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A Scottish Christian Heritage – A Review by Knox Hyndman

Category Book Reviews
Date November 27, 2009

According to the author, Iain Murray, this book is not intended to be in praise of things Scottish as such, nor is it a summary of Scottish Church history. The author, acknowledging his indebtedness to the writings of Scottish divines, sets out to remind his readers of the great heritage available in the older Scottish literature. His view of the church in Scotland is reasonably objective. He perceptively states that ‘what made the Scottish church so eminent in the Christian world was far more what they held in common with other churches than anything that they held alone.’ The book is in three parts:

Part One is biography and Murray deals with five men who had a significant place in the spiritual life of Scotland. He gives his usual well-crafted summary of the lives of John Knox, Robert Bruce, John Macdonald, Thomas Chalmers and Horatius Bonar. The author is careful and perceptive as he draws out practical lessons from the lives of these men. Some examples will suffice. John Knox is described as ‘an international Christian’ and though the word most frequently associated with him was ‘battle’, still he is shown to have exercised a ministry of encouragement. ‘From the first years that we have anything from his pen, we find him engaged in a ministry of encouragement.’

The chapter on Robert Bruce is particularly pertinent to Christians living in the West in the twenty-first century. We might well be inclined to assume that ministry today is especially difficult because of the prevalence of evil and the increasing hostility being directed at the Christian church, but, as Murray points out, ‘We are not the first generation called to stand fast in an evil day.’ Much of Bruce’s life was spent in a period which James Melville described as one of ‘doleful decay’, yet in such times Robert Bruce faithfully proclaimed the whole counsel of God. His preaching was particularly noted for its power. It is said that ‘no man in his time spoke with such evidence of the power of the Spirit.’

Bruce’s life is also a testimony to the manner in which joy in Christ can be known whatever the times. Like every Christian he experienced times of darkness and, indeed, knew something occasionally of a sense of ‘desertion’, but more often he lived in a spirit of godly joy. ‘I am,’ he said, ‘the happiest man that ever was born, happy that ever I served God.’

Each of these brief biographies has a timely application both to the individual believer and to the times in which we live.

In the second part of the book Murray takes up the theme of mission, and highlights this in two chapters covering ‘The Missionary Spirit of the New Hebrides’ and then a biographical study of Robert Moffat and his work in southern Africa. This story is deeply moving and humbling. Moffat encountered crushing difficulties and setbacks, but he never wavered in his commitment to bring the gospel to the various tribes among whom he laboured. Even when the London Missionary Society raised the possibility of withdrawing, Moffat and his companion were determined to remain at their post. ‘We felt our souls riveted to the country and its people.’ They did at last see days of great spiritual blessing and a marvellous transformation among the people.

In the final part the author addresses what he calls ‘Church Issues’ and covers several topics, including ‘The Problem of the Elders’ and ‘The Tragedy of the Free Church of Scotland’. This section of the book is necessarily more limited in its scope as it concentrates on areas of Scottish church life which may not seem at first to have an immediate relevance beyond Scotland itself. That, however, is not the case. There are in particular some interesting and thought-provoking comments about Presbyterianism which are valuable for the many churches around the world which follow that system of government.

In his foreword Iain Murray affirms that, ‘The best Christian books never leave us as mere spectators.’ His own work should admirably fulfil that purpose.

A Scottish Christian Heritage

Taken with permission from Reformed Theological Journal, November 2009

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