Friday, August 31, 2007

How modern versions mislead about textual criticism

An article by a textual critic has criticised the misleading way that the NIV treats text critical matters. The article "Some Witnesses Have ...": The Representation of the New Testament Text in English Bible Versions is by Holger Szesnat of the Cambridge Theological Federation. He is also critical of the CEV which manages to confuse notes relating to translation and notes relating to textual criticism in its Preface.

New King James Version
The article does not address one of the most confusing translations with respect to textual criticism, the New King James Version. The marginal notes relating to textual criticism in this version are among the most extensive since such matters were introduced by the Revised Version. The footnotes in the NKJV make constant reference to the Nestle-United Bible Society critical Greek text and in some cases to the Majority text and thus create exactly the same kind of doubt with respect to the original text of Scripture that is in the other modern versions. By questioning the authenticity of such verses and phrases the notes create confusion for the reader and even skepticism. There is an expectation that Bible students will be able to pick and choose according to their subjective sense of what is authentic. Or else there is an assumption that readers will initiate themselves into the philosophy of textual neutrality or eclecticism, of picking and choosing between the readings of competing texts and versions. The latter seems to be entirely the intention according to the New King James Bible Study Edition which states that:
'It was the editors' conviction that the the use of footnotes would encourage further enquiry by readers. They also recognized that it was easier for the average reader to delete something he or she felt was not properly in the text, than to insert a word or phrase which had been left out by the revisers'.

Textual criticism is a complex,technical discipline requiring the knowledge of many ancient languages and in-depth historical awareness of the history of texts. Modern versions would launch the general reader with very little intelligible information into a vast field of knowledge that they cannot hope to process adequately.

New American Standard Bible
This version had originally cut out various parts of the New Testament on the basis of textual criticism and has recently had to reinstate them. One of these passages was the ascension of Christ in Luke. The NASB originally left this ascension account out, claiming it was not found in the best witnesses. It is now restored. As Theodore Letis pointed out they did so 'on the basis of the discovery of papyrus75, (p75), a very early third century witness to the validity of this ascension account. This papyrus was discovered in the 1950s, just about the time that the NASB project was getting off the ground. The NASB New Testament portion appeared in stages between 1960 and 1963, but the entire bible did not materialize until 1971 and as with the current Updated Edition of the NASB which already lags behind the most current edition of the Greek N.T., 27th ed., the original NASB N.T. edition never took full advantage of this new evidence (p75 was first published in 1961, thus affording them plenty of time to adjust their text to this new data'. Can we even believe that these modern versions have got their homework right in relation to the position that they take on textual criticism? As Szesnat's article shows, there is much that is misleading in this connection within the NIV. It is important to note that the Today's New International Version has not really changed the NIV's treatment of text critical matters.

New International Version

Szesnat notes the confusing way that text critical matters are introduced in the preface to the NIV. The preface states (ix-x):
'The Greek text used in translating [the New Testament] ... was an eclectic one. No other piece of ancient literature has such an abundance of manuscript witnesses as does the New Testament. Where existing manuscripts differ, the translators made their choice of readings according to accepted principles of New Testament textual criticism. Footnotes call attention to places where there was uncertainty about what the original text was. The best current printed texts of the Greek New Testament were used ... In the New Testament, footnotes that refer to uncertainty regarding the original text are introduced by 'Some manuscripts' or similar expressions'.

As Szesnat points out what is the reader to make of this? An "eclectic text"? "Manuscripts"? "Witnesses"? "Original text"? "Best current printed texts"? He says: 'Clearly, it would be most difficult to understand the statement in the NIV's preface without basic text-critical training. It does not present the reader with an explanation of basic text-critical issues—in fact, it almost seems as if the preface has a trained exegete in mind, rather than the ordinary reader'. Szesnat goes on to point out that 'even more problematic is a claim implicit in the preface, namely that footnotes in the NIV are given only if there is "uncertainty" as to the original text. The preface seems to suggest that it is only in those cases noted in the NIV that there is any doubt about the "original text".

He states that this is misleading, 'if only because the NIV gives footnotes in many cases where there would be little 'uncertainty' among the vast majority of textual critics (e.g., Acts 8:37)'

'The NIV offers some 133 text-critical indicators in its text of the New Testament; two of these come in the form of notes within the text itself, the rest by way of footnotes. The format of these footnotes is fairly uniform, with few exceptions: variants are introduced as "some manuscripts
read / add..."(e.g. Mt 5:22) or "some manuscripts omit / do not have..." (e.g. Mt 12:47). It must also be noted that the abbreviations 'Mss' for manuscripts and 'MS' for manuscript, which are sometimes used in the footnotes of the NIV, are never explained. This seems odd, since these
abbreviations are hardly common outside the academic scene.'

