century growth, and literature was beginning to increase. If one man was no longer sufficient to teach the full curriculum, it was now felt that two were still not enough.

What changes this brought we shall see, God willing, next time.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - XI.

While Dr. Lawson had been the obvious and only successor to John Brown of Haddington, there was no such obvious succession at Dr. Lawson's death. The Synod ordered a committee to 'nominate a leet' of candidates for the Synod to choose from. Four were nominated, Dr. Dick, Dr. Peddie, Mr. John Brown of Biggar, and Mr. Marshall. By two successive votes the number of candidates was reduced to two, Dr. John Dick of Glasgow, and Mr. John Brown. The choice was between two of the best theological minds in the Church, but the Synod recognised that brilliance ought to be joined with experience, and Dr. Dick was elected by a large majority. What was more, John Brown's brilliance lay in the area of Biblical and exegetical studies, not systematic theology, and that was the field in which Dr. Dick was unquestionably more gifted.

Though the Church thereby declared that it wanted Dr. Dick, it found itself in a rather awkward situation when it emerged that Dr. Dick did not desire to take up the Chair. Urged by a committee, he at last consented to take charge of the students for the session of 1820, before the union of the two main branches of the Secession. The Hall met for the first time in Glasgow a few days before the Union. Dr. Dick regarded his post as for one year only. Perhaps he hoped that Mr. Paxton would enter the United Church, and thus relieve him of the post.

But it was not to be. Indeed, though the union of the two Halls resulted in a United Hall with more than one hundred students, there was a real prospect that there would be no-one to teach them! It had been hoped that the United Hall would have two professors, now it seemed it would have none!

The two branches of the Secession had been separated for seventy-three years, and the two Divinity Halls had developed on slightly different lines. We have seen how the Anti-Burgher Synod finally decided that the Professor ought to be relieved from the burden of caring for a congregation and teaching theology, while the Burgher Synod retained the old system of the Professor being a serving pastor. The Anti-Burgher Synod, conversely, had retained the old system of examining students on a text-book, while the Burgher Synod Professors had developed their own systems in lectures.

The United Secession Church's newly-formed Synod was faced with a crisis. They recognised that, as things stood, there was only one man with the ability to teach the United Hall, and that was Dr. John Dick, who showed extreme reluctance to take up the post. It took iron determination and a great deal of persuasion, but at last Dr. Dick relented, and he was confirmed as the Synod's Professor. It was decided that he should retain his pastoral charge as well as taking up the Professorship. No doubt the challenge was immense, but Dr. Dick rose to it. A former member of the Burgher Synod, he adopted the Burgher practice of giving his own lectures in Systematic Theology. The result was a work that Archibald Alexander of Princeton regarded as one of the finest English works on Systematic Theology. Today Dr. Dick's Lectures are published by Tentmaker Publications. It was the opinion of Peter Landreth, the historian of the United Presbyterian Hall, that Dr. Dick's work was only displaced by the Systematic Theology of Charles Hodge. He would not, however, admit that Dr. Dick's Lectures on Systematic Theology were in any way inferior to Hodge.

The arrangement of time was that adopted by Dr. Lawson, two meetings an hour-and-a-half in length, morning and afternoon. He examined students not only in his own lectures, but in the best Reformed works available, no doubt availing himself of, among others, the publications of Mr. Thomas Nelson, of whom we have written.

Dr. Dick thus began the United Hall on a good footing. Though aged fifty-six when he began his work, he was in excellent health. But good health or not, the Synod decided that a Hall of a hundred or more students required more than one man to teach them.

Of which more, God willing, next time.


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.]


Monday, August 11, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - IX.

With the sudden and unexpected death of Mr. John Swanston, the Burgher Synod was faced with having to appoint a new Professor of theology for the second time in four years. They fixed on one of the most remarkable men of the age - Rev. John Brown of Haddington.

Unlike all of his predecessors, John Brown had never attended any university, indeed, his formal education went no further than a month at the parish school and two sessions at the Burgher Divinity Hall. Yet John Brown was undoubtedly one of the most learned men in Scotland at the time, and certainly the most learned man in the Burgher Synod. He had, on his own, acquired an enormous stock of knowledge, both ancient and modern. He had mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and learned many modern tongues as well. Born of the lower class of rural people, John Brown had risen to prominence through his remarkable gifts. He had studied under Ebenezer Erskine at Stirling. Born in 1722 near Abernethy, he had lost his parents at an early age, and had improved the time spent caring for the sheep by teaching himself Greek. So remarkable was his acquisition of the language that it was suspected by some that he had used magic, and this suspicion was voiced when Brown sought admission to the Burgher Divinity Hall. Ralph Erskine brushed them aside, saying, "I think the lad has a sweet savour of Christ about him."

