Book Review—Therefore the Truth I Speak: Scottish Theology 1500–1700

Book Review—Therefore the Truth I Speak: Scottish Theology 1500–1700

Donald Macleod’s beautiful new book, Therefore the Truth I Speak, is an engaging look at Scottish theology that mines the past and brings it into the present. Part church history, part historical theology, this book introduces some fascinating figures and events.

Biographical Sketch of the Author

Donald Macleod was Principal of the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh until his retirement in 2010. He also served as Pastor of Kilmallie Free Church for 6 years. His other works include The Problem of Preaching and Compel Them to Come In: Calvinism and the Free Offer of the Gospel.

Introduction

Donald Macleod’s wonderful new book, Therefore the Truth I Speak: Scottish Theology 1500–1700 began as a series of lectures he gave from 2001 to 2004 while teaching at Free Church College, which later became Edinburgh Theological Seminary (7). The book is composed of 13 chapters followed by a name and subject index. The author acknowledges that the book covers the narrow subject of Scottish Christianity from the 16th to 18th centuries, and yet in the process, it also addresses timeless concerns like the authority of Scripture, justification by faith alone, and what faithful Christian witness looks like. In other words, the book is about a specific time and place but also deals with vital subjects that every Christian in every age should concern themselves with.

Scottish Theologians

What were the distinctives of Scottish Christianity from 1500 to 1700? Macleod, firmly within the Presbyterian tradition, lays out what he sees as the two primary governing convictions that his Scottish theological forefathers held to (11). First, church polity should follow the apostolic model as much as possible. Second, the health of churches and their effectiveness in missions will increase when the apostolic model is followed.

The author shows appreciation for the historians who came before him, while also taking issue with those like T .F. Torrance, who he says have parted company with the stream of “Federal Calvinism” that characterized the Scottish theologians of that era (12–13). Macleod’s sympathies are with those historians who recognized diversity on issues of baptism and church governance, while also not denying the “remarkable consensus” grounded in Scripture and expressed in the great ecumenical creeds and Reformed confessions (13–14).

Macleod ably disproves the stereotype of Scottish theologians as uneducated dunces. These men were focused on bringing the gospel to the ordinary church goer, not on impressing the academy (16). The earliest Scottish Reformer was Patrick Hamilton, born in 1504. Hamilton was one of many who became inspired and impassioned by Luther’s rediscovery of justification by faith alone (19–20). His zeal to reform the church and irresistible desire to return to his Scottish homeland resulted in his arrest by the established church. In 1528, he was martyred by being slowly burned at the stake. Hamilton left readers his Patrick’s Places, in which he affirmed the teaching that works of the law cannot be fulfilled apart from divine grace (20). He also viewed the law’s purpose as the revealing of sin.

Echoing Luther (not to mention Paul), Hamilton wrote that “faith (alone) makes a man a member of Christ, an inheritor of heaven, and a servant of God (21).” Saving faith grasps Christ alone as its object. Like Calvin before him, Hamilton would say that faith alone justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone (22). When the established church contemplated more executions by burning to quell the spread of Reformed doctrine, John Lindsay counseled against the idea, saying that “the smoke of Mr. Patrick Hamilton hath infected as many as it blew upon (22).”

Rutherford’s Lex, Rex and the American Revolution

The Lex, Rex was a political manifesto by Samuel Rutherford in response to John Maxwell’s Royalist treatise (239). He argued that when human society organizes into a form of government, by common grace they are affirming natural law. Rutherford, contra the monarchy of his day, believed that Romans 13 does not teach an absolute, de facto obedience to whomever happened to be in power at any given time. A lawful magistrate is God’s minister for the commonwealth’s good, such that unjust, murderous magistrates who persecute the church are no longer ministers of God and should be resisted (241). Rutherford drew from Scripture, the Old Testament in particular, as well as natural law or what the Reformed called “the light of nature (240).” The impact of the Lex, Rex was far reaching and it enabled Scottish Presbyterians to defend their views during the English Civil War.

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