Monday, 26 January 2015

Clarification on the Church of Scotland Evangelicals

In my last post I said some things that may have been misunderstood.  I was concerned to draw a parallel between the men who left the national church in 1843, where the situation was not one of moral apostasy but a lesser issue of church state relationships, and men in the national church today.

I wrote, “What would Cunningham say today to men in the ministry of the Church of Scotland?  How would he speak to professed evangelicals who seem unwilling to leave the security and the financial certainty of the national church to bear witness to the truth of Scripture?

In 1843 the men who left departed from a situation of security and financial certainty into the uncertainty of the Free Church ministry. Cunningham emphasises the point of their sacrifice and balances this with an emphasis on the evangelical opportunities that their position in the Free Church would give them.

No-one doubts that ministry within the national church carries a certain security and a reasonable financial certainty.  Again, no-one doubts that to leave the established church would involve great financial sacrifice.
However, what I had written may give the impression that I believe the sole reason or main reason that men will not leave is the financial security that they would sacrifice.  This was not what I intended to suggest, and I apologise if that is the impression given.

Having been in this position I know the cost of the sacrifice involved.  I lost my stipend and my home at a time when I had a wife and three young children to provide for.  It would be untrue to say that I gave no consideration to those financial factors before I took my decision. I also lost friends who did not agree with my decision.

I am passionate about this issue. I sincerely believe that those who choose to remain within the national church are violating clear biblical principles.  If my polemic at times leads me to state things in such a way that unecessarily offends, then that is not what I seek. What I seek is to change opinions and win men away from a denomination that I believe is apostate and to suggest that there is a positive, evangelical, presbyterian and confessional alternative within the re-invigorated Free Church of Scotland.

However, one thing has become clear.  This is not a situation of dialogue.  There is no forum for the mutual exchange of views. Whenever I comment, even when it is only to share news, I raise the ire of some. To offer a biblical critique of the arguments of those who choose to stay in the national church would no longer be welcome.

I have decided therefore to make no more public comments on the situation within the national church.  I would be perfectly happy to meet with others individually, but I see that public comment is not welcome or necessarily beneficial.

So, again I apologise if you believe I was insinuating that love of money, position, or status were the only or main reason for men staying in.  However, I would plead with those who are determined to remain within an increasingly anti-evangelical and anti-biblical denomination; consider that you may be wrong.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Prospects for Church of Scotland Ministers in the Free Church

Having recently read the biography of William Cunningham , first professor of History and Theology of the New College, Edinburgh, (the theological college established by the Free Church of Scotland after the disruption in 1843),  I have been enjoying reading the theological lectures he gave to his first classes in the seminary.  They are especially valuable in opening up the issue of the canon and the inspiration of Scripture.

However, Cunningham was addressing men who had left the established church at great cost to enter the ministry of the Free Kirk.  These were men who put principle before comfort and many of them lost their salary, their homes, and the security of social status as part of the established church.

History has a way of repeating itself.  The Church of Scotland is again in turmoil.  In 1845 the national Kirk was not repudiating the gospel or denying the inspiration and authority of Scripture; the issue that caused the split was the matter of church state relationships.  Today the situation in the national church is one of doctrinal and moral apostasy, embracing active homosexuals in membership and ministry.

What would Cunningham say today to men in the ministry of the Church of Scotland?  How would he speak to professed evangelicals who seem unwilling to leave the security and the financial certainty of the national church to bear witness to the truth of Scripture?

Perhaps it is best to let Cunningham himself speak as he addressed those brave men who in 1843 had stood by principle and at great cost had thrown in their lot with the Free Church:

“We cannot hold out to you in the ministry of the Free Church the prospect of worldly honours and emoluments, of the favour or countenance of the wealthy and the powerful, or of the enjoyment of ease or idleness. With us you must be prepared to endure hardness, as good soldiers of Christ Jesus. But we can offer you a place in the ministry of a Church which, blessed be God, maintains the truth of God, and which therefore he may be reasonably expected to bless.

We can hold out to you a wide field of usefulness, abundant opportunities of labouring in Christ's cause, in circumstances which afford an encouraging prospect of success.

God has set before us an open door — no man can shut it; and, so far as we can judge from the statements of God's word, the general principles of his moral government, and the indications of his providence, there is no reason to fear that he will speedily close it.

