Thursday, April 23, 2009

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

Today most students go to a university some way from their childhood home. In Victorian Glasgow, however, this was the exception, not the norm. For a Scottish Calvinist, Oxford University would be quite a culture shock!

A.R. MacEwen went up to Oxford in 1870, the first Vatican Council had just met and declared the Pope to be infallible when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith, the French Second Empire had just fallen, Gladstone was Prime Minister, and Rome had fallen to the House of Savoy. These were exciting times in the world, and exciting times in Oxford. The city was still known for the 'Oxford Movement' of Anglican ritualism, again, a shock for a young man from a United Presbyterian Manse!
MacEwen's college was Balliol, famed at that time for Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol. The college was at its height of fame. Among those who entered Balliol with MacEwen were nine future MPs, but he was the only Presbyterian minister who entered that year.
"The dominant tone at the University at this time," MacEwen would later write, "was anti-religious and materialistic." How little has changed! If the Scottish student had not been deeply grounded in the faith by his father, and by a deeper influence by his father, he could well have been carried away by the currents of materialism, or drawn into the circle influenced by E. B. Pusey. Instead he was able to have the best of university lives, one in which he gained in learing and lost nothing in Christianity, coming back to Scotland to train for the ministry of his mother-church.
God willing, next time we shall have a little more to say about MacEwen at Oxford.


Monday, April 20, 2009

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

We should not underestimate the influence of a good home to a child. A. R. Macewen was brought up in Claremont United Presbyterian Manse. His father was the much-loved pastor of Claremont United Presbyterian Church (illustrated), a devoted pastor who was known as the friend of all, rich and poor. He was also a cultured man, a lover of Church History, a love that he would transmit to his son. More importantly, he was a man of prayer.
A.R. MacEwen was sent to the Glasgow Academy for his education. In his nine years there he showed a great deal of ability, winning class medals in his final year for Latin and Modern Languages. Thus he laid a foundation of good scholarship. From the Academy, he passed to the University. Glasgow at that time had an excellent faculty, with Sir William Thompson, later Lord Kelvin, Edward Caird, Professor of Moral Philosophy, John Veitch the logician, and others. Those MacEwen gained the most from were Professor G.G. Ramsay, Humanity, and Edward Lushington, Greek. His father, wanting the best education for him, decided that the long vacation would be an opportunity for MacEwen to get some extra study under his belt and sent him to study with a private tutor, Mr. Evelyn Abbott, at Filey in Yorkshire. Mr. Abbott was a good teacher, and MacEwen also had the opportunity to play cricket with his fellow-pupils. He returned the Glasgow for the winter session, and there fell under the spell of Edward Caird. Though devoted to Caird for a season, his later thought showed little permanent influence from the great thinker.
The philosophy classes raised issues in the young student's mind that he had not thought of before. The problem of evil, a common problem, came before his mind, unsettling him a little. His father wrote on his behalf to John Cairns, then the most brilliant of the ministers in the denomination. Cairsn gave no easy answers, but the answers that he did give were apparently satisfactory, as the problem of evil troubled him no more.
1870 saw a more auspicious event. A.R. MacEwen won the Snell Exhibition in the Arts Faculty of the University. This meant a scholarship to Oxford University.
God willing, next time we shall see how MacEwen did at Oxford.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

Now that Blogger has unblocked this blog, which is not a spamblog, I can post this:

God willing, this coming Lord's Day morning I shall be taking the service at Tabor Baptist Church in Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf (not to be confused with Llantrisant in Monmouthshire, something I'm told a visiting preacher did once). The services are at 11.00 AM and 6.00 PM. This week the evening service will be in Caerlan Hall, across the road from the chapel. This is for ease of access, not because we're purpose-driven or anything like that. We'd much rather have the service in the chapel, but some of our members can't make it up the path to the front door.


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


Monday, April 13, 2009

'I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain'. George Matheson -XXIII

George Matheson had retired from the pastorate, but not from the ministry. He remained deeply interested in literary ministry, and in his retirement he wrote his two-volume work Studies in the Portait of Christ. It was extremely popular, perhaps his most popular book. It combined the devotional tone of his small devotional volumes with the depth of thought of his more scholarly writings.