In some instances, other indications are given with regard to the number of mss concerned: "a few" (e.g. Mt 27:35); "many" (e.g. Jn 13:32); "one" (only in Acts 10:19 and Heb 10:38); or "other" (only Acts 10:19). In some cases, temporal qualifiers are added: "some late manuscripts
..." (e.g. Mt 5:44); "some early manuscripts..." (e.g. Mk 6:14). In one instance, the variant reading is cited as being supported by "some less important manuscripts" (Jn 5:3)... One wonders though what the ordinary reader is to make of the information given: since no real introduction to textual criticism and the state of the NT text is offered, the reader's imagination is bound to run wild.'

In Mark 16 and John 8 there is some more of an explanation. 'The rather terse note reads: "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." But 'what do concepts like 'manuscripts' and 'witnesses' mean? Why are they important? What are 'reliable' or, for that matter, 'unreliable' mss?'

'In a number of cases, the NIV's description of external evidence is unnecessarily simplistic, if not misleading. A typical example is Heb 10:38, where the NIV states in a footnote: "one early manuscript But the righteous". Yet apart from "one early manuscript" (a reference to P13?) this
reading is supported inter alia by the so-called Majority Text...Another example of curious representation of text-critical matters is 1 Thess 3:2, where the NIV translates "Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow-worker". A footnote states: "some manuscripts brother and fellowworker;
other manuscripts brother and God's servant." This selection is strange given that there are several other variant readings here, including the form that the TR / AV chose ("and servant of God and your fellow worker")'.

'Once or twice the textual variant is reported in ambiguous ways. Acts 13:18 (translated as "he endured their conduct for about 40 years in the desert") sports a foonote after 'conduct' which reads: "Some manuscripts and cared for them". The reader might therefore think that the variant
reading is "he endured their conduct and cared for them for about 40 years in the desert", whereas the translators presumably wanted to refer to the variant "and he cared for them for about 40 years in the desert". The footnote at 2 Pt 2:13 is a similar case.'

What is implied in the NIV is that the age of the mss is the most crucial aspect of textual criticism. But, quite apart from the importance of internal evidence (even if one is not a proponent of radical eclecticism), external evidence hardly works that way'.

The NIV, perhaps unwittingly so, implies an extraordinarily simplistic view that 'early' mss equal 'reliable', 'faithful', or 'accurate' scribes—somewhat akin to the desire of 19th century source critics of the New Testament to find the oldest gospel in the New Testament, assuming that it would necessarily be more 'accurate', or 'reliable', than the others. In this sense, it represents a simplistic, indeed naive, 'search for origins'. On the whole, this gives a rather erroneous impression, if only because it was precisely in the earliest stages of textual transmission that the scribes who copied the New Testament experienced the greatest freedom to alter the text quite deliberately (cf. Aland & Aland 1989;
Ehrman 1993; Parker 1997).

As John Burgo said of the Revised Version
'For, the ill-advised practice of recording, in the margin of an English Bible, certain of the blunders--(such things cannot by any stretch of courtesy be styled 'Various Readings')--which disfigure 'some' or 'many' 'ancient authorities,' can only result in hopelessly unsettling the faith of millions.

It can not be defended on the plea of candour,--the candour which is determined that men shall 'know the worst.' 'The worst' has NOT been told: and it were dishonesty to insinuate that it has. If all the cases were faithfully exhibited where a 'few,' or 'some,' or 'many ancient authorities' read differently from what is exhibited in the actual Text, not only would the margin prove insufficient to contain to the record, but the very page itself would not nearly suffice . . . . It is the gross one-sidedness, the patent unfairness, in a critical point of view, of this work...which chiefly shocks and offends us.'

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The devotional value of the Westminster Confession

The Westminster Confession of Faith is not simply a document full of doctrinal statements. It has a practical and devotional use for every Christian. It is a document that may be made utterly personal. This is evident from the vows that office-bearers must take when they subscribe it totally in its entirety, without reservation: 'Do you sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith, approven by former General Assemblies of this Church, to be founded upon the Word of God; and do you acknowledge the same as the confession of your faith; and will you firmly and constantly adhere thereto..?'

They must own it in a personal way as the confession not simply of the Church but of their own faith. So, they must not only answer affirmatively to this question but then also sign with their name to the written statement "do sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith, approven by former General Assemblies of this Church to be the truths of God; and I do own the same as the confession of my faith."

