On Living for Shalom: The Story of Ross Langmead

Ross Langmead once suggested that to be human is to ‘find ourselves in the middle of a cosmic story’. He was, it seems, on a perpetual journey to discern and to celebrate the spirit of life in all things. And he discerned that spirit in communities, in movements of justice, in solidarity with the poor, in creation’s hope-filled and determined persistence and wonder, and in the life and teaching of Jesus, God’s ever-new Word among us.

Much of Ross’s life and work recalls commitments expressed also in the life and work of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, someone whom Ross liked to read and to cite. In particular, it was their shared conviction that ‘God’ – ever irreducible to a single name or principle, and never impounded by any particular religion – is never present in general; never simply ‘out there’. Rather, God is always present for and in God’s creatures, every one, in concrete ways – as grace, as care, as kindness, as light, as troubling and healing water, as ‘mystery of servant love’. ‘We are not alone’. This is to recall that Ross’s life was grounded in the twin-conviction that God is not a Christian, and that the western-centric nature of Christian theology that dominates ecclesial life and that of theological academies in Australia has both hidden and distorted divine revelation that is at work in every human culture, and, indeed, in all creation. 

Inspired by the courageous work of Latin American liberation theologians and those theologies emerging from the ‘womb’ of Asia, Ross came to the conviction that a church preoccupied with its own welfare, security, and self-perpetuation is something quite other than that community that is a sign of God’s self-emptying life in the world. And, like Bonhoeffer, he came to the unshakeable conviction that the church is the church only when it exists for others.

There are, in fact, only two questions worth asking in theology – ‘Who (or what) is God?’ and ‘So what?’. Ross’s work bears the marks of these two questions, and finds their commonality in the language and praxis of mission, which is ‘the mother of theology’ (Martin Kähler). As Ross once put it: theological education should be ‘missiological to the core’. Missiology is, therefore, neither a theological hobby horse nor an addendum to theological work. It is theology at its crux – concerned with the life of God as God, with the life of the world as world, and with the vocation of a community made to celebrate, interrogate, and participate in the encounter which is the God–world partnership. Moreover, it is theology that can be sung, and embodied. Indeed, it must be, lest it perpetuate a lie. So Ross did a lot of both, and this deep conviction emboldened him to develop what he called ‘a mission heart in … curriculum praxis’.

I reckon Alison Langmead summed it all up very well when she wrote in the book’s Foreword:

This book’s account of Ross’s life reveals an authentic journey into how learning to trust and to participate in [God’s] great love, can play out in a single lifetime: how his early childhood in Hong Kong prepared him for an expanded world view; how he looked at and worked with the questions of life through study, practical exploration, writing, friendship, teaching, singing, and research; how he encouraged others to grapple together with the many challenges of life, taking time out to consider, to learn, to pray, and to act with courage; how working with unemployed youth and exploring the multicultural needs of a municipality could shape his theology of being the church in the world and ground his future work as a missiologist; how he consulted professionals as he tried to face the truths of his own issues; how songwriting could open the windows of the soul when other things could not; and how others have felt the benefit of having known him.

It is, however, really important for readers to remember that this is not Ross’s book. In fact, I’m not sure how Ross would have felt about the whole project; possibly quite embarrassed. It is, rather, Jeanette’s book, Jeanette’s story. Each of us will have our own memories about Ross. Some of those memories will be stirred by those recollections captured here in this story, beautifully told. Good stories do that.

Living for Shalom is a biography that walks carefully somewhere between Ross’s private and public worlds, and between the recollections of both the researcher herself and those with whom she has had exchange during the course of her research; not an easy task, but one that Jeannete pulls off admirably. Of course, Jeanette’s work on this book was assisted greatly by the generosity of those she interviewed – who responded to her survey, who kindly shared with Jeanette their own reflections and pictures of Ross, who answered her many questions, and who, along the way, widened the research pool. Moreover, Jeanette had the enviable and remarkable twin-benefit and burden that her subject appears to have never done anything much that he didn’t write down. His detailed diaries, journals, letters, notebooks, articles, academic writings, and songs mark the research gathered here in this volume. 

What began with a tentative question to herself and with a hesitant email to a sister-in-law resulted in a well-researched story written with a clarity, order, and precision befitting Ross’s own work. Of course, like any good biography, Living for Shalom teaches us about much more than only its main subject, and here readers are given rich and lively insights and snapshots: about growing up as a missionary kid in a Salvationist family; about the challenges, costs, and risks associated with sustaining Christian activism; about the shape of love in private and public life; about the insanity, character, costliness, and desired ends of theological education, not least in places like Nagaland; about how to carefully tread a path through the fears and expectations of others while maintaining your own integrity as a researcher, biographer, and person with a living faith; about the face of poverty and the possibilities of its concrete overcoming; about leaving home, and about just how complicated leaving home can be; about the difficult and painful questions of Aboriginal and migrant identities that sit like cancer on the heart for the quest for a just Australia living with the invitation for ‘a fuller expression of [its] nationhood’; about the radical (and Salvationist) roots of the Westgate Baptist Community, roots evident only in Ross but also in many other Westgaters; about the life of Christian communities in Melbourne from the first Prime-ministership of Robert Menzies through to Julia Gillard’s (another Westie!) last days in the same unenviable job, set against the backdrop of music played by the likes of The Seekers and Bob Dylan, and against the terrifying screams of the Vietnam War and of the jungles of the Thai–Burma border, violent howls that show no signs of petering out and where even here hope manages to find a way against all the odds.

We all responded to and coped with Melbourne’s long and multiple lockdowns in different ways. Jeanette Woods used that time to write a beautiful book about her brother and then gifted it to us all. For that, we are much in her debt.


This reflection is part of something that I had prepared to share at the launch of Jeanette’s book. Unfortunately, the launch needed to be cancelled.

Living for Shalom: The Story of Ross Langmead

LangmeadI was honoured and delighted to be invited to pen a wee endorsement for Jeanette Woods’ recently-published biography of my teacher and friend – Ross Langmead. The book is called Living for Shalom: The Story of Ross Langmead, and here’s what I wrote about it:

This is an affectionate, inspiring, and fluently written account of the life of Ross Langmead, a dedicated and infectious teacher and leader who turned many things upside down. It’s also a striking witness to the redemptive power of the love song that moves the earth toward healing, reconciliation, and wholeness. Very few people could have written this book. That Jeanette Woods has done so has helped us to see—see more and more—what we have loved in and learned from this good mate of a carpenter’s son

The book is available via the publisher, or you can also contact the author directly.

Stanley Hauerwas on being human, on being a theologian

I recently started reading Stanley Hauerwas’ latest book Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir. It’s a very special book, and over the next bit I may even post a few exerpts from it. But in the meantime, here’s two videos in which Hauerwas talks about this book, the nature of theological biography, the life of a theologian, having children, engaging with Islamic thought, encountering Karl Barth and other things that have changed his life.

Introducing: John Caird

john-cairdJohn Henderson Seaforth Burleigh, in his momumental A Church History of Scotland (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), described one nineteenth-century churchman as holding ‘aloof from all ecclesiastical strife, but he was reckoned to be the greatest Scottish preacher of his age’ (p. 379). The person in question is John Caird. But who was this man?

John Caird (1820-1898), was a Church of Scotland minister, theologian, and university principal. He was born on 15 December 1820 in Greenock, the eldest of seven sons of John Caird (d. 1838), marine engineer, and Janet Young (d. 1889) of Port Glasgow. His younger brother Edward Caird (1835-1908), philosopher, became master of Balliol College, Oxford. John was educated at the Greenock grammar school until the age of fifteen, when he went to work in the office of his father’s engineering firm. At his earnest request, his father allowed him to attend classes in mathematics and logic at Glasgow University in 1837-8, after which he returned to work in the family firm. In September 1838 his father died suddenly, and his firm was sold. Caird took a position in an uncle’s chain-making firm, but, freed from the expectation that he would follow his father in business, he decided on a career in the ministry. He returned to Glasgow University in 1840 and proceeded through the arts and divinity curricula, gaining prizes in poetry, Hebrew, and Latin, and demonstrating a capacity for steady, orderly work. He graduated MA in 1845. In the same year he was licensed as a probationary minister in the Church of Scotland by the presbytery of Glasgow, and was ordained to the ministry of the parish of Newton upon Ayr on 18 September 1845.

