sinclair on sin

I’m posting as a separate page a copy of an article written by Rev JS Sinclair titled ‘The absence of the sense of sin in present day religion.’ It’s here, abridged and ever so slightly edited from its original version.*

My copy is in the format of a stand-alone tract, which somebody gave to me thinking it could do with being publicised sinclaireven now (- it must have been written at least 90 years ago).

The main point of the article is to expose the shallowness of the religious life of presumably British or Scottish Christianity. To Mr Sinclair, this was mainly demonstrated by a relative lack of “the sense of sin”. A consciousness of personal sinnership has been a marked feature of the piety characteristic of traditional Highland Christianity (for example) – bearing in mind that Christ is primarily proclaimed in the gospel as a saviour from sin, it is highly congruous that those who follow him should do so as sinners – he came to call, not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. And not just at the outset of their Christian lives either – repentance should be a prominent exercise in the practical day-to-day experience of any believer for the rest of their lives. (Easy enough to say.)

But even comparing the present situation with the picture a couple of generations ago, as a rule, collectively we tend (i) to no longer treat as sinful some things that our grandparents and great-grandparents in the faith would have unhesitatingly condemned, and (ii) not to share their loathing of the sinfulness of things that we do still see as sinful. Our sense of what counts as sin, and of how sinful sin is, has been very markedly diluted relative to the consciousness of our spiritual forebears.

And this is to our detriment. As Sinclair mentions in the article, our appreciation of the greatness of the salvation which God provides is to a very large extent determined by how sensitive we are to our own sin. If we only need a little forgiveness, for some little amount of sin, then a small salvation will suffice. But our spiritual health can only suffer when our insensitivity to the desperateness, deceitfulness, and vileness of sin leaves us with views of ourselves that are too high, and views of the Saviour that are too low.

It’s also (hard to say without hypocrisy) dishonouring to God. Never mind our spiritual health and perceived spiritual wellbeing. Our sin is an affront to his majesty and authority – it is against his law which is holy, and just, and good. Although this is true without qualification in the case of people who have never believed, it’s also true even for  believers – sin in believers is still sin, if not in fact aggravated by being against grace and light that other people haven’t had. Our sense of the holiness of God is surely much fainter than it should be. Our concern to avoid displeasing him much weaker. Our longing for renewed pardon so desultory.  ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep; pardon mine iniquity, for it is great; against thee, thee only, have I sinned…’ – every believer understands what these petitions mean to some degree, but as to depth, we lag a long way behind examples of very recent times, and to our shame.

It is, finally, perhaps worth adding a note of apology to the article. The writer is very critical. It could almost sound as if the diagnosis of the ills of the age is an end in itself. There may almost be a feeling that the sections of the religious scene who are the target of the article are already a lost cause. In mitigation, I can only suggest that Mr Sinclair must have belonged to an environment where all the truths of the gospel and experiences of the godly were hard-won privileges (the truths were fought for, often at great personal expense, in a tradition where the Reformers, Covenanters, and Disruption fathers were salient, heroic figures – and spiritual experience, as gracious operations of the sovereign Holy Spirit in an atmosphere saturated by these truths, was something precious to be treasured). Any trends which would undermine these things should be fiercely resisted – and the lightness and frivolity of what people like Sinclair perceived around them would not only have been largely incomprehensible but also highly offensive. If their rhetoric is one mainly of warning and censure, this is more likely to reflect their real fear of the slippery slope and the grave responsibility of those seeming to lead the plunge down it, rather than calling into doubt their real concern for souls.

* JS Sinclair (1868-1921) was a student for the ministry at the time when the Free Presbyterian Church separated from the Free Church and firmly resisted the trends towards weakening confessional subscription in the ecclesiastical scene of his time. (He refused to enter New College in 1892 after the passing of the rather infamous Declaratory Act, going off to train in Belfast instead.) He was one of the several students who associated themselves with MacFarlane and MacDonald in the first presbytery of the Free Presbyterian Church, and was ordained in 1896. He pastored in the second FP congregation in Glasgow, the one which had previously had Jonathan Rankin Anderson as its minister and joined the FPs after Anderson’s death. Sinclair was the first editor of the FP magazine, taking the chance right from the start to expose, in great detail, the flaws of the 1892 Act, in a series which extended over a good few of the earliest issues (1896 onwards). This article was most likely first published in the Free Presbyterian Magazine.


the laptop situation

All credit to Tim (the Friendly Humanist) for the post you’re now reading.

Since the demise of my laptop at the end of last week, I’ve been as helpless as that catastrophe tends to render you. Unable to email, write, read, or indeed blog from home, I’ve had to resort to frequenting the department at all sorts of odd hours and often after having been working off-campus all day on other things.*

Into this scene of devastation Tim has kindly stepped with the offer of a machine he doesn’t currently need. This generosity was in the midst of his viva preparation, when he could easily have been forgiven for having too many other things on his mind than laptop sharing.

