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Sunday, June 17, 2012



The publication in 1770 of J. Priestley's 'Appeal to the Serious and Candid Professors of Christianity', in which this Presbyterian minister sought to defend Socinian doctrines, marks a time in the eighteenth century when Arianism began to exert an increasing influence upon Church life in England, Scotland, Ireland and the Continent. Socinian doctrine, by which the Trinity is denied and the supernatural minimized, had made inroads into the life of Dissenting denominations before the Great Awakening. In England the Presbyterians and General Baptists felt little of the impact of the Awakening on account of these naturalistic doctrines by which they were engulfed. This insidious teaching which had caused so much ferment in the life of the early Church lay incubating in these Dissenting Chapels through the revivals of the eighteenth century. The seeds of apostacy are often found in days of spiritual harvest. Their evil fruit appears in the second or third generation following the outpouring of divine life. As the revivals of the eighteenth century began to wane, so the influence of Arianism increased. The Churches which had been sustained by the power of God, began to come under the influence of man.

False doctrine always leads to false living, and the impact of Arianism and other unbiblical emphases by which the supernatural was played down and grace was denied led to increasing worldliness within the Churches. The condition in Scotland and Ireland at the end of the eighteenth centuries was serious. It was a period described by Dr. Cunningham as "one of the most deplorable of the Church's history." The ministers in Scotland were mainly ignorant of theology, slack in their duties, and careless of men's souls. "When they preached, their sermons generally turned on honesty, good neighbourhood, and kindness. To deliver a Gospel sermon or preach to the hearts and consciences of dying sinners, was as completely beyond their power as to speak in the language of angels" wrote Dr. Hamilton of Strathblane.¹ In Ireland "at that period Arianism, or some other form of infidelity prevailed, and a dead chill rested on the Presbyterian Churches of the north of Ireland, similar to that which prevailed in Scotland."²

The condition of the Scottish Church under Moderatism, as it was called, was similar to that which prevailed in Ireland, and also in the Continent, where the force of the Great Awakening seemed spent, and instead Socinianism reigned in the theological seminaries and churches. When the life of the Church is in decline, man-originated doctrines which are in control. The ebb of the Church is an inevitable result of apostacy from the faith of the Gospel in which grace is supreme. Once more, as humanistic thinking dominated church life, God in His wrath withdrew His power. The familiar pattern of the biblical doctrine of revival is repeated: grace, advance; apostacy, wrath and decline.

This time God visited His people without delay. He worked in the hearts of two brothers, James and Robert Haldane, and through these Scotsmen revivals of religion delivered the Church from its deadness in Scotland, Ireland and the Continent. The story of this work of God deserves to be better known because its influence was so widespread. James Haldane, helped on occasions by Rowland Hill and Charles Simeon, began in 1797 a series of preaching tours which God greatly used to the awakening of large numbers of people. In some of the towns he visited in Scotland the people had not heard a sermon for eight or nine years. The people had been encouraged to trust their works for salvation, and true believers were few in number. Many places of worship were established as a result of James Haldane's four preaching tours over Scotland from 1797-1800. His brother, Robert, provided means for the training of godly ministers, and so the work was consolidated. James visited Ireland in 1801 and much blessing followed his ministry. In 1802 a tour of Derbyshire became "a season of revival and awakening".

One of Robert Haldane's students, a Mr. Farquharson, was sent in 1801 to the Gaelic-Speaking area of Breadalbane. "In the spring of 1801 there was some awakening, and early in 1802 so extraordinary a revival took place, that in a very short time there were about one hundred persons, previously ignorant of the Gospel, who seemed truly converted. These conversions occasioned a great sensation, and much opposition. It produced in these Highland glens a kind of religious persecution."³

Revivals of religion were also taking place in America; under Lorenzo Dow in Kentucky from 1800 onwards, and in the Presbytery of St. Lawrence in 1815, continuing for several years. It was in these St. Lawrence revivals that Charles G. Finney was converted.

The visit of Robert Haldane to Geneva in 1816 in the providence of God ushered in a period of revivals on the Continent lasting for thirty five years at least. He contacted a group of students studying for the ministry in the theological seminary where Socinian doctrines prevailed. These students attended his rooms regularly for his expositions on Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Many of the students were converted as a result of these discourses among whom were Frédéric Monod, Merle d'Aubigne, Gaussen, Malan, Pyt, and others later wonderfully used by God to spread the revival fires in Switzerland, France and Germany. In a speech delivered in Edinburgh in 1845, Merle d'Aubigne, referring to words of Robert Haldane which had been used to his conversion, declared: "It was the sword of the Spirit; and from that time I saw that my heart was corrupted, and knew from the Word of God that I can be saved by grace alone; so that if Geneva gave something to Scotland at the time of the Reformation,- if she communicated light to John Knox, Geneva has received something from Scotland in return, in the blessed exertions of Robert Haldane."⁴

We have only been able to mention a few of the numerous revivals which took place in the first forty years or so of the nineteenth century delivering the Churches on the Continent, and in Scotland, Ireland and America from the chilling doctrines of Socinianism. Some powerful manifestations of God occurred in these revivals, such as the visitations at Kilsyth and Dundee in 1839 under the ministries of W. C. Burns and the saintly Robert Murray M'Cheyne. The 1859 Ulster revival followed a time when the error of Arianism had been eliminated from the Church by the reforming efforts of Dr. Henry Cooke and others, whose testimony to the truth from 1825 onwards had the effect of bringing increasing numbers of ministers back to the biblical doctrines of the Westminster Confession. The ministers became sounder in their doctrine before the revival, but the Church life still remained formal and cold. Not until the Spirit of God breathed upon the Churches did they vibrate with true spiritual life, and become a power in the life of the community at large. England and Scotland were also blessed in 1859, and in Wales outstanding movements took place at Ysbyty Ystwyth under David Morgan, and in Cardiganshire under the preaching of Humphrey Jones

Final instalment in a few days then a blog of brief comment a few days after that.

Sam Drucker


1. Quoted on pp. 131-132 Lives of Robert and James Haldane, 1852.

2. Lives of Robert and James Haldane, by Alexander Haldane, 1852, p. 305.

3. ibid. p. 316.

4. ibid. p. 431.

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