Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Book Review: 'Scottish Puritans'

The history of the Scottish Church is full of inspiring stories and men and women of faith who have lived for God. Many volumes have been published on the history of the Church in Scotland. The seventeenth century, in particular, was an era of suffering and persecution. These volumes, Scottish Puritans: Select Biographies, edited by W.K. Tweedie, are reprinted from the Victorian edition of the Wodrow Society. They tell the stories of men and women who suffered for Christ, from the famous to the obscure, from John Weslsh, son-in-law to John Knox, to the labourer John Stevenson. These are excellent works, mostly written in their own words. Sadly, as the introduction says, some of those that are second-hand accounts are less than accurate. In particular, the first part of Vol. 1, the life of John Welsh, contains a great deal of apocryphal information, and must be read with caution. The autobiographical material is, of course, much more valuable, and this predominates. One complaint that might be made is that the material is partly in Scots dialect ('whilk' for 'which', for example), and seventeenth century spelling has not been corrected ('tyme' for 'time', for example). Read out loud, the strange spellings often become clear, and in context they are more easily understood. This increases the amount of work a reader has to put in, and to a modern reader the necessity of this is not obvious, except that the volumes were originally published for antiquarians more than for the general public. While appreciating that an entirely new edition would have taken more time and cost than a reprint of the Victorian edition, I think that it might also have increased circulation, though I hasten to add that only a minority of the writings in these volumes are in achaic spelling and Scots dialect.

As a miscellany of biography, the contents are of course of a rather mixed character. Nevertheless, they are valuable works, and works that so often speak of an experimental religion that very few of us can say is our experience. In volume two the spiritual autbiography of Fraser of Brea is reprinted. This work alone is worth the price of these volumes! It seems from these volumes that the persecuted Covenanters of the seventeenth century were given the greatest experiences of Christ's love to bear them up. These two volumes are highly recommended, and worth the work needed in some places.

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