Scottish Puritans - Select Biographies constitute one of the great treasures of Scottish Christian literature. In quick succession, we meet such justly famous and revered figures as John Welsh, David Dickson, William Guthrie, and James Fraser of Brea, but also the lesser known and long forgotten, like the land-labourer of Carrick, John Stevenson. Here are the stories and reflections of men and women who, in times of great darkness, testing, and suffering, tasted what the author of Hebrews calls 'the powers of the age to come'.
This is a magnificent two-volume set, calculated to stir the soul and to find a place of honour and affection in every Christian who loves to read the thrilling history of the Scottish church! - Sinclair B. Ferguson
The 17th century was a dynamic period in Scottish church history, and yet many of its rich records lay hidden in privately owned manuscripts for two hundred years. It was only with the evangelical awakening of the 1840s that close attention was given to their publication, and a Society, formed for that purpose in Edinburgh, took the name of the historian, Robert Wodrow (1679-1734). On the 26 volumes thus published subsequent authors have depended heavily, and particularly so with respect to the two volumes originally entitled Select Biographies. In an era when Puritan literature is again being rediscovered their reprint is timely, providing as it does the opportunity to go back to first-hand sources. Here, for the most part, men and women live in their own words, or in the witness of their contemporaries. The 19th-century editor, William Tweedie, himself an evangelical leader, thought it worthwhile to be the editor of this rare material, and all who have possessed them endorse his judgment.
The first voume tells the story of John Welsh, Patrick Simson, and John Livingstone, men ‘who acted a prominent part in their eventful times but whose histories were not so generally known’. The son-in-law of John Knox and minister of Ayr, Welsh was one of ‘the most remarkable men of his time . . . for his learning, piety, and zeal.’ Simson was minister at Stirling and, although less well known than Welsh, was of a similar noble character. It was said of him that few were able to surpass him in learning, judicious counsel, and boldness in opposing error. Livingstone, perhaps the most powerful preacher in Scotland during the mid-seventeenth century, was instrumental in a revival at the Kirk of Shotts, before going on to minister in Killinchy (Ireland), Stranraer, and Ancrum. He played a notable part in the tumultuous events of those years, including the negotiations that led to the return of the exiled King Charles II. Letters, sermons, and some other rare material supplement the biographies of these men.
Also included in this first volume are: the Last and Heavenly Speeches of John, Viscount Kenmure (attributed to Samuel Rutherford), the Memoirs of Walter Pringle, and the Soliloquies of Mrs Janet Hamilton of Earlstoun. All give insight into, not only the manners and spirit of the age, but also the faith, love, zeal, and sufferings of men and women whose lives speak to us of apostolic Christianity. They devoted themselves to the Word of God and prayer. They enjoyed real communion with Christ. They knew the Holy Spirit and believed in his power to change both lives and nations.
The second volume contains the lives of David Dickson, William Guthrie, and James Fraser of Brea. Dickson, 'a star of the first magnitude' among the eminent ministers of Scotland, laboured In Irvine with extraordinary fruitfulness for twenty-three years, before suffering ejection and exile under the episcopal policies of King James I. A leader of remarkable tact and learning, he was appointed Professor of Divinity at Glasgow and later at Edinburgh. Some of his works, including commentaries on the Psalms, Matthew, and Hebrews, as well as the first sympathetic and full commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, are still available today.
Guthrie, the minister of Fenwick, was widely regarded as ‘the greatest practical preacher in Scotland’. The author of The Christian’s Great Interest, John Owen reckoned him to be ‘one of the greatest divines that ever wrote’, and providing more theology in his small book than Owen had in several folios! Admired by many of his contemporaries, he acted a prominent part and exercised an extensive influence in his own day.
Fraser of Brea, a gentleman by birth, was ‘one of the ablest men in a time of able men’. Ordained to the ministry in times of severe persecution, he was eventually arrested and imprisoned on the notorious Bass Rock. He is chiefly remembered for his memoirs, of which Alexander Whyte wrote, Fraser ‘will live in that remarkable book as long as a scholarly religion, and an evangelical religion, and a spiritual religion, and a profoundly experimental religion lives in his native land . . . it has few if any equals.’
Alongside the records of these three leaders are to be found the stories of lesser-known Christians: men such as John Nisbet, the covenanting soldier and martyr, and John Stevenson, the land-labourer of Carrick, whose experiences of the Lord’s grace amidst terrible suffering were so very remarkable. The volume concludes with short pieces about three women, Mrs Goodal, Lady Coltness, and Lady Anne Elcho, whose testimonies to God’s grace show us how Christian women lived in days often dark and difficult.
In these records we find a whole gallery of men and women whose lives and deaths speak to us of apostolic Christianity. Although not to be used as models in all things, the Scottish Puritans and Covenanters still exemplify the same kind of spiritual and missionary zeal that has ever been associated with the advance of the kingdom of God. Their lives were centered on the Word of God and prayer and they enjoyed real communion with Christ. They knew the Holy Spirit and believed in his power to change lives and nations.
"This is a magnificent two-volume set, calculated to stir the soul and to find a place of honour and affection in every Christian who loves to read the thrilling history of the Scottish church!" – SINCLAIR B. FERGUSON
"In these records we find a whole gallery of men and women whose lives and deaths speak to us of apostolic Christianity. Although not to be used as models in all things, the Scottish Puritans and Covenanters still exemplify the same kind of spiritual and missionary zeal that has ever been associated with the advance of the kingdom of God. Their lives were centred on the Word of God and prayer and they enjoyed real communion with Christ. They knew the Holy Spirit and believed in his power to change lives and nations. What Spurgeon once said of David Dickson’s Explanation of the Psalms we say of Scottish Puritans – Select Biographies, 'We comment it with much fervour'." — IAIN H. MURRAY