When He who had struck Paul with blindness on his way to Damascus was directing Ananias to go and visit him, that he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost, he assured him that Paul was a chosen vessel to bear his name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel;" and then he added, " I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake " (Acts ix. 16); seemingly intending to represent both the sufferings themselves, and the previous intimation of them, as tokens of his favour and his kindness. And men who have any real love to the Saviour, and any honest zeal for his glory, will not shrink from his service because of the difficulties and hardships that may lie before them in the work to which they may be called.”

P18, Theological Lectures

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Prayer For Pastors.

ALMIGHTY God, we pray thee for all the pastors of thy church. May they preach thy word with fidelity, firmness and humility. May they labour not in vain, to establish the indispensable obligation of the duties enjoined by our holy religion, and to make manifest their beauty and excellence. Enable them to set forth the motives which bind us to obey thee ; the helps which are offered ; and the rewards which await us.

May they, as well by their example as by their preaching, prepare for thee a peculiar people, zealous of good works, Defend them, O Lord  under the shadow of thy wings ; and guard them from the temptations of the world, and the devices of their spiritual enemies. Grant that they shun not to declare all the counsel of God ; and that, having testified the Gospel of thy grace, they may finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they have received of the Lord Jesus.

Hear us, O God, we beseech thee, for the sake of thy Son, our Saviour.   Amen.

The Liturgy, or Forms of Divine Service, of the French Protestant Church (1853)

A Possible Modernised Version:

ALMIGHTY God, we pray to you for all the pastors of your church.

May they preach your word with faithfulness, decisiveness and humility.  May they successfully strive to establish the indispensable obligation of the duties of the Christian faith, and to make plain their beauty and excellence. Enable them to set forth the motives which oblige us to obey you ; the helps which are offered ; and the rewards which await us.

May they, as much by their example as by their preaching, prepare for you a people of your choosing, zealous to do good deeds.

Defend them, O Lord, under the shadow of your wings ; and guard them from the temptations of the world, and the schemes of their spiritual enemies.

Grant that they will not fail to declare all the counsel of God ; and that, having testified to the Gospel of your grace, they may finish their race with joy, and fulfil the ministry which they have received from the Lord Jesus.

Hear us, O God, we urgently  implore, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour.   Amen.

How different from the shallowness of the modern prayer, “Lord, bless the pastor.” 

This prayer is detailed and specific. It speaks of the preaching work of the pastor and asks, not that it be entertaining and amusing, but that it be done with “faithfulness, decisiveness and humility”.  The ethical and spiritual imperatives of the faith are to be set forth in their preaching, not as duties begrudgingly entered into but as things of “beauty and excellence”. The pastor is to clearly preach gospel motives for obedience and the aids to sanctification provided by the Spirit.  He is to set forward the rewards for obedience, as Gospel encouragements to faithful living.

The pastor is to be a personal embodiment of that which he preaches; not remote from the flock but someone so well known by them that his life can be a godly example to them. He will face great opposition from the Devil and the temptations of the world and his own fallen nature, therefore needs to be protected by God sustaining grace. 

In effect, this prayer exhibits a whole pastoral theology.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

What do I know now that I didn’t know forty years ago? Some personal reflections.

I am now sixty – what do I know now that I didn’t know when I was twenty? 

At twenty I had already completed my first degree at the University of Glasgow (M.A.) I had the privilege of starting university at a very early age; not unusual in these days.  At 17 I moved from the rather restrictive regime of school to the liberating experience of university.

I don’t think I have ever been more happy than these first three years at university. I enjoyed the discipline of academic study and found that my chosen majors, (moral philosophy and religious studies), introduced me to a world of ideas that were mind expanding.  I practically lived in the university with 11 and 12 hour days, mostly spent in the library.

I made new friends and the fact that my then girlfriend, (40 years my wife this year), also joined me at Glasgow University in my second year meant that we were together most of the day. It wasn’t all hard work - each day was punctuated by breaks for cheap meals, table tennis and table football, and deep theological discussions and debates.

But more important that intellectual growth was spiritual growth.  I discovered an evangelical heritage that was new to me.  Often this was serendipitous – I loved to physically prowl the stacks and examine the dusty tomes that appeared not to have been opened in years.  In this way I discovered the Nichols Series of Puritan Reprints, the works of Calvin and the writings of orthodox Scottish divines.  None were relevant to my course of study as such, but all were influential on my spiritual formation.