Nor was his voice silent in the church for, he continued to preach as a visiting preacher in many churches. He spoke to students in the theological colleges of all the major Presbyterian churches of Scotland. He spoke in England at many churches, including Brunwick Chapel, Leeds, where he gave the annual sermon for the Wesleyan Missionary Society. Even though it was a miserable day with driving rain, people came from all parts to hear the sermon. We hope that they also made a good contribution to the missionary funds! For although he was a decided Church of Scotland man, and had no time at all for disestablishment, Dr. Matheson was in no sense a partisan or secatrian spirit. Indeed, there was no church in which he preached more often in his retirement than Free St. George's church in Edinburgh (pictured). He and Alexander Whyte of Free St. George's were close friends, alike in many ways. Whyte never heard Matheson preach - he himself was in too much demand as a preacher, and he asked Matheson to preach in his absence - but he found that his congregation appreciated the ministry of the blind preacher.
In 1902 he published Representative men of the Bible, which was also greeted with acclaim. It ran to three volumes, two on the Old Testament and one on the New. His pen was as productive as ever. But the end was coming. His last sermon was delivered in Morningside Church, Edinburgh, on 14th Febryary 1904. He was obviously infirm, and the sermon cost him a great deal of physical effort. His last public appearance was in November of that year, when he offered a prayer in the annual Life Boat service. He was writing a book on Representative Women on the Bible, but that was destined to see the light only after his death.
George Matheson's death was sudden and unexpected. August 27th 1906 was a normal day, reading, writing, and an afternoon drive. He went to bed at his usual time, bidding his sister goodnight as he normally did. At 1.30 in the morning she was woken by a moan she recognised as from her bother. Rushing downstairs, she found he could not speak. But he was smiling, he knew the end of his earthly life had come, and he was going to his Father's house. He died there, his face illuminated with joy.
George Matheson's death shocked everyone. Appreciations came in almost from every corner of the globe. He was buried in the family vault in the Glasgow Necropolis on Saturday 1st September The funeral service was held in the cathedral. Through his great hymn O Love that Wilt not Let me go, his name will be remembered for as long as hymns are sung in English. He was a man like us, and it is that fact that has ensured the survival of this great hymn.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

He is Risen

Wishing all readers of this blog a very happy and blessed Easter, and that ' may know Christ and the power of his resurrection.'


Friday, April 10, 2009

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 AM and 6.00 PM. The full-colour photograph is Bethel Chapel in January. By no the trees should be starting to obscure the view.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Church of Peterston Super Montem, Llambad

Why climb a mountain? Well, there are many reasons. Many of the hills of Wales have ancient trackways on top, and this particular mountain has a rather good one on it. But that was just the way to get me where I wanted to go.

This was the reason, there's a ruined church up there, namely the old Church of Peterston-Super-Montem, vulgarly known as Llambad, a corruption of the Welsh Llanbedr, St. Peter's Church. Originally built in the twelfth century, the ruins visible on the mountain today are of a simple two-cell building with a later porch. The plan of the church and the outline of the churchyard are still clearly visible.There are a number of gravestones on the site, all from the eighteenth century. Only one is still intact, and probably not in situ, as it is leaning against the north wall of the churchyard. Mary Robert, who died at the age of 29 in August 1775. The stones remind us that this was the spiritual centre of the district for centuries. There are probably hundreds buried in in this mountain graveyard.A typical Medieval church in plan, St Peter's is a two-cell structure with three doors, one at the West End of the building, one in the south wall of the nave, and a third, the priest's door, in the sputh wall of the chancel. Below is the view from the West door, looking east. The upright slab at the far wall has been inscribed with a cross by someone, marking where the altar was in the Middle Ages, and the Communion Table after the Reformation. Then we have the view from the east end to the west, looking out through the west doorway.
This is the view over the ruins from south east of the porch. You can't see how far up we are, but we can see that the church is quite isolated. The nearest other building is what appears to be a ruined barn.
Straight in the south porch. This is obviously an addition to the original building, as its walls are not keyed in to the south wall of the church (see above). There are benches of each side, and the porch appears to be a concession to the weather, giving people a place to chat after services out of the rain or snow. The benches have been used to display some of the old grave-slabs, all from the eighteenth century, and all damaged. The earliest appears to be from 1716.

This is the church from the south-east corner of the graveyard, you can see the gravestone of Mary Roberts leaning against the north wall of the graveyard. You can see why it's unlikely to be in its original position. The windfarm beyond tells you that we're on top of a mountain here!
This is just inside the south door. Could it be the remains of a Medieval holy water stoup?I'm pretty sure that this, at the south-east corner of the chancel, in the east wall. It's the remains of a cupboard for the elements for the Mass, and later the Lord's Supper.
This was on the ground beside one of the old windows. It is a piece of dressed stone from the window. Date? I have no idea. The building's probably full of archaeology, and I don't think it's ever been dug.
This is the view from one of the south windows of the church. It's spectacular! But it also explains why this isolated church was abandoned - it's hard getting up here, and as nonconformity spread in the parish, building chapels closer to where people live, people became less willing to trek up to the church on the mountain. On many Sundays the vicar made his way through rain and snow, only to find that there was no congregation.Finally he became fed up, and he petitioned the Bishop of Llandaff for permission to build a new church at Brynna, one of the villages at the foot of the mountain. The bishop gave permission, and in the 1830s the little church below was built. At once you can see that it is a smaller, simpler building than the old church on the mountain, but it had the great advantage of being where people lived. It even had its own graveyard, so the dead of Brynna no longer had to be taken up the mountain to be laid to rest in the old graveyard with Mary Roberts and the others. And the old church of St. Peter was left to fall into ruins, while the new St. Peter's took its place.

