Book Review: Scottish Theology by John Macleod (Part 2 – Biographical Sketches)

This book review is by Zack Groff, an M.Div. student and Director of Advancement & Admissions at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS).

Banner of Truth, 2015, ISBN: 978-1848716155, 400 pages.

As seen in the first part of my review, the Banner of Truth has done a great service to the Church by making available Dr. John Macleod’s Scottish Theology to today’s Reformed readership.  Some of the most delightful aspects of Macleod’s historical narrative are the biographical sketches inserted into the narrative. Some of these sketches extend for but a sentence or two. Macleod devoted much more space – pages, in some cases – to others in accordance with their respective literary impacts. In this (somewhat) shorter part of my review, I will highlight a few of these significant figures from Scotland’s ecclesiastical history.

Macleod’s treatment of Knox runs for a mere two pages, though we feel the force of Knox’s ministry throughout the entire tome, and especially the first half of the volume. Truly, “Knox was a man mighty in words, and not less mighty in deeds” (5).

Yet Knox has also proven to be one of those rare figures in the history of the Church who is referenced by theologians of both sound and unsound convictions. For example, the Scottish Church Society in the nineteenth century sought to use Knox’s Scots Confession to advance an unbiblical view of the sacraments that is not truly advocated for in the Confession itself (26).

Samuel Rutherford’s legacy warrants 11 pages of text dedicated solely to his significant theological output. His devotional Letters and political Lex Rex have proved themselves to be supremely valuable to the Church. As observed by Macleod, “The fervid piety, the burning zeal, the love to his Lord, the loving response to his Lord’s love, and the lively figurative dress given to all these in the Letters exhibit the workmanship of a spiritual genius whose branches ran over the wall” (71).

In like fashion, Thomas Halyburton receives eight pages of treatment. As one of the ablest defenders of biblical Christianity against the Deism of his time, Halyburton wrote “carefully into the proof of the insufficiency of Natural Religion in regard to its discoveries of a deity, its defectiveness as giving direction to the worship of God, and in its discussion of where man’s true happiness is to be found” (128).

By contrast to these great theologians and men of letters, Thomas Chalmers, perhaps one of the most colorful churchmen in Scotland’s history, received but one paragraph on page 281 dedicated solely to him. This is because the Church has felt his influence not so much in the expansion of its library, but in the practical impact of his pastoral ministry in his local parish setting. Rather than concentrating the relevant material on Dr. Chalmers in one section of the book, Macleod mentioned his impact throughout the book to better illustrate his influence on various areas of Scottish church life.

One of the later figures introduced in Macleod’s work was the erudite and vigorous guardian of the Faith, Dr. Hugh Martin. Macleod’s description of Dr. Martin exemplifies the “grit” and “ruggedness” of Scotland’s Reformed community. His writing was that “of a man who felt intensely the power of the doctrine that he taught” (339). This quality of his mirrored that tradition out of which he emerged, a tradition that Macleod described in the following terms: “They aimed in their Reforming activities at getting down to bedrock and, when they reached it, they sought to build upon it” (7).

My hope is that this short appendage to the first part of my review shows that like Hebrews 11, this book is a veritable “hall of faith.” There are so many Scottish divines who are worthy of emulation in Macleod’s historical register. In the spirit of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1, churchmen ought to imitate the men whose lives are detailed in Macleod’s account insofar as these men imitate Christ.