What a man is on his knees before God?

I’ve previously questioned whether Robert Murray M’Cheyne ever said: ‘My peoples’ greatest need is my personal holiness’.

Another quote often attributed to M’Cheyne is some variant of: ‘what a man is on his knees before God, that he is and nothing more’

A quick search of his works in Logos finds nothing, and in this case someone else has done some hunting as well.

Seems like he (or Owen who it’s also attributed to) didn’t say it after all.

Donald Macleod on the Free Church’s trajectory

“The worry is that repeated concessions on ‘things that don’t matter’ will one day completely change our identity. By the time we have praise-bands, responses, leadership-teams, dedication services, god-parents, junior churches and ministers trained by apprenticeships rather than educated by a rigorous theological curriculum, we’ll disappear in a shallow Evangelical mainstream clever enough to avoid heresy, but only at the price of diplomatic silence on the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith.”

The above comes from a post entitled ‘Should Presbyterians have dedication services’, in response to St Peter’s Free Church offering infant blessings and dedications as well as baptisms.

David Robertson’s response (while unlikely to convince Confessional Presbyterians to follow his lead) does provide an interesting critique of traditional Free Church attitudes to covenant children:

– “The Confession is quite clear that it is children of believers who are to be baptised…But the Free Church has in some areas (especially Lewis and the Highlands) operated a policy which is in contradiction of that. Following Kennedy’s lead it has been argued that the qualifications for the sacrament of baptism are lesser than that required for communion. Thus we ended up with the situation where in areas where the Free Church was de facto the parish church or sought to be, children of non-believing adherents who would not have been admitted to communion, were baptised. One minister told me that the main reason for doing this was simply that they did not want to lose their adherents to the Church of Scotland. Another told me that he would baptise anyone who asked. The elders I mentioned above spoke of how they regarded this practice as farcical. I remember one case where we refused baptism to a non-believing adherent and they just went to another Free Church where their child was baptised. I believe that it is this policy that has done far more to undermine the practice and the biblical understanding of baptism, than any infant dedication service ever has or will do. And yet I cannot recall Donald Macleod writing against this all too common practice. Why? If his concern is confessional adherence and uniformity of practice why the silence?”

– “In 1945 the Free Church and the ‘Liberated’ Churches in the Netherlands both had around 20,000 members, adherents and children. In the year 2000 I did a wee bit of research and discovered that whereas the Free Church had halved to 10,000 the Liberated had gone up to 120,000 plus. Why? What was the difference? It was not that the Liberated were better at evangelism, but rather that they retained their young people whilst we leaked ours like a sieve! When I went to Dundee in 1992 I eventually found around 20 children of Free Church office bearers – only one of whom attended the Free Church, and most of whom attended no church. These were children of office bearers – not just ordinary members. Another research project I did found that between 1990 and 1994 the Sunday schools in Lewis declined by 25%. Yet another found that of 40 baptised children in one Sutherland Free Church – only one was still in the Free Church.”

Reformation Theology (book review)

Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary
Matthew Barrett (ed.)
Crossway, 2017

reformation theology

‘At the start of any book, it is always helpful to know…the drive behind the book’. Few would disagree with that statement. Some will be unconvinced by the next sentence however: ‘Reformation Theology is written by a group of theologians and historians who are committed to Reformation theology’. By the time someone reads that, they’ll have noticed that the prologue was written on ‘Pentecost Sunday’ (wrong on two levels!) and the book is edited by a Baptist. Those facts of course don’t invalidate the authors’ arguments, but they do flag up that this is yet another Crossway book that presents the theology of the past through the glasses of 21st century evangelicalism. This is particularly apparent, for example, in the chapter on ‘The Relationship of Church and State’. The author spends pages going into great depth on the Reformers’ attitude to resistance to tyranny but largely ignores the elephant in the room, which is that ‘the most widely-held view among conservative Christians in Britain and America…is fatally flawed’ and very far from the position held by the magisterial Reformers.

An example of the editor either misunderstanding or misrepresenting Luther occurs on p. 56. Barrett quotes Luther’s statement ‘Reading is not as profitable as hearing it, for the live voice teaches, exhorts, defends, and resists the spirit of error’ then adds ‘Luther concluded this thought with a startling statement: “Satan does not care a hoot for the written Word of God, but he flees at the speaking of the Word.” Barrett immediately concludes: ‘Satan does not worry about Bibles sitting around on shelves. He begins to worry when those Bibles are picked up and taken into pulpits’. It’s pretty clear from what he quotes that the distinction Luther is making is not between Bibles sitting on shelves and Bibles being opened and preached, but between reading the Bible and hearing it preached. Going back and reading Luther in context makes it crystal clear that that’s the case.

