James Montgomery Returns to the Fold to Teach Hymnody

James Montgomery was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, on November 4th, 1771.

This son of a Moravian minister “wrote more hymns in common use today than any writer except Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts”.

His early years were spent in a Moravian settlement and when he was twelve his parents went as Moravian missionaries to the West Indies. Both died in their first year.

James was reared in a Christian boys’ boarding school in Yorkshire, England but was not a successful student. The school prohibited secular poems but somehow James borrowed and read a good deal of poetry. He then decided to write his own boyhood verse.

He was apprenticed to a baker, but at the age of 16 he ran away to London to find a publisher for some poems he had penned. But to no avail.

He finally found employment in a bookshop and then, in London, working for a radical newspaper, The Sheffield Register. When his boss left England to avoid political persecution Montgomery took over the Register and renamed it the Sheffield Iris. Twice he was imprisoned for “seditious libel” against the government!

By this point James had abandoned the faith which he first professed when he was seven. He spent many years seeking success and meaning in his writings. At the age of 43 he came back to the Moravian church and reaffirmed his faith.

He expressed his penitence in a poem.
People of the living God, I have sought the world around,
Paths of sin and sorrow trod, Peace and comfort nowhere found.
Now to you my spirit turns– Turns a fugitive unblest;
Brethren, where your altar burns, O receive me into rest.

Firmly back in the Christian fold Montgomery made a huge contribution in verse and hymn. It is said that his book, The Christian Psalmist, he laid the foundations of modern scientific hymnology. He spurned the practice of his predecessors who threw a collection of dispirit ideas together in their hymns and his own hymns were characterised by “one central creative thought, shaping for itself melodious utterance, and with every detail subordinate to its harmonious presentation”.

John Telford wrote of Montgomery: “His father had been a disciple of John Cennick, and it is said that a volume of Cennick’s sermons was the means of James Montgomery’s conversion. He lived a busy life as editor, lecturer and advocate of Foreign Missions and of the Bible Society” (Methodist Hymnal Illustrated, page 101).

Montgomery wrote over 400 hymns – many of which are still sung. Among his most popular are:
Hail to the Lord’s anointed –

Great David’s greater Son…
and
Stand up and bless the Lord, Ye people of His choice …

And the Christmas carol, penned on Christmas Eve, 1816:
Angels from the realms of glory

Unlike most male hymnists, James Montgomery was not a clergyman. Nor did he ever marry. He died in his sleep on 30 April, 1854, aged 83.

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. 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.

Torial Joss Whitfield’s Associate Preacher

This is the day that … Torial Joss was born in Scotland, in 1731.

After his father’s death, young Joss ran away to sea and was captured, and imprisoned, by the French.

Back in Scotland – aged 15! – he was press-ganged on to a man-of-war – escaped, and at a place called “Robin Hood’s Bay” (on the north-east coast of England) he read Bunyan – and was converted.

John Wesley met and encouraged him in his preaching.

Again he went to sea and rose to the position of Captain of the “Hartley Trader”. Whitefield contacted him on his arrival in London and Joss was told that he would be preaching at (Whitefield’s) Tabernacle. He was then 34 years of age.

So impressed is the great revivalist that he made Joss one of his assistants “and great crowds waited upon his ministry full of converting power and ripe with chequered and tragic experience” (Whitefield – the Awakener, by Rev. A. Belden, page 195).

The records of the Tabernacle include: One of the several people who ministered to the Church was an evangelical sea-captain named Torial Joss. Captain Joss was not ordained but he administered Communion. The Methodist Synod of 1790 objected to this. However, the Church refused to dismiss Joss. One of its members bought up the mortgage and locked the doors of the building. It was then re-opened as a Congregational Church.

His itinerate ministry saw multitudes converted. He usually spent four or five months of each year itinerating in England and Wales. The Welsh delighted in his simple eloquence. Many came twenty miles on foot to hear him.

And because of his pulpit ministry at Tottenham Chapel he was dubbed “Whitfield’s Archdeacon of Tottenham”. And there he was buried, in 1797.

