Christian patriarchy?


The women of the world have every right to protest against the evils of patriarchy.  Men’s brains are no bigger than women’s but their muscles are, and they’ve had little compunction about using them to impose their will on women in home, state and church.  Men ruled kingdoms, men dominated their wives and men governed the church.

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Homo economicus: measured by the market

We’re seldom allowed to forget that we live in a multi-racial, multi-faith and multi-cultural world.  Yet across all the divides there is one great leveller: the market.

At some levels it’s harmless enough.  Everyone enjoys Coca Cola and everyone uses a mobile phone.  But at other levels it’s far from harmless.  The market delivers cocaine as well as coffee, and great multi-nationals bulldoze their way serenely through ancient habitats and traditional cultures.  What Solomon said of the grave is now true of the market.  It is never satisfied.

All of which sounds comfortably remote.  The bulldozer, after all, does its worst only in ‘developing’ countries.  But there is a much more invidious problem, and much closer to home.  The market is re-inventing the human species.  Once we were first and foremost ‘homo sapiens’; now we are ‘homo economicus’.  If we are economically productive, we are something; if we are not economically productive, we are nothing, and once our dear Chancellor, Mr. Osborne, hears of us he will instantly brand us as not simply ‘out-of-work’, but ‘unwilling to work’; and in view of our worthlessness he will drive his bulldozer through our Benefits.

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The Kirk joins the mockery

I should really be in a complete fankle about writing this column.  After all, I am a Calvinist, which means I believe in predestination: a subject on which Free Press readers are clearly fully briefed.  From what they say, I cannot write this column unless it was predestined; and equally, I cannot decide what to write about, because that, too, must be predestined.  The wisest course, then, would be to sit and wait for predestination either to force me to write something or prevent me from writing something.

And now, here before you is something: the column divinely foreordained.  The funny thing is, I chose it myself: me, my very self.  I felt no compulsion, was aware of no restraining force.  Instead, I exercised my divinely foreordained liberty of alternative choice.  I could have chosen to write on the national vendetta against Rangers Football Club, but decided not to (perhaps from instincts of self-preservation).  I have no doubt that what I write was divinely foreordained; neither have I any doubt that what I write is the result of my own free decision.

At this point I have no idea where this potent combination of predestination and freedom will eventually lead to.  I know only the opening few words, linked (albeit tenuously) to the Independence Referendum.

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Calvinism in Scotland

“Calvinism”, wrote the late Ian Henderson, “is a handy term which people use when they wish to disparage anything in Scottish religion” (Scotland: Kirk and People, p.64).

He might have gone further. “Calvinism” is a handy term which people use whenever they wish to disparage anything inScotland.  It has been blamed for depression and alcoholism, the Highland Clearances, the disappearance of Gaelic folk-lore, the absence of great Scottish drama and prevalent underfunding for the arts.

Behind this lies a belief that until very recently ours was a Calvinist nation.  This must mean, at the very least, that the early Scottish Reformers were successful in their attempts to have their beliefs enshrined in law and that for centuries afterwards the nation’s political and intellectual leaders were thirled to the philosophy of Geneva.  In such a world the entire population was controlled by what the Gaelic poet, Derek Thomson, called “The Scarecrow”, otherwise a Presbyterian clergyman: “A tall, thin, black-haired man wearing black clothes” sweeping away the cards, taking the goodness out of the music and lighting the searing bonfire of guilt in our breasts.

This, of course, is pure myth.  Read More »

Conversion: must there be a preparatory law-work?

 A review of Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013.  297 pp. Pbck.  $25.00).

The key thesis of this book is that conversion is normally preceded by a preparatory law-work; or, in the language of Jonathan Edwards, that ‘God makes men sensible of their misery before he reveals his mercy and love.’

Most of it is devoted, however, not to expounding this doctrine, but to a historical survey designed to prove that this has been the prevailing view in Reformed theology from the beginning (including Luther and Calvin), but particularly among English Puritans such as William Perkins, John Preston, William Ames and Richard Sibbes; and among New England Puritans such as Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard and John Cotton.  Modern attempts by Perry Miller and others to show that significant figures diverged from this consensus are reviewed and (as a rule) refuted.

At the same time Doctors Beeke and Smalley lose no opportunity to point out that this Reformed preparationism was completely different from the Roman Catholic doctrine of congruent merit, according to which grace is infused as a reward for doing the best we can with our own natural abilities; and they are no less insistent that Reformed  preparationism has to be distinguished from the Arminian idea that once sinners are motivated by a sense of spiritual need, grace merely assists them to Christ, without any invincible input on God’s part.

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Wells of Joy: the poetry of the Reverend Murdo Campbell, Resolis

The Reverend Murdo Campbell died in 1974.  Now, almost forty years later, his son, David has published a collection of his father’s Gaelic religious verse.