They confess publicly that the truths of this document have become their convictions by the work of the illumination of the Holy Spirit on the Word of God. They have come to love them. The fact that they have not written the words themselves is not relevant. It cannot reduce their personal devotion to the truths. They are able to make use of them because it is the same Spirit that has opened the mind and heart to receive them. Paul Woolley comments on the fact that 'most modern people hold the view that a creed is something to be forced, or imposed on other people. That is utterly perverse .... Nothing could be further from the proper function for a creed. It ought to be a very joyful affirmation of the truth which has benefited the affirmant, and which he wants to pass on to others in a clear and simple form.' (Paul Woolley, 'What is a Creed for?' in Scripture and Confession, ed. John H. Skilton, p. 98).

BB Warfield calls attention to some of the reasons as to why the Confession possesses this character. It is because the Westminster divines 'wrote these definitions aiming before all things to be saints: is it strange that we see the saint through the theologian and have our hearts warmed by the contact? Certain it is that the Westminster Standards have a spiritual significance to us which falls in no wise short of their historical and scientific significance.

Open these standards where you will and you will not fail to feel the throb of an elevated and noble spiritual life pulsing through them. They are not merely a notably exact scientific statement of the elements of the gospel: they are, in the strictest sense of the words, the very embodiment of the gospel. They not only know what God is; they know God: and they make their readers know Him—know Him in His infinite majesty, in His exalted dominion, in His unlimited sovereignty, in the immutability of His purpose and His almighty power and universal providence, but know Him also in that strangest, most incomprehensible of all His perfections, the unfathomableness of His love. Their description of Him transcends the just limits of mere definition and swells into a paean of praise—praise to Him who is "most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." And how profound their knowledge is of the heart of man—its proneness to evil, its natural aversion to spiritual good, its slowness of response to spiritual influence, the deviousness of its path even under the leading of the Holy Ghost. But, above all, they know, with a fulness of apprehension which startles and instructs and blesses the reader, the ways of God with the errant souls of men—how He has condescended to open the way to them of having fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, how He has redeemed them unto Himself in the blood of His Son, and how He deals with them, as only a loving Father may, in disciplining and fitting them for the heavenly glory. Where elsewhere may we find more vitally set forth the whole circle of experience in the Christian life—what conversion is and how God operates in bringing the soul to knowledge of Him and faith in its Saviour, what are the joys of justifying grace and of adoption into the family of God, and what the horrors of those temporary lapses that lie in wait for unwary steps, and what the inconceivable tenderness of God's gracious dealings with the stumbling and trembling spirit until He brings it safely home? Who can read those searching chapters on Perseverance and Assurance without feeling his soul burn within him, or without experience of a new influx of courage land patience for the conflicts of life? It is not a singular experience which Dr. Thornwell records, when he sets down in his journal his thanksgiving to God for this blessed Confession. "I bless God," he writes, "for that glorious summary of Christian doctrine contained in our noble Standards. It has cheered my soul in many a dark hour, and sustained me in many a desponding moment." We do not so much require as delight, with consentient mind, in his testimony, when he declares that he knows of "no uninspired production in any language, or of any denomination, that for richness of matter, soundness of doctrine, scriptural expression and edifying tendency can for a moment enter into competition with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms." The Westminster Standards, in a word, are notable monuments of the religious life as well as of theological definition, and, speaking from the point of view of vital religion, this is their significance as a creed.' (BB Warfield 'The Significance of the Westminster standards as a creed: an address delivered before the Presbytery of New York, November 8, 1897, on the occasion of the celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Completion of the Westminster Standards').

John Murray in 'The Work of the Westminster Assembly' wrote similarly. 'The work produced by the Westminster Assembly has lived and will permanently live. The reason is obvious. The work was wrought with superb care, patience, precision, and above all with earnest and intelligent devotion to the Word of God and zeal for His glory. Sanctified theological learning has never been brought to bear with greater effect upon the formulation of the Christian Faith. While it would be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit to accord to these documents a place in any way equal to the Word of God either in principle or in practical effect, yet it would also be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit, who has promised to be with His church to the end, to undervalue or neglect what is the product of His illumination and direction in the hearts and minds of His faithful servants. Other men laboured and we have entered into their labours'.

It should be our delight to find increasing devotional value and spiritual significance within the Confession, simply because its doctrines are the doctrines of Scripture. Devotion must be derived from and feed upon the fulness of the truth. As Thornwell puts it, our devotional requirements will be met in the 'richness of matter, soundness of doctrine, scriptural expression and edifying tendency' of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Monday, August 27, 2007

true experience

'oh what an empty thing religion should be if it had not this word experience in its grammar; that secret and sure mark whereby the Christian knoweth the scripture is of God; how thus the Lord hath sealed their instruction in a dark plunge; how life and power, enlivening influences, to the melting of their heart have of trysted them in a very dead frame and now they know that verily God heareth prayer; now they are persuaded and have learned by the cross that he is indeed a comforter'
Robert Fleming - The Fulfilling of the Scripture (1669) p.10

The following pages give more information about Robert Fleming.