And the vicar found that people did come to the new church. But the ruins on the mountain, and Mary Roberts' gravestone, remain to speak of the old way of life.

More pictures of St. Peter's are here, on, a reminder that the old church did not just serve Brynna, but many other settlements as well.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

'I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain'. George Matheson -XXV

After eleven years at St. Bernard's, Edinburgh, George Matheson felt that his strength was diminished to the point that he could no longer bear the burden of the ministry. He had been a minister of the Church of Scotland for thirty years, and now he felt the time had come for him to lay down the parish ministry for the ministry of the pen.
All preachers are influenced by others, some are just more conscious of it than others. One of the great influences on Matheson, particularly in his Edinburgh ministry, was Dr. Joseph Parker of the City Temple, London (illustrated). When arker died unexpectedly in 1902, Dr. Matheson wrote a tribute for The British Weekly, which was then the pre-eminent nonconformist newspaper. Surely this is a wonderful example of Christian unity, the Church of Scotland minister writing a tribute to a Congregational pastor who had attacked the Church of Scotland in the past. Parker's preaching showed Matheson that preaching could be less formal, and still effective. Reading Parker today, he seems incredibly Victorian, but of course we have to remember that he was a Victorian, preaching to Victorians! Matheson did not copy Parker, it is perhaps rather that Parker's preaching gave him the confidence to be himself in the pulpit.
Matheson's work at St. Bernard's was extraordinary. Like Spurgeon, he was a pastor and a preacher, and yet he was also a writer. And like Spurgeon, he was worn out by the work. Unlike Spurgeon, he had never had a strang constitution, and so in 1896 he wrote to the Session Clerk of St. Bernard's to resign the pastorate. The result was a surpise to no-one but Matheson - the congregation pleaded with him to stay. In January 1897 he withdrew his resignation and instead applied to the Presbytery for a colleague and successor. The colleague was to take over much of the work, leaving Matheson to devote himself to preaching and writing. The Rev. J. J. Drummond of Jedburgh was elected and appointed. He worked well with Matheson, and the ministry was blessed to both men. But in March 1899 Matheson wrote again to resign with effect from the end of July that year. His body could no longer take the strain, and Mr. Drummond became the full minister at St. Bernard's. Thus Matheson achieved a smooth transition of ministry.
He was sorely missed, but he had made his decision. In November 1899 there was a special farewell meeting for Dr. Matheson. He was loved as a pastor, and that is surely a good sign. The man who had found it hard to get a church because there were fears that his blindness would hamper his work as a pastor had proved to be one of the best pastors of his age.
God willing, next time we shall look at Dr. Matheson's retirement.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

'I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain'. George Matheson -XXIV

We have left this series for a while, but we do need to continue with Dr. Matheson. We are now in his later years, and we left him enjoying the freedom of Braille and the typewriter. Today it is almost impossible to imagine how a minister in Britain could be totaly blind and live without the sort of technology that helps blind people today - but that is how Matheson lived for most of his life.