Appointed Professor in 1767, John Brown began his formal work in 1768. At this time the Synod passed two regulations concerning the Hall. The first was an act of Synod to secure that those accepted for the Hall had been sufficiently trained in Classics and Philosophy and were properly acquainted with the leading truths of the Christian system and with the Standards of the Church. We hope that it was of such a character that it would not have impeded the admission of the man who was now the Hall's Professor! The question as to the level of education of the ministry is one that will remain a vexed one. Ought all ministers to be graduates? We do not think so! But certainly an ignorant ministry is a scandal. Nevertheless, there must be a recognition that the means of education differ from person to person, and that the self-taught John Brown was no whit behind the university-educated John Swanston.

The other action of the Synod was to begin the collection of a Hall library. This was in response to a petition from the students, and no doubt had behind it the expense that students would otherwise be put to in buying books, and the difficulty of transporting those books from their various homes to the Hall. Today the idea of a theological college without a library is unthinkable - and it ought to be! John Brown was probably relieved that students would not be rootling through his library for books to help in their exercises and essays as well!

Annual intake at the Hall varied greatly, one year as high as eighteen new students, one as low as three. Average class sizes were about thirty, which is about the maximum size that single class can be if it is to be taught well.

Like all the Professors, John Brown took great care of his students. Some though he took too much care, for he was known to visit students in their lodgings between six and eight in the morning. Brown was an early riser, and insisted that his students be so too, but different men have different methods, and many students did not see the need to rise so early. A number of expedients were adopted to 'fool' the professor. One man slept under his bed, so that Brown thought he was already out and taking an early-morning walk. Others arranged for their landladies to wake them when they heard Brown's stick on the road. The student would then leap out of bed and sit down at his desk where some theological work lay, so the Professor saw them at study. They would pretend not to notice his presence, and he would deliver a gentle rebuke to the student for failing to change into his day-clothes before he began to study.

Brown did not use a text-book, but framed his own system in a course of lectures. Christian Focus Publications has done the Church a great service by reprinting these, and we have a copy of this excellent work. Every student at the Haddington Hall was expected to copy out this work, so the modern reader ought to be glad that, if he had obtained it at a greater price financially than John Brown's students, he has certainly spent less pains in acquiring the work. He soon ceased to lecture on the system, preferring to examine the students on it. Church history was dealt with in a series of lectures that Brown himself prepared, and he taught in addition pastoral Theology. His opening and closing addresses to the Hall were deeply impressive, for it was said of Brown that "He preached as if Jesus Christ was at his elbow," and what he was in the pulpit, he was also in the Chair. Those who read his Dictionary of Bible Characters, excerpted from his old Bible Dictionary, will see that this carried through even into the writing of a dictionary!

As was the custom, John Brown met twice daily with his students, and although the opening time for these meetings was set, there was no official closing time. The morning meeting was fixed at ten, but rarely finished before one in the afternoon. These were the meetings in which the System was taught, and in which the lectures on Church history were given. The afternoon was the meeting in which students discourses were given and criticized.

In 1786 the Burger Synod passed an Act requiring all theological students to have attended at least three sessions at one of the Universities. That this would have debarred their brilliant professor seems not to have occurred to them.

John Brown died the following year, after twenty years as Professor. He left behind a body of well-trained and educated ministers, to cherish the memory of the man who had taught them what it is to be a Gospel Minister.

Next time, God willing, we shall see who it was that the Synod determined to succeed him.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Devonshire Drive Baptist Church, Devonshire Drive (one would think this was obvious, but so long as Sealand Road URC, Chester, is not on Sealand Road, this needs to be stated), Greenwich, London. Services are at 10.30 in the morning and 6.30 in the evening, as having them the other way around would make it unnecessarily complicated. The church is not far from Greenwich Station, which is served by main-line and Docklands Light Railway services. The nearest bus-stop is on Greenwich High Road, around the corner from the Church.