Caird’s talents were soon recognized, and on 6 May 1847 he was translated to the Edinburgh parish of Lady Yester’s. There he experienced an extraordinary rise to fame as a vehement preacher of a practical, non-dogmatic religion. He had an arresting presence in the pulpit, with a slight physique, long, black hair, swarthy complexion, dark eyes, and powerful voice. For the young he held a particular fascination, and students were prominent among the crowds that packed into the church Sunday after Sunday. As one admirer later recalled, ‘the fire of the eye, the rapidity of the gestures, the resonance of the voice, the sacred passion of the orator, were not to be withstood’ (Caird, xlviii). The Church of Scotland, which had lost nearly half its membership and its most zealous clergymen at the Disruption of 1843, was in need of fresh talent, and many looked to Caird as a revitalizing force. Others, however, were less enthusiastic. Complaints about him spread: his doctrine, some said, was unsound; he placed too much emphasis on worldly morality; he did not preach Christ. The criticisms became too much for the sensitive young man, still in his twenties. In a state of emotional turmoil and physical exhaustion, Caird decided to withdraw from Edinburgh. In July 1849 he became minister of the quiet Perthshire parish of Errol.

Caird devoted himself to the ministry of his rural parish. He invested considerable effort in writing his sermons, striving for greater clarity of expression. He worked to enhance the beauty of worship and he founded a school for girls of the labouring classes. He avoided ecclesiastical politics and seldom attended presbytery meetings. He read widely, giving particular attention to the work of Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, the Oxford Tractarians, and German theologians, especially Schleiermacher. Above all, he recovered his emotional equilibrium. In 1855 he was again drawn to the public notice, when in October he preached before Queen Victoria at Balmoral. With eloquence and power, Caird proclaimed the unity and sanctity of all life, insisted that Christianity must infuse the business of this world, and summoned Christians to quiet, earnest labour under the shadow of eternity. Deeply moved-she wrote it was ‘a most admirable and beautiful sermon … which kept one’s attention riveted’ (Victoria, 155)-the queen commanded that the sermon be published. Entitled Religion in Common Life, it went through several editions and was later described by A. P. Stanley, dean of Westminster Abbey, as ‘the best single sermon in the language’ (Caird, xxxii). On 7 December 1857 Victoria appointed Caird one of her chaplains-in-ordinary in Scotland, which he continued until 1886.

Caird had by now decided to return to an urban pastorate. On receiving offers to become minister of both the new Park Church in Glasgow and St George’s Church in Edinburgh, he accepted the Park Church, and was translated there on 24 December 1857. As in Edinburgh in the late 1840s, his preaching in Glasgow attracted huge crowds. He was, however, now better prepared to confront controversy. His youthful vehemence had grown into a more restrained eloquence, a chastened, mature understanding of the world, and a deepened compassion for human suffering and frailty. Contributing to his increased confidence and self-control was his marriage, on 15 June 1858, to Isabella Riddle Glover (1832-1913), daughter of William Glover, minister of Greenside parish, Edinburgh. The marriage-there were no children-was a long and happy one.

During his years at the Park Church, Caird emerged as one of the leading figures in the broad-church movement in Scotland, a movement that contributed much to the mid-Victorian revival of the Church of Scotland. His preaching was characterized by a belief in the essential reasonableness of Christianity, a focus on the person of Jesus, a concentration on practical Christian morality over doctrinal distinctions, and a confidence that Christianity had nothing to fear from developments in science and historical scholarship. He was committed to liturgical reform, including the revival of ancient liturgies, and he worked to bring greater simplicity, reverence, and beauty to public worship. His social ethic included concern to improve conditions for the labouring classes. He recruited voluntary workers from his Park congregation for mission work in an impoverished urban district. Near the end of his life, when told that the Glasgow city council had refused to open a public park to working people on Sundays, he responded with characteristic emotion. ‘Could they not’, he asked, ‘offer them this brief refuge from the wretchedness of their narrow and crowded and noisy and too often fireless hearths? Oh! the prejudice and bigotry of men!’ (Jones, 12).

In 1860 the University of Glasgow awarded Caird a DD. In 1862 he was appointed professor of divinity at the University of Glasgow, and left the parish ministry. He approached his new position with some apprehension, suspecting rightly that his lectures would be scrutinized critically by those who adhered strictly to orthodox doctrinal standards. Caird devoted the same meticulous care to preparing his theological lectures as he did to his sermons. As a teacher, he endeavoured to promote a spirit of enquiry; he was concerned less to provide students with a set of doctrinal propositions to be accepted on authority, and more to give them principles which might guide their honest exploration of the Christian faith. Deeply influenced by the thought of Hegel, Caird placed emphasis on the progressive unfolding of Christian truth. Together with his brother Edward, professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University from 1866 to 1893, Caird was a leading force in promoting Hegelian idealism in Scotland. He also championed religious toleration. He refused to censure unbelief as a moral or intellectual fault; rather, he emphasized the consolations and joys of the Christian faith as positive gifts which Christians should treasure and share with others. In 1866 he helped make it possible for students from nonconformist seminaries to gain a University of Glasgow BD through examination. In 1868 he successfully proposed that a Glasgow DD be conferred upon the eminent Scottish theologian John Macleod Campbell, who in 1831 had been deposed from the ministry of the Church of Scotland for heresy. In 1871 he helped to revive regular university chapel services, and invited members of different denominations to preach. He was, his brother later recalled, ‘almost indifferent to the causes of disagreement between the main denominations into which the Christian church is divided’ (Caird, xcvii).

When the principalship of Glasgow University became vacant early in 1873, the university senate unanimously petitioned the queen to appoint Caird to the vacancy, which she did on 7 March 1873. He immersed himself in the practical work of administering the university, providing steady academic leadership during a period that witnessed the appointment of a universities commission in 1876, the University Act of 1889, and the radical reorganization of the university system. He also campaigned publicly for extending full university privileges to women. In addition to his demanding administrative workload, he continued to preach several times each session in the university chapel and to address the students at the opening of each session. In 1880 he published his first major work, the Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, based on the Croall lectures he delivered in Edinburgh. In 1888 he published a brief study of the ethics of Spinoza. He returned to the subject of theism with his Gifford lectures, which he delivered in 1890-91 and in 1896. They were published posthumously as The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity in 1899. These mature works were infused by Hegelian idealism and, while not original in their argument, they expressed Caird’s characteristic commitment to a reasonable, inclusive Christianity. Caird suffered a stroke in 1896, and became seriously ill again in February 1898. He died of ‘inflammatory illness’ (probably pleurisy) on 30 July 1898 at his brother Colin’s house, Dungourney, Newark Street, Greenock, and was buried in Greenock cemetery on 3 August. A liberal protestant, Caird was pre-eminently a preacher of a confident, consoling Christian faith, prepared to respond creatively to the challenges and opportunities of a progressive age.


E. Caird, ‘Memoir of Principal Caird’, in J. Caird, The fundamental ideas of Christianity, 2 vols. (1899), ix-cxli · C. L. Warr, Principal Caird (1926) · A. C. Cheyne, ‘John Caird (1820-98): preacher, professor, principal’, Studies in Scottish church history (1999), 165-83 · A. P. F. Sell, ‘John Caird (1820-1898): apostle of continuity’, Defending and declaring the faith: some Scottish examples, 1860-1920 (1987), 64-88 · H. Jones, Principal Caird: an address (1898) · Fasti Scot., new edn · Boase, Mod. Eng. biog. · W. I. Addison, A roll of graduates of the University of Glasgow from 31st December 1727 to 31st December 1897 (1898) · Queen Victoria, Leaves from the journal of our life in the highlands, from 1848 to 1861, ed. A. Helps (1868)


NL Scot., corresp. with Blackwoods · NL Scot., notes of sermons; scattered letters |  Bodl. Oxf., letters to Gilbert Murray · U. Glas., corresp. and MSS relating to his principalship · U. Glas. L., special collections department, divinity lectures; letters; MS sermon


T. Annan, photograph, pubd 1871, NPG [see illus.] · W. and T. Bonner, engraving, 1873 (after W. Bonner), Scot. NPG · J. E. Millais, oils, exh. RA 1881, U. Glas.

Wealth at death

£11,604 7s. 3d.: confirmation, 22 Oct 1898, CCI

Note: Additional dictionary content from The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can be obtained free in the UK from public libraries thanks to a national deal with the MLA.

See here for more biographies in the Introducing Series.

Introducing: Samuel Cox

Samuel Cox (1826–1893), a religious journalist and author, was born on 19 April 1826 near London, and educated at a school at Stoke Newington. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed at the London docks, where his father was employed, but on the expiry of his indentures he resigned his position and entered Stepney College to prepare himself for the Baptist ministry. After passing the college course and matriculating at London University, Cox became in 1852 pastor of the Baptist chapel in St Paul’s Square, Southsea. In 1854 he accepted an invitation to Ryde, Isle of Wight, where he remained until 1859. A disorder in the throat compelled him to cease preaching, and caused him to turn his attention seriously to literature. He wrote for The Freeman, the organ of the Baptists, and occasionally acted as editor, and became a contributor to The Nonconformist, the Christian SpectatorThe Quiver, and other religious periodicals. In 1861 he was appointed secretary to the committee for arranging the bicentenary of the Ejection of 1662. But his throat problem proved less permanent than had been feared, so that in 1863 he accepted a call to become pastor of the Mansfield Road Baptist Chapel, Nottingham, a position he occupied successfully and happily until 1888, when failing health compelled his resignation. In 1873 he married Eliza Tebbutt of Bluntisham, Huntingdonshire. He retired to Hastings, where he died at his home, Holme, Godrich Road, on 27 March 1893. He was buried in the general cemetery at Nottingham. His wife survived him. 

