John Cairns the Presbyterian

This is the day that …John Cairns was ordained in the United Presbyterian Church – one of the three branches of Presbyterianism that existed in Scotland in 1845.

Born on 23 August, 1818, John Cairns was to become “their outstanding leader” – 33 years ministering at Berwick-on-Tweed, and then serving many years as principal of their theological college and professor of systematic theology and apologetics at the United Presbyterian Divinity Hall in Edinburgh.

It was not learned until after his death that he had received an invitation, at the age of 40, to the principalship of Edinburgh University, and had turned it down.

Alexander Gammie, in his Preachers I Have Heard, tells of Principal Cairns’ pulpit style: “His arms seem to give him the most trouble. It was all utterly ungainly. It would have been enough to wreck the pulpit popularity of most men. But in his case it was quite otherwise. People would have walked miles just to hear John Cairns say: ‘Let us pray …’” (page 58). “His transparent goodness, his simplicity of character, his forgetfulness of self, shone through every utterance. He was a saint who was unconscious of his saintliness …” (page 59).

And in The Christian Portrait Gallery we read: “He was an orator, and swayed his hearers with the passion and pathos of his words! He was fond of illustrations, and used similes never beyond the comprehension of the illiterate, but instinct with a fire that set the blood tingling through the veins” (page 52).

All of this was combined with a massive intellect.

Near the end of his ministry he exclaimed: “I have now preached for 43 years and I have been a professor of theology for more than 20, and I find every year how much grander the gospel of the grace of God becomes, and how much deeper, vaster and more unsearchable the riches of Christ, which it is the function of theology to explore …” (Fathers of the Kirk, by R. Wright, page 213).

Principal John Cairns died in 1892 at the age of 74.

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 www.donaldprout.com.

Archbishop Robert Leighton in Turbulent Times

This is the day that … Archbishop Robert Leighton died in London, in 1684.

He was born in 1611 … the exact date being unknown. Nor are we sure of the place. His father, Alexander Leighton, was an outspoken Puritan who incurred the wrath of the infamous Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. As a result, Laud had him branded on the forehead, fined 10,000 pounds Sterling, publicly whipped, one ear cut off and one nostril split. Oh, yes, and life imprisonment! (Fathers of the Kirk, page 85).

Son, Robert, attended Edinburgh University from whence he was nearly expelled for writing “witty verse” in which the red nose of one of the faculty figured!

He entered the Church of Scotland (which at the time had bishops), spending 10 years on the Continent. He returned in 1641 to a Church of Scotland that had rejected episcopacy in favour of Presbyterianism. For seven years he fitted in, but in 1648 he resigned and became principal of Edinburgh University.

The year 1660 saw Charles II on the throne and episcopacy was re-introduced into the Scottish church. Two-thirds of the ministers accepted the change – including Leighton, who was consecrated as a bishop. Three hundred ministers refused to accept the king as “supreme in all causes civil and ecclesiastical” and were ejected from their parishes. History knows these faithful pastors and their followers as ‘the Covenanters’.

Robert Leighton met with some of these “non-conformists and sought to heal the breach, to no avail.”

Robert was also a writer of great influence. He was devotional in style and his works impacted many, including Coleridge.

Some quotes from Leighton. Faith is an humble, self-denying grace; it makes the Christian nothing in himself, and all in God. God’s sweet dews and showers of grace slide off the mountains of pride, and fall on the low valleys of humble hearts, and make them pleasant and fertile. Were the visage of sin seen at a full light, undressed and unpainted, it were impossible, while it so appeared, that any one soul could be in love with it, but would rather flee from it as hideous and abominable.

In 1674 he resigned his archbishopric and passed his final decade “in quiet study and meditation!”

On his tombstone is the inscription: “In an age of utmost strife, he adorned the doctrine of God his Saviour by a holy life and the meek and loving spirit which breathes through his writings.”

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 www.donaldprout.com.

Sir James Young Simpson – Faith Trumps Science

This is the day that … Sir James Young Simpson was born, “25 miles from Edinburgh”, Scotland, in 1811.

His mother was 40 years of age at the time, and his father was the village baker. And, to establish in our minds something of the superstitions of the world into which he was born, James’ grandfather had “buried a live cow to appease the Evil Spirit which seemed likely to empty his byre (cow-shed)!” (Journal of Christian Medical Fellowship, January, 1992, page 5).

But James Simpson would be one of that century’s great scientists, who would help bridge the gap between “old wives’ tales” and responsible medical practice. His medical studies led him to the pinnacle of fame – elected “Senior President of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh” at the age of 24.

After studying at Edinburgh University he was appointed to the faculty as Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. And he found time to devote to his growing interest in archaeology – even being appointed Professor of Antiquities at the Royal Scottish Academy.

But the medical field was also encountering new discoveries. The use of ether to be used in the rendering of a patient unconscious during an operation had been tried. Likewise experiments with “nitrous oxide” (laughing gas).

But there were dangers also. A Liverpool chemist suggested the use of chloroform – a substance discovered some 10 years previous. On 4 November, 1847, Simpson and two colleagues experimented with it – on themselves. Six days later he was reporting to a medical meeting the advantages of this particular anaesthetic. And to answer his critics – religious critics who thought that women must suffer pain in childbirth – he argued that even God put Adam into a “deep sleep” prior to performing His divine surgery! He popularised the use of chloroform … and tried it out on a mother in labour. “She was so excited about the less painful birth that she named her baby girl Anaesthesia!”

Simpson was a member of the Church of Scotland – living at the time of the Disruption in that denomination, he threw in his lot with the Free Church of Scotland (1843).

Conversion, however, appears to have taken place in 1861, although some writers suggest a couple of years previous. Asked at a public meeting what was his greatest discovery, Simpson unhesitatingly replied: “That I have a Saviour” (Men of Destiny, by Peter Masters, page 38).

In 1862 we find him quoted as saying in an address, “I am one of the oldest sinners and one of the youngest Christians in this room” (Journal of the Christian Medical Fellowship, January, 1992).

Sir James Young Simpson died on 6 May, 1870.

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 www.donaldprout.com.