So the immediate effects of the catastrophe have been massively mitigated – and not only so, but I can proudly announce that this post is brought to you from a machine running Linux. I understand that it’s the most user-friendly version available, and that the cognitive leap from Windows isn’t particularly huge, but it still feels a wee bit special. Thanks Tim!

* There are some obvious silver linings though – not least that my thesis was safely written and revised, and that I had enough time to make a last backup before everything went completely dead. And that being forced to be away from home to use a computer effectively stopped me from burning too much midnight oil for a few days. In the grand scheme of things, I can’t really complain. Remind me to revisit the Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment the next time things get too crotchety here.

failure on all hands

Tramping through the grey-brown sludge that counts as our most recent snowfall, it transpired my boots leak. I also need a new Disclosure form, which currently means a 4-week wait and I don’t have four weeks. Then there’s a statutory notice on our tenement – the roof needs fixing. And I’ve just received a letter from the Blood Donor people pointing out that although I registered as a donor I “have not yet given blood”; this is an embarrassing reminder of my feeble attempt at the good deed about, em, 4 years ago, and how they couldn’t get any blood, out of either arm, and I fainted on the way out, and have never been back. Now my laptop is slowly dying a rather painful death. The battery life when you unplug it has always been truly pathetic. It’s now cutting out citing low battery even when it’s plugged into the wall. I have frantically copied all the folders I’m currently working on to CD and am now wondering how on earth to afford a new laptop for when it finally gives up. Not to mention, we’re almost out of teabags.

The only good thing I can tell you about right now is that, as of tonight, we get to pet-sit a hamster. I’ll post you a photo of Edward when he emerges from his fluff-ball, if that’s what you call it, and assuming I have reasonable internet access. He is already adorable and I’m secretly hoping he’ll chase the mice away. (Yes, we also have mice.) (But that’s enough moans for one night.)

well, it amused me

I mentioned to a non-linguist the other day that I was going to a meeting of the Linguistic Circle.

This is in fact Edinburgh’s research group for local and visiting academic linguists, but my friend innocently inquired, “Linguistic Circle? Is that a bit like circle time?”

I suddenly got this amazing image of the LEL staff members sitting round cross-legged on little mats, while Geoff Pullum read aloud James and the Giant Peach, and then we all had a little time for reflection to share our personal feelings about the things that were important to us.

praying for your patients

The case of Caroline Petrie hit the news a few days ago, with Cranmer covering it in typically forthright fashion. Caroline Petrie is a nurse, who was suspended by the NHS after a patient complained about her offering to pray for them.

“Nurse Petrie cares for the sick and elderly, and does so with a vocational professional concern for the whole person – mind, body and spirit.
But one elderly woman patient in Winscombe, North Somerset, decided that the care is too much, too genuine, too heartfelt. When Nurse Petrie offered to pray for her, the patient politely declined. But afterwards she decided to be so offended as to feel the urge to telephone the nurse’s employer and make a complaint. It is not clear how this complaint was formalised, but it appears that Nurse Petrie’s superiors decided to be even more offended than the original offended party, who was not originally so offended as to tell Nurse Petrie what the offence was or wasn’t in the first place. And so Nurse Petrie was summoned to appear before an internal disciplinary panel to explain her conduct. And this panel doubtless believes itself to be God’s gift to discernment and justice – if the phrase ‘God’s gift’ does not cause it undue offence – and they are tasked with assessing whether an offer of prayer is illegal and sufficient grounds for dismissal.”

I can instantly think of at least half a dozen friends and relatives who work in the medical/nursing professions and who are bound (in a way that is almost superfluous to point out) to have been in the position of wanting to help their patients by praying for them.

In fact I got an email from one of them yesterday, expressing deep concern. “In the course of my work as a Christian GP in [a certain location in] Scotland, patients frequently ask me to pray for them and sometimes to pray with them. I have gladly done so and would be outraged if a bureaucrat objected to such actions. We must make a stand against these God-dishonouring bureaucratic posturings.”

The suggestion has also been made that anybody who wants to express support for Caroline Petrie could do so in various ways –
* write to Caroline Petrie, care of her church (Milton Baptist Church, Baytree Road, Weston-super-Mare, BS22 8HJ)
* write to her pastor, John S Smith, to encourage him for his unequivocal support for Mrs Petrie
* write to North Somerset Primary Care Trust, the employer who has suspended her – either Chris Born the Chief Executive or Vanessa Dando (the Patient Advice and Liason Service Officer), both at North Somerset PCT, Waverley House, Old Church Road, Clevedon, North Somerset, BS21 6NN