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Solid Unionists and Proud Scots

Last weekend highlighted one of the major problems facing the No! campaign in the independence referendum.  It was the weekend of the SNP’s annual spring conference, and it provided separatists with a platform that unionists simply cannot match.  The Scottish National Party exists for the sole purpose of promoting independence.  It is organised to deliver that outcome, passionate about it and resourced for it.  Its leaders live for it, its foot-soldiers march for it, its Press Office is geared to it.

Inevitably, then, its annual conference is choreographed to ensure that in the full glare of the media all the forces and faces of Nationalism are marshalled to argue that we’ll never be properly grown-up till we stand alone on our own two feet, send the Americans packing, deliver Scotland from the curse of Toryism, and provide free child-care for all working mothers (Santa to pick up the tab).

The tragedy is that the No! campaign has nothing comparable.  There is no Scottish party to whom the Union matters as much as independence matters to the SNP.  Nor is there any other party as well organised at grass-roots, or able to deploy such a fanatical political infantry.  Neither Labour, Tory nor LibDem stand first and foremost for the Union.  Nor do they seem able to put their differences aside and stand together to save it.  Even in the Western Isles, the parties are reluctant to be seen working together; and where they do work together there is nothing like that critical mass of explosive enthusiasm which the crisis demands.

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Christian Patriarchy?

The women of the world have every right to protest against the evils of patriarchy.  Men’s brains are no bigger than women’s but their muscles are, and they’ve had little compunction about using them to impose their will on women in home, state and church.  Men ruled kingdoms, men dominated their wives and men governed the church.

There’s no reason to think that in Highland culture male tyranny was particularly severe.  There was no polygamy, no easy divorce and no female circumcision; and as a rule there were no closed doors behind which a man could secretly batter his wife and abuse his children (though this is certainly not to say it never happened).

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Homo Economicus: Measured by the Market

We’re seldom allowed to forget that we live in a multi-racial, multi-faith and multi-cultural world.  Yet across all the divides there is one great leveller: the market.

At some levels it’s harmless enough.  Everyone enjoys Coca Cola and everyone uses a mobile phone.  But at other levels it’s far from harmless.  The market delivers cocaine as well as coffee, and great multi-nationals bulldoze their way serenely through ancient habitats and traditional cultures.  What Solomon said of the grave is now true of the market.  It is never satisfied.

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The Kirk Joins the Mockery

I should really be in a complete fankle about writing this column.  After all, I am a Calvinist, which means I believe in predestination: a subject on which Free Press readers are clearly fully briefed.  From what they say, I cannot write this column unless it was predestined; and equally, I cannot decide what to write about, because that, too, must be predestined.  The wisest course, then, would be to sit and wait for predestination either to force me to write something or prevent me from writing something.

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Wells of Joy: the Poetry of the Reverend Murdo Campbell, Resolis

The Reverend Murdo Campbell died in 1974.  Now, almost forty years later, his son, David has published a collection of his father’s Gaelic religious verse.

It immediately set my mind to working out connections.  Writing was in Murdo Campbell’s blood.  His brother, Angus (‘Am Puilean’) was a distinguished author, best remembered for his autobiography, ‘A Suathadh ri Iomadh  Rubha’ (‘Rubbing Up Against Many a Headland’).  His other brother, also named Angus but known as ‘Am Bocsair’, was a gifted bard, and his two sons, Alasdair and Norman, have made notable contributions to recent Gaelic fiction.  Mr. Campbell’s own son, David, the editor of this volume, chose a different path, becoming a distinguished Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, having previously studied under another eminent Highlander, Donald Mackinnon, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.  To complete the connections, the translator, the Reverend Kenneth MacDonald, a native of Applecross, and one of our foremost (if most unassuming) Gaelic scholars, was for many years a colleague of David’s at Glasgow.

Which all goes to show how perceptive was the Puilean’s choice of title.  The Gaidheal does indeed rub against many a headland.

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Conversion: Must there be a Preparatory Law-work?

 A review of Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013.  297 pp. Pbck.  $25.00).



The key thesis of this book is that conversion is normally preceded by a preparatory law-work; or, in the language of Jonathan Edwards, that ‘God makes men sensible of their misery before he reveals his mercy and love.’

Most of it is devoted, however, not to expounding this doctrine, but to a historical survey designed to prove that this has been the prevailing view in Reformed theology from the beginning (including Luther and Calvin), but particularly among English Puritans such as William Perkins, John Preston, William Ames and Richard Sibbes; and among New England Puritans such as Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard and John Cotton.  Modern attempts by Perry Miller and others to show that significant figures diverged from this consensus are reviewed and (as a rule) refuted.

At the same time Doctors Beeke and Smalley lose no opportunity to point out that this Reformed preparationism was completely different from the Roman Catholic doctrine of congruent merit, according to which grace is infused as a reward for doing the best we can with our own natural abilities; and they are no less insistent that Reformed  preparationism has to be distinguished from the Arminian idea that once sinners are motivated by a sense of spiritual need, grace merely assists them to Christ, without any invincible input on God’s part.

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Peter Grant of Strathspey: Theology in Song

All lovers of Gaelic song will be familiar with Calum Kennedy’s heart-rendering ‘Oran mu Leanabh Og’ (‘Song of a Young Child’), but few, I suspect, will be aware of its source.  It was composed by the most prolific of our Gaelic hymn-writers, Peter Grant, and portrays an infant reporting back from heaven to assure his parents that if they knew the bliss he now enjoyed, far from grieving for him, they would be longing to join him.

Grant’s poetry was quintessentially lyrical and in the not too distant past his songs were being sung all over the Highlands.  The first collection appeared around 1809 (when Grant was only 26), the last in 1926: 21 editions in all.  Now his name is all but forgotten, yet not only are these songs treasures in themselves (and quite enough to provide a whole programme for BBC Alba), but his life and work provide a fascinating window into the world of the post-Culloden Highlands.

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Scotland's Future: Independence from Mr Salmond

The danger with the independence referendum is that few seem to have any idea of the scale of what’s envisaged.  It’s not about what used to be called Home Rule.  Nor is it a mere Devolution Upgrade.  It’s about making England a foreign country.  It’s about making Scotland independent in the same sense as Australia is independent: part of the Commonwealth, with occasional visits by HM the Queen as titular Head of State.

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Independence and the Apostles of Negativity

It’s October, the SNP party-conference is over, soon it will be September and any day now we should hear someone roll out the arguments for a Yes-vote vote in the forthcoming referendum.  

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Suicide Bombers Target Pakistani Christians

Ashkar arrived in Edinburgh three years ago to begin his studies at the Free Church College: the second member of his family to join us (his brother, Aftab, is now a minister in Grangemouth).

Three months later Ashkar returned home.  Britain’s misguided immigration rules (the concession of weak governments to mindless public clamour) forbade his wife to join him, and the thought of four lonely years in a cold, alien city was too much.

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