The pastor at Devonshire Drive is Mr. W. Gardner.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - VIII.

As the breach of 1847 carried the Secession's Professor into the Anti-Burgher church, the Burghers found themselves without a professor to instruct their future ministers. At first they hoped that the breach would be healed and studiously avoided the appointment of a new professor, as they avoided everything that could prolong the breach. It was all to no avail, and at last they set about rebuilding. At first Ebenezer Erskine undertook instruction of students, though he was sixty-seven and all but worn out by his labours. He adopted the same methods as Mr. Moncrieff had, examining students on a textbook. Erskine broke with the Wilson/Moncrieff tradition, however, by taking as his textbook the Institutio Theologiae Elencticae of Francis Turretin. His lectures were comments on the leading doctrines of Turretin's system. The theology of the champion of Geneva was the standard in the Burgher church, so there was obviously no doctrinal declension in the less strict branch of the Secession. One of the great preachers of Scotland, Ebenezer Erskine was well fitted to teach students homiletics, and his total lack of any affectation made him a safe instructor in an age when many were falling under the spell of Moderatism.

Erskine taught the Burgher students for only two sessions, 'age and feebleness extreme' were pressing on him, and he now insisted that another take the Chair. He resigned in 1749, at the same time requesting a colleague and successor be appointed in the Stirling congregation. Ebenezer Erskine finally died in 1754, aged seventy-four.

The second Burgher Divinity Professor was Rev. James Fisher, then of Glasgow. He is best known for his exposition of the Shorter Catechism, and this study would have prepared him well for the teaching of theology. The last of the Fathers of the Secession to occupy the Chair, he was by no means the least. An educated man, full of zeal for God, he held the Chair for fifteen years, until declining health forced him to resign it in his sixty- seventh year. We know very little about his teaching, not even what text-book he used. Nevertheless, he held the post well.

His successor was Rev. John Swanston of Kinross, but Swanston held the Chair only for three years before his sudden death at the age of forty-six. From the village of Stitchel in the Borders, he had been one of Mr. Wilson's students, and continued his studies as pastor at Kinross. A beloved pastor, he was a genial companion and sympathetic friend as well as an earnest teacher and faithful mentor to his students. He reverted, as might be expected, to the Medulla of Markius, but enriched his prelections on the leading points of the Dutch divine from his own knowledge of the Puritans. Swanston was taken ill suddenly while assisting at a communion at Perth, and he declined rapidly, dying in a few days, in the summer of 1767. He left a son who was a brilliant young man, but one of those men who cannot find on earth a church to his liking. He remained an Evangelical Christian all his life, but could never settle down in any church. When he died, Dr. Lawson of Selkirk remarked: "Now Andrew Swanston has got a Church to his mind!"

The Burgher Synod had then to appoint a successor to Mr. John Swanston. God willing, next time we shall say something about the man of their choice.


Teaching Theology for 140 Years - VII.

We have seen how the Anti-Burgher Hall was effectively broken up by the departure of its professor, Archibald Bruce, with the Original Seceders. For three years the Chair was vacant and there was effectively no Hall, but at last it was decided to appoint a successor. The choice of the Synod fell on Rev. George Paxton of the Kilmaurs Anti-Burgher congregation. Aged forty-four at the time, Paxton was very able minister of deep learning and superior Biblical scholarship.

But whereas previous Professors had taught in their parishes, and the Hall had been without premises, a peripatetic school that followed the Professor wherever he happened to be, it was decided that Paxton should be separated from his pastorate and be a full-time professor, residing in what was to be henceforth the permanent seat of the Hall, Edinburgh. The Anti-Burgher Seceders were in essence declaring that they were no whit behind the Church of Scotland. Their Divinity Hall was now to be an embryo theological college, not an additional labour given to a pastor to combine with the duties of his work.

It is of course essential that any theological professor should have been a pastor, but the Anti-Burgers now considered that it was not needful that the man retain his pastorate whilst teaching. Let us recall that this one man was to teach Systematic Theology, Church History, Exegesis and Homiletics at a minimum. Modern theological institutions usually have one professor for each of these subjects. Paxton, moreover, was a man of delicate health. He was already suffering under the strain of a rural pastorate, to insist that he be professor at the same time would probably have killed him.

