One of the great mistakes of my life so far is not to have read more of the Erskines sooner. I’m remedying that by reading Samuel McMillan’s selections in the meantime (Ralph a while ago and now Ebenezer) but all they really do is whet your appetite for the complete works.

This is from a discourse on Luke 1, ‘the dayspring from on high hath visited us.’

“Come and see a bright ray of divine mercy and love breaking forth in the day-spring of his incarnation, the sounding of his bowels, the beating of his blessed heart. O sirs, what is Christ, but just the love of God wrapped up in flesh and blood! 1 John 4: 9-10. Here is the highest flight that ever the love of God took, and higher it cannot mount. It is observed by some divines that the other attributes of God are able to do more than they have done: infinite power can make more worlds, infinite wisdom can devise greater things than ever yet appeared unto man; but as for the love of God, it hath stretched itself to the uttermost, it can go no further: what could he do more for us than to give his Son, the Son of his love, to give him unto the death? and how will he not with him freely give us all things? O the height, the depth, the breadth, and the length of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge!”


a new declaratory act

[This post makes blog history by being a guest contribution.]

A new Free Church Declaratory Act?

The General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland has passed an Act on the controversial subject of the worship of that denomination in an attempt to put a line under the disputes of the past 10 years. The form of the Act will remind those acquainted with Church history of what used to be known as a Declaratory Act, in several particulars resembling in form and design the infamous Free Church Declaratory Act of 1892. In what is all but an admission of a very significant change in the meaning of the Questions and Formula put to Free Church Office-bearers, the new Act of 2011 recognises that the decision of the Plenary Assembly of November 2010 “may have created difficulties of conscience for some office-bearers and some who may be elected to office.” It then enacts that “in order to address such difficulties,” all candidates for office at the time of licensing, ordination or induction “may intimate to the relevant Church Court their own personal conviction with regard to sung praise and instrumental music in public worship.”

Considerable division emerged in the months between the Plenary Assembly in November 2010 and the General Assembly in May 2011 around the question of whether the Plenary Assembly decision required to go down to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act before becoming a new law in the Church. Some contended that the Plenary Assembly, itself called with consent of Presbyteries through the Barrier Act, made the Barrier Act legislation no longer relevant. Others claimed to have expected the decision of the Plenary Assembly to go down to Presbyteries before it could be formally adopted as a new law. Although now interpreted as merely permissive, the authority with which the decision was taken to remove all the 20th century legislation protecting purity of worship, was that of the Assembly acting with the majority consent of all the Presbyteries in Plenary session. There seemed to be surprising agreement that with Barrier Act legitimacy (however construed) the decision would be a binding law in the Free Church. This has always been the contention of the Free Presbyterian Church in connection with the Declaratory Act adopted in1891 and made law under the Barrier Act in 1892.

In substance and in form the new declaratory Act of 2011 describes the 2010 Act on worship as “permissive and not mandatory” and is itself professedly, (like its even more divisive and doctrinally heretical predecessor) a relieving Act.  Yet, it clearly identifies in the November 2010 decision a change in the relation of the Free Church to her constitutional commitments to purity of worship. While 2011 Act is constructed to relieve the consciences of office-bearers, just as the 1892 Act was designed to do, it would appear that the consciences intended are those of the Free Church office-bearers who wish to preserve rather than those who wish to change the constitution. Such is the new understanding of liberty of conscience that office-bearers who have not changed their avowed position on purity of worship are now required to make known their “personal conviction” and “it shall be the duty of the Clerk of Presbytery or Kirk Session in all cases to record any such intimation.” Those who have changed their position relative to the vows they have taken are not required to make any such statement as the Plenary Assembly has granted them the licence to change their avowed convictions with impunity.