Robert Fleming was born at Bathans in 1630, the son of a minister of the gospel, James Fleming. He studied under Samuel Rutherford.

By the time he was 23, he was a pastor at Cambuslang, in Clydesdale until after the restoration of King Charles II. He had seven children by Christina Hamilton. He lived at Edinburgh until September of 1673 when "all the ministers in and about Edinburgh were called to appear before the Council to hear their sentence, and repair to the places of their confinement." He chose not to appear. As a result, he was persued, eventually apprehended, and imprisoned in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. After his release he went to Holland.

He had a custom established from sometime around his sixteenth or seventeenth year of age "to set apart the first day of every year for renewing his covenant with God; and if interrupted that day, to take the next day following." Following is a sample taken from his journal.

1691. In the entry of this new year, as I have now done for many years most solemnly, I desire again to renew my personal engaging of myself to the Lord my God, and for Him, and with my whole heart and desire to enter myself into His service, and take on His blessed yoke, and humbly to lay claim, take, and embrace Him (O Him!) To be my God, my all, my light, and my salvation, my shield, and exceeding great reward." ("The Scots Worthies," by John Howie, of Lochgoin. Edingburgh and London: Oliphant, Anderson, & Ferrier, 1870, page 574)

He produced many works: Confirming Work of Religion, Epistolary Discourse, and The Fulfilling of the Scriptures.

He left behind a writing called, A Short Index of some of the Great Appearances of the Lord in the Dispensations of His Providence to His Poor Servant." Apparently, the Lord moved miraculously upon Robert Fleming. Following are excerpts taken from that work and recording in Scots Worthies on pages 578 - 560.

3. The strange and extraordinary impression I had of an audible voice in the church at night, when, being a child, I had got up to the pulpit, calling me to make haste.

10. The extraordinary dream and marvelous vision I had, twice repeated, with the inexpressible joy after the same.

21. The dream at Boussay, wherein I got such express warning as to my wife's removal, with the Lord's marvelous appearance and presence the Thursday after, at St. Johnston's.

24. Those great and signal confirmations give me at my wife's death, and that great extraordinary voice, so distinct and clear, which I heard a few nights after her death.

34. The remarkable warning I was forced to give, that some present should be taken away by death before next Lord's-day.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Unity of Visible Church in Song of Solomon

James Durham shows how the Song of Solomon teaches the unity of the catholic visible church. When he speaks of subdivisions and particular churches he is referring to different national churches. It is important to bear in mind the remarks of James Walker:

'The visible church, in the idea of the Scottish theologians, is catholic. You have not an indefinite number of Parochial, or Congregational, or National churches, constituting, as it were, so many ecclesiastical individualities, but one great spiritual republic, of which these various organizations form a part. The visible church is not a genus, so to speak, with so many species under it. It is thus you may think of the State, but the visible church is a totum integrale, it is an empire. The churches of the various nationalities constitute the provinces of this empire; and though they are so far independent of each other, yet they are so one, that membership in one is membership in all, and separation from one is separation from all . . . This conception of the church, of which, in at least some aspects, we have practically so much lost sight, had a firm hold of the Scottish theologians of the seventeenth century.' Dr. James Walker in The Theology of Theologians of Scotland. (Edinburgh: Rpt. Knox Press, 1982) Lecture iv. pp.95-6.

It should be clear that Durham shared the view of all the Second Reformation divines who 'had such a conception of the importance of the unity of the church, and such a horror of the evil of schism, and were so firmly convinced that anyone who withdrew from church communion without absolute cause, that is without feeling assured that he could not remain in such fellowship without committing sin, was guilty of a most heinous offence, that they were ready to give their most favorable consideration to any sort of suggestion of reasons why they should refuse to go out of a church, notwithstanding the existence in it of many corruptions against which they must protest.'

Song 6 Verse 2. My Beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.

He is 'gone down to his garden,' which implieth the similitude, formerly expressed, of a man's retiring from his chamber or closet to his garden: this 'garden' signifies the church, as chap. 4:12,15, and here, as opposed to gardens, in the words following, it holdeth forth the catholic visible church, as gardens signify particular societies, or congregations: the church is like a garden that is within one precinct, yet divided into divers quarters and inclosures: this being the church that hath the promise of Christ's presence, and where he is ever to be found, must be understood of no particular church, of which that cannot be asserted, that Christ shall be always there: it must therefore be the catholic church, distinguished from particular churches, or gardens.

