HIS PULPIT MESSAGE
LET US NOW GLANCE at a typical cross-section of Andrew
Thomson's published sermons and lectures, in order to glean his main emphases
as a preacher. The volumes to which we have had access are: Lecturer on Select
Portions of the Psalms (1826), Sermons on Various Subects (1829) , Sermons on
the Doctrine of Universal Pardon (2nd edn.1831), and Sermons and Sacramental
Exhortations (1831). We have yet to sight his Lectures on Select Portions of
Scripture, and his Sermons on Infidelity.
In an Induction charge, preached in 1828, Dr Thomson succinctly states the notes of true preaching: "the sovereign grace of God- the unsearchable riches of Christ - the doctrine of salvation by divine mercy through faith in a crucified Redeemer - and the necessity of holiness as produced by the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Spirit, and as extending to all the affections of the heart, and to all the actions of the life".
Sin is relentlessly exposed to the light of day: "what is sin? It is the perversion and abuse of those faculties with which your Maker has endowed you. It is an impeachment of his infinite wisdom. It is opposition to his supreme and righteous authority. It is ingratitude for his unspeakable goodness. It is defiance offered to the arm of his omnipotence. It is the defacement of all that was fair and beautiful in your primeval nature. It is the forfeiture of every thing that is comfortable or precious in the possession of divine love. It is a violation of that order which God had established in his universe. It is the madness of preferring the gratifications of time to the happiness of eternity, and of rushing through all the barriers of reason, and conscience, and duty, and interest, into certain and everlasting destruction"
Mercifully there is an atonement for sin, provided by God in the person and work of Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Saviour, whose "blood, shed on Calvary, as an atonement, is the grand and sovereign remedy by which sinners are restored. And such is its inherent virtue, such is its resistless efficacy, that, sprinkled on the spirit and the conscience of him who is farthest gone in the lepsrosy of sin, it is adequate to subdue the strength of the otherwise incurable malady, to root it out from the deepest recesses of his nature, to infuse into him all the elements of moral health: and to secure for him an endless as well as a happy life".(Sermon on Spiritual disease and its remedy.)
This atonement is held forth by God to man in the Gospel: and "The Gospel is combined with a variety of terms, indicating a corresponding variety of character and of excellence, it is called the Gospel of God, to intimate that it comes from Him, and that it reveals his will. It is called the Gospel of Christ, to denote that Christ is the author of the blessings which it discloses, and that he brings the message which it contains. It is called the Gospel of the grace of God, to signify that its whole scheme, and all that it provides for the welfare of sinners, flow from his free and sovereign bounty. It is called the Gospel of peace, thereby declaring its purpose to be that of making reconciliation between God and man, and restoring that harmony which had been broken and destroyed by the introduction of sin. And in the words of my text (Eph. 1:13), it is called the Gospel of our salvation, to draw our attention to it as unfolding the method by which it has pleased our Heavenly Father to save us from our sins".
Salvation is entirely of grace:- "We maintain that the redemption of sinners is, from first to last, and throughout all its departments. a work of free and sovereign grace. Not only is this grace the sole origin of the blessings, external to man, such as forgiveness, and acceptance, and eternal life, and of the apparatus of mercy by which these were provided it is also the sole origin of that union with Christ without which we can have no interest in any one of them, and of that faith by which our union with Christ is formed and maintained, and of those convictions and feelings which lead to our reception of Christ as the only Redeemer, and of all the holy conformity to God's will, and cordial devotedness to God's glory, and joyful experience of God's favour, which distinguish those who believe with their heart unto righteousness. According to the doctrine that we profess, every believer, whether he thinks of his forgiveness or his faith, of his holiness or of his hopes, must say with the apostle. By the grace of God, I am what I am."
Salvation is also, in a pre-eminent way, an expression of the divine mercy. Of that particular attribute of God, Andrew Thomson affirms that - "The Bible is just a divine record of it a continued testimony to it a bright and cheering emanation from it. From the beginning to the end of tlus sacred book; from the account which it gives of the first promise, down to the gracious benediction with which its canon closes; amidst all the truths which it proclaims, and all the providences which it relates, and all the prospects which it unfolds; at every successive period, and through every successive generation, whose histocy it sets before us. God is represented to our faith as speaking, and working, and ruling in our fallen world, and this is his unceasing and unchangeable memorial, that he is merciful, and merciful in all the variety of which that character is susceptible, and according to all the circumstances of those upon whom it is made to operate. We see many a manifestation of his other attributes; but amidst them all, we see his mercy held forth to our admiration, and working its way, either in faithful promise, or in actual application to the heart of the guilty - to the condition of the miserable, that it may console, and purify, and save "
6 Thomson is, however, quick to warn against a glib or facile acceptance of the Christian message, abhorring as he did the superficial and the spurious. "Some people - too many, it is to be feared - are comforted and gladdened by the discoveries of the Gospel without any good warrant. They seem to imagine, that merely because a Saviour is provided, and a work of redemption accomplished, they may banish all their fears and anxieties, and be joyful in the Lord. On this simple fact, acknowledged by them speculatively, and made the substance of a Christian profession, they rest their title to rejoice. Whereas, according to the Gospel scheme, this fact, true and interesting as it is in itself, and vast and momentous as it is in its consequences, is of no avail to any sinner till it is received by him, and submitted to by him, as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation. It serves not him, more than it does all other human beings besides, that Christ died to take away sin, unless he gets such a hold of the merit of that death as that it takes away his sin. In no other way can it be of any use to him as to his state before God and for eternity; and, therefore, in no other way can it be a legitimate source of consolation and joy".
