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Hugh Martin

Category Articles
Date January 4, 2002


“his early conversion was followed by the call to devote himself to the ministry of the Gospel, and his higher studies from the beginning, were directed to that end”

The Banner of Truth has reprinted a number of the works of Hugh Martin, his commentary on the book of Jonah, his book of sermons, “Christ for Us,” and his meditations on the cross, “The Shadow of Calvary.” No biography of Hugh Martin has ever been written. In an introduction to Martin’s “The Abiding Presence” Professor Collins wrote a brief sketch of his life. A more detailed biographical introduction appeared in “Christ for Us.” In John MacLeod’s “Scottish Theology” (Banner of Truth) Hugh Martin is spoken of with unbounded admiration, and Professor John Murray was one of his great admirers. In the recent editions of the Free Church Witness [] Hugh Ferrier has put us in his debt with some sketches of the life churchmanship and theology of Hugh Martin:

Hugh Martin was born in Aberdeen on 11th August 1821, the son of Alexander Martin of that City. “Like his friend and colleague, Dr John Duncan, he was educated at the City’s Grammar School before going on, at an early age, to Marischal College to pursue an arts degree” (Collins). We know nothing of his parents or whether there were other members in his family. Professor Collins informs us “that he feared the Lord from his youth”. He goes on to say that “his early conversion was followed by the call to devote himself to the ministry of the Gospel, and his higher studies from the beginning, were directed to that end”. When about fifteen years old he attended Marischal College and his higher studies were exceptionally brilliant. “He carried off numerous prizes, including the highest award in mathematics granted by the College, the Gray bursary”. He graduated MA in April 1839 when barely eighteen years old. Thereafter he studied theology at both Marischal College and King’s College in Aberdeen. He was ordained to the ministry at the unusually early age of twenty-three.

Principal John MacLeod says that Martin “was one of the foremost home-bred and original mathematicians that Scotland has produced”. As such we are told that he regularly contributed to the “Transactions of the Mathematical Society of London”. He acted as Examiner in Mathematics to the University of Edinburgh. He was a member of the Mathematical Society of London. And in 1867 he published A Study of Trilinear Coordinates. He also lectured on science in relation to the Biblical doctrine of creation to the Lasswade and District Science School in 1871. But he is chiefly remembered today for his theological output and in recognition of his achievements, Edinburgh University conferred a Doctorate of Divinity on him in 1872.

During Martin’s student days the underlying tension between the Moderate and Evangelical parties in the Church was approaching a climax. The parting of the ways was imminent. To begin with Martin was indifferent to the Evangelicals’ position on non-intrusion. But we are told that “on the 23rd May 1842, Martin heard Dr William Cunningham speak in the General Assembly on the subject of patronage. According to an eye witness, Cunningham “arrayed against the whole system of Church patronage the combined authority of Scripture, of ecclesiastical history, of right reason, and of the nature of things”. It was enough to convince Hugh Martin. He was “completely won over to the principles of the non-intrusionists”. Martin now decided to renounce the security of a position in the Established Church and, come what may, he cast in his lot with the Free Church of Scotland. He recalled that period with gratitude. “I remember those days and witnessed some of their grandest scenes”. To his student days Martin also traced the influence of Dr Robert S Candlish whom he first heard preach in 1840. Candlish, he says “awoke my young enthusiasm”.

He was licensed to preach on 19th May 1843, the day after the Disruption. The following year he was called to be minister in the Free Church at Panbride, near Carnoustie, in the Free Presbytery of Arbroath. The local landowner, Lord Panmure, opposed the Free Church and for ten years a site was refused for a place of worship. In 1844 a farmer, who dared threats of expulsion from his land, offered a site and a wooden church was erected. In later years Lord Panmure’s successor relented and he gave a site and donation of £100, and in may 1854 a new church was opened. Martin, however, was only to remain for four more years in this quiet Forfar parish. He had calls from other important congregations but he remained in Panbride for fourteen years. In 1858 the congregation of Greyfriars Free Church in Edinburgh addressed a call to him which he was persuaded to accept and here he remained until ill health forced him to retire from the ministry in 1863.

