Conscience and Compromise

Fr Gadgetvicar has been reading Patricia Meldrum’s book about Evangelicals of yore. So have I. This is the review of the book that was published in this month’s inspires.

Conscience and Compromise – Forgotten Evangelicals of Nineteenth-century Scotland

Patricia Meldrum (Paternoster Press – £29.99)

As the oft repeated quotation says, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This book from Patricia Meldrum is a most important contribution to Anglican-Episcopal history in Scotland at this time. Dr Meldrum presents in these pages a remembrance of a small but particular grouping of nineteenth century Scottish Christians, those who adhered to Episcopacy but who identified with an Evangelical consciousness.

This is an area of Scottish Church history which has been hitherto under-explored and this volume, which is derived from the author’s PhD thesis, is by far the most comprehensive treatment of the Evangelical nineteenth century cause that will be found.

Two major disputes characterise the experience of Evangelical Episcopalians in Scotland in the mid-nineteenth century. The first was over the doctrine of conversion; the second was over doctrinal scruples concerning the Scottish Communion office. It was largely disagreements over the acceptability of this liturgy that prompted many who had once been loyal to the Scottish Episcopal Church to leave and become aligned with Henry Drummond of St Thomas’s, Edinburgh who had already left over disputes about the former. The small number of English Episcopal congregations which banded together are now largely forgotten, though the influence of those disputes lingers into modern times. High Church people and Evangelical Episcopalians still fight their disputes over particular words, sentences or even the grammar of the liturgy of the church.

The truth is, many of the doctrinal debates which caused churches to secede and which prompted bold declarations of independence from individual ministers are difficult for us to understand. That Dr Meldrum explains them so well should not distract the reader from the fact that the much of the doctrinal disputation seems irrelevant and foolish just over a century and a half later.

At a time such as this, it is important to mark well that the Evangelicals who are recalled so comprehensively here are remembered for their inability to remain in fellowship with those with whom they had doctrinal disputes. Those doctrinal disputes must have seemed to be of vital importance in their day. How sad that they are not remembered for their zeal, their passion for the gospel, their goodwill and for their love for others.

This is a most important piece of historical research. One cannot understand either nineteenth century Episcopal sensibilities or the modern Scottish Episcopal Church without it.

Highly recommended.