As would be expected from Crossway, the Reformation’s theology on worship is largely ignored. The regulative principle is mentioned twice (once in a footnote), and Barrett comments: ‘Calvin would have been horrified by the church’s obsession today with “putting on a show,” driven first and foremost by pragmatic, consumeristic motivations’ and ‘Calvin’s [services] were characterized by a noticeable simplicity — no symbols, ceremonies, and rituals’. Both of those are true statements, but also ones which most readers will agree with, perhaps not realising just how contrary the worship of most Reformed churches today is to Reformation principles and practice. The fact that the Reformers pulled out the organs is hidden away in a footnote, church government barely features, and ‘Sabbatarianism’ gets one mention, thanks to Carl Trueman.

The Anabaptists are generally mentioned favourably throughout, and the negative comments in the chapter on Baptism are saved for Calvin. Indeed, there seems to be some difference between the authors as to whether the radical Reformers were ‘radical biblicists’ who rejected traditional Christian categories (Reeves) or whether they were radical because they ‘abandonded the history and traditions of Christianity and went back to the Scriptures for a fresh beginning of Christianity’ (Lillback). There is also a disagreement as to whether ‘from a Protestant persepctive of history it is more appropriate to label Trent a Counter-Reformation’ (Barrett) or whether it should be labelled ‘the Catholic Reformation’ and even have its own section (Trueman and Kim).

This is not a bad book. There is much to be gleaned from it. However it is shaped to a large extent by the concerns of 21st century ‘Calvinistic’ evangelicalism. If you had assembled a group of theologians in the 19th century who were ‘committed to Reformation theology’ and given them this remit, they would have come up with a very different book with very different emphases.

Overall this is a book written by and for those who like to think of themselves as committed to Reformation theology – there are many places where this book could have challenged that assumption, but most of its punches are pulled.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

Giving our young people a reason to stay

“There are many compelling reasons why we believe the RPCNA should be the place that you give your best years of service that you give to Christ and his church.

“Come to TFY and we will try to persuade you, and encourage you, to think of ways in which you can use your gifts and employ them for Christ and his kingdom”


New Horizon and the Gospel

Below is my handbook from New Horizon 22 years ago.


If I didn’t have a soft spot for it, I probably would have entitled this post ‘Parachurch embraces Liberalism shocker’.

Screenshot 2017-08-08 21.19.19

This year New Horizon have a woman doing the morning Bible teaching, and both the main speakers (English and Scottish Episcopalians) have women as assistant ministers in their home congregations. The worship is being led by a husband and wife couple, and the wife is the worship pastor in their church.

Why does it matter if they have a woman teaching? And if the others speaking are in favour of it? Well if resisting a clear Biblical command (1 Tim 2:12) isn’t enough (!), Richard Phillips wrote a very timely article last week with yet another example of women’s ordination being the slippery slope that ends up with the gospel itself being lost.

For a reminder of better days, here’s Alistair Begg speaking in 2005 on what now seems a very radical topic: ‘The Bible: Convincing the Mind, Captivating the Heart’

For the Glory (book review)

For the Glory: the life of Eric Liddell, from Olympic hero to modern martyr
Duncan Hamilton
Doubleday, 2016

for the glory

Eric Liddell is one of my Christian heroes. Yet after reading Duncan Hamilton’s excellent biography, I was left asking: ‘Was he a Christian at all?’.

Liddell’s life was impeccable. Hamilton realises that some will be sceptical that someone could live such a good life, but he simply couldn’t find any record of Liddell being anything other than almost super-humanly virtuous.

But amidst all the self-denial, virtue and heroism, there’s almost nothing of the gospel. Undoubtedly part of that stems from the fact that (as far as I know) Hamilton doesn’t write from the standpoint of an evangelical Christian. Approaching Liddell purely from a secular perspective simply can’t do justice to someone who clearly had sincere and deeply-held religious beliefs.

In all the writings, speeches and sermons of Liddell quoted, there’s no sense that his amazing life flowed out of wonder at what Jesus had done for him – however one amazon review from a previous biographer (John Keddie) suggests that there are records of Liddell’s joy at the salvation of souls, they’re just not quoted.

Based on what’s presented here, the question I was left with was whether Liddell’s belief system was one of moralism, or whether the author just sees the fruit and not the root. Certainly, in what’s quoted from Liddell’s wife, there’s no sense that she understood the gospel or what a missionary’s calling was about.

In terms of the other facts of Liddell’s life, the book leaves no stone unturned. If you want to know the facts of his athletic career, missionary endeavours or internment in China, it’s all here. Parts that will remain long in the memory are the huge pressure he came from the British Olympic Association to compromise his beliefs and compete on the Sabbath – and also the folly of the missionary society he was with, separating Liddell’s family, and not trying to pull him out of a warzone until it was too late.
This is a great biography of Liddell from a secular perspective – and will probably move you to tears in places – but it will leave believers with more questions than answers.

Thanks to Doubleday for a complimentary copy of this book.