Although Cox’s ministry was effective and zealous, his chief activity was as a writer. His resumption of ministerial work in 1863 did not interfere with his literary energy, and he became in 1875 editor of The Expositor. The conception of this monthly magazine was evolved by Cox from his own work as a preacher and writer on the Bible. He was editor until 1884, being responsible for the first twenty volumes, some of which he wrote almost entirely himself. But he gathered round him a distinguished staff, including authors from a variety of denominations, such as W. C. Magee, Marcus Dods, and William Robertson Smith. The journal had a powerful influence on the religious thought of the day. Its general tendency is perhaps best indicated by a sentence in Cox’s own exposition of his aims in the first number:

Our sole purpose is to expound the scriptures honestly and intelligently by permitting them to explain themselves; neither thrusting upon them miracles which they do not claim or dogmas to which they lend no support, nor venturing to question the doctrines they obviously teach or the miracles which they plainly affirm.

Cox’s services to learning received the remarkable recognition of nearly simultaneous offers from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and St Andrews universities of their degree of DD. Cox accepted in 1882 the offer of the last-named, but found himself compelled after 1884 to resign his editorship because the breadth of his views had become displeasing to the proprietors of the magazine. Cox stated that he was the writer of thirty volumes and the editor of twenty more. Most of these were biblical expositions. The most widely read and influential was Salvator Mundi: or, Is Christ the Saviour of all Men? (1877), which was followed in 1883 by a sequel, The Larger Hope, in which Cox defined his position with regard to universalism, and answered some of his critics. Among counterblasts to Cox’s teaching may be mentioned The Doctrines of Annihilation and Universalism … with Critical Notes and a Review of ‘Salvator mundi’ (1881), by Thomas Wood. The postscript of this challenges Cox’s impartiality as editor of The Expositor, and is an instance of the kind of complaints which brought about his resignation.

An example the kind of theology that attracted opposition for Cox is evident in these words from his Salvator Mundi: or, Is Christ the Saviour of all Men?:

‘If Christ took flesh and dwelt among us that He might become at all points like as we are and threw open the kingdom of heaven to all believers; if He trod, step by step, the path we have to travel from the cradle to the grave, must He not also, for us men and our salvation, have passed on into that dim unknown region on which our spirits enter when we die? Did He leave, did He forsake our path at the very moment when it sinks into a darkness we cannot penetrate, just when, to us at least, it seems to grow most lonely, most critical, most perilous? … Surely our own reason confirms the revelations of Scripture, and constrains us to believe that, in all worlds and in all ages, as in this, Christ will prove Himself to be the great Lord and Lover of men, and will claim all souls for his own’. – Samuel Cox, Salvator Mundi: or, Is Christ the Saviour of all Men? (2 ed; London: C. Kegan Paul and Co., 1878, 196–7.

Principal Source: Ronald Bayne’s article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Sources: E. Cox, ‘Prefatory memoir’, in S. Cox, The Hebrew twins (1894) · The Freeman (7 April 1893) · Independent and Nonconformist (6 April 1893) · British Weekly(30 March 1893) · Christian World (30 March 1893) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1893) · P. Schaff and S. M. Jackson, Encyclopedia of living divines and Christian workers of all denominations in Europe and America: being a supplement to Schaff-Herzog encyclopedia of religious knowledge (1887)

ArchivesU. Nott. L., notes and sermons

Wealth at death: £445 1s. 2d.: probate, 7 June 1893, CGPLA Eng. & Wales 

Note: Additional dictionary content from The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can be obtained free in the UK from public libraries thanks to a national deal with the MLA.

See here for more biographies in the Introducing Series.

Introducing: Joseph Parker

Joseph Parker (1830–1902), Congregational minister, was born on 9 April 1830 in the Market Place, Hexham, Northumberland, the only child of Teasdale Parker, stonemason, and Elizabeth Dodd, his wife. He was educated at local schools. At fourteen years of age he was set to learn his father’s craft, but soon tired of it and was sent back to school. Until he was twenty-one years old he devoted himself, as he said, to ‘self-culture’. The Congregational church where his father was a deacon was divided over the introduction of evangelical Arminian ideas by the new minister, James Frame, and the stricter Calvinists, including Teasdale Parker, withdrew and (somewhat incongruously) joined the Methodist church.

During his youth Joseph Parker was fascinated by the ideas and speeches of such radical reformers as Edward Miall (1809–1881) and Joseph Cowen (1800–1873). From the age of fourteen Parker had participated in local debates and boys’ meetings, but it was as a supporter of the temperance movement that he was given his first opportunity to exercise his gifts in public. In June 1848 he preached his first sermon on the village green and was enrolled as a lay preacher in the Methodist circuit. The family returned to the Congregational church and Parker felt that he was called into the Christian ministry. He wrote for guidance to Dr John Campbell (1794–1867) of Whitefield’s Tabernacle, Moorfields, and in his reply Campbell invited him to preach at his church for three Sundays. He left home for London on 8 April 1852. Such was the impression that he made that he was appointed assistant minister.

After Parker had spent nine months in London, where he attended lectures at University College, he accepted a call to the Congregational church at Banbury, where he was ordained minister on 8 November 1853. The congregation, initially of fifty members, soon became too large for the building and a new church had to be built. Parker also caused some consternation and some physical danger to himself by initiating open-air services on the cricket ground. He drew wider attention by challenging the formidable secularist George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906), and holding his own against him in public debate. It was at Banbury, too, that he began to publish books and articles, an activity that he was to continue vigorously throughout his career.

Among the numerous churches that now sought his services it was the prestigious Cavendish Street Congregational Church, Manchester, that persuaded Parker to become its minister. He accepted its call on 10 June 1858 and began his ministry at the end of the following month. Success attended him again and by 1863 there were over 1000 members in the church, including many wealthy leaders of commerce and industry. All 1700 seats in the church were occupied at the Sunday services.

On 1 October 1860 courses began at Cavendish College (later the Nottingham Congregational Institute), founded by Parker to provide basic training for men who had been deprived of educational opportunities. He shared the teaching with J. B. Paton and J. Radford Thomson of Heywood. After a clash over the expulsion of a student, Parker withdrew from teaching before the end of the first session and resigned from the board of management in 1862.

On 19 September 1869 Parker began his ministry at the oldest nonconformist church in London, the Poultry Chapel, Cheapside. It was not in a flourishing condition but was soon filled with eager congregations. On 23 September he began to hold a lunchtime service for city workers on Thursdays. Average attendance exceeded one thousand, and it attracted people of all denominations and made a significant contribution to ecumenical understanding, despite the fact that prominent Anglicans were officially inhibited from accepting his invitations to address the congregations. It continued for thirty-two years. From 1871 until 1874 he conducted an institute of homiletics to improve the standard of preaching. Parker’s success made a new building necessary. The Poultry Chapel was sold for £50,000 and the last service was held there on 16 June 1872. Services continued in temporary accommodation until the new church, erected at Holborn Viaduct and known, significantly, as the City Temple, was dedicated on 19 May 1876. Its marble pulpit was the gift of the corporation of the City of London. Here Parker ministered for the remainder of his life. The City Temple became the most powerful centre of nonconformist influence in the city and indeed far beyond, not least in the United States, a country which Parker visited five times. It was this transatlantic influence that prompted Dr T. L. Cuyler’s dictum that ‘the back galleries of the City Temple were in the Rocky Mountains’ (Adamson, 126).

In 1867 Parker was chair of the Lancashire Congregational Union and was twice elected chair of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, in 1884 and 1901. Between 5 and 8 February 1887 he was in Edinburgh where he lectured and preached at several venues, including the church of St Giles, and he was in Scotland again from 30 July to 16 August 1888 conducting a preaching mission. Then in May 1894 he addressed the general assembly of the Free Church of Scotland and spoke to the thousand ministers who were present on his objections to the higher criticism of the Bible. By these visits he became a familiar name to the Scots. In 1862 he was granted an honorary DD from the University of Chicago. On 4 October 1887, while on a visit to the United States, he delivered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music the eulogy on his friend Henry Ward Beecher, who had died on 8 March 1887, and that event, he confessed, ‘was the most memorable public occasion in which I have taken part’ (Adamson, 192). His enthusiastic reception on his various visits to the United States sparked off rumours that he would be invited to succeed Beecher. But Parker had no thought of emigrating.