It remains to be seen how many existing office-bearers in the Free Church will make use of the liberty and advice of the new Act which ordains that “existing office-bearers may intimate to the relevant Church Court at any suitable opportunity their own personal conviction with regard to sung praise and instrumental music in public worship.” This provision of the Act seems so wide open to misuse and misconstruction that it would hardly seem credible that a Presbyterian Church could long endure the ambiguity it has potential to create. If, for example a candidate for office in the Free Church of Scotland were to declare his personal conviction to be in favour of something presently disallowed by the Free Church understanding of her “purity” of worship, would an argument no immediately ensue over what practice in worship was according to the doctrine of the Scriptures and the Confession? Similarly, if an office-bearer who previously swore to “assert, maintain and defend” the purity of worship as authorised and practised when he was ordained, were to express himself as bound to do all in his power as an office-bearer to overturn the Plenary Assembly decision, could the Church Court to which he is accountable legitimately accept this intimation? Anarchy would ensue in either hypothetical case.

It is very possible that what lies behind the new declaratory Act is a hope that such anarchy is only hypothetical and not likely to prove a reality in the present day Free Church. Doubtless Robert Rainy thought similarly in 1892 before he encountered the zeal of the Scottish Highlands in defence of the old gospel. Similar zeal for the old purity of worship, for which the Free Church in the 20th century was well-known and often despised, is sadly little in evidence as the days following the Declaratory Act Assembly of 2011 turn to weeks and months. Separation or re-constitution are ultimately very unlikely. The universal cry for unity, (which begged the question by citing the Scripture injunction that believers endeavour to maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace,”) is likely to prevent would-be protesters from asserting themselves any further. On both sides of the divide, flight would now be the preferred option for such malcontents. Some have already taken this option. The innovators responsible for the new constitutional arrangement are unlikely to be too distressed if those who consider them to have breached their ordination commitments find an ecclesiastical home elsewhere.

[Guest post by Rev David Campbell]

civil war

Something I hadn’t really noticed before – when David was made king after Saul, there were actually several years before he was accepted as king by everyone. For a good few years, a section of the kingdom would have still preferred the line of Saul to carry on instead of recognising David.

But both the character of the pro-Saul party and David’s treatment of them are quite striking. There was a man Abner, who had ‘made himself strong for the house of Saul,’ but when David’s general Joab killed Abner, David made it extremely clear that he thought Joab had behaved disgracefully. ‘Know ye not,’ he said to his servants, ‘that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?’

Then a couple of men went and killed Ishbosheth, one of Saul’s remaining sons, and proudly brought his head to David as a trophy, as if expecting that David would be pleased with them. But to David it was an outrage. He called them wicked men, and Ishbosheth the son of Saul he described as a righteous person.

It was completely wrong for anyone in Israel to have rebelled against David, the Lord’s anointed. (Their only justification for supporting Saul would have been that the Lord had anointed him, which was exactly the reason they should have supported David now that Saul was gone.) But David himself regarded at least some of them as righteous men, wrong and all as they were. And rather than harbouring angry or vengeful thoughts against them, David treated them with the utmost courtesy, respect, and integrity, and held them in the highest esteem.

Something here speaks to the current church scene, if it isn’t too fanciful to think so. With the visible church split into warring factions, there are righteous people on all the sides. On the one hand, they need to be recognised as such, even when battles rage fiercely. But on the other hand, the causes of the different parties are not equally right. Some of these righteous people are valiantly fighting for the house of Saul, a cause which was fatally flawed from the start, and doomed to wax weaker and weaker. People can be doing completely the wrong thing, whether energetically propping up the wrong side or compromising pathetically for all the wrong reasons, and for all this, they can still be princes in Israel – and for all this, they are still insurgents whose cause is basically rebellion against the Lord’s anointed.

It’s a dreadful and shameful thing that the visible church is in the torn and broken state it is. All of the people of Israel should have rallied round David from the outset. All the divisions in the church have their reasons, explanations, justifications, … but every division involves disgrace, defeat, loss, and weakening, on both sides. Of course, at every division in the history of the visible church there was a stand for the truth. There’s nothing to regret about standing for the truth: obviously. But it is endlessly to be regretted that the stand for the truth couldn’t be taken without dividing the church. Rallying to David was always the right thing to do, even if it meant division within the people as a whole (and, it might be added, even if it meant one less righteous person to act as salt and light or leaven among the forces supporting Saul), but the division itself was a shameful, painful, sorry thing.

