*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 5th of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today I am going to introduce you to a character you probably have never heard of. I should note- I don’t know how many of the characters and events on this show you do know- I promise to hopefully introduce you to some new things and avoid the minutiae (or, when there are some minutiae, I can make it make sense).
Thomas McCrie Sr was kind of a big deal in Scotland in the early 1800s. He was an author, historian, and pastor. He would be the first Scottish dissenter to be given an honorary doctorate of divinity at the University of Edinburgh. He was a controversialist- that is, he didn’t just disagree with people; he would write extensively on the issue in order to (hopefully) bring unity. He challenged the great novelist Sir Walter Scott when Scott painted McCrie’s ilk as dour caricatures.
To understand McCrie, you should know that he was a seceder, anti-Burgher, and an auld light. If none of that makes sense… follow me.
The Scottish Reformation came in the 16th century through the work of John Knox. Knox had been part of a group of rowdy Scots who antagonized the Catholics based out of St. Andrews. Knox would be imprisoned, which would turn him further against the Catholics and especially the French Catholics who attempted to keep Scotland as a Catholic cousin.
Knox went to Geneva, where he studied under John Calvin and attempted to bring that kind of Reformation back to his native Scotland. Fun fact- it was our man Thomas McCrie who would write one of the first authoritative biographies of Knox.
So the Scottish church of the Reformation would look more like Geneva than it would its English brothers to the south. It would ditch bishops and adopt a Presbyterian system (that is, ruled by local elders).
The first seceders were those who followed Ebenezer Erskine, who wanted to maintain a devotion to evangelical practices they believed to be wanting in the Church of Scotland. They formed their own presbytery and were thus seceded from the original. So these are Calvinistic/Reformed and attentive to personal piety.
Secondly, the question of how a pastor was called to a church caused consternation with some who believed that the state was too powerful in the affairs of the church. A burgher was a name for a magistrate, mayor, etc., an anti-Burgher would be opposed to the practice of a magistrate deciding which pastors would go to particular parishes.
And then we have the standard “old light/new light” distinction wherein the old lights generally see theological erosion with the new generation and stress fidelity to the old standards and confessions- in this case, the standard would be the Westminster Confession of Faith (which came from England but was Calvinistic, not Anglican).
So- Thomas McCrie was a Scottish Presbyterian, Seceder, Anti-Burgher, and Auld light. And lest you think this was just academic or Sneetch-level branding, McCrie’s life as a pastor and author would be affected by these decisions and the controversies they would engulf him in.
Born in 1772 in the Scottish borderlands, he would eventually become a school teacher before going to the University of Edinburgh. He didn’t graduate but studied under a noted anti-Burgher theologian. He would take on pastorates only to be removed by ruling factions that were pro-Burgher and pro-new light.
As mentioned, he wrote one of the first landmark biographies of John Knox and later wrote a biography of Andrew Melville- the great Scottish theologian and professor at St. Andrews.
McCrie would travel to the continent later in life to study and write the history of both the Reformation in Spain and in Italy. These books landed him on the list of prohibited books by the Vatican- surely a badge of honor for a Scottish Presbyterian.
Thomas McCrie’s son, Thomas Jr, would carry on his fathers legacy of being a seceder, anti-burgher, and old light Scottish Presbyterian when the elder McCrie died on this the 5th of August in 1835 at the age of 63.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Psalm 50:
The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes
and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 5th of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who is only anti-burger if it’s one of those impossible gimmicks. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who is never anti-burger unless it’s Whataburger. In that case, I’ll just keep driving. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.