2. He is gone 'to the beds of spices:' as gardens have distinct plots of flowers, and beds of spices, and some particular parts are allotted for these, where especially they grow; so in the church Christ hath his plants, whereof some are sanctified with grace (therefore compared to spices) and these, in some parts of the visible church, are more abounding than in other parts, (as spices in beds together, that may be elsewhere but in particular stalks and not so frequent) and as men love and frequent that plot of their garden most; so doth Christ most manifest himself in his ordinances ordinarily, where he hath his spices and lilies in greatest abundance: and thus this last part qualifies the former, he is in his church, but especially where his spices are most abounding: and therefore would you have him? Seek him in his church and amongst his people, and especially in such societies of his people, where true and lively believers are most to be found.

Here observe (besides what was observed on chap. 4:12,) Christ's church, tho' it have many subdivisions, yet is it one church; one whole catholic church, whereof particular churches are parts, 1 Cor. 12:28.

2. It is in that church and no where else, that Christ's presence is to be found, and where believers, the spices and lilies are planted.

3. There may be, in that one visible church, many more real converts in one part thereof, than in another; 'spices' in 'beds' are not in every place of the 'garden.'

4. Tho' Christ hath a singular care of, and respect for, his whole church, and hath a peculiar presence there wherever there is any part thereof, yet where he hath much people, beyond what he hath in other places (as in Antioch, Acts 11:21, in Corinth, Acts 18:10, and Ephesus, Acts 19:20,) there especially is he present, and there ordinarily continues he the power and life of his ordinances.

5. Those who desire Christ, should not run out of the church to seek him, or expect any way of finding him, which others have not found out before them but should seek after him by the ordinary means, in his church; for, this answers their question, 'Where is he?' proposed for that end, that they might seek him and find him.

Song 6 verse 9. My dove, my undefiled is but one.

She is one, which sets her out not only with unity in her affections, but (to say so) with a kind of oneness in herself: thus the visible catholic church is one garden, verse 2, comprehending many beds of spices; one church, made up here of many particular churches: and thus, oneness or unity is a great commendation to her, or a special part of her excellency.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Social Epidemics

Some popular non-fiction books can be worthwhile. I haven't read this one, but 'The Tipping Point' by Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting sound to it. The main focus is upon why things can change so quickly and unexpectedly. Sometimes the smallest changes can effect the greatest results. Certain messages have a stickiness factor that means that they have an impact that lasts through being memorable while others are easily forgotten.

Gladwell believes that ideas and behaviour and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics.

An idea, trend or social behaviour can be contagious in exactly the same way that a virus is. One chapter, for example, deals with the very strange epidemic of teenage suicide in the South Pacific islands of Micronesia. In the 1970's and 1980's, Micronesia had teen suicide rates ten times higher than anywhere else in the world. Teenagers were literally being infected with the suicide bug, and one after another they were killing themselves in exactly the same way under exactly the same circumstances. Gladwell also asks: Isn't this the explanation for the current epidemic of teen smoking in this country? No generation has been better educated about the dangers – yet they persist. And what about the rash of mass shootings in the USA over past years?

Gladwell believes this can be positive too, but it's worth thinking about social epidemics. Why is crime contagious? The book refers to the problem of fare-beating on the New York subway – this snowballed simply because people joined in after watching others do it. One explanation is that if people can see prohibited behaviour as marginally accepted and permissible with no significant consequences they will follow suit. Gladwell gets tied up with nature versus nurture – whether our environment shapes us or whether it is down to genetics and personality. He refers to the Broken Windows Theory which argues that crime is the inevitable result of disorder – that crime is contagious and the criminal is prompted to commit crimes based on his perceptions of the world around him. An alternative view believes that the criminal is a personality type. Peter Hitchens' book 'A Brief History of Crime' is a discerning analysis of this crime crisis that the UK has descended into. Hosea 4:1-2 'Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood'

To these things we must say to our politicians and rulers as well as to the sociologists, as with Anselm in his book 'Cur Deus Homo': 'You have not as yet estimated the great burden of sin'. This is what underlies any destructive social epidemic.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

adding to the Word of God

The Better Bibles Blog is not one that supports the Authorised Version but in an even-handed way it has commended its accuracy.

"Here are a few examples of where a word has been inserted into the English text of Bibles. Only the KJV doesn't do this. That is one thing you can be comfortable with in the KJV. And if words are added they now appear in italics."

