Marcus Dods Jnr the Scholar

Marcus Dods Jnr died, on April 26, 1909. He was born on April 11, 1834 at Belford, Northumberland in Scotland, where his father, Marcus Dods (senior) was a Scottish Church (Presbyterian) minister.

Young Marcus was trained at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University, and followed in his father’s footsteps, pastoring, and later teaching in New College, Edinburgh.

In 1864 Dods became minister of Renfield Free Church, Glasgow, where he worked for twenty-five years.

At New College, Edinburgh, in 1890, charges of heresy were brought against him (and dismissed) for denying the inerrancy of Scripture. The charge was based on a sermon on Inspiration which Dods delivered in 1878. The charge against him was dropped by a large majority.

One delightful story concerning Dods comes from The Speaker’s Bible (Romans, Vol. 2, page 143). There we read of his long Saturday walks with Alexander Whyte, a fellow Presbyterian clergyman, and of their discussion. “Whatever we started off with in our conversations” said Whyte, “we soon made across country, somehow, to Jesus …”

Dods devoted much time to the publication of theological books. He wrote, edited existing works, contributed to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, and busied himself with many other publications.

Apart from his services to Biblical scholarship, providing resources for the scholarly, Dods sought to present to the less educated reader the benefit of insights not readily available to them.

Marcus Dods was 75 at the time of his death.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at:

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Alexander Whyte the Great Scottish Preacher

Alexander Whyte was born the small Angus town of Kirriemuir, Scotland on January 13, 1836.

His mother never dreamed that her son would one day be acclaimed as “the greatest Scottish preacher of his generation” (Master Preachers, by H. Calkins). He was to become “the most widely respected and influential minister in Scotland. He was elected Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland Assembly, and became principal of New College, Edinburgh” (Biography, by K. Triggs, page 7).

Whyte was born out of wedlock, to Janet Thomson, who struggled to provide for her illegitimate son. Alexander’s father, John Whyte, left for America shortly after the boy’s birth and they never saw him again, although he did pay for Alexander’s university education many years later.

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Janet skimped to get food for her son, and prayed for him. She could not afford his education so young Alexander left school at the age of 10 and worked in a shoemaker’s shop. He had a powerful desire for education and set about gobbling every book he could find, even paying a lad to hold a book for him, so he could read as he worked on people’s shoes.

He began to attend the Presbyterian Church and later wrote… “The first text I ever heard a sermon from was that text in Zechariah, ‘Is not this a brand plucked from the burning?’ ‘It is I, Lord,’ my young heart answered” (Triggs, page 10).

In his village there were four churches, each representing a different division of the Presbyterians. He attended the Free Church with his mother on Sunday mornings, then the Relief Church with his grandmother in the afternoon, and the Auld Licht Church on his own in the evening.

By the age of 26 he had graduated from Aberdeen University … with Honours (!), thanks to funds provided by his father in America in response to his request. Then followed theological training and ordination to the Presbyterian ministry at the age of 30. In 1870 he became assistant minister at Free St John’s Church, Glasgow, and there he continued to exercise a remarkable ministry for the next 50 years.

He married Jane Barbour when he was 45 years of age … and they had 8 children, seven of which survived. In 1892 (at the age of 56) he forsook his earlier Calvinistic doctrines for mysticism … due to a study of William Law’s writings. When his close friend, Robertson Smith, wrote an article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica that denied the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, Whyte came to his defence in the ensuing heresy trial. And he even befriended Abdul Baha Abbas, leader of the Bahai cult, during his visit to Scotland in 1913 (Triggs, page 83).

“He could not endure controversies with individuals,” wrote W. Robertson Nicholl. And, adds Warren Weirsbe, “He would go to almost any length to build bridges, even if he had to build them on sinking sand … but he was a great preacher and a great soul-winner in spite of his theological excesses” (Walking with the Giants, page 94).

An interesting piece of trivia is the fact that Dr Joseph Bell was a member of Whyte’s congregation … he even treated him in 1909 when the preacher had his first heart attack … and it was this same Joseph Bell who was used as a model for Sherlock Holmes in A. Conan Doyle’s famous books (God & Sherlock Holmes, by Dr W. Wall, page 8).

Whyte’s greatest personal contribution was his sermons, being a passionate and engaging speaker who animated his messages with home-spun, attention grabbing elements. It is said of him that “Nobody ever heard from his lips any cold truth. He was not detached from the truth he preached.”

One of the many examples of his engagement of his audiences comes from a message given in a slum where the populace was famous for their drunkenness. There “he astonished his hearers by informing them that he had found out the name of the wickedest man in Edinburgh, and he had come to tell them; and bending forward he whispered: ‘His name is Alexander Whyte’.” (G. F. Barbour, The Life of Alexander Whyte D. D., p. 316)

The books which Whyte has left us are mostly collections of his engaging sermons.

Dr Whyte died on Wednesday, 5 January, 1921. Earlier that day his wife had asked if there was anything he required. “A draught of life” he replied, so she read to him Psalm Ninety-one (Biography, by G.F. Barbour, page 641).

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at:

Thomas Goodwin the Famous Nonconfomist

This is the day that … Thomas Goodwin was born in Norfolk, England, in 1600.

Converted at the age of 20, when God spoke to his heart through a sermon based on Ezekiel 16:6, Thomas Goodwin went on to become a Church of England clergyman, until he clashed with the bishop!

He was told not to preach upon controversial subjects!

And a few years later – in 1633 – when he met non-conformist leader John Cotton, the die was cast.  Thomas Goodwin resigned from the Church of England and became a Congregationalist.

He pastored a London chapel, married Elizabeth Prescott, spent a year in ministry in Holland, then back to London.

During the Civil War he was a Chaplain to Oliver Cromwell (and later was at Cromwell’s deathbed);  he was the non-conformists’ leader at the Westminster assembly where he spoke 357 times during the five and a half years it was in session.  On 15 October, 1644, he was even called to order for speaking too long!

And he kept minutes of the meetings – 14 massive volumes.

His published writings cover 12 volumes (Banner of Truth) – for example, there are 36 sermons just on the first chapter of Ephesians.

During his lectures at Oxford his students called him “Dr Ninecaps”, possibly because of the “two double skull caps” he often wore (Puritan Profiles, by W. Barker, page 75).

Alexander Whyte speaks of him as “the greatest pulpit master of Pauline exegesis that has ever lived” (Thirteen Appreciations, page 158).

But some fellow Puritans – like John Owen – criticised Goodwin’s distinctive teachings on assurance.

Thomas Goodwin died on 23 February, 1680, and was buried in Bunhill Fields unconsecrated ground (since he was not allowed burial in the regular cemetery due to his non-conformist beliefs).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.