Parker’s consistent interest in contemporary politics led him to publish a manifesto as a parliamentary candidate for the City of London in the general election of March 1880. In it he supported disestablishment of the Church of England, abolition of the traffic in liquor, and an extension of peasant proprietorship of land. Although 1200 electors had promised their support, Samuel Morley MP (1809–1886) and others persuaded him to withdraw his name, which he did.

Parker was twice married. On 15 November 1851, at Hexham Congregational Church, he married Ann, the daughter of William Nesbitt, farmer, of Horsley. She died in 1863. A stained-glass window was erected in her memory at Horsley Congregational Church in 1899. On 22 December 1864 Parker married Emma Jane, daughter of Andrew Common JP, banker, of Sunderland. She died on 26 January 1899 and was buried at Hampstead cemetery. In her memory stained-glass windows were installed at City Temple and Union Congregational Church, Sunderland. At Sunderland, too, Parker founded in her memory the Parker Memorial Home for Girls. He never recovered from this bereavement and confessed that he did not find it unfitting to pray to her. There were no children. Parker died at his home at 14 Lyndhurst Gardens, Hampstead, on 28 November 1902 after a debilitating illness and was buried at Hampstead cemetery.

Parker was a prolific author and his published books amount to more than sixty titles. He also wrote a large number of articles and edited journals. His attempt to launch a daily newspaper, The Dial (1860–64), failed. His most ambitious publication was The People’s Bible (1885–95), which ran to twenty-five volumes and consists of the material used in his sermons over a period of years. Ecce Deus (1867) was a reply to J. R. Seeley’s Ecce homo (1865). His Six Chapters on Secularism (1854) represents his polemics against the kind of views espoused by Holyoake. His interest in improving the standard of preaching is demonstrated in Ad clerum: Advices to a Young Preacher (1870). Bible exposition was a passionate interest of his and permeates most of his writing. Tyne Chylde: my Life and Teaching (1883) and A Preacher’s Life (1899) are autobiographical. His ineffectual attempts at fiction are seen in Springdale Abbey (1868) and Weaver Stephen (1886). Most of what he published soon sank into oblivion. His verbose and over-heated prose proved not to be to the taste of a later generation, while his biblical studies, although often perceptive and moving, suffered from the lack of a firm basis in scholarly precision. Even so, his Pulpit Bible (1901) found a welcome in many churches.

Parker was a communicator of genius. The huge congregations that he attracted in England, Scotland, and the United States testified to a rare ability to make the Christian message relevant to his own generation. It put him in the front rank of English preachers. It is not easy for a later generation to account for his influence. In theology he was an evangelical, but not of a dogmatic kind. When C. H. Spurgeon initiated the ‘downgrade controversy’, Parker commented that Spurgeon’s hostility to theological change showed lack of trust in God’s providence, and to believe that the age was in decline was to be an atheist (The Freeman, Aug 1887). He combined his fairly conservative theological emphasis with a passionate Liberalism in politics. His leonine head and bold stance gave him an imperious presence in the pulpit. Most of his preaching was extemporary, and that enticed him to make unexpected outbursts that both astonished and attracted his congregations, as in his imprecation, ‘I say, God damn the Sultan’, delivered in his address on the tercentenary of the birth of Oliver Cromwell, 25 April 1899, or his assertion that ‘the Stock Exchange is the bottomless pit of London’, which came in his tirade against gambling in 1900. His sonorous voice, with its surprising modulations, as well as his dramatic delivery, his humour, his use of dialect, and his freshness, combined to make his oratory unique in the London of his day. Added to this were the puzzling contradictions in his personality. He could be brusque and gentle, sarcastic and mellifluous, full of self-esteem and yet dependent on the kindness and even flattery of those about him.

Parker’s career illustrates powerful tendencies in Victorian nonconformity. He began as a radical and republican, but as he came more into contact with rich and influential people he developed into a defender of the social and economic establishment as well as the monarchy. Although claiming to be a defender of Congregationalism in its stricter Independent form, in his speeches from the chair of the Congregational Union in 1901 he advocated a centralized form of Congregationalism. The plans he advocated aroused controversy, but he seems to have been intent on creating a united nonconformist church that would eventually embrace all denominations and be able to compete for social and religious pre-eminence with the Church of England. In his development he embodies the ambition to transform dissent into a powerful movement that would be socially respectable, morally influential, spiritually prophetic, and politically powerful. It was to be an unfulfilled hope.


W. Adamson, The life of the Rev. Joseph Parker, DD (1902) · J. Parker, A preacher’s life (1899) · G. H. Pike, Dr Parker and his friends (1904) · Congregational Year Book (1903), 208b–e · R. R. Turner, ‘Cavendish Theological College, 1860–63’, Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society, 21 (1971–2), 94–101 · J. H. Taylor, ‘Joseph Parker’s United Congregational church’, Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society, 19 (1960–64), 91–6 · A. Peel, The Congregational two hundred, 1530–1948 (1948), 208–9 · J. Parker, Tyne chylde: my life and teaching (1883) · Congregational Year Book (1885), 33–98 · Congregational Year Book (1902), 17–50 · BL cat.


DWLBL, corresp. with W. E. Gladstone, Add. MSS 44446–44520 · LPL, corresp. with A. C. Tait

Key Works

  • City Temple Sermons (1869-1870)
  • The People’s Bible, in 25 vols (1885-1895).
  • Springdale Abbey (1869)
  • The Inner Life of Christ (1881)
  • Apostolic Life (1884)
  • Tyne Chylde: My Life and Teaching (1883; new ed., 1889)
  • A Preacher’s Life (1899)


C. B. Birch, plaster bust, 1883, NPG · R. Gibb, portrait, 1894, RSA · J. Adams-Acton, bust · Ape [C. Pellegrini], chromolithograph caricature, NPG; repro. in VF (19 April 1884) · H. Furniss, caricatures, pen-and-ink sketches, NPG · E. Walker, photograph, NPG [see illus.] · photograph, repro. in Adamson, Life of the Rev. Joseph Parker · photograph, repro. in Parker, Tyne chylde · stipple and line print, NPG

Wealth at death

£289 3s. 5d.: probate, 17 Jan 1903, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Introducing: Andrew Martin Fairbairn

Andrew Martin Fairbairn (1838–1912), Congregational minister and college head, was born at Inverkeithing, Fife, on 4 November 1838. He came of covenanting stock and received strict religious training. He was the second son of John Fairbairn, a miller, and a leader in the United Secession church, and his wife, Helen, daughter of Andrew Martin, of Blainslie, near Lauder. He had very little regular schooling, and began to earn his own living before he was ten. A voracious reader with a retentive memory, he prepared himself for Edinburgh University, where he afterwards studied, though he took no degree.

Meanwhile Fairbairn had become an adherent of the Evangelical Union founded by James Morison, under whose influence Fairbairn decided to become a minister. He entered the theological college of the union in Glasgow in 1857, and in 1860 was ordained and inducted to the Evangelical Union pastorate in Bathgate. While in that post he visited Germany, where he studied at Berlin from 1865 to 1866 under Dorner, Tholuck, and Hengstenberg, and from that time onwards the advocacy of a freer and broader theology than that prevalent in the Scotland of his day became the passion of Fairbairn’s life. He married in 1868 Jane, youngest daughter of John Shields of Byres, Bathgate. They had two sons and two daughters.

Fairbairn wrote, preached, and lectured with untiring persistence, and did not shrink from controversy. He was chairman of the Evangelical Union in 1870. From Bathgate he moved in 1872 to St Paul’s Congregational Church, Aberdeen, where he won a great reputation as a preacher and as a lecturer on philosophical and theological subjects. His first book, Studies in the Philosophy of Religion and History (1876), at once called attention to him as a forceful religious teacher. In 1877 Fairbairn became principal of Airedale College, Bradford, thus transferring his religious allegiance to English Congregationalism. He soon showed his quality as a religious leader, and while at Airedale became chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1883.

During the same period Fairbairn set himself to a task which absorbed him for many years, namely the reform and development of theological education among the free churches. When, therefore, it was proposed in 1886 to establish a Congregational theological college in Oxford, Fairbairn was marked out as the best man to lead the enterprise. He was made principal of the new foundation, Mansfield College, and its early success was largely due to his sagacity, industry, and tact. Its standing (and Fairbairn’s) was recognized when Gladstone dined there on 5 February 1890. Fairbairn’s wide learning and liberal spirit, the rugged eloquence of his style, and his deep insight into human nature made him a most attractive and stimulating teacher; his students responded with loyalty and devotion.