The examples provided include 1 Cor. 2:1 "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God." KJV

The TNIV has added the word "human".

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. TNIV

In 1 Cor. 1:7 modern versions add a word, this time the word "spiritual" to read spiritual gifts. So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: KJV

In Romans 12:19 we read "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath" KJV
But even the NASB which is more literal than others adds the words "of God" to read "wrath of God".

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sabbath public transport - the historical view

Some people think that the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland position opposing the use of public transport on the Sabbath is rather idiosyncratic and divides them from the rest of the Christian world unnecessarily. They think it is rather extreme, but they fail to realise that it is warranted by Scripture and that godly men of the past have taken the same view.

The use of public transport on the Sabbath is against Scripture because it is a commercial transaction taking place on the Sabbath requiring someone to work for a purpose other than that of necessity and mercy. The traveller is effectively hiring the transport and the driver and employing someone on the Sabbath. A clear provision and consequence of the fourth commandment is that we cannot employ someone or make them work on the sabbath, 'the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates' (Exodus 20:10).

As Thomas Boston put it – this is a commandment that prohibits 'all handy-labour or servile employments tending to our worldly gain'. Public transport is being run on the Sabbath for the purposes of profit and the traveller is involved in this commercial enterprise. Chapter 11 of The History of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland 1893-1970, which can be viewed at outlines the reasons that the Free Presbyterian Church took this stand. As the Synod in 1928 put it wrong - wrong, because, in itself it is, and claims to be, nothing more or less than a piece of worldly, "week-day" business, conducted on worldly, "week-day" lines, and transacted on God's holy day in which "He challengeth a special propriety for Himself' - wrong on the part of the payee, because, without deference, implied or expressed, to what the Fourth Commandment prohibits, on the one hand, or allows, on the other, he, as a contracting party, carries forward into the business of the Lord's Day the same mercenary aims, the same working conditions, and the same contract terms which he lawfully and necessarily employs on the six days during which, God says, "thou shalt do all thy work" and wrong on the part of the payer, because, as the other contracting party, by availing himself of the service, and by paying the stipulated fare, he voluntarily, and for the most part, cheerfully accommodates himself to these aims and conditions and accepts these terms. Nor can any amount or species of motive serve to make it right.'

It is quite clear that the paying traveller cannot remain guiltless in using this transport: 'Any use made of them on the part of an individual entails the giving by that individual of a certain proportionate moral and material contribution towards the support of the evil, thereby making him a party to it and involving him in the guilt of it.'

'This may appear in the case of some to constitute a hardship in so far as it precludes them from worshipping under conditions to which they had formerly accustomed themselves. The Synod believe, however, that in the end this will be found to be a hardship in appearance only; that the difficulty of it will be seen to have yielded to the forces of faith and faithfulness; and that the compensations of obedience to the truth and of preserving a conscience void of offence toward God and man are more than sufficient to counter-balance any amount of specious comfort foregone and of inconvenience suffered. "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy commandments."

In order to be consistent the church that does not bar those using public transport on the sabbath from sealing ordinances cannot bar those driving and operating such public transport on the sabbath. And if one form of employment in the realm of worldly gain can be permitted then to be consistent no type of employment on the Lord's Day can be made a matter of discipline. So the church that is consistent in this way will be left with no witness against the breach of the Sabbath whatsoever.

Witness against Sabbath public transport in the past

Those that profane the Lord's Day for worldly gain are like those that profaned the Lord's house with their profiteering money-changing. The Church has always treated this as breach of the Fourth Commandment. The Church of Scotland in the 1640s passed Acts against those that set sail in boats on the sabbath and proceeded in discipline against masters that allowed their servants to work on the sabbath even though it was not in their direct employ.

Previous generations understood this clearly. Evangelicals across the ecclesiastical spectrum were staunchly united against public transport on the sabbath. The prominent Anglican evangelical JC Ryle wrote: 'When I speak of public desecration of the Sabbath, I mean those many open, unblushing practices, which meet the eye on Sundays in the neighbourhood of large towns. I refer to the practice of keeping shops open, and buying and selling on Sundays. I refer especially to Sunday pleasure excursions by public transport and the opening of places of public amusement; and to the daring efforts which many are making in the present day to desecrate the Lord's Day, regardless of its Divine authority.

Last, but not least, these ways of spending Sunday inflict a cruel injury on the souls of multitudes of people, Public transport cannot be run on Sundays without employing thousands of persons if people will make Sunday a day for travelling and excursions. Entertainments cannot be opened on Sundays without the employment of many to cater for those who patronise them. And have not all these unfortunate persons immortal souls? Do they not all need a, day of rest as much as anyone else? Beyond doubt they do. But Sunday is no Sunday to them, so long as these public desecrations of the Sabbath are permitted. Their life becomes a long unbroken chain of work, work, unceasing work: in short, what is play to others becomes death to them.'