After preaching the Gospel more than thirty years he was smitten down by sudden disease. “Oh the preciousness of faith!” he exclaimed to the groups around his deathbed. “I have finished my course. My pilgrimage is ended. Oh, thou Friend of sinners take thy poor old friend home.”

As if rapt in visions of the celestial world he at last uttered the word, “Archangels!” and expired.

His biographer describes him as a good man, mighty in the Scriptures and faithful to the end.

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.

Alexander Henderson Steers Scotland Through Troubled Waters

This is the day that …Alexander Henderson died in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1646.

Henderson was born in 1583 at Criech, Fifeshire. He graduated at the University of St Andrews in 1603 and in 1610 was appointed professor of rhetoric and philosophy. Shortly after this he was appointed to the parish of Leuchars by Archbishop George Gladstanes.

Henderson’s sympathies were with the organised church, which made him extremely unpopular at first. He subsequently changed his views about church government and became a Presbyterian in doctrine and order. This paved the way for him becoming an outstanding leader and statesman for the Presbyterian cause in the resultant clashes with the English monarchy.

He was a natural leader and was eloquent and effective in dealing with the Crown. When King Charles I sought to impose episcopacy (the rule of bishops) upon the Church of Scotland, it was Henderson who led the fight against it. He helped with the final draft of the “National Covenant” which began its public signing at Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh on March 1st, 1638. He debated the famous Aberdeen Doctors and was later chosen Moderator of the Scottish churches at the Glasgow Assembly on 21st of November 1638. That gathering deposed all the Scottish bishops, excommunicated a number of them, repealed all acts favouring episcopacy, and reconstituted the Scottish Kirk on thorough Presbyterian principles.

As leader of the Covenanters he steered the Scottish Church as their elected moderator (1638-1658) through twenty stormy years. Through his handling of the First Bishop’s War he made a favourable impression on King Charles. When the Scots saw that the King was preparing for the Second Bishop’s War they took the initiative and invaded England, securing a decisive victory. King Charles acceded to all their demands, however the formal development of the treaty was a long process, which was overseen by Henderson.

His crowning achievement could well be that he oversaw the establishment of the Solemn League and Covenant, which passed through both houses of the British Parliament, which thus allowed for the two systems of church government to co-exist.

For the last six years of his life he was rector at Edinburgh University.

“His name,” writes W. Barker, is “revered as second only to John Knox in the Church of Scotland”.

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.

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.

Andrew Melville’s Unrestrained Tongue

This is the day that … Andrew Melville was born in 1545. His family displayed the fighting Scottish spirit and his father died in battle when Andrew was just 2 years old. His mother died soon after and the lad was raised by his older brother.

With an aptitude for scholarship he outshone his peers in classic languages, studied abroad and became an educator himself. On his return to Scotland he was so effective in upgrading the universities there that they could not contain the students who wished to come.

Yet while this Scottish Reformer has been called “the father of Presbyterianism”, he was direct of speech and unafraid to speak roughly where he felt it appropriate.

As John Knox had withstood Queen Mary’s Romanist tendencies a generation previous, now the battle was with King James IV who declared that he was supreme “over all persons and causes, civil and ecclesiastical alike” (Fathers of the Kirk, page 48).

At an historic meeting in 1596 Andrew Melville called the King, to his face, “God’s sillie vassal,” and taking the king by the sleeve went on to remind him that there were two kingdoms in Scotland … and one of those was ruled by King Jesus, to whom King James IV must bow as a subject!

This fearless Scot was imprisoned in the Tower of London (1609-1611), in response to his writing a sarcastic review of English ecclesiastical practices. Then, at the request of a French noble, he was released to take up a professorship on the Continent. There he died, in Sedan, France, in 1622.

J.D. Douglas writes: “It was Presbyterianism of the type Melville had forged that ultimately won the victory some 80 years after his banishment and which still forms the basis of the national Church of Scotland today” (and of Presbyterian churches around the world). (Who’s Who in Church History, page 469).

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.