The substance of Fairbairn’s teaching was published in 1893 in the volume entitled Christ in Modern Theology, which its author described as ‘an endeavour, through a Christian doctrine of God, at a sketch of the first lines of a Christian theology’. The book speedily passed through twelve editions. It was followed by The Philosophy of the Christian Religion (1902), and the two together gave a fairly complete presentation of a theological position, strongly influenced by Hegelian idealism, which proved both stimulating and constructive at a time of stress and uncertainty. The theology is of a mediating type and, since it expresses the reaction of Fairbairn’s own mind to the intellectual conditions of his day, it now seems dated.

Among Fairbairn’s other writings are two volumes of sermons—The City of God (1882), hailed in its day as a real contribution to apologetics, and Catholicism, Roman and Anglican (1899), the substance of which had been the occasion of a sharp controversy with Cardinal Newman—and also a volume of Studies in Religion and Theology (1910). He also wrote two chapters, ‘Calvin’ and ‘Tendencies of European thought in the age of the Reformation’, for the second volume of the Cambridge Modern History (1903). His Gifford lectures on comparative religion were delivered in Aberdeen but, owing to adverse criticism of the sections on Chinese religion, were not published as they stood, and were never revised.

All this literary work was done in the intervals of an exceedingly busy life. A trusted leader of the free churches, Fairbairn was in demand all over the country as a preacher and lecturer. He paid several visits to America and lectured in many university centres. In 1898 he went as Haskell lecturer to India. Keenly interested in educational questions, he served on a royal commission on education (1894–5); was consulted by the University of Manchester concerning the establishment of its non-sectarian faculty of theology; played a leading part on the Welsh Theological Board, which devised regulations governing the teaching and examining of theology in the fledgeling University of Wales; and participated in the education controversy of 1902.

Fairbairn died at 112 St James’s Court, Buckingham Gate, London, on 9 February 1912. He was loved and honoured by a wide circle of friends. He was devoted to his family and never so happy as when in his hospitable home. He was a keen conversationalist, a little dogmatic and assertive in manner; W. B. Glover less deferentially described him as ‘a pompous windbag’. But he always had a sense of humour, and a sensitive appreciation of human needs and failings. His wide knowledge of people, books, and affairs made him a most entertaining companion. Above all he was deeply religious. Fairbairn was a DD of Edinburgh, Yale, Wales, Manchester, and Göttingen; a DLitt of Leeds; an LLD of Aberdeen; and a founder and fellow of the British Academy. A collection of Mansfield College Essays (1909), which includes a sonnet to him by Edward Shillito and a bibliography of his writings, was presented to him on his seventieth birthday. His monument is the college that he founded, which became a full college of Oxford University in 1995.

Key Works
Studies in the Philosophy of Religion and History (1876)
Studies in the Life of Christ (1881)
The City of God: A Series of Discussions in Religion (1883)
Religion in History and in Modern Life (1884; rev. 1893)
Christ in Modern Theology (1893)
Christ in the Centuries (1893)
Catholicism Roman and Anglican (1899)
Philosophy of the Christian Religion (1902).


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography · W.B. Selbie, The life of Andrew Martin Fairbairn (1914) · A.P.F. Sell, ‘An Arminian, a Calvinist and a liberal’, Dissenting thought and the life of the churches: studies in an English tradition (1990) · A.M. Fairbairn, ‘Experience in theology: a chapter of autobiography’, Contemporary Review, 91 (1907), 554–73 · R.S. Franks, ‘The theology of Andrew Martin Fairbairn’, Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society, 13 (1937–9), 140–50 · J.W. Grant, Free churchmanship in England, 1870–1940 [1955] · W.B. Glover, Evangelical nonconformists and higher criticism in the nineteenth century (1954) · M.D. Johnson, The dissolution of dissent, 1850–1918 (1987) · E. J. Price, ‘Dr Fairbairn and Airedale College: the hour and the man’, Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society, 13 (1937–9), 131–9 · K.W. Wadsworth, Yorkshire United Independent College (1954), 127–32 · H. Escott, A history of Scottish Congregationalism (1960) · Congregational Year Book (1913), 165–6 · W.D. McNaughton, The Scottish Congregational ministry, 1794–1993 (1993), 45–6 · R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in England, 1662–1962 (1962) · A.P.F. Sell, A reformed, evangelical, Catholic theology: the contribution of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, 1875–1982 (1991) · A.P.F. Sell, Saints: visible, orderly and Catholic: the Congregational idea of the church (1986) · A.P.F. Sell, Theology in turmoil: the roots, course and significance of the conservative–liberal debate in modern theology (1986) · J. Ross, A history of Congregational independency in Scotland (1900) · Gladstone, Diaries · E. Kaye, Mansfield College, Oxford: its origin, history and significance (1996)

Wealth at death

£3462 6s. 2d.: probate, 5 June 1912, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Introducing: Alfred Ernest Garvie

Alfred Ernest Garvie (1861-1945), Congregational minister and theologian, was born on 29 August 1861 at Zyrardow, a Polish town under Russian rule, the son of Peter Garvie and Jane Kedslie (d. 1865). His parents were of Scottish descent, their families having emigrated in the 1820s and worked in the linen and flour trades. Garvie was the fifth in a family of six surviving children; a further three died in infancy, and his mother died when he was four. Plagued by illness as a child, he was left with defective sight after a serious eye inflammation, but during his long periods of convalescence he developed a passion for study, and became fluent in English, German, and Russian. Later he attributed his characteristic preoccupations to childhood influences: the experience of Russian hegemony engendered his instinctive dislike of tyranny and his strong sense of personal liberty. He maintained that his proudly Scottish and reformed upbringing ‘may explain why my Scottish and British patriotism has always been qualified by internationalism, and my congregational loyalty by … ecumenicity’ (Garvie, 53). Sent to Edinburgh to complete his education, Garvie attended George Watson’s College (1874–8) before his four-year apprenticeship as a draper in Glasgow. He attended United Presbyterian church services, committing much of his time to street-mission, but his calling to ministry was hampered by doctrinal difficulties with Presbyterianism and reservations about the Westminster confession. He studied Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Glasgow University (1885–9), gaining the Logan gold medal as the most distinguished arts graduate in 1889, and, having discovered that creed subscription was not a prerequisite for Congregational ministry, changed his church membership and took first-class honours at Mansfield College, Oxford (1889–92). In 1893 he married Agnes Gordon (d. 1914) of Glasgow. His first pastorates were in Macduff (1893–5) and Montrose (1895–1903). Chairman of the Scottish Congregational Union in 1902, he became professor of the philosophy of theism, comparative religion, and Christian ethics at Hackney College and New College, Hampstead, in 1903. He was principal of New College from 1907 and of Hackney College from 1924. When the two merged in 1924, he continued as principal of the institution later known as New College, London. The death of his wife in 1914 was a considerable blow, ameliorated only by devotion to his two daughters.In 1896 Garvie published his first book, The Ethics of Temperance, reflecting a lifelong aversion to alcohol and tobacco. A work of considerable intellectual power and theological influence, his The Ritschlian Theology (1899), a critique of the works of A. Ritschl, W. Herrmann, J. W. M. Kaftan, and A. Harnack, excited some interest in German theology on the normally insular British scene. He criticized Ritschl’s failure to give pre-eminence to the scriptures, but applauded his emphasis on the experiential, insisting that ‘The experience of the apostolic Church must be relived in order that its doctrine may again be rethought’ (Ritschlian Theology, 390–91). This assertion epitomized his self-styled ‘liberal evangelical’ approach to theology, further developed in popular works such as A Guide to Preachers (1906) and The Evangelical Type of Christianity (1916), and in the three volumes of his systematic theology, The Christian Doctrine of the Godhead (1925), The Christian Ideal for Human Society (1920), and The Christian Belief in God (1932). He reacted against Barthianism, describing the doctrine of original sin as a ‘grievous burden on the Church’, and saw the role of the Christian theologian as being to synthesize the ‘absolute eternal values’ latent in the world’s religions

into one Christian monotheistic faith … so that the common brotherhood of man, the goal towards which human evolution points, may be sustained and sublimated by the one Fatherhood of God, as revealed in history by Christ, and realised in experience by His Spirit. (Christian Belief, 411, 191)

His theology was increasingly cruci-centric and trinitarian.Garvie’s academic career was complemented by consistent social action and ecumenicity. During his pastorate at Montrose he incurred displeasure by announcing his pro-Boer sympathies, and during the First World War he vigorously defended the rights of conscientious objectors. As vice-chairman of the interdenominational Conference on Politics, Economics and Citizenship he chaired its report Christianity and War (1924), but felt that its potentialities for peacemaking were thwarted by arguments about absolutist pacifism. Further ecumenical commitments included the Edinburgh Missionary Conference (1907), and the faith and order, and life and work movements. He was co-president of the latter with Bishop George Bell of Chichester, and also developed friendships with churchmen of such varying outlooks as A. Deissman, C. Gore, and C. G. Lang. At the Stockholm conference in 1925 Garvie and Bell wrote a pacifying message to the churches on Germany and ‘war guilt’. In 1927 he was deputy chairman of the Lausanne conference, and became moderator of the Free Church Federal Council in 1928. He received three honorary doctorates: from Glasgow (1903), Berlin University (1930), and New College, London.