The Victorian age made superstars out of preachers, orthodox and unorthodox. Matheson was no exception, he received invitations to preach all over Scotland and even in England. As a matter of principle, as a parish minister, he refused most of them. Once a month, however, he preached away from home and arranged a supply for the St. Bernard's pulpit. On these occasions he usually preached a sermon that his own people had already heard. He was welcomed wherever he went, but in Glasgow, the city of his birth, crowds beseiged the vestry to see the great preacher. While Matheson was blind, he could recognise people easily by their voices, and was even able to recognise the voice of an old friend he had not met for years.
Although he never married, his home was a place where friends and parishoners could expect warm hospitality from the pastor and his unmarried sister who kept house for him. Like most pastors, he was most often found in his study, and there he met with many who came with their troubles and were able to share them with the great pastor.
And it was there that he made a great confession:
"I wrote a book," he said, "To show that evolution, if true, is quite compatible
with orthodoxy, but I have since come to the conclusion that evolution is not
true. I have no more fear of it than I ever had, but I am convinced that in,
say, twenty years it will be regarded as an exploded heresy. I am an unbeliver
in Drummondism.
Henry Drummond triumphantly waves his hand - you can almost see him do it - over
what he thinks is the strongest point in evolution, namely similar things
that in you and me are not of the slightest use, but in animals are of
great utility; his conclusion being, that we were animals forst and that these
things are survivals. My conclusion is not that at all; I would be driven to it
if no other explanation were reasonable. But if I want to make another staircase
in this house, there are two ways in which I can do it. I can begin afresh from
the ground floor or I can start at the first landing. I say that God Almighty
always adopts the latter method, to economise space and time; He makes the new
life start on the top of the old - not grow out of it; and that accords with the
whole analogy of nature. The first stair cannot itself get beyond the first
landing, but another stair may be built upon it. I believe in the eternity of
species [note that the term 'species' here does not mean exactly what modern
scientists mean, but has a broader meaning]; that all differences existed from
the beginning. I don't belive that first there was a trunk, and that this trunk
broke up into branches. I believe the branches were first."
This, then, was his retractations, where he confessed that evolution was not true.
Matheson was not one of those Victorian preachers who thought all fiction was wrong. He found a great deal in the best fiction of the period to encourage him. Dr. (later sir) Robertson Nicoll wanted Matheson to write a novel, but Matheson knew his own limitations best! He did not, however, like religious fiction. He put it this way:
"I am not in favour of it at all, for the simple reason that the novel with a
purpose always conveys to my mind the impression that it is a sermon from
the very outset., and the whole novel becomes a foregone conclusion. Now, I hold
that the sole aim of the novel should be to amuse, as it should be the sole aim
on the drama."
It is a little odd to read a minister saying that he found religious fiction too preachy!
God willing, next time we shall move on to consider the last years of Dr. Matheson.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Rise and Fall of a Methodist Church

The Rhondda valleys are full of chapels. At one point in the nineteenth century one chapel was being opened every day on average. In Tonyrefail two buildings tell the story of one church, the Wesleyan Methodist Church. It opened in 1910, following the revival of 1904, in a temporary 'tin tabernacle' structure on Mill Street, illustrated below.
In 1925 the Methodists opened a brand-new stone chapel in the Gothic style. Called St. George's Church, it was built in the best ecclesiastical style. The message of St. George's is that the Methodists were now a force to be reckoned with in Tonyrefail. But the peak of church attendance in the Rhondda had been reached, and as a new theology, quite different from that of the old Methodists, came into the churches, buildings like St George's became symbols of an ecclesiastical pride. After the Second World War, congregations began to decline, and the splendid stone buildings became embarassingly empty.St. George's Methodist Church closed in 1970. The building is now a day centre.
Across the road is another reminder of how the gains of the revival of 1904 were lost. The former Apostolic Church may not be as impressive as the Gothic church, but it too came through the revival. And now the simple brick structure with its iron roof is also closed. I decided not to read the planning notice on the front door, as the hedge is more than a little overgrown.

Tinyrefail has an excellent site that was the source of some of the information here.


Friday, April 03, 2009

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching in the evening service at Tabor Baptist Church, Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf. This week our evening service will be in the chapel. Services are at 11.00 AM and 6.00 PM.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Tin Tabernacles of Trebanog

Trebanog, Rhondda Cynon Taf, is a village on top of a hill, locted between Tonyrefail and Porth. Unlike many of the Rhondda villages, it is not dominated by splendid chapels, but the only places of worship in the village are two 'Tin Tabernacle' structures, prefabricated mission churches built in the late 19th century. Intended as temporary buildings to be replaced when the money was available, both are still in use.

Mount Zion English Baptist Church is the smallest and most unprepossessing of the buildings, with only the single pointed window above the porch with its stained-glass cross showing any ecclesiastical pretensions at all. It has been modified over the years, the original iron roof and walls having been replaced, and the windows also appear to have been replaced. The frame of the building, of course, is original. The Trinitarian Bible Society poster in the window is an interesting sign.Mount Zion is an example of the smaller type of Tin Tabernacle (also referred to as 'Iron Churches'), four walls and a roof, with a small vestry on one side. These smaller buildings were multi-purpose mission halls, and usually equipped with movable chairs rather than pews, so that the space could be used for other activities in the week.

The other chapel in Trebanog is the English Congregational Church. This is a slightly grander version of the Tin Tabernacle, with its round-headed windows and its semi-circular window over the door. It is taller than Mount Zion, and more ecclesiastical in appearance, although in the chapel, rather than the church style - no pointed windows here! Unlike Mount Zion, it still appears to have the original wall-cladding and windows.

Both of these old Tin Tabernacles are still in use and well-loved.