We also find a caution against affectation and display in religion: "I would not have you, indeed, to make your personal religion the subject of common conversation - of idle gossiping - of ostentatious display. Neither would I have you to bring it forward as a topic of regular and indispensable statement, as if its details must be entered into, whether they have their foundation in inward grace and practical experience or not. All this tends to produce simulation and hypocrisy. It tempts those who are addicted to it, or on whom it is imposed as a task, to substitute feeling for principle, and fancy for fact. And it goes to nourish the belief that piety consists in the ready use of a certain sectarian phraseology, rather than in the consciousness of a heart devoted to God; that words and professions are more necessary than those realities in the mind and character, of which they should be the mere and unambiguous signs; and that the best and most copious talkers on such points are the best and most matured of Christ's disciples. I would have you to put away from you all the formality which this implies, and to guard against all the delusion into which it is so apt to betray you. And I would have you to recollect that experimental religion is a thing of depth, and of substance, and of sincerity; that some of its most important workings are accompanied with groanings which cannot be uttered; that in its very nature and import, it is abhorrent of all affectation in the modes by which it intimates its existence and its power; and that if your verbal declarations are not connected with a true and sanctified experience, and are not spontaneous and unconstrained effusions from that source, they are without value in the sight of God, and can have no other effect than that of provoking his displeasure, and deceiving your own souls"
Salvation, Thomson firmly insists, is in order to holiness and obedience; and faith, if it is genuine, will bring forth fruit in good works. "For, though we are not under the law, as a covenant of works, we are still under it, as a rule of conduct. And obedience to it is still requisite, not merely in submission to the Supreme will, but as a test and evidence of our faith in the Redeemer, and as a qualification for the happiness of heaven".
Prayer is shown to be a most important Christian duty. And yet it "is an exercise so purely spiritual; it requires such an effort of the attention, such a concentration of the affections, such a freedom from external interference, such a minute acquaintance with our own hearts and characters and circumstances, and such a constant and steady contemplation of the peculiar objects of faith - that at all times we engage in it with painful imperfection,. and often fail in its most essential and interesting properties.
If prayer, real prayer, be so difficult, what shall be said of the neglect of prayer? "Are any of you, my friends, living in neglect of prayer? Then be assured that you are neither penitent nor pardoned. You must be sensible, if you know anything at all of the subject, that of the real penitent, it cannot be more truly affirmed that he has repented than it may be said, Behold he prayeth. The one necessarily leads to, and implies the other.
Searching also are his words regarding participation in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper: "The observance of this ordinance is a privilege as well as a duty. And your being admitted to the enjoyment of a privilege presupposes that you are qualified for it. Before, then, you come forward to partake of it, you must inquire whether you have the qualifications. If your conscience tells you that you have them not, then I do not simply say to you, abstain from what would be a profanation of that which God has hallowed. You may be apt to rest contented with such abstinence; but that is a grievous mistake. Your discovery of a want of fitness for the communion service is also a discovery of your want of fitness for the kingdom of heaven. And it is an awful decision to continue in such a state, satisfied to be excluded at once from Christian privileges here, and from eternal glory hereafter. Having ascertained your lost condition, make no delay in seeking for the salvation of the Gospel. Apply to the Saviour, from your ignorance or from your disbelief of whom, your disregard of this feast has hitherto proceeded. Apply to him for the blessings that you need. Apply with earnestness. Apply in the appointed way. And he will receive you graciously, and love you freely; and by the influence of his Spirit he will dispose and qualify you to sit down at his table upon earth, and finally bring you to his presence in heaven"
It had long been the fashion in Moderate circles in Scotland, to deplore and decry zeal in the practice of religion. Andrew Thomson exposes the speciousness of this attitude: " . . can it be that any man who really believes the Bible, and is sincere in his Christian profession, should think of setting bounds beyond which our religious zeal must not pass? What! can you be too zealous in seeking after deliverance from the worm that never dies, and from the fire that shall not be quenched? Can you be too zealous in aspiring to that inheritance which is incorruptible, and that crown of glory which fadeth not away? Can you be too zealous in the pursuit of what was purchased at such a costly price as the blood of the incarnate Son of God? Can you be too zealous in labouring to fulfil the obligations of love and obedience, arising from such a manifestation of the divine mercy? Can you he too zealous in avoiding the snares, in resisting the enemies, in breaking down the barriers, that would interrupt your progress towards such a consummation as the one set before you in the gospel, or that would disqualify you for the final enjoyment of it? Or can you be too zealous in adding to your own participation of the benefits which Christianity has in store for all who embrace her, that of your brethren of mankind to whom Christianity is yet a stranger, in removing the obstacles by which they have been hitherto prevented from receiving what she has to bestow, and in employing the necessary means for giving her the triumph which she loves to gain over the hearts of perishing sinners, and for making them the trophies of her saving might. No, my friends, no zeal can be inordinate which prosecutes such objects, and moves in such a path. There is doubtless a zeal that may be carried too far; but that is not a zeal for true religion "
