Samuel Rutherford Steers Scotland

Saintly Samuel Rutherford died, on March 30, 1661.  I know that Protestants do not usually use the word “Saint” for special folk, but if there is one who deserves it more than most others, let me suggest the godly Samuel Rutherford.

Spurgeon spoke of Rutherford’s letters as “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in the writings of mere men” (Holy Men of God, by E. Cumming, page 69).

Born in Scotland in 1600, Rutherford was converted some 26 years later – and became a minister of the Gospel. He was a brilliant scholar such that people expected him to excel. Following his studies at the University of Edinburgh he, as a young man, was then made Professor of Philosophy there. He then took the post of minister at Anwoth in Galloway and was a most diligent man. He rose often at 3am then spent his time thoroughly, “reading, praying, writing, catechising, visiting, and other duties belonging to the ministerial profession and employment”.

In June 1630 – and again in 1636 – he was tried by an ecclesiastical court for erroneous doctrine and irregularity of church practice, based around his book, Exercitationes de Gratia.  His first wife died at about this time and in banishment at Aberdeen he wrote the letters that have become a blessing to so many. Rutherford also contracted tertian fever and was so ill for thirteen weeks that he could barely have the strength to preach.

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Rutherford returned to his congregation at Anwoth and was made Professor of Divinity at St Andrews.

The complexities of the history of the church at this time need not concern us here. Rutherford’s stand against Arminianism ired some. He was charged with non-conformity. His stand for the right for families to establish private worship in their homes also received opposition. He opposed the Anabaptists and other sects in his book, Lex Rex. He participated in the Westminster Assembly, from which came the Westminster Confession.

He opposed the flourishing independent groups of worship which sprang up under Oliver Cromwell, but when Charles II gained the throne Rutherford was accused of high treason and his book, Lex Rex was burned as a public condemnation. However Rutherford did not get to face his kingly accusers.

Suffice to say, the saintly Samuel Rutherford entered into rest on 30 March, 1661.

So it was that Rutherford presided over the Lord’s work in a very troubled Scotland, refusing to take appointments abroad because he felt it his duty to endure on behalf of the Lord. History records that his faithful spirit did prevail, against the host of opponents and challenges.

His letters are still in print – “I am pained, pained with the love of Christ,” he writes.  “He hath made me sick and wounded me.  Hunger for Christ outrunneth faith … Oh, if they knew His kindness to my soul …”  (Life and Letters of Samuel Rutherford, by A. Bowen, page 22).

The hymn, The Sands of Time are Sinking, by Mrs Cousins, is based on some of the best and sweetest parts of Rutherford’s letters.

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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:

William Tennent Jnr Back from Dead

William Tennent Jnr died on March 8, 1777. He had been born 71 years earlier, on June 3, 1705; the second son of William Tennent Snr, in the county of Armagh, in Ireland. When William had just turned 13 he arrived with his family in America.

William Snr was a fiery evangelist who trained his sons to be men of God. He founded the famous “Log College“, the first Presbyterian theological institution in America.  (It was later to develop into Princeton University).

Here William Jnr and his three brothers were trained for the ministry, despite official opposition. Oldest brother, Gilbert, led his younger siblings to faith and they each became famous for their preaching. Brother John endured a near-death experience that crystallized his conversion and gave great zeal to his evangelistic efforts at Freehold, New Jersey. Under John’s passionate preaching, people would fall to their knees pleading for God’s mercy or sob uncontrollably. Some were carried from John’s meetings in a dead faint.

At the time of John’s conversion William Jnr was also very ill. William had been so intent on passing the requisite examinations by the Presbytery that his health suffered. He became like a living skeleton. One morning, while talking with his brother Gilbert, William died. He was checked for signs of life and finally laid out for burial.

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When the young doctor friend who had been attending William arrived to find him dead the young doctor was sure that there were the faintest signs of life, but no-one else could detect them. Thus it was that an argument ensued between Gilbert and the doctor that delayed the burial for three days. Just when the doctor had stalled as long as he could and William was about to be interred the “dead” man opened his eyes and groaned before falling back into a dead sleep again. His body was cold and hard, his lips discoloured and eyes sunken. But plans to bury him were put aside.

In due course William recovered, but it was a long process. He had no memory of anything prior to his “death” and could no longer read or write, or speak Latin, which he had used fluently before. Gradually his memories returned and he regained his full recollection and prior learning.