It immediately set my mind to working out connections.  Writing was in Murdo Campbell’s blood.  His brother, Angus (‘Am Puilean’) was a distinguished author, best remembered for his autobiography, ‘A Suathadh ri Iomadh  Rubha’ (‘Rubbing Up Against Many a Headland’).  His other brother, also named Angus but known as ‘Am Bocsair’, was a gifted bard, and his two sons, Alasdair and Norman, have made notable contributions to recent Gaelic fiction.  Mr. Campbell’s own son, David, the editor of this volume, chose a different path, becoming a distinguished Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, having previously studied under another eminent Highlander, Donald Mackinnon, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.  To complete the connections, the translator, the Reverend Kenneth MacDonald, a native of Applecross, and one of our foremost (if most unassuming) Gaelic scholars, was for many years a colleague of David’s at Glasgow.

Which all goes to show how perceptive was the Puilean’s choice of title.  The Gaidheal does indeed rub against many a headland.

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Covenant Theology

Covenant (or federal) theology is so called because it uses the covenant concept as an architectonic principle for the systemizing of Christian truth.  The seeds of this approach were sown by John Calvin (Institutes 2: 9-11) and there are already hints of it in Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), Henrich Bullinger (1504-1575) and Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583).  But it took some time to develop fully, though by the early seventeenth century virtually all orthodox Reformed theologians came to accept it and work out their theology within its framework.    Such theologians as Johannes Cocceius in his Summa Doctrinae de Foedere et Testamento Dei Explicata (Amsterdam, 1648) and Herman Witsius in his De Oeconomia Foederum Dei cum Hominibus (Leeuwarden, 1677; ET 3 vols, London, 1763; 1822, 2 vols) represent covenant theology in fully developed form.  English divines also generally adopted the covenant theology.  John Preston, The New Covenant (London, 1629), John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (London, 1645), Francis Roberts, Mysterium & Medulla Bibliorum.  The Mysterie and Marrow of the Bible: viz. God’s Covenants with Man (London, 1657), and William Strong, A Discourse of the Two Covenants (London, 1678) are but four examples.  In keeping with this, the Westminster Assembly used a covenant framework in drawing up its Confession of Faith and catechisms, as did The Marrow of Modern Divinity (London, 1645).


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Peter Grant of Strathspey: theology in song

All lovers of Gaelic song will be familiar with Calum Kennedy’s heart-rendering ‘Oran mu Leanabh Og’ (‘Song of a Young Child’), but few, I suspect, will be aware of its source.  It was composed by the most prolific of our Gaelic hymn-writers, Peter Grant, and portrays an infant reporting back from heaven to assure his parents that if they knew the bliss he now enjoyed, far from grieving for him, they would be longing to join him.

Grant’s poetry was quintessentially lyrical and in the not too distant past his songs were being sung all over the Highlands.  The first collection appeared around 1809 (when Grant was only 26), the last in 1926: 21 editions in all.  Now his name is all but forgotten, yet not only are these songs treasures in themselves (and quite enough to provide a whole programme for BBC Alba), but his life and work provide a fascinating window into the world of the post-Culloden Highlands.

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Scotland’s future: independence from Mr Salmond


The danger with the independence referendum is that few seem to have any idea of the scale of what’s envisaged.  It’s not about what used to be called Home Rule.  Nor is it a mere Devolution Upgrade.  It’s about making England a foreign country.  It’s about making Scotland independent in the same sense as Australia is independent: part of the Commonwealth, with occasional visits by HM the Queen as titular Head of State.

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Independence and the apostles of negativity

It’s October, the SNP party-conference is over, soon it will be September and any day now we should hear someone roll out the arguments for a Yes-vote vote in the forthcoming referendum.   

The burden of proof lies on the apostles of negativity, who consistently disparage the last three hundred years of Scottish history as if the Union had prevented all progress and sapped us of all self-respect.  Listening to them you would never believe that during these years we have successfully negotiated the industrial revolution, produced such world-class writers as Robert Burns and Walter Scott, nurtured cutting-edge scientists like Alexander Fleming, John Logie Baird and James Clerk Maxwell, and reared outstanding athletes such as Kenny Dalglish and Sir Chris Hoy.

Nor would you ever believe that since 1707 we have provided the UK with (at a quick count) seven Prime Ministers (and that’s before we count such other bearers of Scottish genes as W. E. Gladstone and Harold MacMillan); or that we have benefited from such social revolutions as free schooling, the Old Age Pension, universal franchise and the National Health Service.

Nor do separatists ever seem to notice that from the day of the Union Scotland has had its independent legal system, its independent kirk and its independent system of education; or that since devolution we have had control over health, police, housing and the environment; as well as a voice on all the matters still reserved to the Westminster  Parliament, even when these are no concern of ours but impact the lives of only the South British.

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