I was also privileged to attend the Christian Union regularly and hear some of the outstanding Scottish preachers of the day.  This was at a time when CU consisted of a short time of worship followed by an extended time of in depth exposition rather than an extended time of worship followed by a short address.  There was no internet in these days; the only way to hear these great preachers was in the flesh and CU gave a unique opportunity to do so.

I also owe a great debt of gratitude to the Free Presbyterian Church, not necessarily a body that you would expect to have an influence outwith their own small communion.  In two ways the FPs benefited me.  They had a small book shop on my route to the university and I often broke my journey to browse their shelves. Here I discovered works by Cornelius Van Til , Gordon H Clark, - yes, they stocked both but probably kept them apart on the shelves – and John Murray.  These were completely new to me.

But I only discovered the FP book shop through the faithful witness of a number of students who had a weekly book table in our refectory.  There they sold the Banner of Truth paperbacks that were being reprinted in cheap editions.  On many an occasion I choose to spend my money on the books rather than the meals that the refectory offered.  I don’t even remember the names of the young men who ran this book stall but I am eternally grateful that they chose to do so.

I also had the immense privilege of a solid evangelical expository ministry in my own church.  As a child I was taught the Bible in Sunday School and as a teenager there was a weekly bible based talk thoroughly grounded on Scripture.  My minister was not a big name; he was a quiet man who seemed almost out of place in a working class congregation.  But week by week he faithfully and in depth proclaimed the Bible and I was shown the deep riches of biblical faith.

So, to return to my opening question, what do I know now that I didn’t know then.  At the risk of being misunderstood I want to say, “Not a lot.”

Yes, I have a wider knowledge of the Bible and theological disciplines, (and life), but essentially my theological views were formed by the time I was twenty.  I have nurtured these core beliefs; I have not changed them. It is owing to the influences experienced in my teens that I am the man I am today.

Foundations are important, and I would encourage men in their late teens and early twenties to lay down solid foundations.  Be greedy for opportunities for spiritual growth. Grasp the opportunity to hear the best preachers, but do not neglect the local church ministry of men who are not big names.  Read, and not just the latest blockbusters from Reformed megastars.  Read the classics of Reformed theology, especially works of experiential Calvinism. Mark Twain is quoted as having said "A “Classic” is a book which people praise and don't read." Don’t let the Reformed classics gather dust on your shelves.  Better to read a few good books well than a multitude of mediocre books.

Don't waste the early years of adulthood; build a solid foundation.

Reading Galatians

Each year I like to choose a biblical book for special focus.  It is a number of years since I last focused on Galatians and more since I preached through this book. I used the standard commentaries in preparation, but I want to do something different this time.

READ GALATIANS – the text in English is around 3250 words.  At an average reading speed of about 250 wpm it takes about 13 minutes to read the entire text. The more we read it, the more we get to know it.

LISTEN TO GALATIANS – Read out loud the text of Galatians in about 19 minutes long.  I record it on my phone and can listen to it on demand. You can download it at:

Simply right-click the Listen button and save.

Alternatively, why not read the text out loud whenever you can.  (I tell my pupils that seeing and hearing are complementary methods of taking in information.  Try reading out loud text you have written – it is amazing how many errors you pick up that are not picked up be reading alone. )

Listening to Galatians twice a day will help you get a firm overview.  I even use a pillow speaker for these night-watch times when I am trying to get back to sleep. 

READ “DIFFERENT” COMMENTARIES – I have decided to stick to commentaries written by Scots that I have never previously read.  I will read each sequentially, completing one before moving on to the next.

Here are my chosen commentaries:

James Ferguson (1621 – 1667)   Ferguson was a Covenanter whose work was highly praised by his contemporaries.  It is highly devotional and applicatory.  Available at:

James Alexander Haldane (1768 – 1851)  James was brother of Robert Haldane, whose commentary on Romans is well known.  Among other things he was father of thirteen children!

John Brown (1784 –1858) The prince of Scottish expositors and the grandson of John Brown of Haddington.

I am not reading with a view to preaching, but purely for personal spiritual benefit.  May I recommend that you take a similar focus on a biblical book this year.