Widely respected for his cheerful personality and genuine flair for peacemaking, Garvie’s intellectual and pastoral life was, as was recognized at Berlin University, marked by his ‘devotion in evangelical love and faith to the unity of the Church of Christ’ (Garvie, 220). After his retirement in 1933 he remained an active public figure in British Christianity until his death at the Hendon Cottage Hospital on 7 March 1945.

Giles C. Watson


  • Private school in Poland; home tuition; George Watson’s College, Edinburgh. MA with 1st Class Honours in Philosophy, Glasgow, 1889; BA with 1st Class Honours in Theology, Oxford, 1892; BD Glasgow, 1894; MA Oxford, 1898; hon. DD Glasgow, 1903, Berlin, 1931, London, 1934. Edinburgh Univ. 1878-1879; business in Glasgow, 1880-1884; Glasgow Univ. 1885-1889 (1st Prizeman in Greek, Latin, Logic, Literature, Moral Philosophy, Logan Gold Medal); Oxford University, 1889-1893.


  • Minister of Macduff Congregational Church, 1893-1895; President Congregational Union of Scotland, 1902; Minister of Montrose Congregational Church, 1895-1903; Professor of Philosophy of Theism, Comparative Religion, and Christian Ethics in Hackney and New Colleges, London, 1903-1907; Chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, 1920; President of the National Free Church Council, 1923; Deputy Chairman of the Lausanne Conference on Faith and Order, 1927; Moderator of the Federal Council of the Free Churches, 1928.


  • The Ethics of Temperance, 1895
  • The Ritschlian Theology, 1899
  • Commentary on Romans, 1901
  • The Gospel for To­day, 1904
  • The Christian Personality, 1904
  • My Brother’s Keeper, 1905
  • Religious Education, 1906
  • A Guide to Preachers, 1906
  • Studies in the Inner Life of Jesus, 1908
  • Commentary on Luke, 1910
  • The Christian Certainty, 1910
  • Studies of Paul and his Gospel, 1911
  • Handbook of Christian Apologetics, 1913
  • The Joy of Finding, 1914
  • The Missionary Obligation, 1914
  • The Evangelical Type of Christianity, 1915
  • The Master’s Comfort and Hope, and the Minister and the Young Life of the Church, 1917
  • The Purpose of God in Christ, 1919
  • The Christian Preacher, 1920
  • Tutors unto Christ, 1920
  • The Holy Catholic Church, 1921
  • Congregational View, 1921
  • The Old Testament in the Sunday School, 1921
  • The Beloved Disciple, 1922;
  • The Way and the Witness, The God Man Craves
  • The Christian Doctrine of the Godhead, 1925
  • The Preachers of the Church, 1926
  • The Christian Ideal for Human Society, 1930
  • The Christian Belief in God, 1933
  • Can Christ Save Society? 1934
  • Revelation through History and Experience, 1934
  • The Fatherly Rule of God, 1935
  • The Christian Faith, 1936
  • Memories and Meanings of My Life, 1937
  • Christian Moral Conduct, 1938
  • Editor of the Westminster New Testament, 1938


  • 34 Sevington Road, Hendon. NW4. Telephone: Hendon 6834.


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Who Was Who
  • A. E. Garvie, Memories and meanings of my life (1938)
  • R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in England, 1662–1962 (1962)
  • DNB · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1945)


  • DWL, corresp. and papers
  • LPL, corresp. and papers relating to Reunion
  • LPL, letters to Tissington Tatlow


  • G. E. Butler, oils, New College, London; on loan to DWL, photograph, repro. in Garvie, Memories and meanings of my life, frontispiece

Wealth at death

  • £2651 8s. 10d.: probate, 14 July 1945, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Introducing: William Robertson Nicoll

William Robertson Nicoll (1851-1923), journalist, was born on 10 October 1851 at Lumsden, Aberdeenshire, the elder son of the Revd Harry Nicoll (d. 1891), Free Church of Scotland minister of Auchindoir, Aberdeenshire, and his wife, Jane Robertson. Nicoll acquired his lifelong love of books in his father’s copious library of 17,000 books, to which much of his salary was devoted. He attended the parish school of Auchindoir and Aberdeen grammar school. At fifteen, he entered Aberdeen University, graduating MA in 1870. After four years’ training at the Free Church Divinity Hall, he was ordained to his first charge at Dufftown, Banffshire, in 1874. He was already writing regularly for the Aberdeen Journal, by the age of twenty earning £100 p.a. from journalism. In September 1877 he was inducted minister of the Free Church, Kelso, and the next year, on 21 August in Edinburgh, he married Isa, only child of Peter Dunlop, a prosperous Berwickshire farmer; their son and daughter were born in the manse at Kelso. Witnessing Gladstone’s first Midlothian campaign captured Nicoll for the Liberal cause. While in Kelso, he began to edit The Contemporary Pulpit for Swan, Sonnenschein, and The Expositor, which he directed until his death, for Hodder and Stoughton. Nicoll visited Germany and Norway, where he caught typhoid in 1885. Pleurisy and the fear of tuberculosis, which had killed his father, brother, and sister, ended his promising preaching career, and he moved to Glenroy, Highland Road, Upper Norwood, London, to devote himself to journalism. With his wide intellectual base, his liberal political and theological enthusiasms, and his clerical experience, Nicoll was ideally positioned to write for the huge nonconformist constituency, hitherto rather narrowly served by journalists. Hodder and Stoughton began publication on 5 November 1886 of the British Weekly: a Journal of Social Progress, a penny weekly with Nicoll as editor. It quickly became a success, with J. M. Barrie, S. R. Crockett, and John Watson (‘Ian Maclaren’) as regular contributors; for thirty years he was assisted on it by Jane T. Stoddart. Nicoll often wrote as ‘Claudius Clear’, his letters under that name being later republished (1901, 1905, 1913). He portrayed his abandoned, rural Scotland in a number of rather sentimental pieces, and may be said to have founded the ‘kailyard school’ of Scottish writing by discovering Barrie, who initially wrote Scottish character sketches for the British WeeklyThe Bonnie Briar Bush (from 1887), and encouraging Watson to write for it in 1893. In 1891 Nicoll founded the successful literary monthly The Bookman, and in 1893 Woman at Home, an illustrated magazine intended as a Strand Magazine for women, and subtitled ‘Annie S. Swan’s Magazine’, the Scottish novelist (Anne Burnett Smith) being its chief contributor.

Nicoll and his wife were often unwell. In 1892 they moved to Bay Tree Lodge, Hampstead, with room for 24,000 books. In 1894 Isa Nicoll died, following an operation, and Nicoll was left to rear their children. If anything, he increased his literary output, with Literary Anecdotes of the Nineteenth Century (2 vols., 1894–6), edited with T. J. Wise. In 1896 he visited the USA with J. M. Barrie and on 1 May 1897 he married Catherine, daughter of Joseph Pollard, of Highdown, Hitchin, Hertfordshire; they had one daughter. Catherine Nicoll was the model for Percy Bigland’s painting A Quaker Wedding, and was herself a competent water-colourist. His second marriage rejuvenated Nicoll: the years from 1897 to 1914 were the most energetic and fruitful of his always productive career. In addition to his usual journalism, he began again to preach and lecture widely. He played a prominent role in the ‘passive resistance’ movement against the 1902 Education Act, and campaigned for a fair settlement between the United Free Church of Scotland and the ‘Wee Frees’, which was achieved in 1905. Nicoll supported the Lloyd George group in the Liberal governments of 1905–16, though he was lukewarm about home rule. His knighthood in 1909 recognized his position as ‘the intellectual leader of nonconformity—the chief exponent of its thought, and the most effective advocate of its cause in the press’ (Daily Chronicle, cited in Darlow, 210). He was a strong supporter of war with Germany and his ‘War notes’ in the British Weekly often reflected Lloyd George’s thinking and supported him as he rose to the premiership.

Nicoll’s health began to fail in 1920, though he wrote until his death. He was made CH in 1921. He died, from an abscess, on 4 May 1923 at his home in Hampstead, and was buried in Highgate cemetery. He was a tubby man, with a scrappy moustache, who smoked heavily. He disliked fresh air, and always had a fire blazing in his study. Much of his literary output was dictated from his bed. He was fascinated by palmistry and was notorious for absent-mindedness, often returning from house parties with other men’s clothes. H. A. Vachell recalled:‘he had a dry, pawky wit. He was well-named “Sense and Sensibility”’ (Darlow, 415). Nicoll was among the most prolific of British journalists and succeeded in being both popular and erudite; it was said of him that he had ‘the keenest nose for a book that will sell of any man in the book business’ (Clement Shorter, in Price, 73). His nonconformist readership declined after the war and from that point of view his death was well timed.