However, he also admitted to a glorious ‘after-death‘ experience. “I was accordingly wafted along, I know not how, till I beheld at a distance an ineffable glory, the impression of which on my mind it is impossible to communicate to mortal man. I immediately reflected on my happy change, and thought, Well, blessed be God! …  I saw an innumerable host of happy beings surrounding the inexpressible glory, in acts of adoration and joyous worship; but I did not see any bodily shape or representation in the glorious appearance. I heard things unutterable. I heard their songs and hallelujahs of thanksgiving and praise, with unspeakable rapture. I felt joy unutterable and full of glory.”

William was told he had to return to life, which greatly disappointed him. He woke to hear Gilbert and the doctor arguing and fainted with sorrow at missing the glories of heaven. Heaven’s sounds stayed with him every waking moment for more than three years.

When he took up preaching for John’s Freehold revival, then leading it after John’s death in 1732, he had great effect as a preacher. His near-death experience fired the imagination of his audiences and gave great authority to his words.

Visions and wonderful encounters with God and His Word occurred several times in William’s life. He had a vision of Christ while praying the woods and was carried back to the night meeting by the church elders, where he preached powerfully. Another time he had revelation of the scriptures and saw God’s divinity as he had never seen it before. Thirty souls were converted when next he preached.

One of the strangest experiences is when he awoke in the middle of the night “to discover that several toes of his foot had been cut off as if by some sharp instrument…” The missing digits were nowhere to be found.  William Jnr was convinced that the devil himself was responsible.  Others have suggested rats … or even an accident during sleepwalking.

William and Gilbert had profound impact on the Presbyterian churches in their Philadelphia Synod, promoting pursuit of sound conversion, strong faith and effective ministry. In the revival meetings which they were devoted to they avoided anything that was not soundly in line with Biblical doctrine, while allowing for visions, trances and revelations as long as they affirmed the truth, and did not draw one away from it.

And as we common in Presbyterian revivals, as seen in the Cambuslang Revival in Scotland, people would gather for Sacramental gatherings which ran for several days and which sought to affirm a person’s conviction of salvation, which was then celebrated by the taking of the Communion. In 1744 William used Sacramental gatherings in Hopewell and Maidenhead, in order to create a new church. Another biographical note regarding William is that he was a friend of the poor.

Rev William Tennent Jnr died in New Jersey at the age of 72.

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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:

John Duncan Missionary to the Hungarian Jews

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan died, on February 26, 1870. He was not really a rabbi, but such was the nickname by which he became known.

John Duncan was born to humble, pious parents, in Gilcomston, Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1796, his father, John, being a shoemaker. Young John was the only child of his parents to survive infancy. He was a sickly child and a bout of smallpox rendered him permanently blind in one eye. His biographer describes him as “a delicate, dreamy, clever, engaging, affectionate, high-spirited and occasionally passionate boy, sometimes crying bitterly under the severity of paternal discipline, sometimes abruptly laughing aloud at the brightness, or at the humour, of his own hidden thoughts”.

Duncan spent time in atheism, despite the faith of his parents. The cogent reasoning and prayers to the “Great King” by his lecturer, Dr Mearns, gave Duncan a logical acceptance of the existence of God.

Trained for the Presbyterian ministry, and licensed to preach on June 24, 1825, it was not until the following year that he was genuinely converted, due to the personal work of Rev Dr Caesar Malan of Geneva, who visited Aberdeen on an evangelistic tour. Duncan was at that time in a state of mental depression.

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In 1828 Duncan enjoyed an additional spiritual touch on his life, which he referred to as his “second conversion”, due to its profound impact. He had become stale in his faith and struggled with that until he came again to strong conviction and soundness of belief.

In 1830 he was given 10 months as minister at the Chapel of Persie, from which his reputation as a profound, deeply-taught preacher of God’s Word began to spread. Thus he was given the post of English Assistant to the Rev Robert Clark of the Duke Street Gaelic Chapel with the duty of leading an English-speaking congregation on Sunday afternoons. And from there he was promoted to his own church, Milton Parish Church, which was built for him through a Church Building Association which had started in Glasgow.

Duncan married Janet Tower, of Aberdeen, in 1837, and she proved a valuable helpmate. However, just over two years later she died in 1840, following the premature birth of their child.

There was great interest in Scotland at that time for the winning of Jews to Christ. Duncan was strongly motivated in that direction and so, after about a decade of ministry in Glasgow, Duncan was selected to mount an evangelistic endeavour to the Jews in Budapest, Hungary. He attended to that task in the years 1841-42, ably assisted by his second wife. The Archduchess of Hungary had long been praying for the help of a man of God in her city, so was delighted to have Duncan at his work.