In the first year of the new arrangement, there were nine first-year students studying under the one professor. Soon it rose to an average of fourteen, and in 1819, the year of the reunion of the Burgher and Anti-Burgher synods, there would be twenty-eight.

Paxton would be granted the degree of D.D. by St. Andrews University in 1834, an unusual honour for a Seceder, as the universities were still institutions connected to the Church of Scotland, and university Divinity faculties Church of Scotland theological Halls. His scholarship was thus recognised by even the Church of Scotland.

He had two meetings each day with his students during sessions, except for Saturday, when they met once for devotional services and essay-reading and conversation on some practical question of religion. Each morning was taken up with a lecture on the textbook, still Markius' Medulla, save for Monday, when the morning lecture would be on the exegesis of a difficult passage of Scripture, combined with reading and examination in the Greek New Testament. The afternoon meetings were longer and consisted in two main things, the hearing of discourses and exercises by the students and their examination in the morning lecture. This was followed by a lecture on some other topic. Most popular were Paxton's lectures on the Holy Land. The homiletics classes were further enriched by exercises in which Professor Paxton gave his students a text from which they had to give, extempore, a 'skeleton' discourse.

The fact that the Professor was now a full-time teacher and living and working in Edinburgh meant that he was able to introduce a winter course on Hebrew, which had hitherto been neglected owing to the constraints of time. Unfortunately students living far from Edinburgh were usually unable to attend these classes, but they were a start.

Paxton was, of course, expected to devote himself full-time to the students, and he did so. He even did what he could to help those future Secession ministers who were still at the University. He soon won the admiration and love of his pupils, and the admiration of many outside the Anti-Burgher denomination.

In 1819 the majority of the Anti-Burgher and Burgher Synods united. Yet Paxton remained outside the united church. He felt that the union involved a compromise that he could not make, and so ended the Anti-Burgher Hall. At a future date, God willing, we shall deal with the Hall of what was called the United Secession Church, but to this point we have been following the Anti-Burghers alone. We must now double back and survey the history of the Burgher Hall, which we shall do, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - VI.

William Moncrieff continued the tradition established by Professor Wilson of teaching from a textbook rather than drawing up his own system in lectures. While the Medulla of Markius of Leyden was retained, he added to it Turretin, and lectures on the Westminster Confession. There were four lectures every week, in addition to homiletics classes and the reading of exegetical and critical exercises by the students. For its day, this was a very thorough course, and Alloa students went forth into the ministry with a preparation that would be admired even today.

William Moncrieff died in August 1786, having held the Chair of theology in the Anti-Burgher Synod for twenty-five years. The Moncrieff United Free Church in Alloa is named in his memory, and we have used a picture of it as our illustration. The congregation meeting there is the direct descendent of that pastored by William Moncrieff.

His successor was Rev. Archibald Bruce of Whitburn, and of course the location of the Hall thus changed to Whitburn. He was paid £50 a year for his services, and although even then such a sum was not large, we must recall that he received the £50 in addition to his stipend. Mr. Bruce was forty years old at the time of his appointment, and his parents, of reasonable means, had been able to give him the best education that Scotland could offer. He was a graduate of Glasgow and undoubtedly the best scholar the Anti-Burger Synod had at the time. He was also the first Anti-Burgher professor to be a regular authour, ahving begun his career by the publication of a satire on the Church of Scotland called The Kirkiad at the age of twenty-eight. As minister of Whitburn, he was responsible for bringing a printer to the town solely to print his tracts, pamphlets and books! A devoted scholar, he was well-equipped to impart to the Anti-Burgher students the results of his years of study.

Bruce was, however, only professor in the Anti-Burgher Hall for some seventeen years before, in 1803, he withdrew from the Synod when they revised the 'Testimony' of the church to soften its stance on the relation of the civil magistrate to the Church. With a few other eminent men, including Dr. M'Crie, the biographer of Knox, Bruce formed the Original Secession Church, or Constitutional Associate Presbytery. He continued to teach students in connection with the Original Secession Church until his death in 1816.

For three years after the split of 1816 the Anti-Burger church tried to regain the services of Mr. Bruce, but at last it was realised that this was hopeless. During these years students were taught under the direction of their own presbyteries, and usually by their own ministers. A standard reading list was drawn up to be read in place of the lectures of the professor, and students were tested by their presbyteries. While there were no new students in 1804, there were seven in 1805 and eight in 1806. It was recognised that something had to be done to fill up the place of a professor.