The Drummond Tract Enterprise in Stirling had its foundation in protest against breach of the Sabbath. In 1848 Peter Drummond published a series of tracts against taking the ferry across the river for Sabbath picnics at Cambuskenneth Abbey, and he also sought to prevent the trains running on the Sabbath. An edition of ten thousand copies of the tract, entitled 'The Sabbath' was exhausted within a month.

Robert Murray McCheyne opposed those seeking to run the railways for profit on the sabbath. “Unhappy men, who are striving to rob our beloved Scotland of this day of double blessing, "ye know not what you do." You would wrest from our dear countrymen the day when God opens the windows of heaven and pours down a blessing. You want to make the heavens over Scotland like brass, and the hearts of our people like iron. Is it the sound of the golden bells of our ever-living High Priest on the mountains of our land, and the breathing of His Holy Spirit over so many of our parishes, that has roused up your satanic exertions to drown the sweet sound of mercy by the deafening roar of railway carriages? Is it the returning vigour of the revived and chastened Church of Scotland that has opened the torrents of blasphemy which you pour forth against the Lord of the Sabbath? Have your own withered souls no need of a drop from heaven? May it not be the case that some of you are blaspheming the very day on which your own soul might have been saved? Is it not possible that some of you may remember, with tears of anguish in hell, the exertions which you are now making, against light and against warning, to bring down a withering blight on your own souls and the religion of Scotland?”

John Kennedy also spoke out forthrightly against Sabbath trains:
“What a contrast a Scottish Sabbath now presents to that of earlier times – to that even of the generation which has just passed away! Think of our railway trains rushing over all parts of the country with their thousands of passengers, disturbing the Sabbath quiet and tempting so many to forget that there is a “God in the earth who judgeth righteously” – think of so many open shops along the streets of our cities, on the day of rest, which is the day of God, and receiving such support as tempts ungodly men to extend the traffic – think of the increasing crowds of those to whom the Sabbath has become a day of amusements, who never think of entering a place of worship, and who by their conduct prove that vice is the ally of ungodliness – think of how even those, who are not prepared utterly to abandon the public worship of God, are beginning to act as if an enforced partial attendance in the courts of God’s house earns for them a right to do what they please on what remains of the Sabbath – think, too, of the easy tolerance of such practices already so apparent in the unfaithful supineness both of the Church and of the State while all this desecration of the Sabbath is in progress – and what a contrast the Scottish Sabbath of today presents to that of times gone by! And what unspeakably greater contrast is the present observance of the day of the Lord to “what is required in the Fourth Commandment”!”

In 1868 James Begg opposed the desecration of the Sabbath by unnecessary employment of cabs on the Lord's Day. In the meeting of Presbytery in January, he stated that he and others had had an interview with the magistrates of the city on the subject. "There was," he said, "an impression abroad that there was an obligation on the part of cab-proprietors to place their cabs on the stances on the Lord's-day; but they had succeeded in obtaining from the magistrates a contradiction of that impression."

In America at an earlier stage the Presbyterian Church was stirred up to a defence of the Sabbath. The 1836 General Assembly declared that “the owners of stock in the steam boats, canals, rail roads, &c. who are in the habit of violating the Sabbath, are lending their property and their influence to one of the most wide-spread, alarming, and deplorable systems of Sabbath desecration, which now grieve the hearts of the pious and disgrace the church of God.” Instead they urged that “the friends of the Lord's day” should “establish such means of public conveyance as shall relieve the friends of the Sabbath from the necessity under which they now labour, of travelling at any time in vehicles which habitually violate that holy day; and thus prevent them from being partakers in other men's sins, in this respect.”
The noted presbyterian minister Samuel Miller took the leading part in the preparation of this motion. The strength of the opposition expressed is remarkable even to denounce sabbath transport as tending to 'disgrace the church of God' and to be 'partakers in other men's sins'.

In 1855 the Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, U.S.A., under the title, 'Monitory Letters to Church Members'. One of these is a 'Letter to one who travels on the Sabbath'. Part of that letter reads as follows: 'You find yourself distant a hundred and fifty miles from home on Saturday night; and you ask whether you are not justified in spending the night in a steamboat, and reaching home early the next morning, rather than remain where you are, and perhaps spend the Sabbath in a hotel. I am to say, I think not. For, take the best view of the case you can, you certainly pervert several hours of the Sabbath to a worldly purpose; or if you say that you do nothing worse than sleep, the answer is, that the boat in which you travel is not managed by sleepers, and that you patronize a systematic violation of God's holy day.'