This was the most fruitful and happy season of Duncan’s life and ministry. Duncan’s excellent knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, customs and beliefs fascinated the Jewish community and gave him ready access to them. Among his converts were Alfred Edersheim and Adolph Saphir; both of whom became outstanding Presbyterian theologians.

Duncan later became Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages in New College, Edinburgh. Previously, in 1839, he had applied for the post of Dean of the Hebrew Chair of the University of Glasgow, but was unsuccessful. Dr Duncan occupied this chair for twenty-seven years from 1843 till his death in 1870.

“His students did not get much Hebrew instruction, but they were inspired by his spirit, so eminently godly” (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia, page 673).

Biographer A. Moody-Stuart tells of Duncan’s strong Calvinistic views – “his aversion to Arminianism was intense” (page 192).

And the rather quaint story is told of his second marriage. Some years following the death of his first wife, Duncan married a widow named Mrs Torrance. But it nearly misfired. When the cab arrived to take him to the wedding, he was not to be found. “His niece found him in bed sound asleep with a Hebrew book in his hand” (Moody-Stuart, page 118).

And another story of his eccentricities (of which there are many) is that when asked if he would like another cup of tea – “having drained his cup 14 times, he replied, ‘No, thank you, I never take more than two cups of tea’” (page 117).

His strength waned in his later years and in January, 1870 his heart weakness significantly reduced his strength. From that time he ceased to attend the College. He passed away peacefully on the morning of February 26.

On his deathbed he said to his biographer, “I have been at the point of death. But I found that the one great mysterious death of Calvary was all I needed” (page 151).

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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:

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:

Dr Albert Barnes Writes a Grand Commentary

Dr Albert Barnes died on December 24, 1870, in West Philadelphia, USA, at the age of 72.

Barnes was born at Rome, New York, on December 1, 1798 and graduated from Hamilton College, New York, in 1820, and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1823.

His ordination as a Presbyterian minister came in 1825, in Elizabethtown, New Jersey and he held Presbyterian pastorates at Morristown, New Jersey from 1825 to 1830, and then the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia for 37 years until 1867, when he resigned and was made pastor emeritus.

When he preached in his Philadelphia church that Christ had died for all men – and not simply the ‘elect’ – the charge of heresy had been brought against him.

In 1835 he was brought to trial for heresy by the Second Presbytery of Philadelphia, and was acquitted, but his accusers succeeded in having him suspended from the ministry,

“For one year he was made to sit in silence in a pew in his own church and hear others preach!” (500 Sermons, by T. de Witt Talmage, Volume 4, page 292).

He was again acquitted of heresy in 1836. The charges of heresy primarily related to his comments on Romans and the fact that Barnes broke from strict Calvinism and taught that man had free will to accept or deny the Gospel. He encouraged people to exercise their power of choice, and to respond to God’s offer of salvation

The trial stirred up much bitterness. Barnes’ view was shared by other Presbyterians, identified as the New School branch, of which Barnes was a leader. In 1837 the Presbyterian church split between the conservatives and progressives. Barnes went with the progressive New School.

While being a gifted preacher he is remembered for his expository works which are said to have wider use than any others of their class.

The Schaff/Herzog Encyclopaedia tells us that Dr Barnes was “a truth-loving, earnest, conscientious man of God” (page 215).

Barnes’ New Testament Notes had sold a million copies by 1870.

His Commentary on the Bible has been reprinted and is still as valuable as ever for its profound scholarship. Spurgeon, while not giving unqualified approval, does say, “no minister can afford to be without it…” (Commenting on the Commentaries, page 14).

A current sales description for the Commentary says, Barnes “summarised the views of all the key expositors up to his time. He excelled in easy-to-follow, note-style commentary writing, and some of his treatments of controversial passages are unsurpassed in the way opposing views are contrasted and resolved. Some parts of his work, notably his notes on Job, Psalms, Isaiah and Daniel, stand high among the best commentaries on these books. Always full of information.”

He was an advocate of total abstinence from alcohol, was a staunch proponent of the abolition of slavery, and worked actively to promote Sunday-school. The reason Barnes’ writings are so reader friendly is that they were primarily written with Sunday School teachers in mind.

Albert Barnes nurtured some unusual ideas. It is reported that he would not fish with bait on a hook since he considered it to be a form of deception.

In an address given when he was 70, “Life at Threescore and Ten”, he said he wanted to die quickly, not with a lingering disease. Two years later his wish was granted when he died suddenly while visiting a friend.

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: