Archive: March, 2011

Psalmody and Apostasy

It’s odd, isn’t it, how things apparently unrelated can connect in your head.  “We are living in a day of great wickedness,” said the lady, and she was right, of course.  She had noticed that someone had nicked her neighbour’s wheelie-bin, and drawn the obvious conclusion.  We are indeed living in an age of great wickedness.

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Ordination Vows?

One of the concepts which has figured prominently in the post-Plenary Assembly discussions is “Ordination Vows”.  To the best of my knowledge there is no such concept in Scottish Presbyterianism; the phrase is entirely foreign to our practice.  In Acts of the General Assembly 1648-1842 the word “vow” doesn’t occur once; and the only significant occurrence of the word “oath” refers to the Oath taken by the Sovereign to maintain the Church of Scotland.  In the Free Church Practice, again, there is not a single reference to a vow; and the only oath (apart from the Oath of Purgation) is the vow taken by witnesses giving evidence in cases of discipline.  This oath is in a very explicit form:  “I swear by Almighty God….”  There is nothing remotely resembling this phraseology in the Forms for Licensing, Ordination or Induction.

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God's Vision for the Church (2)

Going about doing good

The first half of this article focused on the importance of putting the church on a missionary footing.  It emphasised the Rules of Engagement given to us by Jesus, and in particular the urgent obligation to present the multitudes outside our churches with the incredible message of the love of God.  Now we have to move on to remind ourselves of something equally momentous: we cannot be on a missionary footing unless we are going about doing good.

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God's Vision for the Church (1)

What is God’s vision for the church?

As we ask that question we are faced with many imponderables.  One thing we do know, of course.  The church is in safe hands: very safe hands.  But beyond that we know little.  We don’t even know how much time is left to us.  We’re living in the Last Days, but then we’ve been living in them since Christ came 2000 years ago, and they will last till He comes again.  No one knows when that will be.  The church may be still in her infancy and may last, on earth, for a million years.  We simply do not know; and even if we did we have not the remotest idea what such a future might hold.  We can see only a few steps ahead of ourselves; and even then only dimly.

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Hugh Miller: Dukes and Hinds

In the 1840s few names were better known in Scotland than Hugh Miller’s; and few Scottish names were better known world-wide.

Miller owed his fame to his editorship of the Witness, a newspaper which rivalled, and sometimes outsold, the Scotsman.  Established in 1840, the Witness was the voice of the Evangelical Party in the Church of Scotland, then locked in its bitter struggle over lay-patronage: a struggle which would culminate in the tragic Disruption of 1843. Evangelicals argued that the right to choose their own ministers was a sacred right of Christian congregations.  Their rivals, the Moderates, were happy to let that right lie with patrons, usually the local lairds.  Parliament, the Court of Session and the Scottish press were all on the side of the lairds.

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Luther on Galatians

The Gospel for a Wounded Conscience

Last week I decided to re-visit Martin Luther’s Lectures on Galatians. Readers will remember, perhaps, that John Bunyan commends this book most warmly in Grace Abounding: " I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians , excepting the Holy Bible, before all books that ever I have seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience."

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Hugh Martin

Hugh Martin (1822-1885) was one of a remarkable group of theologians produced by Scottish Presbyterianism in the mid-nineteenth century.  Pre-eminent among them were Thomas Chalmers, William Cunningham and Robert Candlish, all of whom were household names in Victorian Scotland.  The others were less prominent, but this bespeaks no inferiority in point of theological ability.  Such men as Martin, James Buchanan and George Smeaton were not inspirational statesmen like Chalmers; nor formidable debaters like Cunningham; nor again brilliant administrators like Candlish.  Nor have they had the same influence on subsequent theological developments as their American contemporaries, Charles Hodge, Robert Dabney, William Shedd, James Thornwell and Archibald Hodge.  But as theologians they were in the very first rank.

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The Uniqueness of Christianity

Pluralism is no new thing.  In the world that the Apostle Paul evangelised there were ‘gods many and lords many’.  In post-Reformation Scotland we briefly grew accustomed to a different world, in which Protestantism enjoyed an unquestioned hegemony.  That world has now gone.  Not only have other Christian traditions grown in strength, but immigration has brought all the world faiths to our shores.  Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have become our neighbours, and their children sit beside ours in school.

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On Miracles

If you’re not prepared to believe in miracles there’s little hope of your having much patience with the Bible.  It’s full of them.  If you pick up the gospels, for example, you meet the Virgin Birth at the very beginning and the Resurrection at the end.  These set the tone for the whole life of Jesus.  He went about "doing good"; and many of these "doings" were miracles.

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The House My Father Built

My father was a hero.  The word, of course, has military associations.  The ancient Latins made no distinction between a hero and a man, taking the view that both had one function: to fight.  As a child of the War I was happy to buy into the package.  My foetal brain heard little music, but it heard much of war and my childhood was steeped in its memories: "the Crisis", Scapa Flo, the sinking of the Royal Oak,the Rawalpindi and the Hood and the countless friends who, in the moving Gaelic euphemism had "got in the way in the War" and never returned.  I still have some of those obituaries from the early 40's, kept by my mother in the same black box as protected their insurance policies and other valuables.

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