Certain owners of hired carriage businesses in the USA were keen to advertise that they were maintaining their business on Sabbath-keeping principles. In 1859 in Pittsburgh had passed strict blue laws, which were then used against the very Presbyterians who had urged their passage. Two prominent Presbyterian laymen, Mr. Logan and Judge Lowrie, were fined in October for hiring men to drive their carriage to church on the sabbath.

These examples could be multiplied but they serve to demonstrate that the FP position in relation to public transport on the sabbath is neither novel nor extreme but simply an unchanged position in continuity with the godly men of the past.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Highland evangelicalism and the Clearances

The church history of the Highlands is a fascinating area of study, particularly the development of a distinctive evangelical Presbyterian spirituality. The best history of this thus far is the book 'The People of the Great Faith - The Highland Church 1690-1900' by Douglas Ansdell, published by Acair, paperback, 240 pages, £15.99. Yet this is rather detached from its subject - especially in comparison with John Kennedy's 'Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire'.

A new book now yields the fruits of vital ground-breaking research in relation to the religious culture of the Scottish Highlands and Islands in the nineteenth century. It represents the first full-scale examination of Christian social teaching amongst the Highland Churches during this period.
Land, Faith and the Crofting Community: Christianity and Social Criticism in the Highlands of Scotland 1843-1893 is by Allan W MacColl is published by Edinburgh University Press. The book gives particular focus to the Clearances and dispels the myth that the Calvinism of ministers and people led them to subject themselves in a fatalistic passivity to the forces of oppression. Ministers have often been accused of doing little or nothing to help the thousands who fell victim to eviction and are often reckoned to have told people being turned out of their homes that their troubles were a punishment for their sins.

Dr Allan MacColl is currently training for the ministry of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Allan gave a lecture on his book which can be listened to at The lecture is deeply interesting and summarises some of the main findings of the book.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why are you so strict?

The world is constantly seeking to make the Church more in conformity with itself - not to be so strict. Yet this is also a question that has been asked many times down through the centuries by those within the Church that are afraid of giving too close obedience to the Scriptures. It can be focused against the commitment to applying carefully and faithfull the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in doctrine, practice or worship. It was asked during the Covenanting times. Charles II offered an Indulgence to the Scottish ministers, allowing them to return to their parishes if they acknowledged his authority over the church. This was refused by many as a requirement to deny that Christ alone was King and Head over the Church. There was great persecution as a result for the Covenanters who were fined, pursued, exiled, imprisoned and martyred. When one of the ministers who had accepted the King's Indulgence heard of Donald Cargill's rejection of it, he asked, "What needs all of this ado? We will get heaven and they will get no more." When Cargill heard of this remark, he replied, "Yes, we will get more; we will get God glorified on earth, which is more than heaven." The true Christian does not seek just to "be saved" but to glorify God to their utmost. They desire that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The puritan Richard Rogers suffered greatly through his refusal to conform to any requirements of the Church of England that were not required by the Scriptures, he refused to comply for instance with using the sign of the cross in baptism. Bishop Kennet remarks, "that England hardly ever brought forth a man who walked more closely with God." Rogers was once with a gentleman of respectability who said to him, "I like you and your company very well, only you are too precise." "Oh sir," he replied, " I serve a precise God." When we regard the requirements of Scripture as too strict or to be dispensed with we are displaying our true attitude to God. As the Lord Jesus Christ taught, if we love Him we will keep His commandments. The godly man's delight in God's law is unreserved, he believes in obeying all God's precepts concerning all things no matter how hard or how contrary to carnal taste and wisdom. Psalm 119:128 "Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right". He gives all of God's commandments equal respect not discarding some and emphasising others. "The many "alls" in this verse used (not unlike that in Ezekiel 44:30) showeth the integrity and universality of his obedience. "All" is but a little word, but of large extent." (John Trapp)

"Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19).

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Visible Church

One of the best elucidations of the doctrine of the visible Church as set out in the Westminster Confession of Faith was written by the Covenanter John Brown of Wamphray the friend of Samuel Rutherford. Brown emphasises the oneness of the Church throughout the world.

Brown writes of the visible Church in the context of making it plain that "it would be unlawful on account of the scandals of the members of the Church or on account of the neglected Ecclesiastical discipline, or discipline not faithfully enough administered, to separate from the Church". This is a vital truth to remember. Christ never instructed the faithful to separate from those of the Seven Churches of Asia where discipline was not being carried out faithfully.

Brown wrote originally in Latin but the work has now been fully translated and available at