But there were to greater changes than merely one of professor, and that we shall see, God willing, next time.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - V.

The 'Breach' in the Associate Presbytery in 1747 resulted in two denominations where there had been one. Neither abandoned the high ideal of an educated ministry, and so two Halls results where there had been one. There had been a Secession Hall for only ten years, henceforth, until the splinters of the Secession reunited, there would be many. Mr. Moncrieff adhered to the Anti-Burgher party, those who held the oaths of office sworn by some Burgesses in some Scots towns and cities, to be unlawful, and so the Anti-Burgher Hall met at Abernethy in 1748 with eight new students. The Burgher Church were therefore forced to find a new Professor, quickly settling on Ebenezer Erskine of Stirling, perhaps the pre-eminent leader of the Secession. The Burgher body hoped that the division would be short-lived, so Ebenezer Erskine did not teach new students, but those existing students who had adhered to their party in the division. With time, however, came the realisation that it was not to be.

Moncrieff continued to teach in Abernethy, and many of the students went from the pews at Abernethy, where they had been brought up, to the Hall. A powerful preacher, he was an excellent theological Professor, and probably no better man could have been found in his day. His death in 1761 left the Anti-Burgher denomination with a great challenge to find a man who was his equal.

The Synod debated the relative merits of a number of ministers, including Rev. Adam Gib of Edinburgh. He was the first choice, but he felt that he would be unable to combine a busy pastorate in the capital of Scotland with the Chair, and so he declined. The choice of the Synod then fell upon William Moncrieff of Alloa, second son of the deceased Professor. He would teach Anti-Burgher students for twenty-four years. Under his Professorship the length of a Hall session was reduced to nine weeks from the original three months. There were concerns that few students were able to stay for all three months, and as a consequence the instruction of all was being affected. As it was, students were positively required to attend for a minimum of six weeks, indicating that even nine weeks was too long a session for some. To ensure regular and punctual attendance, the Synod ordered that those students who were most punctual at the Hall should be first considered in the settlement of vacant congregations. A full course consisted of five sessions.

An increase in the status of the Secession Church during William Moncrieff's Professorship led to the need for the Synod to condemn in students and preachers tendencies to "an affectation of literary and philosophical refinement." In other words, preaching that was too 'academic' in tone and aimed at the intellectual, not the ordinary folk. Preaching of this kind had become all too common in the Church of Scotland as the reign of the 'Moderates' intensified. Preaching, as William Moncrieff must have reminded his students, is directed to the whole congregation, and it is intended to set forth not an exalted system of morality, but Christ crucified for sinners. A style that reeks of affectation can only ever be an impediment to that. What had happened was that some students had been published in the Royal Magazine. That was not the offence. The offence was that their published effusions were shallow, pompous and overblown productions extolling human culture and morality at the expense of the truths of Scripture. Laurence Wotherspoon, the first offender (although having to go around attached to that name may be a mitigation of his faults). Called before the Synod for a ridiculous piece on 'A Liberal and Polite Education', was brought to see the error of his ways through discipline. The second offender, Andrew Marshall, wrote a piece on 'Ambition' that was even worse, and he too was placed under discipline.

It was soon discovered that the root of this scandal was none other than Mr. Alexander Pirie, the student entrusted with the teaching of the Philosophy class. A class that had been established to guard against the dangers of the University Philosophy classes had become far more dangerous to Anti-Burgher students than the universities of that period could have been! Pirie was discovered to be advising his students to read anti-Christian books, to the horror of the Synod. He was swiftly dismissed, and joined the Burgher denomination. From THAT denomination he was in turn compelled to flee when he was accused of heresy before the Burgher Synod, and as he fled he issued a pamphlet that poured forth animosity against both branches of the Secession. They, no doubt, were glad to be rid of him.

God willing, next time we shall say something about the course of theology taught by William Moncrieff at Alloa.


Friday, August 01, 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 11.00 in the morning and 6.00 in the evening. Bethel is an historic Strict Baptist chapel located in the centre of Guildford, yet far enough from the pubs for the various effects of the modern culture of alcohol abuse not to affect the chapel too much. It is a pleasant and historic building, with comfortable Edwardian pews. Most importantly, Bethel is committed to proclaiming the Gospel of the grace of God, and giving no quarter to man's claims of self-sufficiency.