Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The History of a Historian - A.R. MacEwen. I

Historians are usually thought of as people who write history rather than making it. This is really rather unfair, after all, Julius Caesar wrote history! Church historians are usually ministers, and all ministers have a life more or less interesting.

Alexander Roberston MacEwen is not a name that is instantly recognisable to most people. Yet he was a very interesting figure in his own right, a brilliant scholar who was involved in the union of 1900 between his own United Presbyterian Church and the Free Church of Scotland majority, and in the opening scenes of the union between the United Free Church majority and the Church of Scotland to form today's Church of Scotland. He was born at 21 Howard Place, Edinburgh, 14th May 1851, and died on 26th November 1916 less than half a mile from there. His biography is what happened between the two.

The MacEwen story begins with a crofter who lived near Logiealmond at the end of the eighteenth century. He was a member of the Anti-Burgher section of the Secession Church, and when his son became aware of a call to the ministry, that son went to the university in Edinburgh, then the Divinity Hall of his own church. He was ordained to the pastorate of the Anti-Burgher congregation at Howgate, a hamlet some five miles south of Edinburgh, the other side of the Pentland Hills from the capital. It was in the manse of Howgate that the father of Alexander Robertson Macewen was born. in 1823, the youngest of twelve children. He was given the name of Alexander.

His father died in 1827, and the widow moved to Glasgow with her family. Alexander was also called to the ministry, and he was educated at the University of Glasgow, and thence into the Secession Divinity Hall in Edinburgh. His fellows there were such men as John Cairns, John Ker and William Robertson, the future great men of the United Presbyterian church. He went on to study in Germany, as many of his contemporaries did. His closest friendships were with the conservatives Tholuck and Neander. He in turn was called to the congregation of Helensburgh. The following year he married Eliza Robertson of Dunfermline, a well-educated and accomplished young woman who was also quite beautiful, not only in body, but in personality. The MacEwens had a happy marriage, which had a great influence on their children. Helensburgh was thus the scene of A.R. Macewen's earliest memories.

In 1856 Alexander was called to the pastorate of a Glasgow congregation. It was a relatively new church, and Dr. MacEwen (as he now was), worked hard to build up what was practically a church plant. Thus young MacEwen was a son of the manse, and he was to grow up in a congregation that grew as he did.

God willing, next time we shall look at the schooldays of A.R. Macewen



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