One might well ask: Who is sufficient for these things? Thomson would answer: "The Lord will give grace: grace to pardon your offences, and deliver your conscience from the burden of guilt; grace to purify your souls more and more from that moral defilement which naturally cleaves to them; grace to help you in all your seasons of trial and of weakness; grace to comfort you in every disconsolate hour, and to strengthen you for every Christian duty; grace to keep you steadfast in the faith of Jesus, and in the obedience of his law, and in the hope of his gospel; grace to ensure your perseverance in the path of spiritual life, and to obtain the victory over the terrors and the power of death. And having thus given you grace here, he will also give you glory hereafter. He will receive you into that heavenly kingdom for which he was preparing you upon earth; a state from which all that is sinful, all that is degrading, and all that is unhappy, shall be for ever excluded, and in which ~vou shall be privileged with whatever is great in intellectual attainment, and perfect in moral excellence - with whatever is splendid in honour, and exquisite in enjoyment - with all the fulness of God, and all the blessedness of immortality "
But time is of the essence of the contract. "0 my friends, life is short. We are now in the land of living men; we shall ere long be immured in the darkness and the silence of the tomb. Let us work the works of God, therefore, while it is day; the night cometh soon, and it may come unexpectedly, when no man can work. Whatever our hand findeth to do; whether it be an exercise of faith in the Redeemer - or whether it be an act of repentance towards our offended Maker - or whether it be an application by prayer at the footstool of mercy - or whether it be a deed of justice and reparation to someone that we have wronged - or whether it be a work of piety and beneficence, in behalf of the victims of disease and poverty - WHATEVER our hand findeth to do, let us do it with our might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither we are going "!
Solemn are this preacher's words regarding the last enemy: "Death is one of the most formidable evils we have to encounter. It is, indeed, an awful thing to die. Nature recoils from the agonies of dissolution, and from the corruption of the grave. But he who has accomplished our salvation has vanquished death, and him that had the power of it. He has plucked out its sting. He has secured our final triumph over it. Death is the last enemy that shall be destroyed. But he shall be destroyed. His dominion shall be wrested from him, and his victims emancipated from his grasp. Our bodies must return to their kindred earth; but they shall be raised again, spiritual, incorruptible, and glorious. They shall be reunited to their never-dying and sainted partners; and shall enter into the regions of immortality. And, thus saved from the tyranny of death by the work of Christ, and having our resurrection pledged and sealed to us by the virtue of his own, we are also saved from those apprehensions with which the natural and unbelieving man looks forward to his departure from the living world. Resting by faith on that mighty Redeemer who has trodden the dark vale before us, and spoiled it of its terrors, and sending our hope within the veil, whither he our forerunner is for us entered, we can dismiss all our alarms, and say in triumphant language, 0 death! where is thy sting? 0 grave! where is thy victory? Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory, through Jesus Christ our Lord".
Yes, indeed. For "It is a comfortable and an animating thought, that precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of his saints. While they are here, he keeps them as the apple of his eye, and when they go hence, his Spirit goes with them to place them in their sainted rest, and to give them entrance into the joy of their Lord. How anxious, then, should we be to consecrate to him the life which he is so careful to preserve, and the death which he is so gracious to embalm! Whether we live, let us live to the Lord; and whether we die, let us die to the Lord; that living or dying we may be the Lord's"
The worthy Doctor waxes lyrical, as he dwells finally on the glory of Heaven. "0! when you think of the celestial abodes, with all their beauty, and with all their bliss, where the toils and trials and tribulations of mortality shall be neither felt nor feared any more, and amid whose sublime exercises and rapturous enjoyments all that is holiest and best in our present state shall appear in the retrospect as a very little thing, how can you restrain the outgoing of your affections towards that expected period when he that shall come, will come, and will not tarry, and when his coming will be the signal of your admission into those everlasting habitations, on which your eyes are now fixed, and into which you long and expect to enter"
Preaching thus in the power and demonstration of the Spirit, Andrew Thomson was "one of the causes " - and, it may well be, the principal cause (humanly speaking) - "of the revived taste for the faithful preaching of the gospel which has happily characterised Edinurgh for the last fifteen or twenty years "(up to 1831).
Historians of diverse schools of thought have described him as "the foremost personality and force of the great Evangelical Revival " - "the man who, far more than any other, had succeeded in rehabilitating Evangelicalism in the eyes of the cultured of Edinburgh, and in reinvigorating it as a force in the councils of the Church (Chalmers) and who "left his character stamped on his age"
(From the small biography by R.Strang Miller "A Great Scottish Churchman"
All quotations are attributed, but have been omitted from the web edition.
contact me if you wish to know the source of any quote used by Miller)
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