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A Scottish Christian Heritage

Category Articles
Date September 12, 2006

A Scottish Christian Heritage is the title of Iain Murray’s latest book (Banner of Truth Trust, 2006, Hb, 403 pages). This may not be Iain Murray’s most important book, but it could be his most inspiring and enjoyable one. The title could lead one to think initially that this book is a record of Scottish church history, but it is not that exactly. Rather, Murray takes up 3 separate venues of thought- Scottish biography, Scottish missions, and Scottish ecclesiastical issues, all of which would have application to the church of the 21st century.

Part one consists of five biographical sketches, some of whom are house-hold names among Christian readers, and some virtually unknown to the contemporary Christian.

Chapter one takes up the life of John Knox, (1514-1572) the well-known reformer, born in 1514. Murray summaries and focuses on the most important aspects of what we can derive from Knox’s life and ministry. He takes up the early years of Knox’s life and God’s preparation of him for future usefulness. This was not without significant suffering, as Murray reminds us that Knox was captured and taken for 19 months as a slave on a French galley ship, where he was made to work on the rowing benches beneath the deck of the ship until his release in 1549. Mr. Murray then focuses on the following aspects of Knox’s life: the preparation of the man as a leader, his successes and conflicts, his personal life, and what we may learn from him. It is an inspiring and realistic view of Knox that the reader is provided with.

Chapter two covers the life of Robert Bruce, born in the early 1550’s. This is not the Robert Bruce who became king by defeating the English in the historic battle of the 1300’s depicted in the movie Braveheart. Rather, this Robert Bruce came 200 years later, and became a phenomenally courageous and powerful preacher of the gospel. Bruce saw powerful conversions, as well as strong opposition and persecution under his ministry, and faced civil banishment by the king. Murray states that ‘the secret of Bruce’s endurance was the manner in which he was enabled to live in the presence of God’. Bruce said of himself that he was ‘the happiest man that ever was born, happy that ever I served God’.

Murray then takes up the life of Thomas Chalmers, whose outstanding life and ministry was monumental in the shaping of the lives of a number of Scottish ministers who were his students, including Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Andrew and Horatius Bonar, and others. Murray’s presentation of Chalmer’s life reveals what a deep and abiding influence one individual may have on the lives of others. Chalmers ministered to literally tens of thousands of believers in the future generations of Scotland through his impact on the lives of his theological students.

The last two biographical chapters take up the lives of John MacDonald and Horatius Bonar, both preachers and pastors. Their lives and ministries overlapped, with MacDonald being 29 years older than Bonar. While MacDonald functioned in pastoral ministry, as well as a wider itinerant ministry in the north of Scotland from 1813 until his death in 1849, Bonar pastored in Kelso and then Edinburgh between the years of 1837 until 1889, the year of his death. Both had significant influence in the spread of the gospel, and both witnessed spiritual awakening in various parts of Scotland in the 19th century. Bonar especially had a very influential writing ministry, both in books and the composing of hymns, which would have an international influence in the church at large.

Part two deals with missions, particularly the missionary spirit that permeated the 19th century. Murray quotes C. H. Robinson, the church historian, that the ‘missionary movement is arguably the single most important event in the history of Western Christianity’. The Scottish church partook in this missionary spirit in a large way, sending able men to the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific, one of the most heroic men being Robert Moffatt, the father-in-law of David Livingstone. Moffatt left for the South Pacific in January of 1817 and labored for 54 years, until 1870, among savage tribesmen, head hunters, and cannibals.

Part three deals with less inspiring, but yet important ecclesiastical issues of elders and Christian unity within the Scottish church. One chapter deals with Scottish preaching, which will be especially beneficial and edifying for preachers and pastors alike.

This book possesses a warmth, a breadth, and a spirit of experiential Christianity that is always needed in our day. Every Christian, missionary, and minister will be stirred, edified, and instructed if they take the time to partake of the riches Iain Murray has provided in A Scottish Christian Heritage. Scotland truly has provided a heritage that Christians of every generation can greatly benefit from.

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