Literary Output:

  1. Calls to Christ, (1877) Morgan & Scott: London.
  2. The Yale Lectures on Preaching: (1878) Reprinted from the British and Foreign Evangelical Review.
  3. Songs of Rest [First Series], (1879) Macniven & Wallace, Edinburgh: combined with Second Series (1893), Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  4. The Incarnate Saviour, (1881) T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh.
  5. The Lamb of God, (1883) Macniven & Wallace: Edinburgh.
  6. ‘John Bunyan’ (1884) in The Evangelical Succession, Macniven & Wallace: Edinburgh.
  7. James Macdonell, Journalist, (1890) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  8. Professor W.G. Elmslie, D.D., (1890) (with Macnicoll, A.N.) Hodder & Stoughton: London: revised and enlarged as Professor Elmslie: A Memoir (1911) by W Robertson Nicoll [but minus sermons].
  9. The Key of the Grave, (1894) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  10. Ten Minute Sermons, (1894) Isbister & Co: reprinted 1910, Hodder & Stoughton.
  11. The Seven Words from the Cross, (1895) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  12. When the Worst comes to the Worst, (1896) Isbister & Co.
  13. ‘Henry Drummond: A Memorial Sketch’, (1897) prefixed to Drummond’s posthumous volume, The Ideal Life, Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  14. The Return to the Cross, (1897) reprint 1910, Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  15. Letters to Ministers on the Clerical Life, (1898) (with others) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  16. The Ascent of the Soul, (1899) Isbister & Co.
  17. Letters on Life: by Claudius Clear, (1901) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  18. The Church’s One Foundation, (1901) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  19. A Memorial Article, Hugh Price Hughes as we knew him, (1902) H Marshall & Son.
  20. Robert Louis Stevenson, in the Bookman Booklet Series, (1902/6) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  21. The Garden of Nuts, (1905) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  22. The Day Book of Claudius Clear, (1905) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  23. The Scottish Free Church Trust and it’s Donors, (1905) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  24. Thomas A History of English Literature [3 Volumes, originally published as The Bookman Illustrated History of English Literature] (1906) (with Seccombe) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  25. The Lamp of Sacrifice, (1906) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  26. ‘Introduction and Appreciation, Memoirs of the Late Dr Barnardo, Mrs Barnardo & James Marchant, (1907) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  27. My Father. An Aberdeenshire Minister, (1908) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  28. Ian Maclaren, The Life of the Rev. John Watson D.D., (1908) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  29. ‘Introduction’ to Jane Stoddart’s Against the Referendum, (1910) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  30. The Round of the Clock: The Story of Our Lives from Year to Year [Claudius Clear], (1910) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  31. Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, (N/D: but after 1910) Nelson & Sons: London.
  32. The Christian Attitude Towards Democracy [reprinted from the British Weekly], (1912) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  33. The Problem of ‘Edwin Drood’ (A study in the Methods of Dickens), (1912) Hodder & Stoughton. London.
  34. A Bookman’s Letters, (1913) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  35. The Difference Christ is Making [reprinted from the British Weekly], (1914) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  36. Prayer in War Time, (1916) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  37. Reunion in Eternity, (1918) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  38. Edited with ‘Appreciation’, Letters of Principal James Denney to W. Robertson Nicoll, (1920) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  39. Princes of the Church, (1921) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  40. Dickens’s Own Story: Sidelights on his Life and personality, (1923) [reprints from ‘Claudius Clear’ in the British Weekly], Prefatory Note by St John Adcock, Chapman & Hall Ltd, London.
  41. Memories of Mark Rutherford (William Hale White), (1924) [reprints from ‘Claudius Clear’ in the British Weekly], T Fisher Unwin, London.

A list of his publications up to 1902 is included in a monograph on Nicoll by Jane T. Stoddart (New Century Leaders, 1903). The official biography was written by Nicoll’s friend T H Darlow and published in 1925 as a more complete list.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

T. H. Darlow, William Robertson Nicoll (1925)

A. Whigham Price, ‘W. Robertson Nicoll and the genesis of the Kailyard school’, Durham Journal, 86 (Jan 1994), 73–82


U. Aberdeen L., corresp., news-cuttings, incl. letters of sympathy to Lady Robertson Nicoll · U. Edin. L., corresp. with Charles Sarolea

National Archives of Scotland

Note: Additional dictionary content from The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can be obtained free in the UK from public libraries thanks to a national deal with the MLA.

See here for more biographies in the Introducing Series.

Introducing: James Orr

James Orr (1844–1913), theologian, was born in Glasgow on 11 April 1844, the son of Robert Orr, an engineer, and his wife, Montgomery (née Hunter). He began school in Manchester and Leeds before, when he was about nine, both his parents died. Living with Glasgow relatives, he became an apprentice bookbinder. In 1865 he entered Glasgow University to prepare for the United Presbyterian ministry. He was moulded in philosophy by John Veitch, the last representative of the Scottish common-sense school, and in lesser degree by John and Edward Caird, early advocates of idealism. He graduated MA with first-class honours in mental philosophy in 1870, winning a Ferguson scholarship that enabled him to remain at Glasgow for two further years. In 1872 he graduated BD and shared in the lord rector’s prize for a penetrating critique of David Hume that he later published in revised form (1903). From 1868 to 1872 he also attended the United Presbyterian Divinity Hall in Edinburgh and during most of 1873 preached as a probationer at Trinity Church, Irvine, Ayrshire.

From 1874 to 1891 Orr was minister of East Bank United Presbyterian Church, Hawick, Roxburghshire. On 7 April 1874 he married Hannah Fraser, the daughter of James Gibb, a shoemaker from Glasgow; she was to survive him. He became chairman of Hawick school board, campaigned for the reduction of liquor licences, and was known as a Liberal, one of his four sons being named William Gladstone. He helped to draft the United Presbyterian declaratory statement that in 1879 repudiated any total endorsement of Calvinism. Six years later he obtained a Glasgow DD by examination. In 1891 he delivered his church’s Kerr lectures, published two years later as The Christian View of God and the World, which showed originality in teaching the coherence of an incarnation-centred world-view. The book remained influential a century later.

The lectures secured Orr’s appointment in 1891 to the United Presbyterian college in Edinburgh as professor of church history. In 1894 he published one of three replies to the anti-supernaturalist Gifford lectures given by Otto Pfleiderer of Berlin, and in 1895 and 1897 lectured in North America. The resulting books, especially The Ritschlian Theology and the Evangelical Faith (1897) and The Progress of Dogma (1901) criticizing Adolf Harnack, the German theologian and church historian, cautioned against the subjectivist trend in German theology. Writing in The Progress of Dogma:

A God in process is of necessity an incomplete God – can never be a true, personal God. His being is merged in that of the universe; sin, even, is an element of His life. I hold it to be indubitable that God, in order truly to be God, must possess Himself in the eternal fulness and completeness of His own personal life; must possess Himself for Himself, and be raised entirely above the transiency, the incompleteness, and the contingency of the world-process. We are then enabled to think of the world and history, not as the necessary unfolding of a logical process, but as the revelation of a free and holy purpose; and inconsistency is no longer felt in the idea of an action of God along supernatural lines – above the plane of mere nature, as wisdom and love may dictate – for the benefit of His creature man.

In 1896, when the Free Church approached the United Presbyterian church with a proposal of co-operation, Orr urged merger instead and became joint convenor of the United Presbyterian union committee. At the eventual creation of the United Free Church in 1900 Orr was transferred to the chair of systematic theology and apologetics at its Glasgow college but, perhaps partly because of hostility to his pro-Boer stance during the South African War, he failed to secure its principalship two years later. He edited the United Presbyterian Magazine (1896–1900) and with his friend and Glasgow colleague James Denney co-edited the Union Magazine (1901–4) and the United Free Church Magazine (1904–6).

In 1902 Orr seconded Robert Rainy’s general assembly motion not to proceed against another colleague, George Adam Smith, for his advocacy of higher criticism. Yet, as Orr explained in The Problem of the Old Testament (1905), he dissented from the growing acceptance of that approach. In the same year God’s Image in Man, based on the 1903 Stone lectures at Princeton Seminary, argued that supernatural interruptions of the evolutionary process were essential to account for the emergence of humanity. From 1906 Orr’s prolific writings became more popular in tone, a tendency culminating in the republication of four of his articles in The Fundamentals (1910–15). His Revelation and Inspiration (1910), though explicitly repudiating biblical inerrancy, cogently defended a high estimate of scripture. His final years were spent chiefly as general editor of the conservative International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (5 vols., 1915). After illness caused by a weak heart, he died at his home, 4 Hampton Court Terrace, Glasgow, on 6 September 1913 and was buried in Cathcart cemetery, Glasgow, on 9 September.