Just to push the analogy one step further, and then I’m done. In spite of the David/Saul division, the people of Israel were all basically the one people. Some of them were better exemplars of what an Israelite should have been than others – to follow Saul was less good than to follow David, and to behave like the bloodthirsty sons of Zeruiah, or the greedy, unscrupulous Ziba, was even less good. But they were all the one people. They all, factions and individuals, carried responsibility for their own decisions and behaviour, but they failed each other when they failed to act as they should.

So it’s all very well for one particular denomination to decide that their criteria for ordaining ministers will from now on bear only the tiniest resemblance to the criteria of scripture, and it’s all very well for some other denomination to decide that their standards of worship can from now on accommodate things that nobody ever used to recognise as complying with scriptural standards of worship, but their decisions affect us all. We are all shamed and weakened by the very fact of divisions existing at all, and we are doubly shamed and weakened when people use the denominational boundaries to fashion little segments of the church according to their own ideas of what the church should look like. Joab the Israelite disgraced all Israel when he stabbed Abner. Denomination X of the visible church shames the whole church visible when it acts to suit itself – to prioritise its own local concerns and pander to its own favoured constituencies – instead of consulting Scripture for the Christian good of Scotland.

isn’t it funny

– how everyone who ever tries to scrounge a quid off you in the street is always trying to get home to Bathgate?

I mean, is it just a thing – people from Bathgate never leave the house with enough change for their bus back?

Or is it some elaborate conspiracy by the scroungers of the world to make it look like Bathgate is full of chancers?

Seriously. Bathgate. What’s with that?


English can allow the word-initial sequence ʃr. English can allow word-final sequences like -lfths. English words can be multisyllabic without being morphologically complex. English prose sentences can conform to highly regular rhythmic patterns.

shred /ʃrɛd/
twelfths /twɛlfθs/
military territory

Three cream scones please – Kate Snow will share Paul’s.
Thirty happy laddies whistled loudly all the way to Portmahomack.
Innocent mineral magazines reappeared yesterday.
Don’t you want a fundamental macaroni explanation?

But these are all rarities – these phonotactic sequences, this morpho/phonological fact, the extended consistency of these rhythmical patterns – they illustrate what is unusual about the forms of English, not what is typical.

So I’m wondering – we can play around with things like these (and a noted psycholinguist and a renowned anglicist are in print with apparently independent and beautifully elaborate manipulations of prose rhythm) and presumably there is something to be learned from the exercise – but what is that something?

“Our understanding of the complex and ‘irregular’ structure of ordinary prose can be sharpened,” says Angus McIntosh, “by exposure to … simple but abnormally iterative structures…” But how? Read this aloud, with a Tum-ti-ti rhythm:

Note, in a triangle having an angle of ninety degrees that the square that is made with its base the hypotenuse equals in area the sum of the squares that are made on the sides which are forming the right angle.

Examples like this show that the rhythms of ordinary prose include the raw materials for artfully constructed ‘abnormal’ structures, but doesn’t that just creatively exaggerate or parody the characteristics of naturally occurring text, rather than also providing much basis for insight into these forms?

Abercrombie, D. (1965). Studies in Phonetics and Linguistics. Oxford: OUP
Breen, M. & Clifton, C. (in press). Stress matters: Effects of anticipated lexical stress on silent reading.
Cutler, A. (1994).  The perception of rhythm in language. Cognition, 50: 79-81
Davies, M. (1986). Literacy and Intonation. In Couture, Barbara (ed.) Functional Approaches to Writing: Research Perspectives. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 199–230.
McIntosh, A. (1990). Some elementary rhythmical exercises and experiments. Anglo-American Studies, X (1): 5-19.