It was to Panbride in 1846 that he brought his young bride, Elizabeth Jane Robertson. They had a son Alexander and four daughters. Two of his daughters pre-deceased him. In Panbride he exercised a remarkable and powerful ministry. Some of the sermons included in “Christ for Us” belong to the Panbride period. It is recorded in the Annals of the Free Church of Scotland that the membership of the congregation in 1848 stood at 202. It must be remembered, however, that the adherent base would be considerably more than that, for those were the days when Kirk Sessions carefully examined those who applied for admission to the Lord’s Table, and unlike today, Sessions had to be satisfied that a credible profession of faith was in evidence before allowing an applicant to the Table. So Martin must have worked hard to bring a congregation from nothing to a membership of 202 in the short space of four years.

When Hugh Martin retired from the ministry through ill health in 1863, he was only 42 years old. It is Dr Begg who refers to this as “a mysterious Providence, removing him from the place where he was confidently expected to exert a mighty and extensive influence for good”. But God had other work for this great man to do. He was a close student of the word of God, was steeped in the doctrines of grace, and was an able defender of Reformed Theology. Two of his greatest friends were Principal Cunningham who had the oversight of the British and Foreign Evangelical Review and Dr James Begg of Newington who was editor of The Watchword and they engaged Martin to contribute to these periodicals. Indeed Martin was Begg’s principal helper in the running of The watchword and he was a major contributor to its pages. The magazine was the voice of those who opposed union with the United Presbyterian Synod and Martin defended vigorously the position and principles of the Free Church. He also preached, health permitting, wherever and whenever invited to do so.

His other friends included John (Rabbi) Duncan, George Smeaton, James Buchanan, and Alexander Moody Stuart, in the south, while in the north his comrades-in-arms were such men as John Kennedy, Walter Ross Taylor, Alexander Auld, and Gustavus Aird. It was in 1872 at the time of “The Education Act” that Begg and Martin visited the north to advocate the retention of the Bible and the Shorter Catechism in the schools of Scotland. Their visit made a profound impression upon Christian people in the north and ever afterwards they were welcome guests in the manses of Kennedy of Dingwall, Mackay of Inverness, and Auld of Olrig. Martin became a frequent visitor to the Highlands and it was during a visit to Olrig when he was the honoured guest at the manse that he was laid aside for six weeks with serious illness. It is recorded that “his patience and submission, referring everything, even the most minute, to the Divine will and wisdom, were fitted to teach a memorable lesson”. It was Dr Kennedy who made the necessary arrangements for Martin to be conveyed to his home in Lasswade.

The men who were his friends were gracious men who sought to live their lives for the Glory of God. They were men of prayer, students of the Bible, and shining examples of Christian piety. At the same time they were human and could enjoy recreational activity without compromising Christian standards and convictions. Archibald Auld tells us that his father who was the friend and biographer of Dr Kennedy was a very fit man who enjoyed seasonal swimming. He writes; “he was very fond of sea bathing and took his morning plunge whatever the weather might be, and once he kept it up right through a winter”. There are not many who would venture into the cold waters around the Caithness coast in summer let alone in winter. Dr George Mackay of Inverness enjoyed his beautifully laid out garden in the manse on Church Street and often joined the young folks who came along on a summer evening to play croquet on his well kept lawn. His daughter says “music was a great pleasure to him”, and she writes “he loved our beautiful Scotch songs, and nothing annoyed him more than having to listen to indifferent singing or playing”. Dr Martin was himself an accomplished pianist. In my youth I knew an old lady who, as a girl, met Dr Martin in a friend’s home in Edinburgh. The girls expressed their desire to hear him play. Dr Martin was informed and he kindly came and played for them a Scottish air.

After his retirement in 1863, Hugh Martin and his wife moved to Greenhill Cottage, Lasswade, near Edinburgh where he died in 1885 aged 64 years. I mentioned earlier that Martin had a son called Alexander who was born in 1857. Alexander became a Free Church minister in 1884. He was ordained and inducted to North Morningside Free Church in Edinburgh. In 1897 he was appointed Professor of Apologetics and Pastoral Theology in New College. He sided with the union in 1900. In 1918 he succeeded Dr Alexander Whyte as Principal of New College. He had the dubious distinction of signing the document concluding the union of the United Free Church and the Church of Scotland in 1929, which he did with the quill pen used by Dr Chalmers when he signed the document that sealed the Disruption in 1843. Dr Hugh Martin and his son were poles apart in their ecclesiastical and theological outlook.


Free Church Witness January 2002, with permission.

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