Tall and broad-shouldered, Orr was tolerant of opponents and, though sometimes abrupt, markedly kind to students. He swam against the tide of contemporary British theological opinion, but his influence was more widely felt in North America.

Principal Source: David Bebbington’s article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


  • The Christian View of God and the World (1893)
  • The Ritschlian Theology and the Evangelical Faith (1897)
  • Neglected Factors in the Study of the Early Progress of Christianity (1899)
  • Progress of Dogma (1902)
  • David Hume (1903)
  • Ritschlianism; Expository and Critical Essays (1903)
  • God’s Image in Man and its Defacement in Light of Modern Denials (1905)
  • Problems of the Old Testament Considered with Reference to Recent Criticism (1906)
  • The Bible under Trial: Apologetic Papers in View of Present Day Assaults on Holy Scripture (1907)
  • The Resurrection of Jesus (1908)
  • Side-Lights on Christian Doctrine (1909)
  • Sin as a Problem To-Day (1910)
  • The History and Literature of the Early Church (1913)
  • ‘The Holy Scriptures and Modern Negations’, ‘The Early Narratives of Genesis’, ‘Science and Christian Faith’, and ‘The Virgin Birth of Christ’, in The Fundamentals (1917)
  • The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed.) (1939)


  • Gary J. Dorien, The Remaking of Evangelical Theology, Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.
  • George Eyre-Todd, ‘Rev. James Orr’, in Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909.
  • Jeff MacDonald, ‘Book Review of A Call for Continuity: The Theological Contribution of James Orr, Layman Online, May 26, 2005.
  • Gavin Basil McGrath, ‘James Orr’s Endorsement of Theistic Evolution’, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51/2 (June 1999): 114-121.
  • Philip Schaff, ‘Orr, James’, New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1953.
  • Glen G. Scorgie, A Call for Continuity: The Theological Contribution of James Orr, Regent College Publishing, 2004.

Introducing the Introducing Series

Regular readers of this blog have no doubt noticed my interest in Church history. While the seed for this interest was planted decades ago, it has sprouted more rapidly in recent years as I have focused my attention on one of Church history’s outstanding figures, PT Forsyth. One of the real joys of doing a PhD is being introduced to so many new names and so much unfamiliar literature. For me, this has principally been Victorian/Edwardian nonconformist theologians from Britain.

Having enjoyed these introductions so much, I thought it might be a good idea to (from time to time) share some biographical material on, and quotes from, various theologians that I come across that are of particular interest. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography will be a principal source. The series will include posts on:

(If there’s a biography that you’d particularly like to see included, let me know … and why).

Note: Additional dictionary content from The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can be obtained free in the UK from public libraries thanks to a national deal with the MLA.

Biography in Brief – Calvin

Continuing on with my recent ‘Biographies in Brief’ series (here, here and here), we come in this post to Calvin. It is difficult to think of a theologian (and his ideas) who has been the object of more grotesque distortion than Protestantism’s greatest: Jean Calvin. For all the attention he has rightly received, there is, oddly, a dearth of biographical material available on Calvin. Up until recently, we have had little more than Theodore Beza’s classic, The Life of John Calvin. In 1993, Alister E. McGrath offered his most readable biography, A Life of John Calvin (London: Blackwell, 1993). Even with the recent gem on Calvin by Randall Zachman (anything this guy writes is worth reading!), John Calvin as Teacher, Pastor, and Theologian: The Shape of His Writings and Thought, McGrath’s A Life of John Calvin remains the best biography available. Here’s a taste:

[Calvin’s] importance lies primarily, but by no means exclusively, in his being a religious thinker. To describe him as a ‘theologian’ is proper but misleading, given the modern associations of the term. A theologian is one who is generally seen to be marginalized as an irrelevance by church and academy alike, whose public is limited to a severely restricted circle of fellow theologians, and whose ideas and methods are generally derived from other intellectual disciplines. The originality, power and influence of Calvin’s religious ideas forbid us to speak of him merely as a ‘theologian’ – though that he certainly was – in much the same way it is inadequate to refer to Lenin as a mere political theorist. Through his remarkable ability to master languages, media and ideas, his insights into the importance of organization and social structures, and his intuitive grasp of the religious needs and possibilities of his era, Calvin was able for forge an alliance between religious thought and action which made Calvinism a wonder of its age.

Biography in Brief – Luther

There have been no shortage of biographies written on Luther. Nor should there be. Like his Master, the Augustinian’s life and gospel could never be contained in a book. Furthermore, while there is no biography available in ink to match the fire of Luther’s own words, the Lord has given us some great books to help ignite the flame. While my two favourites on Luther remain Gerhard O. Forde’s On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 and Alister McGrath’s Luther’s Theology of the Cross, probably the most accessible (and cheapest) biography remains Roland H. Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950). I love this quote:

Katie soon had more than Luther to think about. On October 21, 1525, Luther confided to a friend, “My Katherine is fulfilling Genesis 1:28.” On May 26, 1526, he wrote to another, “There is about to be born a child of a monk and a nun. Such a child must have a great Lord for a godfather. Therefore I am inviting you. I cannot be precise as to the time.” On the eighth of June went out the news, “My dear Katie brought into the world yesterday by God’s grace at two o’clock a little son, Hans Luther. I must stop. Sick Katie calls me.” When the baby was bound in swaddling clothes, Luther said, “Kick, little fellow. That is what the pope did to me, but I got loose.” The next entry in Han’s curriculum vitae was this: “Hans is cutting his teeth and beginning to make a joyous nuisance of himself. These are the joys of marriage of which the pope is not worthy.” On the arrival of a daughter Luther wrote to a perspective godmother, “Dear lady, God has produced from me and my wife a little heathen. We hope you will be willing to become her spiritual mother and help make her a Christian.”

Biography in Brief – Aquinas

G. K. Chesterton’s biographical portrait of Aquinas, Saint Thomas Aquinas – “The Dumb Ox” (New York: Doubleday, 1933/1956), is masterful. Aquinas, medieval Christianity’s most significant figure, is brought to life by Chesterton who harnesses his knowledge of St. Francis to provide a concise and useful comparison between the two theologians.

Though far from being any authority at all on Aquinas, Chesterton has given us arguably the most accessible introduction to Thomas of Aquinas that we have. Etienne Gilson, a leading Aquinas scholar has noted regarding Chesterton’s book, ‘I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas. Nothing short of genius can account for such an achievement … Chesterton was one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed; he was deep because he was right; and he could not help being right; but he could not either help being modest and charitable, so he left it to those who could understand him to know that he was right, and deep’.

A quote:

Of the personal habits that go with the personal physique, we have also a few convincing and confirming impressions. When he was not sitting still, reading a book, he walked round and round the cloisters and walked fast and even furiously, a very characteristic action of men who fight their battles in the mind. Whenever he was interrupted, he was very polite and more apologetic than the apologizer. But there was that about him, which suggested that he was rather happier when he was not interrupted. He was ready to stop his truly Peripatetic tramp: but we feel that when he resumed it, he walked all the faster.

Biography in Brief – Augustine

‘Biography … is more than information; it is commentary and key’. So wrote James Orr in reference to Augustine. So what is the premiere commentary we have on Augustine? For many, Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press), 1967, revised edition 2000, tops the list. Though I am not qualified to suggest what might be the most helpful biography on Augustine, and I haven’t read O’Donnell’s latest offering, certainly Brown has done us a great service with this revised biography, assisting us (with brief chapters and tonnes of great quotations) to enter into the thought and sitz im leben of Hippo’s most famous citizen.

The book also includes an epilogue dealing with some of Augustine’s unearthed new writings (re)discovered since the first (1967) edition of this work. It is encouraging to see that interest in Augustine continues, perhaps more than ever, not least because the last time Augustine was taken seriously we had a reformation.

Book excerpt:

‘Not every man lives to see the fundamentals of his life’s work challenged in his old age. Yet this is what happened to Augustine during the Pelagian controversy. At the time that the controversy opened, he had reached a plateau. He was already enmeshed in a reputation that he attempted to disown with characteristic charm: “Cicero, the prince of Roman orators,” he wrote to Marcellinus in 412, “says of someone that ‘He never uttered a word which he would wish to recall.’ High praise indeed! – but more applicable to a complete ass than to a genuinely wise man . . . If God permit me, I shall gather and point out, in a work specially devoted to this purpose, all the things which justly displease me in my books: then men will see that I am far from being a biased judge in my own case . . . For I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress – by writing.”‘